Rowan is best known for her work as the self-styled ‘editrice’ of the Erotic Review, transforming it from a society newsletter into a much-circulated and sought-after monthly. The Review brought erotica down from the top shelf, giving it the intellectual edge that Pelling felt it needed and deserved. She seeks to appeal to the primary sexual organ - ‘the brain’ - through ‘witty, intelligent and knowledgeable’ prose.
Education and early career
Brought up in a pub in Kent, Pelling can recall early days spent ‘hothousing at the kitchen table from battered primers’. The exertion paid off as she won a scholarship to Walthamstow Hall, a school for missionaries’ daughters. From there she gained a place to read English at St Hugh's College, Oxford.
After graduating, Pelling worked as Ian Hislop’s PA at the satirical magazine Private Eye. She went on to work for GQ magazine, where she met her husband Angus Mackinnon. She also worked as a columnist for The Independent on Sunday.
Erotic Review and beyond
In 1997, Pelling took editorial control of Jamie Maclean's Erotic Print Society foolscap newsletter. She oversaw a transition that gave birth to the monthly Erotic Review, circulation of which peaked at over 30,000. The new glossy monthly gained a string of high-profile contributors, including Auberon Waugh, DBC Pierre, Sarah Waters and Kathy Lette. As a slim monthly volume, The Erotic Review was ‘ideal for slipping between the covers of more respectable reading material on tedious train rides through the shires’.
After 8 years at the helm at ‘Erotic Towers’, Pelling moved away from editorial work to spend more time with pen in hand. She now writes a weekly comment column for the Daily Telegraph and is the Daily Mail's sex columnist. She also contributes regularly to GQ and Jack. Pelling has authored and edited a number of books, including Erotic Review Bedside Companion (2001), Sex: An Intimate Companion (2002), Encyclopedia of Erotica (2007) and The Decadent handbook: For the Modern Libertine (2007).
In 2004 Rowan judged the Man Booker Prize, and has more recently turned her hand to stand-up comedy. In 2012, she was crowned winner of Funny Women’s stand-up comedy challenge, successfully channeling the funny side of erotica; ‘I was a bit anxious about the obscenity potential of my set, so tried to keep things as clean as they can be when you’re talking about spanking, orgies and filthy posh girls… Blimey, it’s a blast of oxygen to the soul when people laugh at your jokes – I felt a Ready Brek glow afterwards’
Rowan lives in Cambridge with her husband and two sons. She’s currently writing a memoir about her days at Erotic Towers.
Erotic Review Bedside Companion, by Rowan Pelling (2001)
Sex: An Intimate Companion, by Stephen Bayley and Rowan Pelling (2002)
Encyclopedia of Erotica, by Rowan Pelling (2007)
The Decadent handbook: For the Modern Libertine, by James Doyle, Amelia Hodsdon and Rowan Pelling (2007)