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.