Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Still dirty after all these years

Another year older and, yes, still in debt, but remaining optimistic. I do feel the need to mention that this year ended with a Significant Birthday, because such birthdays do make you stop and reconsider. I'm not living the life I thought I would be ten or twenty years ago, but in some ways it's better than anticipated. Though I'd prefer it to be like this with more money, of course.

As far as writing goes, it's been a nice, interesting year. Eroticon and Smut Manchester were both great fun, and I also got going on my own Dirty Sexy Words slam nights, which will be getting bigger and better in 2015.

My alter ego published a novella and a couple of short stories this year and I managed to get two short stories out into the world and begin on a hugely complicated new novel. Once again I am awed by the productivity of various pals who manage two novels, three novellas and fifteen shorts per annum. I should spend less time on Facebook and more time in front of Vintage TV with the little laptop, I really should.

And the wider world? Continues to be a fucking tricky place for everyone: austerity and inequality here and the most psychotically misogynistic terrorist group in the universe rampaging around elsewhere. Yet there are still daily acts of kindness, big and small. I wish you all luck in 2015 and hope for the best.

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.

Thursday, 28 August 2014


**** 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.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Trans and Terfs and Tossers and Tantrums (part 1)

This whole tiresome unpleasant ongoing ruck seems to me to have two main causes.
Some people can’t accept that they are not the centre of the fucking universe
Some people find that being progressive is no fun unless they can find a moral justification to be absolutely horrible to other people.

(Peace. Smell the flowers. Be excellent or at least not a raging arsehole)

So some trans activists behave as though their worst and most dangerous enemies are feminists, and some radical feminists behave as though all trans people are their worst and most dangerous enemies. This isn’t two bald men fighting over a comb, it’s two lots of people in a burning house blaming each other for having left the bath running instead of helping each other climb out of the window. While a whole mob of other people outside are either hurling petrol onto the flames or loading marshmallows onto sticks for toasting.

That paragraph alone’s going to make some people decide that I’m One Of The Bad Ones.

I actually believe what I believe (and hope) the vast majority of other people believe – that everyone else should be entitled to go about their daily business unmolested. That it’s not OK to attack or try to kill or threaten to kill people because of what they are (different ethnic group, gender, belief system, social class, gender identity) rather than condemning or acting against them because of what they do (thieves, murderers, abusers, bigots, warmongers).

Transpeople and radical feminists have a lot in common, really. Both groups want an end to hetcis male violence against them. The vast majority of violent attacks on any kind of people are committed by heterosexual cismen. When it comes to violent physical attacks on other people for disagreeing, or being different, the tally of such attacks committed by radical feminists in the name of radical feminism comes to…


Well, OK, Valerie Solanas. Maybe. She did shoot Andy Warhol, though he didn’t die.


When I was a newbie feminist I heard stories of an attack on a lesbian SM club called Chain Reaction, which was perpetrated by a radical feminist group and involved physical violence (the club premises smashed up and clubgoers hurt; at least one needing to be taken to hospital). But no one died. And that’s the only incident of major violence perpetrated by radical feminists that I have ever heard of.

LGBT people and feminists, despite all the various differences in policies and priorities, should all be allies against a worldwide culture that considers them less fully human than heterosexual cismen.

But it seems that, at the moment, some transpeople and transactivists are turning all their firepower on the group that has the least amount of actual power to act against them. Just as some radical feminists are focussing all their rage on a small group with little actual power.

This post is already getting enormous so, actually, will do the rest of it in a day or so. I haven’t finished.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Anthologies: Something for Everyone

That’s a line I use when I’m in one of my favourite positions – standing behind a table decked with books and facing a horde of eager money-waving punters (not three tramps and a stray dog who’ve come in to get warm, oh no not at all). I’ve heard it said that, in general, publishers don’t much like anthologies of short stories by different authors, and that readers don’t like them either. Either this is as much of a crock as most received wisdom, or it’s just another case of erotic fiction in general being an exception to most of the rest of the rules.
Because, as a veteran flogger of mucky books (damn near 20 years at the London Fetish Fair, quite a bit of time spent at the Birmingham Bizarre Bazaar and Bristol’s SWAMP kink market not to mention about a dozen Eroticas) I have always found it easier to coax buyers into shelling out for an anthology than a novel.
This may be partly down to erotica as a genre being low profile – few people could name more than one* erotica author unless they are already enthusiasts – and individual titles not, on the whole, being promoted via billboards or TV advertising in the way that even midlist crime/chicklit/sci-fi books usually are. The potential buyer, particularly if s/he has not read much erotic fiction, may not be so keen to gamble that one novel out of a tempting array of titles is The One That Will Get Me Off when, for the same price or maybe even less, a collection of works by different authors has far better odds of containing at least one story or scene that speaks directly to the reader’s personal arousal triggers.

Anyway, all that said, I’ve actually got stories in three different newly-hatched collections, so I can hustle and bamboozle you all into shopping with even more choice.

First, for those of you who like a bit of femdom, Nexus have finally released Hell In High Heels 2, a seriously filthy selection of stories featuring dominant women. The story I sent in to that collection involves a mature and rather aristocratic domina of the old school, her maid and some creative and potentially risky fun and games with bramble cables. Those of you who read Black Heart might find you recognise a couple of the characters, as well…

You can grab that for your e-reader only...

Still in femdom corner but a bit more subtle and sensuous and all that, is the story I have in Smut By The Sea 3. The heroine is looking back on the first summer she spent away from home and the things she learned about her own inclinations. And if you think you remember her from a few previous efforts of mine, well, you might just be right about that. The Smut anthologies are generally light-hearted fun rather than mind-altering intensity and more at the erotic romance end of the scale than the hardcore one, but good summer reading all the same.

You can download that or buy an actual book

But if you want something completely different, check out Valves and Vixens, a book of steampunk erotica. I remember getting all unnecessary over myself when I read the requirements for this one, as it meant I finally had a chance to write about one of my favourite mad sci-fi-type theories: orgone accumulation. Do what? Well, it’s a theory originally put about by one Wilhelm Reich to the effect that intense emotions make the human brain emit energy particles which can be harvested. Sort of. There’s no evidence that this is anything other than complete bollocks, but as a starting point for a story? Get in!

Again, up to you whether you want it as a download or a paperback

So whether you’re looking to load up the Kindle before hitting the beach or prefer a paper copy on the grounds that physical books are more forgiving if dropped off a pedalo or covered in sangria, hope this helps you pick your summer reading.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Naughty naughty bitey bitey

I know it's not really funny, and it must have fucking hurt. But when Wossname bit Thingy in that football match, it did acheive the almost unthinkable - it made me actually take a bit of notice of the World Cup. I even went as far as googling 'Bitey Footballer' so I could find out that the one with the sharp teeth is called Suarez and the poor sod with the teethmarks is called Ivanovic. Or Chellini. Or something. There are limits to my patience when it comes to researching stuff, but what I did find out is that Mr Bitey is Mr Bitey Bitey Bitey - he has previous for sinking fang into other players.

And at least one other someone has speculated about whether this is demonstration of a fetish. Well, OK, that's the point at which I actually get moderately interested, though I don't particularly think it is a fetish in his case, more of a nasty habit. Despite the deranged bullshit that was the Janus Report, most people know that most people with fetishes only enact them with consenting adults or the inanimate object of their choice and don't randomly leap at the unwilling in order to gratify themselves with no warning. Suarez probably bites because he's an overexcited, overpaid, overindulged brat in a fleeting high-pressure situation. End of. If he's particularly good at football, his employers should just put him in a muzzle for the next few games.

As fetishes go, biting's one of those that's both borderline mainstream and moderately risky. Lots of people who wouldn't call themselves kinky, exactly, get off on 'paranormal romance' ie vampire porn. The original Dracula novel certainly pulsates with subtle, euphemistic sexuality, and every teenager knows the illicit thrill of the lovebite (and the combined embarrassment and pride of the morning after and trying to decide whether to flaunt or conceal the unmistakable marks). At the same time, the human mouth is actually a great deal dirtier than you think, even if you floss, and a human bite which breaks the skin is likely to become miserably infected pretty quickly.

So commiserations to Cielini or Ivan or wossname, and I hope someone was quick with the TCP when it happened. And thanks, sort of, to Suarez. Because at least now I have an idea for a good BDSM short story.

Oh, and this is not the start of the zombie apocalypse. He wasn't trying to eat the other bloke's brain.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Sex and secret identities

I was reading a series of posts by Charlie J Forrest earlier this evening while pondering some identity issues of my own. My concerns are to do with the fact that I have just landed a bit of a part time Proper Job which will demand respectability and grown-upness of me, and my most overwhelming thought is: thank FUCK my blog, Other Me's blog, both Twitter accounts and my main Facebook account are under a name which is not actually my real, legal, taxpaying-and-voting name, so no little beancounter in an office miles away is going to make the connection and fire me for the modern equivalent of moral turpitude before I've even picked up my first paycheck.

Nearly all erotica writers use pseudonyms. I can only think of a handful who write under the name that is genuinely the one on their passports and birth certificates (and no, I'm not going to say who. It's their business). In the 90s, writers tended to pick elaborate, glamorous names for themselves, simply because they could - and the recieved wisdom at the time was that while readers accepted that these names were aliases, they preferred to read the writings of Rock Steele or Violetta Harlequin-Hampstead to those of Ethel Figgins or Timmy Thompson. The other generally accepted view was, of course, that the male writer of sexy stories was better off selling them under a female identity and the majority of male writers published by Nexus etc in those days did put their work out with a woman's name attached. So my initial reaction to Charlie's concerns was a little bit more 'Calm down love, you'll hurt yourself' than 'How dare you tell such lies to your readers?'

But things have changed in the last 20 years, as I am constantly having to remind myself. Back then, the erotic writer just wrote her or his stories, the publisher published them, they got reviewed in mags like Forum, Desire, Fetish Times or Penthouse, and on the whole the readers just read them. Some readers might speculate about the actual private life of the author, and some authors might have any amount of fun dreaming up biographies for their pseudonymous selves, but no one really cared. These days, though, everyone, even the shyest of scribblers, has to have a social media presence, preferably with a picture or two, and engage in online conversation with readers and potential readers and other writers and anyone at all. And while a pseudonym is still acceptable, a pseudo-personality is not.

I'm not entirely happy about the demand to bare your whole self to the public if you want them to buy your work. I appreciate that people have been angry about a few bloggers and memoirists who invented entire alternative lives for themselves, changing age, sex, race and ethnicity, because these authors were claiming - or at least allowing others to claim - that they were telling an important truth. A fiction writer, though, is telling a story that s/he has made up. So it seems entirely reasonable to use a pseudonym if you are so inclined. Your work isn't about truth or about the unvarnished version of yourself. It;s a story. It doesn't matter who wrote it as long as it's good.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014


Hating on UKIP is the latest badge of righteousness, it seems.

(this image is doing the rounds on Facebook so don't know who to credit)

It used to be the BNP that everyone competed to hate the most. It used to be the BNP that everyone feared the most. Back in 2009, when Nick Griffin, the BNP's then leader, was booked to appear on Question Time, some people were acting like it was going to be the end of the world if they didn't rush down to the studios and have a big tantrum outside. In fact, putting Griffin on national television was about the best thing that could possibly have been done. Because, in the run-up to his appearance, and for some time before, there had been a lot of hand-wringing and knicker-wetting about how incredibly dangerous Nick Griffin was, because he was such an acceptable face of nasty, dimwit fascism. How easy it would be for him and his gang of obnoxious little tossers to fool people with their presentable, 'caring' niceness. There was quite a bit in the media about the dangers of Nick Griffin's 'charm'.

And then there he was, on national telly. A sweaty, squirming, smirking, not-very-articulate weirdo talking a lot of old cock. The BNP pretty much bottomed out after that. Oh, they were still a kind of handy indicator of Nice Person-ness - you could express wild and passionate hatred and contempt for them if you were having a spot of social anxiety (after maybe making a tiny-bit-racist joke or something) and still impress people with the depth of your not-one-of-them-ness, but they had stopped being a major threat to the political infrastructure.

For a while, Nigel Farage seemed much more potentially dangerous. He could do charming, self-deprecating and funny. He managed to disown the first couple of his minions to come out with blatantly racist, sexist or homophobic crap. But the thing is with raging arseholes who actually have a nasty hidden agenda is that they can't keep the niceness up. Give them enough time and enough space and they will show their real faces. Just like the lovely, caring, romantic, spontaneous new lover who suddenly smashes up your phone or punches one of your friends for 'flirting' with you.

This is yet another reason why censorship is never the answer to anything. If people who are known or alleged to hold unacceptable opinions are banned from expressing those opinions, they become more dangerous because it's easy for them and their supporters to allege that their arguments are so convincing that they will cause a revolution. Letting them speak in public means they invariably trip over their own ringpieces and reveal themselves as the idiots they are - because their arguments are fundamentally invalid and they themselves are fundamentally inadequate.

But they do serve as a handy distraction from the dangerous, bigoted, looneytunes monsters we actually have elected at the moment...

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Romance, transgression, censorship and the Eww! factor

I'm perfectly comfortable with my conviction that censorship is a Bad Thing. That's particularly true when it comes to writing and reading fiction. Fiction is making stuff up. There's no need to worry (as there might be when watching a film featuring human beings) that someone might be participating because s/he has been coerced into doing so, or lied to about what participation entails. There aren't any real participants in fiction.

That's one of the reasons I'm always a bit boggled by people who devour 'misery memoirs' of the 'Please Daddy, No!' variety and consider themselves superior to those of us who'd rather read Shaun Hutson or American Psycho. Do you really think it's better to wallow in a real person's anguish than lose yourself in a made-up story?

(You could, of course, run away and read the magnificent My Godawful Life: Abandoned, Betrayed, Stuck To The Window, of course.)

But I surprised myself by having bit of an instantaneous 'Eww!' on discovering that there's an actual booksellers' and publishers' category called Interracial Romance. Of course, all romantic and erotic fiction contains a fair bit of objectifying, but then so does fiction in general. And I certainly see no reason why an author shouldn't create characters outside his/her own ethnic group: if we didn't, then our stories would often be very one-dimensional (as a lot of hack genre fiction is anyway)

I think it's the concept of the label that unnerves me, really. I'm already a bit unthrilled with the way erotica and erotic romance seem to be going for division into narrower and narrower categories, with fewer opportunities for people to write a story with a mix of characters, different connections between them and assorted motivations for the erotic action. We don't all want to read erotica that's just about Someone Like Us getting off with Someone We Might Find Sexy - as is demonstrated by the biggest growth area in erotic romance at the moment: gay male interactions written by and for women.

I appreciate that readers want and need some sort of genre-indicator. If you don't like stuff that's unrealistic, you want prior warning that the book with the tempting cover actually has scenes of magic and elf abuse as well as snogging and shagging; if you are deeply vanilla you like to know how far any 'kinky' stuff is going to go. But I suppose the thing I find the most offputting about the concept is the realisation that it's actually such a big deal to some people that characters in an erotic romance are from different ethnic groups - so big a deal that the fact they are from different ethnic groups is the whole story.

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.

Friday, 14 February 2014

A Hugger's Guide

Hugs, it's said, are wonderful. They certainly can be. Most people like to hug friends or family, when meeting again after a separation, when someone's sad, when someone's happy, when you're scared or disappointed or just feel appreciative. Whatever. Hugs can be Very Nice.

Just not always, and not from just anyone. While I'm tippy-toeing round making any assumptions about the guilt or innocence of any high-profile individuals accused of abusive behaviour, I have been thinking about the sort of people who claim to have a 'cuddly' personality. We all have personalities, and personality traits, and some of them will win us friends and some of them will make other people run away screaming, but one of the ways to show that we're actually grown-up and decent individuals is to be aware that we can control our personality traits around others. Even the ones we think make us 'better' than the rest. People who are loud and proud about their 'honesty' and 'plain speaking' for instance, are quite often hell to be around. For one thing, they're never honestly nice. What they usually are is fucking rude and self-righteous about it.
Cuddly, huggy people can be just as dubious. OK, obviously, some 'tactile' individuals genuinely are creeps who are just interested in copping a quick feel.

They may disguise their rapey, predatory behaviour with a lot of guff about how they are just being friendly, but they're a bit too prone to other obnoxious behaviours and/or fairly blatantly wandering hands. They also don't tend to go on, and on, and on, about the wider world's need for more hugs, because they don't care.

Some people use hugs, and the concept of hugs as necessary and a Good Thing, to feed their own egos, not necessarily in a sexual context. They see themselves as touchy-feely Special Snowflakes, who can 'help' other people to be more in touch with their emotions and less uptight. Unfortunately, a lot of people in this category don't wash often enough, which makes their hugs even more of an endurance test.

And some people are just stupidly socially inept. They've read or heard that Hugs R Good, so they just bumble around hugging at random and then wonder why people run off crying, kick them in the shins or press charges..

It's really for the benefit of the clueless that I profer the following advice:

If someone shows no interest in having a hug, walk away.

If someone has actively expressed a complete distaste for being hugged, do not hug this person.

Hugs are not medicine, people don't NEED them , much, certainly in adulthood.

If you are wealthy and successful and powerful DO NOT hug your workforce. Because you are their boss and you pay their wages, and even if you smell like three-day-old Nandos leavings they will feel obliged to tolerate hugs from you no mutter how much they hate the idea. They are under no obligation to be hugged against their wishes. Nor is anyone.