Christmas Gift Guide (of Sorts) 2018

2018 has been weird. I’ve been back on Twitter, and I’m fairly happy there. I’ve written *a lot* for the Smut Marathon (if you haven’t voted in the finals yet, please do – voting closes on Saturday night), and I’ve blogged a bit, too. Some stuff in my life has changed, a lot of stuff hasn’t. And one thing holds true … whatever else happens, there’s always a gift guide. So, here we go …

  1. Bee print pyjama bottoms, £28
    Good because they’re a little bit quirky, but not so quirky that he’s likely to hate them, I reckon.beepjs

2. White wine carafe with oak stopper, £26
Wine carafes can be pretty old-fashioned, but not this one. This one is beautiful.

carafe3. Custom size, stitch and colour blanket, £200+
I should be apologising for putting a *blanket* that costs upwards of 200 quid on here, but I’m sorry not sorry. Basically, all I want for Christmas is stuff that’s going to make me extremely happy in January, and I don’t think I’m alone in that.

ColourThrows

4. Coucou onesie, £29
Babies are cute, babies in Breton stripes are cuter still and babies in Breton stripes with ‘Coucou’ embroidered on them are the cutest (except for perhaps babies in Oshkosh dungarees).

cou-cou-1_1024x

5. The Roasting Tin book, £6 + Falcon enamelware roasting tin, £22
This is a fab book, and makes a great gift when combined with an enamel roasting tin. There’s a veggie/vegan version if you prefer and you can follow the hashtag #tinlads on Twitter to see what other people are making from it.

roastingtinfalcon6. Frog prince stuffed toy, £28.34
Not so much for little girls who might actually still believe in princes as for friends who are completely disillusioned with Tinder.

frogprince

7. Gladstone library gift vouchers, £5+
Rumour has it that this is *the* place to get away and write in the UK, and I fully believe that rumour. Vouchers available from £5 upwards.

gift-vouchers-header

8. Sipsmith London Dry Gin Baubles, Set of 6, £25
I’ll admit that I think most alcohol-filled decorations are tacky, but these? Not so much. You can also get a sloe gin set if that’s a better match for your tastes and/or colour scheme.

ginbaubles

9. Kiss me sweater, £295
Another ridiculously-priced item, but this one is justified by a) cashmere and b) super cute slogan. Buy it for someone you *adore*. A still overpriced, but slightly cheaper tee is also available.
grey-kiss-me-sweater_700x10. European necklace, £25
*sigh*i-heart-europe-necklace_1920x.progressive

11. Jo Malone Pomegranate Noir bath oil, £18
I am very late to the game with Jo Malone, I know. Truth is, I wanted to believe that it was overhyped and overpriced. Then I smelt Pomegranate Noir and had to try it. Be warned: the 30ml/£18 bottle is *tiny* so only buy it for people who understand little luxuries. That said, a little goes a long long way and I reckon it’ll last me fifteen baths or more.
jomalone

12. London advent calendar, £12.50
This advent calendar has a beautiful cityscape and then festive stuff behind the windows when you open them. It almost makes up for it having no chocolate. Other cities also available.

londonsnowchristmasadventcalendarwindowcards

13. Becoming, £16.99
This is so likely to be well-received that the only risk is that everyone you buy it for will already have it.

michelle

14. Deadly nightshade bra and brief/thong, £61
There’s almost always pretty underwear on the SBOS gift guide, but frustratingly, that means it often doesn’t even go up to my size. This is the year that changes – this set is available in DD to GG cup sizes.

mimiholliday

15. Felt mice standing decorations, £25
I’ve already bought these guys for someone and believe me, they have *attitude*.

noelmice

16. Luxury mohair bed socks with chocolate hot water bottle, £20
The chocolate hot water bottle (which is an optional extra) takes what would be a nice present for e.g. your grandma and makes it just a little more interesting. Plus, you can upgrade to cadhmere socks (+ £18) and get a message printed on the box.

normal_personalised-bed-socks-gift
17. Paco Rabanne Pure XS For Her Eau de Parfum 50ml, £62.50
It was the snake on the bottle that first made me try this (careful, there’s no snake on the 30ml bottle), but the fragrance is really nice too, and very similar to the YSL Black Opium scents, if you happen to be buying for someone you know likes those.
pacorabanne

18. Paperwilds notebook, £25
I have fantasies about a stocking that contains chocolate, champagne, nail polish and a really nice notebook. This one would do…

paperwildsnotebook
19. Plant lady embroidery, £37.24
Embroidery is a cool and affordable way to buy art, because there’s no need to frame it. Buy this ironically for your best friend who kills anything green immediately

plantlady

20. Essie Good as Gold nail polish, £10.95
You can probably get this cheaper in Boots – I did – but it’s not on their site at the moment, hence the Amazon link. It should cost you around £7.99, and it’s a beautiful metallic/chrome gold that’s perfect for Christmas.

GoodAsGold_PackShot_Enamel

21. Reindeer pen and chocolates, £6.99
A good Secret Santa gift, I reckon, especially for those of us who work in industries where we love a good pen, and consume a lot of chocolate. John Lewis do the same product in slightly different designs.

reindeerpen

22. Glass trinket boxes, £11.50 each
These are cute and they’d make a good value stocking filler. If only the lobster one wasn’t sold out!

Screenshot 2018-12-01 00.30.22

23. Corrupted, £7.99
I spent ages editing it, the least you can do is buy a copy of it for someone. Plus, it’s excellent – check out the reviews.

corrupted

24. Dishoom currency, £10+
People who live in London will likely already know about Dishoom, which is a small chain of Indian restaurants. What they may not know about is that, instead of vouchers, you can get Dishoom currency to give as a gift – each coin is worth £10 and you can get them (and spend them!) in any of their restaurants.

Screenshot 2018-12-01 00.53.47

25. Tickets for Six, The Musical, £9.50+
Six is an utter, spoof X-factor style joy – it’s clever, it’s original and it’s the perfect gift for any friends who love history and/or royalty (somehow I have more than one such friend?!). It’s touring a few UK cities before Christmas and is then on in London until May 2019.

sixtix

26. Space NK travel bag, £24
This is where practical gift and stylish gift meet. Because it’s transparent, it meets airport hand luggage restrictions, but it’s also sturdy/well-designed enough to act as your full-time make up bag. If you were feeling super generous, you could also fill it with minis. spacenkmakeup

27 . Care instructions raw sweatshirt, $64
Stay Home Club is another brand that’s becoming a bit of an SBOS gift guide staple. Sorry about that – it’s just that their stuff genuinely makes me smile.

stayhomeclub

28. The winter warmer hamper, £33
Wine in a flat bottle? Cool! Bloom & Wild pack their gifts really nicely, offer great customer service and do decent and regular discounts that mean you rarely have to pay full price.

winterwarmerhamper

29. 100 dogs, £4.99
This is a great stocking filler for a little one – and, if they’re already more of a cat person than a dog person there’s a cat version coming next year, too.

100dogs

30. Kate Bush felt hanging decorations, £24.99
I stumbled upon these just after posting last year’s gift guide, and was gutted not to have seen them sooner. They tick so many boxes: handmade, kitsch, funny. I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t love them.

wutheringheights

31. International women winemakers case, £115
The gift guide is always supposed to be thirty items, but I couldn’t resist more wine (sounds familiar…). Urchin is a wonderful independent wine merchant in Margate and they’ve created a six bottle case of wines produced by women. If it’s out of stock (it sometimes is) or is out of your budget, you could research other wines produced by women and create a different/cheaper selection, I’m sure.

womenwinemakers

32. There’s also usually a charitable cause suggestion as part of the guide. This year, it’s Crisis at Christmas which, for £28.18, provides a homeless person with food, somewhere to sleep if they want/need it, and a whole load of other great stuff. Support your local food bank, too!

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.

As ever, 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 the next gift guide!

 

 

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#WeAreHere

I don’t join in with Sinful Sunday very often any more. Photography isn’t really my thing. But it was World Cerebral Palsy Day yesterday and, while I have a longer post planned, putting this disability, which seems to get way less discussion, research and interest than many others (this year the only UK charity supporting children and adults with hemiplegia, which is the form of CP that I have, was subsumed into a larger, more generic charity for families of children with disabilities.)

Disability is a complicated existence. Internalised (and external) ableism is real, and painful. It’s hard not to trust your body. It’s hard not to get enough information or medical input relating to your condition. But it’s still a life. And above all, a disabled body is still a desirable body, even if I have to remind myself of that time and time again.

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.

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

IMG_9294

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!”