Living with Primula
by Ted Bond
By rights Primula Bond should have given me the first fee she ever earned, because she earned it writing her first erotic story in my time. She was my secretary, employed by me, and she was using the one word processor we possessed in the office back in 1995 to write Man in a Cage, which was subsequently accepted by the now defunct magazine For Women. She was paid the princessly sum of £150 and was chuffed to bits to be paid for something that she enjoyed so much.
She claims she composed, typed, edited and printed the story out in the space of her lunch hour, but I suspect that the truth is that the lure of writing about a naked man delivered in a cage as a birthday present to a lonely, Chardonnay drinking singleton far outweighted the joys of drafting leases, conveyances and wills.
Every time after that when I saw her nimble fingers tripping over the keyboard, I wondered what smut she was composing this time, and perhaps allowed myself the odd furtive question about what else they were capable of doing. More poignantly, though, I had to wait another eight years before was holding those slender fingers in mine as we walked down the aisle.
Our own story is itself the stuff of (almost) doomed romance. When I first arrived at a Hampshire practice of solicitors in 1991, Primula Bond came with the package as my secretary. She was a stunningly attractive, auburn-haired single mother. I was a battered and bruised, prematurely grey divorcee. We had a lot in common, and instantly struck up a very close, humourous friendship. We developed a habit of writing increasingly risque limericks on telephone memo pads and leaving under each other's noses when on the phone trying to be businesslike.
She claims she fancied me almost from the word go, and when she confided as much to one of her work mates, that mate agreed that I had that silver fox look of a guy who 'would rip off your knickers with his teeth.'
Poor Primula even had one or two suggestive dreams about me in those early days, apparently, which must have been disconcerting for her when she had to buckle down to my dreary dictation each morning. I say 'poor' because owing to a fairly chequered past love life she was too shy to rush into declaring her feelings for me. She was biding her time to pounce, in the best traditions of an erotic heroine. Meanwhile my confidence levels were also pretty low and I was totally blind to her blushing intentions. I thought I was her boss and friend, nothing more, and I assumed that at 29 and 13 years younger than me, she would never think of me in any sexual way.
So when I upped, dated, proposed to and married another woman in haste, a few months after we first met, Primula was devastated. She came to the wedding as a guest and put on a brave face, but developed a cracking migraine and says it was the worst day of her life. She could see me but not reach me, and felt marginalised in the sea of hats and frocks, unremarkable at the time to me and my family, and it is to my eterntal regret that I didn't know how she felt until it was far too late. We could have saved so much precious time. Anyway, having seen me fly off from that wedding reception in a white helicopter, going on honeymoon with the wrong woman, Primula was convinced that henceforth I would only ever be the one that got away.
Certainly she bravely continued working for me after that wedding, even though I was now living just down the road with my new wife, and something, life, frustration, longing, galvanised her into writing that first story under the harsh striplights of my office, with people nattering around the water cooler. In the calmer times of recent years Primula still finds inspiration all over the place. She'll find ideas in a tableau glimpsed from a rushing train, a snatched overheard conversation, an anecdote, memories of her own travels, relationships or bizarre temp jobs. Or she'll just pluck a random thought, an imagined scenario from her over-active imagination. Writing is a wonderful way of escaping the mundane, a free holiday, while enhancing our observations.
But what started it all off back was probably the trauma and frurstration of seeing me marry someone else (only then to witness my obvious unhappiness while she could only stand by and watch) combined with her own vain search for true love in her own life. And they do say that adversity and heartbreak are what drive the best writers.
What was the loss for those over-priced dating agencies she joined eventually became my gain.
Either way she remained working for me for a couple more years before abruptly uprooting herself and her little son and vamoosing back to London to get on with her life. When my marriage broke down after seven years I phoned her up in her little flat in Earls Court, as she had invited me to do. I expected her to be long gone by then, married to some dashing City tycoon, but as luck would have it she was free. I took her out to dinner, we talked until the small hours, and we've been inseparable ever since. Not wishing to waste any more time, we married just under two years later when she was six months' pregnant with the elder of our two boys, and thirteen years on the rest is a blissfully happy history.
Primula has an MA from Oxford University in English Literature and since she was about eight years old her ambition, through a varied career including teaching children in Cairo, temping in London and, of course, working for me, has been to write a best selling literary novel in her real name, but until that dream comes true she is making her way as a freelance features writer as well as proving to be pretty damn successful at writing erotica. Her editor has been hugely supportive of her and her work all through their journey together from Black Lace through Accent Press to the new 'Mischief' series at the Avon imprint at Harper Collins. And what could be more flattering than being periodically asked, begged sometimes, to give him another story, or another novel?
She also lends something of her more academic side as well as her experience to providing critiques for aspiring writers of erotica, feeling passionately about getting the basics of grammar and construction right alongside any creative flair before submitting work to a busy editor.
Now to the nitty gritty of life with an erotic writer. What everyone wants to know is, do we spend our weekends swinging from the chandeliers, swinging in other ways, exploring al fresco options, dressing as tarts and vicars, investigating fetish clubs, or working out how various Ann Summers-style contraptions work in order to be diligent in our research for her next novel? Well, put it this way. I still think she is super gorgeous and we are a normal, healthy, close and loving couple who laugh a lot and have busy lives and an energetic boyish family. Sometimes EastEnders and a takeaway is about as much fun as we get if we're too darned tired, but we do try to spend as much of our time as money will allow getting away from it all, eating, drinking and pampering ourselves in hotel rooms.
Aside from all that, however, my wife has an extremely vivid, nay graphic imagination which can transport her far away from the deep, deep calm of the marital bed right back to the hurly burly of the chaise-longue. And bearing in mind that as well as all the usual content you would expect ie overbearing bosses, lusty landladies and inexperienced lodgers, ingenue photographers, prowling cougars, nuns, even (in her latest work) vampires, quite a lot of her novels revolve around lesbian sex, I can honestly say that I have no direct experience of that, being a red blooded male and all.
Primula's love of food, clothes and perfume is always indulged in her stories, along with her love of exotic travel. So she takes great pride in transporting her readers from their semi in Staines to a slick penthouse suite in Manhattan or a back-street convent in Venice and so much the better. The imagination is a great, cheap alternative to travelling.
As for Primula's own experiences? Well, buy one of her books or e-books and you'll be as convinced as her legions of fans that she knows all there is to know about whip-lashing dominatrixes and threesomes!
One of the hilarious aspects of our life together is that outwardly we are ordinary, respectable, fun loving people. If you met me at work you'd think I was a typical country solicitor and because she is tall and slim Primula at the school gate has been known to be considered a little haughty - until people hear her dirty laugh. But then there's this other side, the cool looking wife who writes this explicit stuff on the side and the husband who supports her fully in her efforts, and this dichotomy is always a show stopper at dinner parties.
Thanks to 50 Shades I really think that erotica will become less and less shocking, especially if written intelligently and well as Primula does, and more and more just another successful genre of writing. Certainly at the last dinner party, with very good friends, they women all seemed to have read 50 Shades without batting an eyelid. So Primula, who before has forbidden her friends from reading her books in case they never speak to her or look her in the eye again, feels that perhaps now her books will reach more people, and therefore make a little more money.
Primula's parents have not and will not read her work, and would obviously prefer to see her name emblazoned in the window of Waterstones rather than available only on Amazon. But then so would she! As for our children, well, my grown up daughter and son-in-law who live abroad have read her books, in fact in the German edition (Primula is very big in Germany and Italy!), and thoroughly approve. Primula's sister is a firm promoter. Primula's eldest son used to be toe-curlingly embarrassed and would turn the books back to front in the shelves when his friends came over, and he still doesn't think it's cool, but now he sighs and says, 'Mother, when are you going to write something sensible so we can all retire and go and live on a tropical island somewhere?'
Hear, hear, I say.
I wish I could say we are constantly and vigorously researching each and every scene of her new book, but the truth is that I have barely seen her in the last two weeks because she has the bit between her teeth (take whatever inuendo you like from that) trying to emulate the current craze for erotica, kick-started by the phenomenal success of 50 Shades of Grey. She is either up half the night writing or leaping out of bed at 2am to rush downstairs to get something down before she forgets the idea. Understandably she's driven both by ambition and downright fury that someone has achieved overnight success doing something Primula and her co-writers have been doing for 20 years or more.
As for whether I ever remover her underwear with my teeth? Well, that's for me to know and you to find out!