Byline: CATHERINE JONES
SEX and the City may have fuelled a nation's passion for Manolo Blahniks but has it also paved the way for erotic stories to become must-have beach reads this summer?
Award-winning publisher Hazel Cushion thinks so and hopes to fill what she believes is a gap in the market with new erotic titles from her company, Accent Press. With titles such as Juicy Erotica, Bad Girl and Down and Dirty 1, the books - sold in the likes of WH Smith, Waterstone's and Borders - have already attracted acclaim, quickly reaching the number one spot in three erotic categories on Amazon and causing a stir at trade shows.
Merthyr-based Hazel, who writes titillating tales herself under the pen name Miranda Forbes, says: "I started Xcite Books last year because I felt there was a gap in the market for quality erotic fiction for women. Our best-selling title is Sex and Satisfaction.
"Our research showed women like quality erotic fiction and men like pictures. Women want fiction that is fresh and funny and sassy and has that Sex and the City vibe rather than being all black and whiplash.
"Sex & The City has changed things. I also think erotic fiction is a very healthy, obviously consensual, way for women to feel more empowered and feel they can explore their sexuality."
Hazel, a 47-year-old mother of three, says the range is aimed at everyone and is "particularly appreciated by the slightly older woman who is in longer term relationships and want different releases".
The books, she says, can be to do with anything but spanking does seem "reasonably popular" - hence a new title called The True Confessions of a London Spank Daddy by a 55-year-old anonymous lawyer who spanks women on demand (though his wife knows nothing of it).
"I think a lot of people enjoy role play and sometimes in this politically-correct world when everything has to be so PC, it can be quite exciting to break out of that mould," says the flame-haired publisher.
"These kind of books should be accessible but on people's own terms - if you're not interested, it shouldn't be everywhere otherwise the papers and media become full of salacious titbits and that's the opposite to what I'm trying to do. I amtrying to create an opportunity for women to enjoy quality erotic fiction.
There will be 24 titles by the end of this year and 12 new titles next year."
Hazel, who has met the Queen for her "significant contribution to business in Britain", describes the covers - designed by Jayne Minter from Red Dot design in Pembrokeshire - as very clean and fresh.
"They are really fun - as sex should be. These books are used by sex therapists to introduce new ideas to their clients and endorse their clients' fantasies to show that this is normal and what other people do too.
"We also know we have a lot of male customers. Our survey showed 90% of women wanted their partners to buy them erotic fiction and Playboy says the best accessory to sex is erotic literature. We also do them as audio downloads for hands-free fun but don't listen while you are driving!"
A busy working mother, Hazel, whose company has won a Women in Publishing Pandora award, has found little time to indulge her own talent for writing raunchy tales. "I used to write erotic fiction for magazines. It's not easy.
Women want to be drawn in to a plot and want real characters and to be absorbed by everything.
They don't just want action, they want it to be erotic.
"It has to stimulate their senses, transport them from wherever they are at the moment and take them onto a journey to something different. You also have to build up tension. A huge number of people enjoy writing erotic fiction. We had one fantastic story set on a bare-back ranch in America, all to do with submission and horse training, and they ended up riding on the back of a horse. Very exciting and different and very well done. …