Sunday, 27 October 2013

Books and bums and badges and beer - Erotica revisited.


Well, the new venue's an improvement on Olympia in many ways. Tobacco Dock is a lovely steampunky setting full of corridors and little rooms, so the vibe was rather more of an upmarket shopping centre than a lairy great aircraft hanger. And the endless subdivisions of the showspace did make it a bit easier to stay unaffected by the sound from the live shows. In former years, the stage noise was the thing that the traders tended to hate the most: not just the volume but the repetition, as there were something like six shows a day for three days, and every show the same. I still can't hear the opening riff to You Can Leave Your Hat On without swearing to myself.

The stand, organised by the wonderful Smutters queens Lucy Felthouse and Victoria Blisse was a couple of tables in a corridor, but this actually worked to our collective advantage, especially on Saturday when we were mob-handed and we had an amp and a microphone. We got a lot of through traffic, even if a percentage of it only wanted to ask for diretions to the loo... I've said it before but it's worth saying again: erotic writers seem to be such a lovely bunch of people. There's a lot of mutual support and enthusiasm and friendliness - perhaps because we're still seen, to an extent, as a rather strange minority so it's extra-delightful just to hang out with our peers and not have to go through the usual 'No, I haven't really done everything I write about. No, actually, I don't want to do any hands-on research with you, mate.'
The visiting public were enthusiastic and friendly as well, with books shifting rapidly to the extent that Victoria and Lucy were probably going home with empty suitcases. As I don't currently have much that's in print form, I took a scaled-down version of the Decadent Media badge tray with me, and that seemed to appeal to punters as well. I've certainly come back from my two days in Tobacco Dock feeling revitalised and inspired and ready to write a lot more stuff, which makes a change from past events when I often came home knackered, hungover and with a head that just spun with the line 'better luck next year.'

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Hi ho, hi ho, to Erotica we go..

Perhaps not 'with a bucket and spade and a hand grenade' - in my case it will be with a bag of flyers and quite possibly a sneaky six-pack. I haven't actually been to Erotica for a year or two, and haven't been an exhibitor since 2005, but I am quite looking forward to it this time round.

(flyers will naturally be featuring this. Can't upload the poxy flyer itself as it's a PDF grr)

I was at the very first one, in November 1997. I remember hearing about it that summer, and discussing it with my friends G and L, with whom I ran the Guild Of Erotic Writers. Initially we weren't going to go due to it being about £3K for a pitch, but then we heard that the Whiplash Fetish Market people had booked a massive chunk of space and were parceling it out at £300 a table, so in we promptly leapt. As I recall, we were flogging Guild books (Anthology no 1 and Deadly Strangers, our venture into horror), the opportunity to sign up for Guild membership, and - a bit of a forerunner of what Decadent Media would later become - I knocked up a bunch of 'slave contracts' on the office Mac and put them into clear film pockets and took them along as well.

And it was probably one of the most exciting weekends of my life. The event ran from Friday lunchtime to Sunday evening, as it still does, and on the Friday evening I had to hand the stall over to G and bolt up to Manchester to take part in one of what we used to call 'the regionals' - a late-night live talk show that would feature a panel of experts and an audience spiked with picked contributors who had something to say. I think this particular one was Granada Upfront but it might have been Central Weekend, or something else entirely. I remember trying to articulate what the first day had been like: a non-stop rush of giggly, excited, generally lovely people, all eager to explore what was on offer. I'd said to friends and fellow traders at the time: it's like the start of a revolution.

Part of it was sheer good luck as, only a short time before the event, the BBFC had awarded licences to a couple of porn films. One was called Batbabe, the other was, I think, Pyramid or The Pyramids. When I was setting out my piles of books, I saw a bloke wheeling a trolley piled high with videos (yes, videos - I'm not entirely sure there were DVDs at that point) of these two titles. By Sunday night, nearly all of them had gone. This relaxing of censorship had got everyone talking about porn, sex, acceptability and the rest of it. Also, the people behind Erotica had made a conscious decision to market it to, as Savvas Christodoulou told me later on, women and couples rather than just heterosexual men.

In the late 90s, quite a few shows and events sprang up, hoping to grab a slice of the erotic pie for themselves. Pretty much every one was a disaster - I know because I generally went to them, plugging the Guild and later trying to get Decadent Media going - often because the organisers either forgot or rejected the idea that women like sex too and making an erotic event female-friendly gets higher attendance and more money spent. There was a particularly ghastly one at Wembley which was 'laddish' to the point of being a bit scary; an under-attended weekend in the Midlands that I enjoyed immensely on a personal level (outlaw bikers, charming erotic artists, lovely locals and a hilarious amount of outrage from the local church) but which was financially a non-starter for the Guild.  Erotica, for several years, remained immense fun to participate in, but then seemed to lose its way mid-Noughties. There came a point when the stall prices went up a ridiculous amount, so that most of the smaller traders couldn't afford to take any space. The organisers also took to courting mainstream businesses and offering them free pitches: the Vegetarian Society and the RSPB had stands there one year, along with homeopaths, cosmetic dentists and diet food peddlers.

I'm looking forward to this year's do, though. I know I'm going to be catching up with a lot of mates, potential new friends, clients and colleagues. And not having to lug crates and crates of stock with me will be a relief, as well. Let's just hope it turns out nice for us all.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Trigger warning of.. stuff. Yes, there's stuff everywhere.

Trigger. Erm, that's a horse. (Who pulled the fastest milk cart in the west). It's currently a bit of a ... thing to label your blogposts and your comments and your general social media behaviour with 'trigger warnings'. To an extent, it's a matter of good manners: let readers know in advance if what they are about to read is potentially going to upset them, but it's also becoming a bit of a self-righteousness indicator. It's not good to have a conversation completely obliterated and drowned out by people screaming that it 'needs a trigger warning but refusing to discuss whatever it actually was.People who have been traumatized in any way can be badly upset by all sorts of things - rainfall, blue trousers, the smell of cheese - and while those close to them can tread carefully and avoid any known upsetters, there needs to be a balance between one person's distress and another's right to discuss stuff ,be themselves, live their lives. 'I've been triggered' is sometimes used as a justification for bullying. attention-seeking behaviour - when it comes to discussion of something contentious, does one person's need not to hear it trump another person's need to speak?
An obsession with policing what is and isnt' 'triggering' is just another version of censorship. I'm certainly not going to label any posts after this one as 'trigger warning' - only two people and a dead dog read this blog anyway - if you don't feel too good, or something upsetting has happened to you, confine your internet activity to comfortable, gentle websites and good luck to you. But the rest of the world doesn't have to stop.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

No, we won't put it away, actually. Why should we?

I wasn 't going to bother about the whole Miley Cyrus malarkey. If she wants to spend the next couple of months/years of her fame going LOOK AT MY PANTS! LOOK AT MY TITS! LOOK AT MEEEEEEE! then fair play to her.

She's quite nice to look at, if your tastes run to slender, well-styled, young white women. It's a pity her records are so utterly fucking boring.

Thing is, Sinead O'Connor's records are pretty fucking boring, as well. Mandinka was about the only one I ever liked. And her whole schtick and selling point has always been BOOHOO LOOK AT MY AGONY. Which I don't think is any more - or less - empowerfulizing than 'Look at my chuff! Look at my boob job!'

Miley Cyrus is doing the sort of stuff you'd expect from anyone who spent her adolescence being forced to stay squeaky clean and pretend she didn't have a chuff at all. Daniel Radcliffe, don't forget, went straight from Harry Potter to getting his cock out and abusing horses.

Oh FFS. Of course I mean he took the lead role in the play Equus. Whatever Daniel Radcliffe gets his actual jollies from is a) perfectly legal I'm sure and b) none of my business. Or yours. But no one seems to have spent any time wailing at him about how doing That Sort Of Thing would end up with him being prostituted and corrupted and dying in rehab and shit.


I got my kit off to 'further my career', once. Well, once very publicly. Sadly no record of it seems to remain - and of course I have looked. Repeatedly. It was a late night Channel 4 show 20 years ago, featuring a panel of 'names' and a chunk of enthusiastic 'audience-with-something-to-say', all of whom were clothing-free. I'm slightly sorry that the damn thing isn't lurking on Youtube, actually, as from what I remember from actually watching a mate's videotape of it a year or so later, I looked quite nice.

And I don't regret doing it at all. It wasn't the greatest experience of my life - it was freezing cold in the studio, and I developed pleurisy a week later; my parents were seriously annoyed with me and I got choked off by the presenters before I got to say what I wanted to say - but I still feel better about the fact that I did it than I would feel if, looking back now, I remember only bottling out.

I didn't terribly want to do it. I didn't scrabble at the door till they let me in or anything. At the time, I was the editor of a small magazine at a large publishing house, and we had a chap whose job it was to get publicity for the magazines any way that was going, and one of the ways he did so on this occasion was to book me on to this Naked Chat Show. And tell me after it was booked.

I didn't want to do it, but I reckoned I had to. But this was absolutely not because I was a good obedient girl who didn't want to spurn the hard work done by the nice PR man. I didn't want to do it because I was a bit chubby, and a bit pallid, and a bit ungroomed, and I didn't want the watching millions to be going 'Eurgh, look at the fat flabby ugly minger!' I didn't like those thoughts, and I didn't agree with them, and I don't agree with them now. Back then - and today - I've written quite a bit about the fact that most of us don't have 'perfect' bodies, but that our bodies, even imperfect, are still valuable and desirable, and the non-spectacular majority of us still generally manage to attract partners we desire despite their imperfections.

I suspected I was being, if not exactly set up, at least expected by the production crew, to do the 'We're all lovely in our imperfections' role while the cameras lingered on any visual flaws they could find, so I decided to fuck that up a bit. I bought some stick-on tattoos and an eyeliner pencil which I used to write various slogans on myself. I used tons of spray and mousse on my hair (1993, OK?) and put on huge diamante earrings. I swaggered. It was, sort of, a lot of fun: I had a couple of mates with me and I seem to recall a certain amount of free drink being involved.

Having done that myself, I feel very much inclined to be annoyed with those who go on (and on and on) about how women in particular will only be 'respected' if they cover themselves up. Our bodies are just us, and why shouldn't we have fun with ourselves if we want to?

Friday, 11 October 2013

Same shit, different way?

I was thinking about the Beatles the other day. Bear with me, it's probably a bit of an age thing; I'm nearly 50 and the Beatles were just... there all the way through my life. Up to and including that time when Paul McCartney seriously narked me by stealing the news coverage I had planned for my dance team (if you want that story, say so. It involves the Evening Standard, some undignified scuffling and a prat in a box).

The thing about the Beatles - and the Stones, as well, really - is that, in the course of their artistic careers, they were allowed to change, and change dramatically. If you listen to something like She Loves You and follow it almost immediately with Blue Jay Way or Within You Without You (or, for the Stones fan, compare Satisfaction with Emotional Rescue) you struggle a bit to remember that you're listening to the same band. Whereas if you took the first Oasis album and the last one and stuck the two on shuffle, anyone who wasn't fairly dedicated to the band would probably struggle to say which track came from which album and not from any of the ones in between.

Nowadays, nearly any band that gets listened to widely for more than a couple of years' worth of music-producing seems to produce nothing more than slightly-twiddled versions of the hit single and the not-quite-such-a-hit single, over and over again. If you started out as Goths, Goths you must remain - coming up with a bit of ska or Britpop or classic disco will get you nothing more than a smack on the head from the record company. If you want to do something a bit different to the Thing You Do, you have to run off and do it in your own time, usually with someone other than your regular bandmates, and you often have to give yourself a different name.

Similar restrictions seem to apply to writers, as this blogpost from erotic writer Janine Ashbless shows. It seems to apply in particular to writers of erotic material - as recently as 1996 a how-to manual was advising authors to have a 'separate pen name' for their filth, though this was more on the grounds that writing about sex in an enjoyable, arousing way was something you were supposed to fence off from your 'proper' writing. But the current trend seems to be that if you write erotica, you're supposed to stay in a little tiny box appropriate to the type of erotica you write. So if your first widely-read book featured predominantly BDSM, or LGBT, if you want to write about spanking or polyamory, you need to change your pen name. And if you have sold a few books under the branding banner of 'hot romance' and you want to add a bit more group sex or fisting to your next one, it's better to give yourself a new identity, or your regular readers will shit the bed and pass out.

What irritates me is that I don't actually think the majority of people who like to read books *are* this stupid and stubborn. I think that (again, particularly with regard to erotica) a lot of the publishers are the ones who think the readers are dimwits who have to be peddled the same thing over and over again, and that people who read books - and come on, readers are basically the top of the food chain - are quite capable of enjoying something that isn't just the same as the last thing they read.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Bonk The Dinosaur - well, why not?

You've probably heard, by now, that the 'latest thing' is dinosaur porn.
Yes, we can start with a good laugh at the spectacularly shit photoshopping on the cover, even though, conceptually, the cover is a work of genius in that it signals exactly what you're going to get from the book. We can, if we've looked into it in the slightest, have a bit of a mutter about the fact that the 'authors' of this genre (apparently two American students) are charging upwards of three quid for very, very short stories about shagging extinct reptiles while wearing some sort of brass bra, and quite probably lipstick and suspenders as well. We could maybe quote and mock the admittedly bloody awful prose style - yup, you thought EL James made Dan Brown look like Stephen King; Christie Sims and Alara Branwen make EL James look like at least the average Sun leader writer.
My own immediate, personal reaction is, of course, furious jealousy that these two utterly terrible writers, are getting worldwide publicity when I am not. I doubt that there are many erotic writers who don't feel at least a flicker of it. But there is something quite interesting about the way this concept has suddenly exploded all over the media. It's being treated as something amusing, a bit strange and maybe a little bit icky, but so far no one is screaming and shitting the bed about it being an Awful Threat To Our Young People, and no one is demanding it be classified as Extreme Porn and banned.
Of course, a lot of people would say that it's only a story, and therefore there is no need to worry about real women (or indeed real dinosaurs) having been coerced into performing sex acts for entertainment or other people's financial gain. But Darryn Walker's piece of equally badly-written and entirely preposterous fiction, Girls (Scream) Aloud led to him being arrested, charged and prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act, though he was eventually acquitted. While it's likely that Walker got into trouble because his story was about real, named individuals even though there is a longstanding tradition of fanfic about both copyrighted fictional characters and actual living celebrities, there's also the possibility that erotic fiction that is written, aimed at and consumed by women rather than men is perceived as silly and unimportant. The concept of mythic-beast-shaggery was dealt with in a male-oriented, male-created film, The Beast (Walerian Borowczyk) which basically features a bloke in a monkey suit with  a giant willy being wanked off by some woman's feet. Oh and a girl sticking a rose up her chuff and some horses having genuine horse sex. The film is variously described as subversive, dangerous, beautiful and truthful, and was banned for decades: having seen it at some 'transgressive' film festival years ago, my verdict is more along the lines of 'unintentionally hilarious'.
Some people's sexual tastes are, well, weird. They are not shared by the minority. That doesn't mean they are necessarily wrong. There is one faulty brand of cod-feminism which insists that any kind of paraphilia (sexual interest in something other than a partner's erogenous zones) is exclusive to men, and that women want 'love', but there's plenty of evidence that women can be just as sexually interested in objects, concepts and physical impossibilities as men might be. Just grab yourself a copy of My Secret Garden - the huge range of women's fantasies in that book include all sorts of BDSM, bestiality, supernatural stuff. The truth that if you can think of a thing, someone, somewhere, is wanking over it applies just as much to women as to men. Mostly, though, niche smut tends to be screamingly amateurish. Back in the Guild Of Erotic Writers era, we often had to try to explain to would-be authors that very, very few people are going to be as thrilled as they are by 3000 words on the precise flavour of the thirty different cheeses that your protagonist shoves up his ringpiece, and you really don't need to do a drawing in the margin of the specific brand-name box with a hole in it that is the object of your desire.
Author Aishling Morgan, aka Peter Birch, achieved well-deserved success by being the first - and is quite possibly still the only - author to combine an interest in fairly out-there filth (nappies, pony play, lactation, mutation) with an ability to write well, and Googling for 'dinosaur porn' doesn't lead you to any product that isn't by these two particular authors - or is just yet another Eek Boo Hoo Tee Hee opinion piece on the 'phenomenon' - which consists of about seven short stories and nothing else.
The authors have, apparently produced a lot of other stories which they describe as 'beast sex... designed to unlock your darkest fantasies' and which apparently feature orcs and weretigers as well as giant lizards. I'm ever so slightly inclined to get in touch and ask them what they could do with the concept of the Illuminati and a story of Prince Philip and Peter Mandelson turning into giant lizards while bonking some picturesque pauper.
Actually, maybe I should write that one myself. Two pages and £3.99 on Amazon. That will do. Or maybe what I need is, you know, some really filthy thoughts about...