Sunday, 20 April 2014

Don't quote, just link...

Some things, while not actually unfair, are a bit fucking annoying. One of them is the matter of song lyrics and wanting to quote them in fiction.

Don't. Do. It. Not unless you are seriously minted and/or have a publisher who is. Song lyrics (unless the song was written before 1923) are copyrighted, and the normal concept of 'fair use' doesn't apply. So if you want to bung in a few lines by John Lennon or Madonna or these unjustly forgotten geniuses then you need to obtain permission from the copyright holder and pay whatever fee they ask. There's a pretty straightforward article on how to go about doing so here but it's obviously going to be a bigger problem for the little indie or self-publisher to find the money, let alone get an email answered by whoever deals with Justin Bieber's publishing rights.

It always used to nark me a bit, as I often find myself wanting to quote a line or two from either a favourite song or one I loathe, if it seems particularly apposite when I'm writing a key scene. But I do accept that people who have written a song deserve a share of the take when someone else makes use of their work
There are ways round it: the easiest is probably just to mention the song's title and say that the characters are listening to it, or have it on the brain, or even that they are singing/quoting it as long as you don't actually repeat the lyrics. At least these days the curious reader who isn't actually familiar with the song you've namechecked can usually go and find a version of it on Youtube and see how appropriate the chorus is to your story for themselves.

If that doesn't suit you, another option is to make it all up, just like the rest of the story. Invent a band or singer, scribble yourself a few lines that are at least rhythmic and maybe rhyme, and use those. Though if you are an old fart who is writing about pop music while not liking it much, this may not work at all: one or two novelists whose work is otherwise briliant turn embarrassingly awful when it comes to fictitious song lyrics.

The plan C I used in Black Heart is probably one that would only work once: a friend of mine was once in a band and I happened to be listening to his old demos around the time I was writing the middle section of the book. It then occurred to me that the band who feature in Black Heart ought to sound like my old pal's lot, and therefore it would be useful to quote the relevant lyrics - and all I had to do was email him and ask.

Probably the next move, for those of you who had actually wondered about the songs Daniel sings for Rosa, would be for me to work out a way of uploading the actual tracks to DoD so you can all have a listen for yourselves...

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Waaah! Waaah! There goes the Entitled Whiny Man alarm!

... In the shape of one David Foster wailing away in the Grauniad about how it's Just Not Fair that women object to having creepy men approach with their cocks out all the time.

Foster says 'there is a risk of comparing offensive and clumsy sexual remarks with respectful, courteous sexual advances.'

David, David, David, you silly tosser. You might as well just get a biro and write 'Creepy Fucker' on your own forehead. It's the absolute hallmark of the creepy fucker to insist that women are too stupid, humourless and paranoid to be able to tell the difference between the dangerous predator and the well-meaning idiot.

It's men who seem to have a problem understanding that there is a difference between shy clumsiness and whiny, entitled Nice Guy TM behaviour.

There are plenty of easy ways to make the acquaintance of people who are, or might well be, happy to have sex with you. There are dating websites, hookup websites, clubs, bars, parties, gigs, all full of people who are at least potentially interested in finding a sexual partner. 
If you've tried these methods and got nowhere, the problem is not Evil Feminism gluing women's legs closed. The problem is probably you
But but but, waah waah waah, women only like rich handsome men and the rest of us get friendzoned and served with restraining orders and LAUGHED AT.... You don't have to be rich or model-perfect, but it's helpful to make the best of yourself. For the really slow-on-the-uptake, that means making enough effort not to smell like a neglected laundry basket, checking there's no food stuck in your teeth, and managing a little more conversational competence than 'Hurr, I really wanna fuck all your holes'

It isn't, actually, totally impossible to connect with an attractive stranger at the bus stop or in the library, of course. But to do this successfully, you have to accept a very important truth. You are not entitled to so much as a second of this person's time. If s/he doesn't want to talk to you, you need to leave that person alone. If you're not sufficiently socially skilled and intelligent to read the signals - person holding eye contact with you, smiling at you, offering a few polite opening remarks means IT'S OK TO TALK TO ME; person reading, turning away from you, talking to someone else,  on the phone or playing Candy Crush or whatever means DO NOT APPROACH ME - then you really shouldn't be let out of the house without a minder.

It's not puritanism, sexual repression, political correctness or feminism that makes women complain about men's poor behaviour.  It's men's poor behaviour that's to blame.  When it comes to street encounters and approaches, maybe sexually desperate, 'oppressed' straight white guys should consider the social and legal rules that apply in general. Think about the chugger, the religious nut, the Big Issue seller and the individual dressed as a giant mushroom trying to tempt you into the new pizza restaurant. You hope they'll get out of your way. You try to communicate that you're not interested. But you don't expect them to call you an uptight cunt and physically attack you if you just walk on by...

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Twenty years ago? Oh come off it!

It was one of those unexpected jolts that occasionally occur even when you're, well, young at heart. A piece showed up on my Twitter feed mentioning that it was 20 years ago the Kurt Cobain topped himself and Britpop sort of began. And I thought, 20 years? Can't be right. That was only a couple of summers ago, surely.
And then I thought: 1994! I didn't even have a mobile phone, then. And though I did have a book out, sort of (it was full length but printed in 'magazine format' ie softcover A5 and sold in newsagents rather than bookshops), the main promotion I did was borrowing copies from the office and taking them round the various rock clubs of the West End to show them to my mates and deal with the delicate social ramifications of people thinking that this or that character in the story was based on them, or on their boyfriend or girlfriend. No Twitterstorms or Facebook pages for that one. It would be about another year before I even worked out what the Internet was.

I don't think there are many copies of Cathouse still in existence, and glancing through the last survivor on my own bookshelf makes me wince a bit at its many flaws, but I do remember how much I enjoyed writing it, and how incredibly exciting it was to tell all my friends that it was ACTUALLY OUT NOW! IN SHOPS!

As it is, I'm in the early preliminary stages (or at least my Other Self is) of piecing together a new book, about which I can say only that it does involve the effects of the past on the present, so thinking back is a moderately useful exercise. And music is one of the best tools for taking your mind back into the past. While I was out of my teens in the Britpop era, I was still very interested in music, still buying records on vinyl (does anyone even know what that is now?) and still, as I am even now, fascinated by bands, their dynamics, their stories, their ideas. 

I think the new book might be about to get interesting even if it's not possible to quote song lyrics without getting in a legal stew.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Food and Sex and a Side of Misogyny.

When I was a nipper (well, a young teen) one of the Rules of my School was 'Girls wearing their uniform may not eat in the street, or on public transport.' Though we were solemnly informed by our form teachers that, actually, if your train journey home was longer than 20 minutes, you wouldn't actually be expelled for eating a biscuit or two. There's certainly a school of thought to the effect that eating in the street is at least proletarian, if not downright skanky.

But an ice cream on a hot day is jolly nice, and it really won't wait until you get home. 

Chowing down on public transport can be a touch antisocial, it's true. I did once have to get off a bus due to someone else's eyewateringly stinky supper, and the pervasive honk of chip fat on the trams at the end of the school day is not exactly lovable. Add in the way some people consume food - groaning, slobbering, chewing with their mouths open, tossing the debris over their shoulders and farting with appreciation - and you can see some justification for someone starting up a Facebook group to take the piss.

Bet the oral sex technique is interesting....

However, calling your Facebook group WOMEN Who Eat On Tubes does rather imply that you're bothered by more than the decline in modern dining etiquette, somehow. Centuries of misogyny 'culture and tradtion' have reinforced the message that women shouldn't eat too much, shouldn't enjoy their food, should never forget that being hungry is far less important than appearing attractive to men. Even now, British and American women are expected and encouraged to talk about food in a way that emphasises guilt and shame rather than pleasure, and it's treated as natural that women hate their own bodies, have to be told what to eat and, if they are not thin, they are fair game for anyone who wants to point this out to them. In domestic settings, it's always been accepted (and often still is) that men get given food first, get the most food and the best of the food. So for the smug cock who set up WWEOT to claim that it's all about 'human' behaviour is tiresome and dishonest. The W and the P are not next to each other on your keyboard, mate. You've set this group up to take the piss out of women, because you are, at heart, an immature tosspot who thinks 'Girls, eeew!'

 The writer Fiona Pitt-Kethley was quoted as saying she liked to eat bananas on the tube as a way of freaking out men, which strikes me as quite a good way of dealing with the whole issue, really. Anything phallic-shape can be tenderly sucked and licked and toyed with until you've got the attention of every loser in the carriage, at which point you bite it brutally in half...

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

My Eroticon, oh my oh my....

Time and distance lend perspective, and all that. Waiting about ten days to put up my thoughts on the Eroticon 2014 weekend is about time and distance and NOTHING AT ALL to do with being a lazy sod whose past week has involved a three day hangover and a lot of staring into space grinning while the concept of a new trilogy begins to gain shape. Oh no. Course not.
So, how was it for us? Mighty fine, since you ask. I got myself to Bristol after a not-too-awful coach trip and found my pleasant little B&B was, usefully, on the main bus route into the town centre. So, quick cuppa and a scrubdown later, I hit the bar of the Radisson Blu hotel, wondering if I should have worn a red carnation or something. I did have my ‘Mr Grey is a Lousy Lay’ badge on, but there isn’t exactly an erotica authors’ uniform (no matter what some MoPs might think). Luckily I recognised Jilly Boyd and Molly from encounters at Sh! And knew I was in the right part of the bar, at least. There were loads of new people to meet, as well: some of whom I ‘knew’ from Twitter and some I’d met at Tobacco Dock last year and – as always – a brilliant atmosphere of instant friendship and shared worldviews.
All the time, though, I was aware that I was going to have to talk and be sensible first thing in the morning, so I actually moderated myself a bit in terms of pints of cider consumed, and got a reasonably early night.

Saturday was lovely and sunny; the conference venue a gorgeous, stately old gaff in the town centre with a welcoming atmosphere and I got there in time to have a quick huddle with my co-speakers Myles Jackman, a truly righteous lawyer who I would love to have at my back if I ever do get myself in proper trouble and Pandora Blake, who is doing an awesome job of reinventing and revitalising porn that works for women. The three of us were doing the opening session on censorship and how it affects us, and I think I can say we went down well (and you are welcome to reinterpret that in ways that please your imagination…)
Further talks and workshops followed, some of which made me yearn for Hermione Grainger’s Time Turner so I could actually be in two places at once. As it was, I picked Emily Dubberly and Mia Moore’s advice session on dealing with the press and Lily Hastings’ enthralling lecture on anatomy – yes, if you’re going to write about sex you need to know your body parts. Unlike a long-ago dipstick who once submitted me a manuscript containing the unintentionally terrifying line ‘I parted her clitoris’…
After lunch – and lunch was as awesome as the rest; none of your own-brand crisps and soggy sarnies here – I had a prowl round the bookstalls and caught up with various friends before being enthralled and educated by Michael Knight and Ruby Goodnight on the subject of traffic-building and all that new technological stuff that still tends to bemuse me. I know a lot more now and just need to apply it.

Saturday night was party time at the Elephant Bar with some serious dressing up going on, lots of fizz, a little flirtation and various schemes and plans for future projects. Unsurprisingly, when we all got back to Armada House on Sunday morning, several of us were on the pale and trembling side of things. Lavish applications of tea and coffee got people into gear, though, and I spent the morning focussing on flash fiction with Kristina Lloyd. Using nail polish and paint colour charts for inspiration is unexpectedly effective. Once again, when it came to the afternoon’s choice of workships I struggled to decide and settled on Harper Elliot and Gryphon’s tips for reading your work aloud followed by the Ask An Editor Session. We finished off with readings and delicious cakes, and suddenly the weekend was over. Way, way too soon: more than one attendee was a little misty-eyed and miserable when it came to saying goodbye. Those of us with enough time to kill before trains and coaches home did nip into the nearest pub for a farewell pint or so, but if it’s true that the best entertainments always leave you wanting more, then you can safely say: job done, Ruby Kiddell and co.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Shiver with antici..........pation.

There's definitely excitement in the air this week (which is a pleasant change, for me anyway, after last week's whingefest) as we count down the days to Eroticon 2014. Maybe it's because I feel like I've finally got the hang of Twitter, or at least finally seem to be able to participate in an ongoing discussion without confusing the crap out of myself, but I'm bouncing around in a way I haven't done for years. It's not quite like kid-revving-up-for-Xmas, more the chattering, buttonholing-people, spreading-the-word vibes I've had before going to particularly good gigs or parties.

I don't think I ever got this worked up before the Guild Of Erotic Writers conferences. Runup to one of those was generally a matter of deciding what butties to make and how many boxes of wine to buy from Tescos, and how to make whatever damp community centre we'd booked for the event look a little more cheerful.

Even though our conferences were generally enjoyable once they were actually happening and usually ended with me getting to sleep with yet another of the editors from a particular arthouse publisher I don't recall quite such feverish anticipation beforehand.

It could be just another example of How It's All Changed These Days. We ran the Guild via photocopied newsletters and (in the independent part of its existence) a PO box that letters had to be fetched from once a week. While there was an Internet, it was still rather esoteric and not many people knew how to use it: there was no Twitter to whip up a feeding frenzy, no Facebook to create a group and invite everyone you could think of. I think I like things better the modern way. Better outreach, more fun, faster access and all the rest of it. So I'm counting the number of sleeps till Eroticon. And if I get to sleep with any publishers over the course of the weekend, well, I'll probably keep that to myself, if you don't mind.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Pity the poor writer. Or don't, if you've got it worse.

I’ve got enough self-pity for all of us. About 15 years ago, in the midst of a welter of self-harming friends, court cases, sleep deprivation, excessive responsibility and a sore hoohoo along with the rest, someone said to me: it’s not a competition.
About 30 years ago, when I was wailing on my bed about having been dumped, someone said to me, it could be worse, you could be starving in Africa.

It’s not a competition. It could be worse. That doesn’t mean it’s not horrible. I’m having a shit-there’s-no-money week at the end of a shit-there’s-no-money month. There’s still a roof over our heads. There’s the makings of at least two meals in the freezer, though they won’t be very nice and may or may not involve at least one portion of something that’s incubating a few toxins. Because it’s been in the freezer against emergencies through a power outage when we were away and too skint to top up the electricity meter.

But I am a Professional Writer. I’ve been Published. If I want to be Published again, I can’t own up to being broke. I’ve got to smile sweetly when someone forgot to pass the invoice to the accounts department, or comes out with the old actually-we-don’t-pay-till-next-week-oops-sorry-next-month and say never mind, doesn’t matter. Because these days just about everyone who works in the arts or the media has parents who will bail them out or already gave them a trust fund, and thinks being broke means shopping at Tescos rather than Waitrose, and consider it a bit peculiar and ‘difficult’ and ‘demanding’ of freelancers or authors to be concerned about money. 

So then it comes down to the point where the cable bill hasn’t been paid and therefore the internet is off, and the emergency dongle all of a sudden has a minimum connection fee of a fiver when you only have two pounds, and even when you’ve paid it, you're on the old computer because the decent one's been pawned, as has everything else that isn't nailed down. So the connection is apocalyptically unstable and after you’ve hit Page Unresponsive Reload about 25 times you still can’t get where you want to be, and therefore can’t fulfil the promises you made and all the duties that are now expected of a writer, And OK, you're not needing a referral to the food bank yet, but all that's in your inbox is chirpy requests to submit work to organisations that 'don't have a budget but it will be great exposure for you', then maybe you start thinking that it’s not just writers who should be aware there’s something wrong somewhere.