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?

GISSA SNOG THEN YOU SEXY MONSTER!


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.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Screwdriver!

**** EDITED**** Link to the rest of the party now works!
Fancy a drink? Those of you who read this blog for the feminist rantings might want to run off elsewhere for the day – or not. You might want to sit down, grab a stiff one and join the fun.
Today I’m piling on on the Kinky Cocktail Party which has been organised by Kristina Lloyd to launch the blog tour for her new novel, Undone, which centres on a cocktail bar. Checking out both the book and the rest of the antics going on all over the Web on the theme today is strongly recommended.

So I picked Screwdriver as a cocktail, even though I’m more of a pint-of-cider type, because I fancied talking about science, research and technology in erotic fiction.



I am an absolute bollock when it comes to mechanical, practical stuff. I had trouble changing lightbulbs until I started living alone in my late 20s and got deservedly mocked for trying to make visitors do it for me. However, this didn’t stop me having various goes at writing sci fi stories in my teens, and even having one published in the late, lamented Erotic Stories some time in the 90s. You don’t have to understand the precise working procedures of the internal combustion engine to have your heroine jump into a car and drive over to the house of the person she fancies fucking the arse off tonight. You do, maybe, need to know the order in which one switches off the handbrake, looks in the mirror, tunes the radio and puts the car into fifth gear, or whatever if you are going to mention these details because getting them wrong will make you look a bit of a dipstick. But given that the majority of readers not only know how to drive cars but do the basic list of actions involved in starting a car and driving it away so frequently that they hardly think about them, it’s actually a bit strange to itemise every stage of the process when writing a story that’s predominantly about sex and other human interactions.
With sci fi, or steampunk, or fantasy, you’re making it all up anyway, but it helps to think it through and make your making-up comply with your story’s internal logic. A story-universe full of horny goblins and Merrie England naughty peasants is not going to have its conflict resolved convincingly by someone Googling the problem. If there’s a bit of your hard science and hardcore BDSM tale of interplanetary buggery where someone needs to fix the landing pods, you might need to involve some sort of Alien Beans instead of Magic Woo Beans for this to work.
Either way, you can’t get by without a little research. Be aware of the classic tropes (and the relevant laws of time, motion, gravity, energy etc) whether your subject matter is spooks or spaceships. Writing about vampires, for example, means deciding in advance whether or not they have an issue with garlic and religious iconography and, quite probably, acknowledging the choice you made somewhere within the story given that, like driving a car, most of your readers will have some sort of idea of how to get rid of all those pesky biters.


I’m currently working on a steampunk story which features an orgasm-powered train. I did my research, or some of it anyway, at a steam museum. No, I didn’t offer to demonstrate my theory.

Friday, 15 August 2014

The Glory That Was Geekfest

Having gone along to the first Nine Worlds Geekfest last year to sell stuff, along with Miss Deadly Glamour, and had a completely wonderful time, I was even more thrilled to be attending this year as an actual speaker/performer/workshopper.

I am a thoroughly subcultural, non-mainstream old bird and always have been - give me pagans, perverts and morris dancers over z-list slebs and hipster hangouts any day - and one of the reasons I love these types of event is that you meet nicer people. Nine Worlds deserves particular praise in this area for managing to host an event that is hugely inclusive and accessible without the organisers ever getting tiresomely officious about it. It's just a done deal - all kinds of people are attending: everyone's got the right to be there and enjoy him/herself without being pestered or mocked or patronized or chivvied about.

To my great regret, I was only able to be there on the Friday, but I made the most of my time. Cosplay is something I admire but am generally crap at, being lazy, skint and not much cop at handicrafts. However, I did happen to have a nice gold frock in the wardrobe and, after some consideration, decided that it would form the basis of a Muse costume (given that my official reason for being there was to help Kristina Lloyd run a workshop on erotic writing along with a Smut Slam).

(gold frock, Cthulhu necklace and laurel wreath - job done!)

Admittedly it might have been smarter to wait till after I had done my bit before diving into the messy injuries make-up workshop and putting on a zombie face. But no one seemed to mind my sunken eyes and smears of fake blood.

Despite a couple of technical hitches at the beginning, our workshop went off well, and people seemed to enjoy being given a selection of short passages to transform from one genre to another (steampunk to BDSM, lesbian spanking to paranormal het romance, etc) and the standard of work read out at the later Smut Slam was pretty damn good as well. Kristina and I agreed that, in the spirit of inclusiveness and good sportingness and stuff, we would not give the prize to any of our mates even though several were in the room having been pestered by us to enter the contest in case no one else did, but luckily all the writers who were new to us were brilliant too, and it was actually a difficult decision to make.

And I have lost the bit of paper on which I wrote down the winners' names, which is extremely crap of me. But you were wonderful and I hope you enjoy your books.

Next year, I am definitely going to go for the entire weekend. Even if it means repeated 4-hour night bus journeys while dressed as some kind of alien.