Salty and scared

Okay, first things first. That’s not my photo, obviously. That photo is The Wave, Douglas, Isle of Man by Simon Park from the Landscape Photographer of the Year competition in 2012.

I love that photo. I think it’s sexy as hell.

As a kid, I was super privileged. I’ve been to a lot of nice places. Barbados. Mauritius. The Maldives. I’ve swum on the Great Barrier Reef.

But beautiful, azure, calm sea, the kind that’s warm and laps quietly at the shore?

That kind of sea is nice – it’s almost certainly my favourite kind to swim in – but it’s not sexy.

I wouldn’t describe the sea as a kink of mine (although a certain type of seaside certainly is), and yet it taps into parts of my brain that kink also taps into.

What do I mean by that? I guess rough sea, choppy sea, sea with decent waves, provokes in me a mixture of fear, anticipation and adrenaline rush that I also feel just before I play or before I fuck someone I don’t really know.

I don’t like not knowing what’s under the surface. I don’t like feeling seaweed brush against me. I don’t like the way that, in the sea, my imagination runs away with me in a way that never happens in a swimming pool.

But the swimming pool is symbolic of the kind of relationship I should want, but never seek out. Transparent, calm, safe. The ocean is symbolic of something darker – you think you know what you’re getting into when you wade through the shallows and out into deeper water, but you can never be completely sure.

And that, that not being completely sure? That is what I like.

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Hey, where’s my conflict? – on writing solo sex

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It’s a truth universally acknowledged (or it should be), that the things that other people like best are not always the pieces you loved writing.

Little Silver Bullet came from nowhere, and not, all at the same time. Since the Smut Marathon Round 4 assignment (‘One character. One sex toy. No brand names.’) was announced, I’d been percolating a different piece. Not a different toy, I should say – in real life, toys are one of the few areas where I put efficiency and function way ahead of brand – and I’ve been repurchasing this pretty much since I turned eighteen (no, they don’t stock it anymore and yes, I’m worried).

The story I planned to write – the story that, until I decided to write this post instead and until Little Silver Bullet did so well I don’t want to betray it by writing an alternative and asking which people prefer – also featured a bullet vibe. But I’d envisaged an office Christmas party, a solo woman working with a team of extremely sexist and corporate salesmen, and a Secret Santa gift designed to undermine her. I’d pictured her slipping off to the loo in a city bar, and getting off as she pictured them fucking her one by one. The t story would have come straight from my fantasies, but LSB? LSB came straight from my *heart*.

The unnamed protagonist could be me. It is fiction, but I’ve been there, many times. And I think lots of women have. I think that’s why it resonated. It’s not a clever story, it’s just an honest one.

Clever is one way to stand out in something like the Smut Marathon, but writing clever can be exhausting (although that said, the clever entries in this round blew my mind). You can spend so much time trying to think of the alternative angle that you forget to write something that’s true to you. And – I know it’s my bugbear – clever should never override story, in my opinion.

Although I’d written and submitted this piece by the time I attended it, this round made me think a lot about a writing workshop I went to recently, a workshop which I tweeted a bit about but never finished my thoughts on, hence this post.

The theme of the workshop was generating new story ideas and, at the start of the session, we were asked to write down the following things:

  • three names for fictional characters
  • three names of places (geographical places or places in e.g. the home)
  • three objects.

We then had to cross out one of the character names, one of the place names and choose one of the objects and then do twenty minutes free writing with the five words we had left. And … it works. It makes you write.

Afterwards, the instructor explained why it works. It works because all good writing needs conflict (much easier when you have more than one character) and progression (moving from one place to another guarantees physical progression at least). The object is intended to embody whatever the theme of your writing is, although I’d be inclined to say that that’s a optional extra and depends how much you like symbolism in your work.

The Smut Marathon assignment only technically allowed for one character, which makes  creating conflict REALLY FUCKING HARDI, along with many others, decided to interpret this as meaning you could only have one character in the room, participating in the actual masturbation scene, but it didn’t mean you couldn’t mention people who were in your character’s thoughts/fantasies – as it turned out, everything I voted for took this approach.

Lots of the feedback I’ve seen on this round suggested that readers were disappointed that more of us didn’t pick more ‘out there’/unusual toys. I’m happy to admit that I think most, if not all, of the stories that did take this approach were really creative, but I still don’t think it was the only way to do a good job in this round. Think about the sex writing you’ve loved most – it doesn’t follow that you’ll always like anal scenes more than missionary because the former is technically more exciting.

It’s the human in the scene that matters, not the silicone.

 

Katy

I’m doing an online writing course at the moment – as ‘real me’ – and this week, for homework, we had to write up to 800 words taking a stereotype and portraying it in a complex way. I only wrote 500 words for that homework piece, but tonight I’ve been working on it some more, because sure, I only dreamt Katy up for the Smut Marathon, but you know what, since then I’ve kind of fallen in love. So here she is again, fleshed out a bit more…

***

There is nowhere in the living room for anyone to put down their cup of tea. Every surface is covered with cards – Congratulations! Good luck!, A New Baby Girl! – or flowers – big pink lilies, ripe with pollen, roses still in bud and the first tulips of the year. There’s a fancy cake from the local independent bakery and champagne for those who want it. Katy has half a glass, but no more – that way she knows it will have worn off by the time her daughter is ready for her next feed. Sarah teases her for this – Katy could always put away a bottle of fizz, two even, on a particularly good night – but really, no one is surprised. Katy adapts. At parties, she’s a party animal. At work? Professional as fuck. And in the bedroom? Filthy. Her friends know that because she tells them, and they have no reason to doubt her. She’s honest about who she is in every other area of her life, so why would she lie about how much she likes sex?

She’ll be good at motherhood, obviously. The cards might say good luck, but ultimately, her friends know she doesn’t need it. Everything Katy touches to gold. She graduated from Cambridge with a first-class maths degree, a place on a hugely desirable grad scheme and a boyfriend who not only equalled her in ambition, but also adored her. Plus, somehow, alongside her drive to succeed, she’s always made the time to have fun. Lots of fun. And now, after a straightforward eight-hour labour, she’s the mother of a baby girl. A baby girl who, at barely a week old, already sleeps through the night. A baby girl who is just as beautiful as Katy herself.

But on some level, her friends can’t quite believe it. She never seemed to have the kind of sex that would make babies, is what everyone is secretly thinking. Katy used to fuck so hard she’d make the walls shake in their university halls. She was a shrieker, never afraid to let people know what a good time she was having, and when she needed to pee after sex she’d walk to the loo stark naked. Girls were afraid to invite their high school boyfriends to stay for fear that, if they turned their back for one moment, they’d disappear, only to turn up in Katy’s bed, apologetic, sure, but ultimately unrepentant. And yet, other women didn’t dislike her for the way she behaved. Katy didn’t care what anybody thought and they loved her for it.

No one expected her to be settled by twenty-six, though. It’s been the topic of everyone’s group chats for months. How has she managed to have everything so sorted so soon in her life? Where were Katy’s fucked up years? How has she managed to bypass a whole shitty decade while everyone else still feels like they’re wading through treacle, barely able to feed themselves, let alone a kid? Because sure, Tom’s a nice guy, and he’s good-looking, too, but it seems like only last week that he and Katy got caught fucking in the jacuzzi at the hotel where her parents’ 50thwedding anniversary celebrations were being held. It was her cousin that stumbled in on them – her cousin who was sworn to secrecy but still ended up sharing everything on Facebook in the end. Even Katy’s mum found out. And yet, somehow, she got away with it.

Because Katy sails close to the wind, sure, but luck is always, always on her side.

Three months later

Her friends still love her because, when she’s with them, she doesn’t seem like a mother at all. Even when she brings the baby, she’s the Katy she always was. It’s just that now her tits are on show for a different reason.

Tonight, she’s childfree. Tonight, she’s late. Tonight, she has that just-fucked look in her eyes.

Tom follows her, clutching a bottle of red. He’s wearing jeans, a checked shirt, and, as of thirty minutes earlier, Katy’s juices, smeared from jaw to collarbone.

‘Filthy boy,’ she’d said, fingers on his neck as she lifted herself off his cock. ‘Filthy, filthy boy.’

At dinner, the wine flows. The laughter grows louder, the conversation sillier. They play ‘I have never,’ and Katy has done it all. Anal sex? Obviously. Threesome? That too.

During spin the bottle she winds up kissing Mike. Mike is her best friend’s husband. Nobody minds. Kissing boys is what Katy does.

The evening winds down. They drink coffee. Someone asks, ‘Bit dark, but if you could only save one thing in a fire, what would it be?’

‘Tom,’ Katy says, when it’s her turn to answer. ‘Obviously.’

Her friends are silent.

She doesn’t seem like a mother at all.

Flawed

In the comments on my last post, someone suggested that maybe I should try to write a ‘flawed’ disabled character in two hundred words. It was a good suggestion.

It’s also, as I acknowledged in the post, really damn hard.

Plus, I think my real flaw, as a disabled person, is not my disability. It’s all the toxic ableism I’ve allowed myself to internalise. That internalised ableism makes me hate my body, it lies to me, it tells me I won’t be loved, won’t be desired.

And I think – hope – it’s a flaw that will resonate with other disabled people. We’ve all done shitty stuff in our time – lied, been mean, pushed someone away – because of shit of our own that we’ve not yet learnt to deal with.

That was what I wanted to write about. The problem is, I already had.

In my novel, which is still a work in progress, the main character does exactly that. She jeopardises a prospective relationship because of the ableism she’s internalised. Right now, I can’t envisage writing anything that captures that more vividly than the bit where I wrote it in the novel, so I thought I’d share that with you instead, being careful to stick to the two hundred word limit.

***

He sits a little too close, my knees between his. We share a cheeseboard, get another bottle of wine. I’m wary, because I like him – I’ve liked him since we started talking online – and I don’t want to make the mistake I always make with guys I like. I don’t want to sleep with him tonight.

We’re a bottle and a half down when I excuse myself to go to the bathroom. I almost have to stop myself from shimmying across the bar. I feel invincible, beautiful, fuckable. When I return, he’s watching me.

‘You’re limping?’ 

Oh, bugger.

I limp because I was starved of oxygen at birth. It’s not a big thing in the scheme of things, I guess, but it’s a big thing to me. In fact, it’s a little more complicated than just a limp – the whole of my left side is weaker. Although my body has learned to compensate, there’s an awkwardness, a lack of dexterity, a clumsiness to my movements that I’ve yet to reconcile myself with. 

‘I twisted my ankle.’

‘Ouch! How?’

‘Dancing at the weekend. You know, stupidly high shoes, too much wine …’

I can’t wear stupidly high shoes.

He buys the lie.

***

Where I stand (On disability in the Smut Marathon)

I was nervous about Round 3 of the Smut Marathon. In fact, scrap that – I’ve been nervous about every round. But this was different. In previous rounds, I’ve been nervous about the voting. This time? It was reading what everyone else had written that had me anxious.

Character flaws are fascinating to me. I’d be the first to tell you that I don’t like ‘body beautiful’ erotica, and that extends to personalities, too – I prefer characters who struggle with anger, self-confidence, conforming to social norms. Characters who battle with mental health issues. The fact that the word ‘flaw’ is so subjective, because after all, aren’t we all flawed in some way?  This should have been a round that suited me down to the ground.

Except – as I said to someone very shortly after receiving the assignment – it didn’t.

I didn’t want to read about disability.

For the benefit of Smut Marathon participants who may not usually read this blog or who don’t follow me on Twitter, I identify as disabled. I have left-sided hemiplegia, which is a type of cerebral palsy, caused, in my case, by brain damage at birth. My left leg is an inch shorter than my right, so I walk with a limp. I trip over a fair amount. I struggle with my balance. I lack dexterity in my left hand. My mental health is also compromised – maybe because of the brain damage, maybe not.

It’s not difficult to live with, in the grand scheme of things. And yet, it can be fucking impossible to live with nonetheless.

And so I didn’t want to see, in the competition, any character whose flaw was disability. The world tells disabled people that they’re undesirable every single day. We don’t need to see it reinforced in fiction, too.

What I really didn’t expect, though, was to see a disability that could be mine. A character with ‘a heavy black lift in his shoe,’ a lift which was, nonetheless unable to ‘hide the limp’. I blanched. I freaked out a bit. I had, as is typical for me, a bit of a rant on Twitter.

I had said, on more than one occasion, that if this happened, I would withdraw from the competition. I feel that strongly about it. And yet, I haven’t. I’m uncomfortable with it, absolutely, but the more I’ve thought about it the more I’ve realised that part of the reason why I’m uncomfortable is because I don’t quite know where I stand on this issue.

My main problem with the piece is that it doesn’t reframe disability as desirable. It tells the reader two things – that a) one person is capable of seeing past the disability, but this is the exception, not the rule (‘They saw disqualifying weakness’) and b) that the woman sees past the disability (‘What their pitying stares missed, she always saw. They missed the way his hazel eyes changed like quicksilver as his lips took control of hers, kissing her with careful command when he reached her. They missed his piano playing fingers, long and warm, brushing higher and higher up her thigh…’) The disabled man is desirable in spite of his disability, not because of it. And it’s writing that shows someone as desirable because of their disability that would really push the boundaries.

And yet. I’m not sure it’s possible. I’ve certainly never managed it.

There is good writing out there about disabled people making their peace with their bodies (one of the things that saddened me in Round 3 of the Smut Marathon is that the pieces about characters with physical flaws were not generally written from the viewpoint of that character). This wonderful piece by Keah Brown is excellent on that topic. But even there, Keah acknowledges that it’s difficult: ‘Admitting that there is comfort in pain is a strange but necessary truth. Happiness and acceptance still take more work for me, and that is also a necessary truth.’

Last year, I wrote an erotic short story about a character who also shares my disability, which can be found in the anthology Goodbye Moderation: Lust. It confronts the issue of disability head on, I hope – I really wanted to write something that didn’t shy away from my true fears:

“‘Tell me again,’ he says, ‘which words you wanted me to say.’

My voice is barely even a whisper. ‘Spastic,’ I say.

‘Say please.’

Jesus, really? There’s an uncomfortable pause.

‘I’m not doing anything until you ask nicely.’

‘Fuck. Okay. Please.’”

The problem is, I felt obliged to close that story in a more optimistic and palatable way, not just for the reader, but for myself, too. I couldn’t envisage a world in which disability, or disabled slurs, could be repositioned as sexy. I could only conjure up a world in which an ablebodied character helps the disabled character to make their peace with their disability:

“On my back, the words are different. Down my spine, they read:

Beautiful

Hot

Incredible

Strong

Mine

The tears start all over again as he gathers me in his arms and rains kisses all over my face, my neck, my hair.

‘That,’ he says. ‘That is what I see. None of the bullshit you made me write. When will you start to see that? It doesn’t matter what other people see. All that matters is what you see.'”

My male character sees past the disability. He wants the disabled character to see past the disability. Neither of them can envisage a world in which someone is actually able to see disability itself as hot.

It doesn’t stop me really wanting to read a story where someone does.

How raw is too raw?

This is (another) post about Smut Marathon, but it doesn’t start with Smut Marathon. It starts with a project the other me – the real me – is working on. A novel.

Early in 2017, I finished the first draft of a novel I’d been writing, on and off, since late 2015. This weekend, I was on writing retreat, chomping through a few more chapters of the rewrite. It’s slow going, but writing is slow going, especially when, like me, the reasons why you’re not sure if you ever want this particular project to be out in the world threaten to outnumber the number of chapters in the book itself. Also, I’ve written first drafts before, but a second draft of something? This is new.

I’m a sucker for a creative writing course. I love the company of writers, their passion, their opinions, their willingness to talk books for borderline unhealthy periods of time. What I wanted, desperately, when I moved onto Draft 2 was a rewriting course, or an editing course – was something that would tell me what the hell it was I was supposed to be doing. How was I supposed to know where to start? But also – how would I know when it was done?

It turns out that nobody can teach you that, or, at least, it’s a lot harder to teach someone to rewrite than to teach them to write in the first place. It’s a pretty personal thing – one great editing course I did do, lots of which I’ve put into practice, suggested that, when you  get bored of editing, you should rewrite any bits you know aren’t working from scratch, to give your creative brain a look in.

It’s a nice idea, but it doesn’t work for me. I’m a very linear writer – I go back and tweak, sure, but major rewrites of sections, especially when taken out of the context and order of the whole piece, are a disaster for me. I can’t write scenes and then retrospectively impose a structure.

Another thing I’ve considered, but abandoned, for reasons that will hopefully become clear later in this post, is rewriting from scratch. In some ways, I like this approach. You read the scene/chapter/story/whole fucking draft/whatever, then you go away and rewrite it in a separate document.

The advantage? You don’t cling to anything just because it’s there on the page already.

But my fear? You lose something this way.

So, how does this link to the marathon? In a number of ways, I think.

Firstly, there’s the very sensible tip that Marie sends out with each round:

Start writing your piece as soon as possible after receiving the assignment. Let it rest for a while, then start editing, deleting, rewriting. Never leave it until the last moment to start. 

What’s great about the tip, in my opinion is that ‘editing, deleting, rewriting.’ You have to find your way – we have to find our way – and you may find it easiest to do one, two or all three of those things.

But there’s also something to be said for leaving the damn thing the hell alone.

A lot of writers in the Smut Marathon, myself included, have been picked up on our use of grammar, and I’m afraid that’s something I don’t have a lot of time for. Grammar matters. Spelling matters. But when you’re telling a story, what matters most? The story.

In the last round, I voted for pieces that had a distinct plot, because that, to me, is the real challenge of writing something in a hundred words. Do you have a beginning, middle and end? Can I feel your story in my gut? Because, unless your sentences are so long that I have to revisit them to make sense of what you’re trying to say, unless your grammar and/or spelling are noticeable enough to pull me out of the story? I’m going to let it go.

I’m not a judge of the SM, obviously, so maybe it’s not my place to say, but I worry about the number of writers who’ve taken the grammar feedback – and seemingly little else – to heart.

In real life, I’m an editor. I’m trained and I work for a company that takes itself pretty bloody seriously. I don’t edit fiction, which is why all of this comes with a proviso, but I do know how to break a piece of work down and prioritise the right stuff.

I’m not paid to look at grammar and spelling on my first pass through anything. No company wants to spend its money having someone get this stuff perfect until the structure, the body of the thing, is in place. The same goes for fiction. I’m not saying spelling and grammar don’t matter – they do, they’re what make work look polished – but the idea, the plot, the characters? They matter so much more.

On Sunday, I shared At Peace, the original micro fiction I wrote for round two of Smut Marathon and ended up not submitting. Maybe I made the wrong choice, maybe I didn’t (Little Pyromaniac, my alternative piece, did absolutely fine), but two things struck me:

  1. In general, people who follow my blog, rather than the Smut Marathon, preferred At Peace
  2. There wasn’t the huge gulf in opinion between the strengths of the piece I edited to death (LP) and the one I barely, if at all, touched (AP).

Which brings me to the key point of this post. I said, after round one, that I wanted to take more risks, and Little Pyromaniac is the riskier of the two stories, in method, if not in content. It’s a perfectly fine story but I interrogated every word to the point of exhaustion. At Peace is the story that came from my heart, so maybe it’s no wonder it’s more raw, and seems to resonate more.

That rawness has a value. It has an energy. It’s drenched in you as a writer. Don’t clean your writing up so much that you wipe all the you off it.

I wanted to end with something I’ve been sharing on Twitter a lot recently, a piece of advice given in a writing workshop by an author whose work I love, Garth Greenwell. He said, ‘No good comes from listening to the opinion of people who are unsympathetic to your project,’ and it’s the most sensible thing on feedback I’ve ever heard. People who sympathise with your project will criticise it, as they should, but they’ll have good to say about it too. You’ll know.

In the early rounds of the Smut Marathon though, I feel like it’s harder to know. The challenges are fun, but they’re short – who knows what your bigger project is? (Although shout out to the judges who pointed out where they could see the potential for one).

All any of us can hope for – in the next round or any of the remaining seven – is that out there, among the voters, there’ll be people who are sympathetic to our projects.

Listen to them. And the rest? Let it go, and keep writing.

Smut Marathon Round 2

As those of you who follow me on Twitter will have seen, I’m having issues with the Smut Marathon today – it’s causing me levels of anxiety that even I didn’t foresee and I’m having a long think about whether carrying on is the right thing to do (it probably isn’t, which means I almost certainly will – being kind to myself is something I am *not* good at.)

Anyway. I wrote two possible entries for Round 2, and I was really pleased with the one I submitted (and it got positive feedback, which backs that up, and is always nice). I’m not going to lie though, I was disappointed with how it did overall.

So, here is both it, and the other piece I wrote. Which do you prefer? Should I have submitted the other piece?

Little Pyromaniac

‘Stop it.’

The restaurant is fancy and my behaviour is inappropriate, but I can’t help myself. I poke at the candle, watch as molten lava flows down its sides.

‘Little pyromaniac,’ he growls. ‘What did I tell you?’

I like to play with fire.

I break off bits that are newly solid, let the orange heat lick at them until they are liquid once again.

Suddenly, my game backfires. The candle splutters, dies.

‘Right,’ he says, ‘come with me.’

Outside, around a corner, we find ourselves hidden in the shadows. His lips meet mine. His hand closes around my throat.

My body melts under his touch. He is the flame, I am the wax, I am fluid beneath him, I drip, drip, drip as he burns me with his desire.

At Peace

She’d taken two week’s leave from work, though the doctor had offered a note. It was easier like this: no questions, no sympathetic smiles, no loss of the person she’d once been.

With him, it had been harder. ‘Talk to me,’ he’d murmured, more than once, and she’d tried to smile through her tears.

‘It’s best if I work through this on my own.’

She booked a cabin, not far from Inverness. For five long days, she read, ate and slept alone.

By Friday, she knew it was no good. She needed help. She changed her flight.

That night, his flogger painted her cunt into a sunset, glowing between the mountain-purple shadows of her thighs.

On Corrupted

In my head, there are a handful of ideas for anthologies I’d like to edit one day. Most of them are far simpler than the premise behind Corrupted.

Erotica is already good at being a feminist genre, in my experience, so putting a call out for feminist stories didn’t feel different enough. I wanted to do something that celebrated how far women have come – how much we’ve overcome – to get where we are today.

And that’s what Corrupted is all about. It’s a super contemporary celebration of women’s liberation –  of same sex and non-binary relationships, of disability, of technology, of women’s suffrage, of women breaking the same rules that men have broken for so long now – sometimes getting away with it, and sometimes not.

When the call went out, I had an idea of how the finished collection of stories would look. In reality, it’s a very different anthology, but in a great way. In choosing the final line up, I’ve tried as far as possible to make sure it’s truly representative of womanhood and not just a white, straight, middle class, cis representation of being a woman.

There’s an extract from my story in the anthology below (which I’ll admit is cis, white and middle class, but hopefully in a tongue in cheek way). All that remains is for me to say two things

1) Thanks so much to all the authors and to Anna Sky at Sexy Little Pages for all their hard work – it wouldn’t be what it is without you.

2) I really hope you like it (please review it if you do!).

 

Your Vote Matters – Charlie Powell

“Susie?” he asks, thrusting the hand that’s not clutching a sheaf of leaflets in my direction. “May I call you Susie?”

Risky strategy, I think. The Labour representative who canvassed me two days earlier called me “Ms Smith” and didn’t try to be all chummy. This guy though, the Tory candidate himself, has clearly decided that keeping it casual is the way forward. Charm is oozing from him like butter from hot toast.

I like charming men. I even like charming men who happen to be Tories. No, wait, I especially like charming men who happen to be Tories. I know, I know. I hate myself sometimes, too.

“I guess,” I say, my gaze dropping from the blue rosette pinned to his jacket to the white shirt and red chinos he’s wearing underneath.

“Good, good,” he says. His voice is pure Oxbridge. “Oliver Tamworth, Conservative candidate for Green Park North.”

“I gathered,” I say, gesturing at the rosette.

“May I ask who you’re planning on voting for?” he continues, flashing me what I imagine is his most ingratiating smile. “Can we count on your support?”

I smile back. “Of course.”

I’m a really good liar.

He beams. If I didn’t know better, I’d think he hadn’t had much luck so far tonight, but this cannot possibly be the case. After all, Mr Green at number ten is convinced single mothers “take far too much from the system and don’t pay a penny back in”—even though I know for a fact that the three mums on this street raising kids on their own work every hour god sends. I once overheard Mr Johnson at number fifteen telling someone he’d voted for UKIP, only to follow that up with “Oh no, sorry, I meant the BNP”—it’s been five years since that election and I still scowl at him every day on the bus—and Mrs King who lives on the corner “thinks people have too many human rights.” I don’t even know where to start with that one.

“Great!” Oliver says, seemingly staring straight at my tits. I should slam the door in his face. “Let me give you a leaflet anyway. It’s got my email address at the bottom and the number for my team, so if there is anything you’d like to discuss before election day, don’t hesitate to get in touch. Your vote matters to us, Susie!”

Smut Marathon Round 1: On comfort zones and other stories

When I signed up for the Smut Marathon, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be sharing what I wrote on the blog after each round. As far as I’m concerned, my SBOS days are pretty much over, but hey, I’m still paying for the domain name, so I guess I’ll share stuff from the marathon as and when I’m either particularly proud of it or it makes me reflect on my writing in a way I want to explore further.

The first round challenge was to write an erotic metaphor of no more than thirty words. Quick shout out here to Violet, whose post on Round 1 I really liked and which hopefully she won’t mind me borrowing the format of here.

Anyway. The first round challenge is a great challenge, there’s no doubt. I didn’t see it coming and when it landed in my inbox, I thought …

… fuuuuuck.

Because I know what a metaphor is. I can identify them in other people’s writing. They’re just. not. the. way. I. write.

Trying to come up with something, I trawled the entire first draft of the novel I’m working on, and sure enough, not a single metaphor … or not a sex-related one, anyway. In the end, I chose a simile and committed to reworking that.

The end result?

‘Afterwards, she’s still aroused, cunt flexing at the sight of him cupping the soft mollusc of his cock with one hand as he reaches for the wine with the other.’

More than two weeks on, I’m not thrilled with all aspects of this sentence. If I was editing it now, I’d lose ‘soft’ and I’d work on the rhythm. But one of the judges wasn’t sure about something else:

‘Is the author sure about conjuring an association of fish and sex – unless it’s the aphrodisiac of oysters this is risky. Molluscs are mostly ugly… quick google image search (to see if I had the wrong thing in my head) destroys this metaphor for me. Maybe there’s another way of getting to the idea of a vulnerable soft ball sack that would work for this scene?’

When I read this, I genuinely laughed out loud. Anyone who knows me will tell you that the answer to ‘Is the author sure…?’ would be ‘Hell, no. Absolutely not. Never,’ but that doesn’t mean I’d take the mollusc back. One of my main worries, on signing up for the Smut Marathon, is that I’m not – or no longer – really an erotica writer. I write about sex, sure, but I’m not driven by the idea of getting people off, which is key to the definition of ‘erotic.’ If something I write resonates with you and makes you horny, great, if not, I don’t really mind. I just hope you think the actual writing is good.

And so, the promise I made to myself when I decided to bite the bullet on the challenge of the Smut Marathon (there’s still an email to Marie in my drafts folder explaining why I need to withdraw) was that I’d do it, but I wouldn’t read the entries or the feedback and I wouldn’t vote for anything, including my own piece. I’ve held true – and will probably continue to – to the last of those things, but after voting closed, I did read all the entries and the feedback and I’m glad I did.

It sounds arrogant, retrospectively, to say I had no intention of taking feedback on board, but I had my reasons. My mental health is hellishly shaky at the moment, and for the first time in a long time, my writing is impacted by that. I’m confident in my voice – less so in other aspects of my writing – I don’t want to lose that, and I stand by my argument that metaphor just isn’t my style. But another piece of feedback has made me think:

‘Just not the strongest of metaphors (just one word).’

I live my life, as far as I can, within my comfort zone. I hadn’t realised I do that with my writing, too, but I do. On receiving the metaphor task, I knew I was happy to do it, but I wasn’t going to take any actual risks. I wasn’t going to chance anything that could be seen as purple prose or ridiculous in any other way. I’d sooner lose points for being unerotic (which I did). The least Charlie thing about the sentence I submitted is the length of it – I’m not a thirty word sentence girl usually – everything else, although the fishiness may look like a risk – is safe, safe, safe.

Maybe, in future rounds (assuming I last a few), I’ll learn to take more chances, to push myself a bit more. I hope so.

SmutMarathon

Christmas Gift Guide (of Sorts) 2017

This year I’m not making any promises about returning to the blog, or to Twitter, in 2018, although both of these things could happen (in the meantime, come find me on Instagram – @sexblogofsorts!). The idea that the gift guide might not happen this year was out of the question though – I start making a list of ideas for it in January and it’s one of the highlights of my festive season.

As with last year, if you have other great suggestions for gifts, especially from independent sellers, please leave them in the comments or hit me up on social media – I *love* discovering new stuff! Let me know too which items on here you particularly like – it helps me to plan next year’s!

  1. Little Winter Robin, £7
    Because really – how can you resist those eyes?

robin

2. Kamasutra Pins Set, 20€
Because cute. And sexy. And cute. Plus, racial and sexual diversity. Available as socks, if you’re not a pin person.

mixed-kamasutra-pins-set-3-pins

3. REN Atlantic Kelp And Microalgae Anti-Fatigue Bath Oil
Of course there was going to be a bath oil. REN stuff is beautifully packaged, non-greasy, but the rose one has always been a tiny bit too floral for me. This is much less divisive, and good for both girls and boys with fancy tastes.

renseaweed

4. Laser Cut Anatomical Heart, $49 CAD
There’s something fascinating, beautiful and also somehow repulsive about anatomy. Whatever it is though, I find it hard to look away from these beautiful paper cuts…

Anatomic_Heart_727372d3-113f-4134-9b6f-f8ce6fb58d69_compact

5. Yes Queen Stationery, $32
Strong women and luxury stationery is a fab combination, and these notecards, featuring images of Marie Antoinette, Queen Elizabeth, Cleopatra and Beyoncé would make a great gift for a friend.

Queen+Women

6. Concrete Planter Making Kit, £15
Kit gifts can be a total, end-up-in-the-back-of-the-cupboard fail, but concrete? Concrete is *sexy*. This is one I’m really hoping someone buys for me.

normal_concrete-planter-making-kit
7. Good vibes only embroidery, £17.24
Embroidery art always feels really good value to me, because I can’t sew at all, so I’m in awe of the work that goes into it. And there’s so much good stuff in the YesStitchYes shop…

GOODVIBESONLY

8. Monkey Pants, £40
Is underwear and/or socks a bad gift? I say no. Along with nice hair products, I love getting stuff I’ll actually use. And I love the subtle, but unusual and fun, print on these pants.

monkeypants

9. ‘I Am Bat’, £8.36
Bat falls, without a doubt, into the category of #fictionalcreaturesthatgivemefeelings. I’ll be buying this for every toddler I know this Christmas.

iambat

10. Gusbourne Pinot Noir ’15, £25
There’s always wine on the gift guide, but, as a rule, I usually pick something with a fun label. This one lacks that, but it has the novelty value of being an English *red* and it tastes damn good also.

GUSBOURNE

11. Caramelised Pretzels, £3.95
Chin Chin Labs ice cream creations are epic, and while you can’t get the ice-cream delivered to your home, I love the idea of pairing a load of their toppings, including these pretzels but also grilled white chocolate and marmite toast, with a DVD or two, to make an excellent ‘night in’ kit.

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12. Another Night In Loose Tee, £28.94
I have this image framed on my wall, but, if I was a loungewear person, I would sure as hell wear it, too.

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13. MAC Snow Ball Mini Lipstick Kit, £85
Because who *doesn’t* love mini versions of things *and lipstick?

 

macsnowball

14. Chicchi di Caffe Tin, £15.95
For your coffee and chocolate loving friend. As a baker, I’d intend these to be used for decorating coffee cake, but would no doubt eat the whole tin long before getting round to that.

chicchi.jpg

15. Nine and a half weeks book, £8.59
I suspect this is out of print, given that it only really seems to be available on eBay or on secondhand book sites, but I swear it’s one of the most erotic things I’ve ever read, and so much hotter than the film. Give it to someone special on Christmas Eve and have an early night…

ninehalf

16. Map print, $22
Archie’s Press make beautifully minimalist map prints and best of all, they have loads and loads of different cities available. Good for friends, lovers, or anyone who’s tricky to buy for…

SFO_Redux.png

17. The Christmas Chronicles: Notes, Stories & 100 Essential Recipes for Midwinter, £16.61
‘We all know winter. The mysterious whiff of jasmine or narcissus caught in the cold air, the sadness of spent and blackened fireworks the morning after Bonfire Night, a row of pumpkins on a frosted allotment spied from a train window, the magical alchemy of frost and smoke. Winter is the smell of freshly cut ivy or yew and the childish excitement of finding that first, crisp layer of fine ice on a puddle. It is a freckling of snow on cobbled pavements and the golden light from a window on a dark evening that glows like a Russian icon on a museum wall.’
Oh, Nigel.
Buy this for the prose, as much as for the recipes – it’s a masterclass in good writing.

nigel

18. Sex & Jasmine Eau de Parfum, $75 CAD
‘Sex & Jasmine…..unfff. The intoxicating aroma of swollen jasmine blooms linger over silken vanilla sheets. The midnight sweat has half erased our floral masks and we collapse, panting triumphant into our animal selves.’
I accept this company could write better, subtler copy. I accept that jasmine isn’t for everyone. But I bought this perfume, which also has notes of vanilla and ambergris, from a craft fair in Brooklyn earlier this year and I promise it really does smell super sexy.

SexJasmine15mlFlatlay-Grande_copy_1024x1024


Stand with Planned Parenthood tote bag, $15
25% of the proceeds from these goes straight to Planned Parenthood and I’ve never had so many women say ‘Oh, I love that!’ about any other bag I’ve owned.

bag.jpg

20. Essie Nail Polish Advent Calendar, £50
The purpose of advent calendars is not to give them *on Christmas Day*, I get that. I’ll make an exception for this one, though, because Essie polish is high quality, has a fabulous colour range and superb names. Plus, you could open all the windows at once and challenge your family to a festive #Polished competition.

Essie-Nail-Polish-Advent-Calendar-24-Day-Christmas-Countdown-738888

21. Net of satsumas, £3.95
Because what kind of spoilsport would put actual fruit in a stocking?

satsumas

22. For Men Who Moisturise Christmas Wash Bag 2017, £50
One of the things I love about Liberty is the way they combine classic/traditional design with cutting edge products, especially when it comes to beauty. I’d gladly buy any of these kits, but try this one if you’re buying for a woman.

libertymen

23. Pull along lobster wooden toy, £14.99
Is it legit to have a baby just so you can buy them a wooden lobster on wheels?

goki-pull-along-lobster-goki

24. Aubade Extrait De Flirt Half Cup Bra, £71
I’m a big fan of the sexiness of sheer underwear, but as sod’s law would have it, all the good stuff doesn’t come in my size. Please buy this for someone and let me live through them vicariously.

BRA.jpg

25. City Walks Deck: London, £9.95
Great for someone who loves a project, working your way though these over a year of Sundays and following up with a pub roast seems to me like an ideal way to spend time.

londononfoot

26. Budding monogram ornament, £10
Anthropologie has great tree decorations this year. If floral isn’t your (or their) thing, why not get them this super-festive prawn kebab.

anthro

27. 3 metre charging cable with weighted knot, £36.99
Know someone who’s sick of constantly having to pick the end of their iphone cable up off the floor? They need this.

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28. Lehmann Oblique 40 wine glasses (Set of six), £86.50
Okay, nobody *needs* mouth-blown wineglasses. But lovely glassware is a properly grown-up gift, and although I’d never be able to justify buying these either for me or for anyone else, it doesn’t take away their lustworthiness.

Oblique_40

29. Set of Two Conversation Travel Bags, £19.50
Because somewhere to put your dirty knickers when you’re travelling so they don’t get mixed up with the clean ones is the gift you never knew you wanted. Trust me.

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30. Small fox cushion, £49.95
No, it’s *not* a stuffed toy, it’s a cushion. And that makes it totally okay to a) buy it for an adult and b) spend almost fifty quid on it, even though it’s just a ‘small’ cushion.

small_fox

31. Write books not blogs notebook, £15.30
The SBOS gift guide is *always* thirty suggestions, but it also *always* contains a bath oIl and a notebook. When I’d done the full list this year, I realised I’d missed the notebook out, so here it is, as a bonus suggestion no. 31. Buy it for the person who you think blogs in order to put off doing the thing that really scares them.

writebooksnotblogs.jpg

 

***There’s also usually a charitable cause suggestion as part of the guide. This year, you can send toiletries and make up, even if lightly used, to Caroline Hirons’ excellent Give and Make Up.***

All pictures are taken from sellers’ websites. No copyright infringement is intended. If you’d like a picture removing or crediting, please do get in touch.