Monday, 24 November 2014

Manchester mayhem - nuns, whips, getting lost and crispy duck with pancakes

Erotica authors, it's sometimes thought, are a shy, quiet bunch in real life. Perhaps I'm a bit atypical, being a gobby old show off given the slightest opportunity, but that slightly tired trope of the diffident, timid, retiring author could be said to have taken a bit of a kicking last weekend at Smut Manchester.

I mean, all it takes is a naughty nun and the components of a bondage kit (and my own collection of whacking implements) and utter mayhem is likely to ensue.

I started my trip a bit inauspiciously by getting spectacularly lost in the Manchester suburbs. I don't have the world's best sense of direction, but decided to do my usual thing of trusting to a newly-purchased map and the public transport system, which seemed to be just fine at first, but somehow ended up with me wandering aimlessly down unpaved paths, under dripping railway arches and through a deserted industrial estate, with a bag full of whips, as the sun was going down. I reminded myself forcefully that all weird experiences are potential story material, but was definitely very relieved to set eyes on the BnB at last. 

Friday night involved a few drinks with various Smutters and what should have been an early night but translated into sitting up till about 3am with a fourpack and cracking on with Chapter 3 of what will hopefully be the next book. Saturday was Smut day proper, however. In the unavoidable absence of Kay Jaybee, who usually does the necessary chastizing when authors overrun their time slots, I got to arm myself with my favourite paddle and punish anyone who didn't stop reading when s/he should have done. The mere threat of my presence kept most of the slam participants in line, but there's always one (isn't there, Charlie?) Actually, Slave Nano went one better and pre-booked his whacking, with a reading intended to, er, climax, with the author being pursued off stage and round the room...

I had, in fact, said rather sternly to a friend that the event was 'not a play party, you know. It'll just be a lot of people talking about books.' But this Smut involved a whole lot more direct participation than usual, what with Cara Sutra letting everyone play with her bondage kit. We were divided into teams and challenged to see how many different uses we could put the items to, and as we had one of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence on our team, those uses rapidly got varied. If you want to check out the full range of filthy pictures, check out the various postings here. I had been slightly anxious that my own talk and demo on stuff to hit people with might be a bit of an anticlimax, but that wasn't the case, and my only anxiety at the time was whether or not I would get all my toys back at the end of the session. I did, which is just as well...

A lot of us ended the day with dinner in a very good Chinese buffet restaurant, whose staff were remarkably charming in the face of 18 people arriving to claim a table booked for 12 and having assorted rather startling conversations all night. The youthful and energetic went on to further fun and games in the town centre, but this old bird was fit for nothing but a good night's kip after all the excitement.

Excellent event, folks. Roll on the next one.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Flashbacks and book sightings: La Boudoir

Having been tipped off by the lovely Cara Sutra that the launch of the Boiler Room at La Boudoir Boutique was happening, I took myself off to the East Kent coast. Having been a student at the University of Kent I have all sorts of depraved memories attached to Herne Bay, Whitstable and Canterbury. I was therefore wildly overexcited on the bus from Herne Bay to Birchington and full of vivid flashbacks of motorbikes, men in leather, giggly post-party/post-coital stumbles homeward and all the rest of it.

La Boudoir is lovely, too: a series of beautifully decorated rooms (including the aforementioned Boiler Room which combines steampunk and dungeon aesthetics with some really good furniture and a tempting range of toys); friendly staff and a welcoming atmosphere. I was also happy to record a sighting of Books In The Wild.

It's always nice to see books on shelves and do a quick namecheck/headcount to see who and what is represented - I spotted Aishling Morgan and Kay Jaybee among others.

more than one bookshelf, as well...

A thoroughly good way to spend a damp Saturday afternoon - check them out if you're in the area.

Friday, 31 October 2014

My Hot Halloween

Maybe it's just me who finds this supposed Hottest Halloween for 300 years a bit unsettling. I like roaming in the twilight on a pumpkin hunt when there's just a touch of frost in the air, and though it was quite pleasant to be sitting on the steps outside the Queen's House in glorious sunshine, it did feel a tiny bit wrong.

Mind you, I spent a very hot Halloween once, about 14 years ago and absolutely loved it.

I went to Hedo II, the then-notorious Jamaican resort for swingers. It remains the biggest and best blag of my entire writing career - the owners had sent a request to Forum for 'one of their writers' to visit the place and do a report. As the mag's club reviewer, the trip was designated all mine, and once I got over suspecting some kind of wind up, I merrily packed my bags and boarded a plane.

It just so happened that the day before I came home was October 31st and, with the majority of the other guests being American, Halloween in Hedo was a Really Big Deal. It didn't take me long to come to terms with the incongruity of sitting on a tropical beach, surrounded by plastic skeletons and carving a pumpkin in 90+ temperatures, and the evening's cabaret, costume parade and silly games led, by some route I can't quite remember, to me having a mindblowingly good bunk up on a plastic lilo right at the water's edge.

So I wish the rest of you a fun night and a sweet Samhain, however you choose to spend it. Mine is going to consist of cooking pumpkin pasta and scaring children this year, but who knows what next year might bring?


Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Three Stars is Undulating

OK, if you know what song** I stole that line from, you might actually win a small prize (just post a comment and if you are correct I will contact you for your address and stick something in the post to you). 
I've been doing some reviewing lately. Mostly just of stuff I happened to have bought off Amazon, or in a charity shop or acquired, which either appealed to me a lot or annoyed me a bit. It reminded me of the days when I actually used to get paid for writing reviews of things. I have tried to be both fair to the author or authors in question and entertaining to anyone reading the review who probably isn't going to buy the book. Just like I used to do when I was getting paid. And, while reviewing, I have been reading other people's reviews and thinking various exasperated thoughts about the virtual world in which everyone's a critic. 

Yes, there are some thoughtful, readable reviews, whether the reviewer loved the book or hated it. But there are also billions of 'reviews' which consist of retelling the plot and then moaning that there were no magic worms in the book, or that one of the characters was a bit boring. Or those which awarded the author five stars and then read 'tHIs booke FUxn SUCKSSSS!' Then there are all those well-meaning, painstaking, utterly tedious reviews posted by friends of the author trying really hard to be objective and saying things like 'I was given this book by the author who is my friend. It is a lovely book. My mummy taught me to wipe my feet and not fart at dinnertime. This book was interesting and reminded me of the only other book I read in my entire life. I like caterpillars and there was one on the book cover.'
I did indulge myself a little this evening in dissing some random piece of self-published crap that had been available to download for free, but I felt a bit dirty afterwards. I've read professionally published books that weren't much better.
Perhaps the skill of book reviewing is another one that's on its way out. Hopefully not, even though it won't do to underestimate the taste of the reading public.

** If I have actually cocked the quote up and you still get the song right, you still get the prize.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Porn for men, erotica for women?

It’s one of the most persistent tropes there is: men like (disgusting, crude, blatant) porn while women like (softer, classier, more intelligent) erotica. Like most tropes, it’s mainly adhered to by people who don’t know an awful lot about either. It also props up another basic and unhelpful myth – that women want love and men want sex. While there are people more interested in one than the other – and a percentage of people with little or no interest in either – women can be driven by lust, keen to experiment with multiple partners, toys, roleplay and fetishwear and men can be romantic purists, interested only in the naked body of the beloved.

Sometimes, the boundaries get properly blurred, at least for a while – in the early 90s there was a small explosion in the provision of porn aimed at women. First came the magazines: Ludus, For Women, Women Only, Women On Top, Bite! And, running along in a panic and a little bit late to the parade, a UK relaunch of Playgirl, then the launch of Black Lace in 1993: a fiction imprint loudly and proudly touted as By Women For Women. Around the same time other publishers were busy launching or expanding erotica imprints that were not just female-friendly ‘Mills & Bonk’ as they were sometimes called – X Libris, Chimera and Nexus all provided homes for the work of a wide range of authors.
At present, even though it seems like the mighty wave of Mary-Sue-ish ‘virgin and billionaire’ cut-and-paste Erotic Romance is peaking and about to drown the whole genre, there is still interesting stuff going on if you know where to look for it, and it doesn’t divide strictly along gender lines. Authors like Peter Birch, Slave Nano and Charlie J Forrest produce interestingly filthy, but also well-written and empathetic works of fiction, and there is also a growing movement of  feminist porn, and female porn producers exemplified by the likes of Pandora Blake.

As with everything else, it doesn’t have to be Different For Girls.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Fiction and prediction

I wonder how many other people approached the Scottish Vote with a particular type of trepidation. I wonder how many other people were thinking: Dissolution Summer? K, quite like the idea of the Rock & Roll Reich but could do without Ivan/Lara, the Green Nazis and the Fat Boy.
That’s the thing when you love books, read lots of books and find the world of your favourite books almost more believable than the world you live in. The above paragraph refers to Gwyneth Jones’ utterly beautiful Bold As Love series, which starts with the breaking up of the United Kingdom into its component countries.
I got a little tiny bit jumpy around the time of the Swine Flu panic, as well. I went and reread my copy of The Stand, and upset myself a little tiny bit. ACHOOO! Oh no, here comes Randy Flagg (not, perhaps, the scariest of villain names to a UK reader). When some psychotic crackhead bit someone to death a year or two back, quite a few people were jokingNOTjoking about: is this the moment when zombies happen?

A lot of ‘old’ scifi becomes laughable after a while. We’re into the 21st century and yet we don’t have personal hoverpacks nor are we worrying about our kids dating Martians. Not much of the speculative fiction written before about 1990  involves any conception of the Internet, or smartphones, though Suzette Haydon Elgin, writing in the late 80s, describes ‘wrist computers’ which apparently are communication devices that allow people to contact you, contain all your appointments, and have some sort of research facility. (OK, the author was probably thinking of a posh Psion Organiser, but still…) Sometimes future-set fiction becomes worryingly prescient. Norman Spinrad’s Little Heroes has its faults, but the stuff about employment now resonates with a bitter, hollow sound. As does the concept of ‘people kibble’.

I’m quite pleased the Scots have stayed with us. But if zombies happening starts up there, then they can keep it to themselves.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Farenheit ForFucksSake... Authors and Overreaction.

Not a good week for novelists, then. It does seem as though Patrick McLaw, the American schoolteacher whose case was scaring the crap out of writers in both hemispheres, was picked up for more than just writing a couple of ropey science fiction novels, though actual details are still not very available. At the same time, it's not all that surprising that the idea of a teacher being hounded out of his job and marched off for a forcible psychiatric evaluation just for writing stories was so terribly plausible. To anyone on this side of the Atlantic who keeps even half an eye on US politics, the Yanks have been looking steadily more mental for the last few years. Despite having replaced the war-mongering, jeezus-jumping Bush thicko with a bloke who at least appears capable of dressing himself in the morning, America seems to be sliding back into a semi-primordial soup of violent racism and scary institutionalised misogyny.

Over here, though, we're not doing much better. Council worker Bettina Bunte has also lost her education-related job because she wrote a book - in her case, an erotic novel based on personal experience. Once again, there is possibly  more to this story than the information available to the public at present - if Ms Bunte was writing under a pseudonym, how did parents of the children she worked with know about her book? Was she using the fact of her employment by the council in an education-related capacity as a selling point? The latter seems unlikely given that she used a pseudonym.

Writers of erotica - along with horror writers - have had years of putting up with stupid bucketheads who seem to have only the barest understanding of what fiction actually is, because they don't ever read books. Ms Bunte makes no secret of the fact that her novel is based on her own life story, but it's a novel, not a memoir. Mr McLaw's novels are set nearly a millenium into the future, so whatever life experiences he may have drawn on to write them, they are not depictions of actual or imminent events. Some of us who are in the business of writing erotic stories do sometimes base a key scene on something we once did or at least wanted to do, but all of us get very tired of being asked if we have as much sex as our characters.

At present, it's still fairly unlikely that anyone's going to try and revive the Witchcraft Act in order to bang JK Rowling up for casting real spells but the idea that novelists can and should be persecuted for what they have their fictitious creations do is a worrying one, and it needs to be loudly opposed.