Arlene Heyman – Scary Old Sex
A New York-based psychoanalyst and psychiatrist, Heyman, now in her seventh decade, has been writing for years, but Scary Old Sex (note the acronym) is her debut publication. It’s a collection of witty, downright funny and clever short stories.
If, as Heyman says “all of us do things and think things that you wouldn’t want to print on the front page of the New York Times” no such constraints apply here. The opening story, a sample of which she reads onstage, gives the skinny on what sex is really like once you’ve passed into your senior years. Fuelled by a complexity of pharmaceuticals, engineered carefully for the consummate pleasure of all participants, it’s a far cry from the abandoned couplings of youth, but need be no less satisfying.
Asked whether there might be a reader who would not take to such material, she pauses a while before suggesting “prudes?” Two such types were encountered in the writing groups she attended in the process of fine-tuning her book. She left both after a couple of men objected to her descriptions of sex. “It seemed to make them angry.” And her two grown sons have no desire to read their mother’s frank and explicit fiction. Nor did her parents when, as a young student at the liberal arts Bennington College in Vermont, she started to write ‘scandalous’ tales. “People think you’ve done everything you write. And that’s demeaning. A lot of energy goes into writing fiction.”
In Heyman’s mind there is absolutely no confusion between her work as a psychiatrist and her fiction. She hasn’t the least bit of trouble in keep the two worlds separate. Clients are not the same as characters in a book. “If you’re starting to write a character, you take a bit of sand and build up layer by later – it’s a process of accretion. With clients, you’re trying to break things down.” Does she worry that new clients will be drawn to her practice after reading her book? “Well, I only have one slot available.”
She follows no plan when writing, no schedule. For the past six months she hasn’t written a word. And she loves the process of publicizing the book: “I can’t sleep at night I’m so happy.” With the wisdom of age comes the knowledge that courage is key. “You only live one life. As long as you don’t hurt yourself or anyone else, you might as well be brave.”
She appears to be refreshingly, contagiously un-shockable, at least with regard to carnal matters. Asked what it is that does cause her alarm, she ponders a while: “The only thing that does shock me is the actions carried out by the so-called Islamic State.”
The 21st Independent Bath Literature Festival continues until Sunday 6 March view the full programme here
Bath Box Office 01225 463362