Your Banner could be here too!

Monday, 3 February 2014

Is Adultery a Taboo Subject? Asks Gilli Allan

With thanks to Eileen Schuh for suggesting the blog subject ‘controversy’

On another site I am a member of, there has recently been a debate questioning whether it is permissible in romantic fiction to include a plot-line about adultery. Adultery is acceptable, even to be expected apparently, between the ‘villains’, but if the hero or heroine falls from the straight and narrow, their behaviour spoils the story for many readers. This response is particularly strident in the American market.

In real life, adultery is the ultimate betrayal, it can prove devastating, and it is certainly not to be recommended!  The individual who has a relationship outside marriage is being disloyal and dishonourable. But adultery happens.  It happens between ordinary people, people who don’t have horns, people who feel driven to find love outside of marriage and who have perhaps agonised over their infidelity.

Writers are storytellers. We have a special way of looking at the world. I don’t think it’s possible to be narrow-minded if you’re a writer because you are always looking for the reasons behind behaviour.  I don’t mean justifying it, just observing and wondering why. Anyway, on the written page, characters who don’t have flaws are bores.

I am not interested in perfect people living a well-deserved life, where the impossibly beautiful woman meets the tall, successful, handsome (slightly arrogant) man and, after a few minor inconveniences which interrupt the inevitable, they realise they’re in love and live happily ever after.
I always have a love story at the heart of my books, but the protagonists are not necessarily drop-dead gorgeous paragons. They are ordinary people with faults and failings, who carry the burden of past mistakes. In my stories (6 books) I have dealt with drunkenness, promiscuity, under-age sex, unwanted pregnancy, death, kidnap, miscarriage, abortion, drug use, addiction, homosexuality, suicide, sexually-transmitted infection and male prostitution. I’m not going to blink, let alone get upset, if the heroine in a book I am enjoying reading falls prey to her darker nature. (And it is always the woman’s behaviour that upsets people.  The man is always given more leeway!). I am certainly not going to avoid writing such a plot-line, if the story which is unfolding in my head demands it
Don’t get me wrong - I don’t wander down the seedier alleys of human nature in a prurient way.  I am not deliberately looking for shock value. I believe I touch on such subjects lightly, without being voyeuristic. I am simply acknowledging that modern life is sometimes grubby and multi-faceted, that there are temptations and booby-traps lying in wait for the most ordinary among us.

Anyway, how could I fail to write about adultery in Fly or Fall, my current book? Adultery is basically what the story is about - how Nell, who has lived an honourable, principled life, is drawn into a world where indulging in romantic adventures appears to be commonplace. How and why did it happen and what are the consequences?

In Fly or Fall, there’s a shock waiting for Nell..... Then there’s a shock for each of the other characters in the story - not propelled by her behaviour, but coincident to it - overturning everyone’s life, like a domino derby.  It is what happens next that interests me.  How love can bloom from the wreckage of disaster; how good can come out of bad; how a life that seemed unexceptional, familiar and secure is destroyed. But it is only when Nell has been through the turmoil and emerged into the light that she realises her previous life was an illusion.

Fly or Fall ~ Coming soon in paperback
For the e-book:


  1. Great post, Gilli, and the book sounds fascinating.

  2. Very interesting, Gilli. That was a sub-plot in the first romance I'd ever read -- Jane Eyre.

  3. Exactly Rose! Jane Eyre is one of my favourites too.

  4. No I don't think adultery should be a taboo subject but I suppose its one of those subjects that needs to be written in such a way as to not make light of the consequences of it or make it sound like a fun thing to do. The strong emotions attached to it also need be handled sensitively. If its written in a mature and insightful way then I don't see why it should be a taboo subject. Looking forward to reading this book Gilli. x

  5. Great post, Gilli! I don't think adultery should be a taboo subject either. I think as writers, we should be able to write about EVERYTHING lol

  6. Thanks Jonty and Suzy. I hope I have written about it sensitively, without minimising the consequences. I don't write sweet and cosy, erotica, or blood and guts thrillers, but I defend the right of those who do tackle subjects I'd rather not. The reader has a choice.

  7. I think all of my books feature infidelity. I don't write sweet or cosy either, it's not real life. I'm not sure I write about romance; someone told me I write about relationships but there's no category for that!
    It's not a taboo subject in my book. I've experienced it the hard way so hopefully I transcribe that to the page.
    Your books are fab Gilli, keep on doing what you do best; keeping it real.

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Try again! Thank you Ruth. I appreciate your support. I too have a (semi-detached) relationship with adultery - OH was the victim in his first marriage. So I know how damaging it can be and hope I don't treat treat the subject lightly. But.... we are all human and sometimes we stumble. The writer should have a dispassionate eye.