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.

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