Interview with Cheryl Mildenhall, Author of The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
Everyone in the Lovehoney office absolutely adores The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea so we were desperate to ask the woman we've dubbed "The Cult Leader" a few questions all about it!
Despite our best efforts, we were originally unable to track Cheryl Mildenhall down. We spent hours googling her, emailing Black Lace, asking other erotica authors and contacting Emap, but to no avail. We even went as far as to consider going to London and banging on every door until we found her (but we didn't, because we're not weird like that…!).
I found the file with the questions in and sent them over ultra-quick. The very next day I got an email going into magnificent detail over my questions followed by a phone call from the lady herself! It was an absolute joy to talk to someone so down-to-earth and witty and, a little bit star-struck, I asked as many questions as I could jam into a phone interview.
Here is the interview with the fantastic Cheryl Mildenhall, that will hopefully pique your interest even further in the book:
Norfolk seems a pretty unglamorous place but you managed to make it seem so appealing and exotic! What made you choose this as a location to base your novel in?
I was on holiday in Norfolk and, whilst sunbathing on the beach, I overheard a conversation between two women who were obviously sisters. One had a couple of very young kids and they were talking about how lovely their summer was turning out, spending it in Norfolk in a rented house. I love listening into other people's conversations and during the course of their chat it turned out that their husbands both worked in the city and stayed in Norfolk with them at the weekends. Farther on, they started talking about the racehorse that their husbands were planning to buy a share in.
By the time I got back home, I had the complete novel worked out in my mind and it only took me four weeks to write it!
The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea was one of many of your books that was published in 1995 for Black Lace and the way it was written makes it seem like you'd be practising your art for a life time! In your opinion, were you really into the swing of things at that point or were you still exploring your boundaries and abilities?
At the time I was married to my first love and had two children, all the erotic escapades were total fantasy. I would really get involved with my characters and already have the story planned out in my head. Of course, as you go along things change and adapt but at that point I think I had figured out my writing formula and knew to stick to it.
Were the characters purely from your imagination or is there a real life Haldane somewhere?!
Sadly, there's not a real life Haldane that I know of! Due to my people watching, a few of the characters are loosely based on people I've observed, including the two women on the beach who I later saw get into a Mercedes sport car with a personalised registration number, hence that bit in the book! After that holiday I felt, as I always feel, that I knew the characters really well and managed to add a little of my own sense of humour to them.
What is your favourite part of the book, from a writing perspective?
Obviously, there is a lot of myself in the book and it was fun to give my characters different traits from myself. I really enjoyed just letting them grow and adapt as the book developed.
How did the partnership with New Woman come about?
New Woman had teamed up with Black Lace to give away a full adult novel free with an issue of the magazine, but it was Black Lace's choice of whose book actually got to be used! There was a lot of competition as all the Black Lace writers at the time wanted that kind of publicity and promotion, but despite differing opinions on how the book should be edited, Kerry Sharp eventually chose mine which I'm very grateful for!
What were people's reactions to it being given away with New Woman magazine? Did you receive any praise or criticism?
The only real constructive or negative feedback I had was from the editors of Black Lace and New Woman. Black Lace wanted it to be more heavy and dark, with a lot more whips and chains involved! Yet New Woman actually wanted a scene to be edited out and for the book to be more vanilla.
The day the magazine and book were released, I was just coming back from a holiday in France. I was walking through Manchester airport and decided to stop in their WH Smith's which was full of New Woman magazines! I was so excited; I was telling all the staff and customers that it was me who wrote the book! The staff were lovely enough to break open the plastic wrap on all of the magazines and let me autograph all the books so they could give their customers an extra-special version! The praise and positivity from that was wonderful but apart from that, I've never really had any fan feedback!
The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea really made way for erotica to become mainstream and without that jolt; I doubt we (or many other media outlets!) would be reporting about it now! Did you think at the time that it would ever be such a ground-breaking book?
To be honest, I still had no idea of the impact of my book up until the phone call from Lovehoney and all the compliments I've received! I knew that having a naughty book given away with such a big magazine title would create a few waves, especially when my mother mentioned that all the ladies in the nursing home she worked in knew about my books, but I never thought it would be as big a thing as it is!
Do you have any erotic writing tips that you can share?
I feel that writing erotic short stories is a lot harder because you have less time and space to explore your characters. It's pretty much wham, bam, thank you ma'am and it's over! But the best thing you can do, even with a short story, is to add some humour. I was regularly told by people at Black Lace that sex was a serious matter but if you think about all the faces and noises and things that really go on - it's actually pretty hilarious! Don't be afraid to throw some of that in, it makes it so much more realistic!
Are you working on anything currently that may be of interest to the Erotic Book Club?
I had taken a bit of a break from writing erotica but now I'm getting back into it again. A few pieces have been submitted to Black Lace, so it's just a matter of seeing what develops!