Wicked Wednesday: Crumpled

She’s lying in the surf, unexpectedly. Or perhaps not so unexpectedly.

This has happened many times before. One minute, she’s negotiating her way across steeply banked rocks into the shallows, the next she’s an untidy heap in the water. Usually, it’s a particularly vicious wave that takes her down; today a small child on an inflatable has crashed into her legs and toppled her.

And the whole time, he’s standing there, watching.

It’s moved fast. They’ve only been together three months, and the holiday’s been planned for two. Summer was a bad time for it to start – she’s more vulnerable from June to September.

It sounds ridiculous when she thinks of it that way, but it’s true. On their first date, he suggested a walk. She was glad he saw that as an option, but fuck, she agonised over shoes for hours. Flat sandals make her tired, and wedges are too much of a risk. Trainers would make the most sense, but she knows they do her no favours. She’s seen people who’ve never batted an eyelid when she’s wearing sturdy boots look down curiously when she’s wearing trainers. They make her ankle lazy. She wears the wedges. She’s nothing if not stubborn.

On the beach, he helps her up; holds her hand as they move into deeper water. She wishes she could tell him some of this stuff.

Every time she falls, she tries to think of crumpled things that she loves. There are lots. Slept-in beds, still warm. The Sunday papers, read from cover to cover over a lazy breakfast, or a few days later, screwed up tighter and nestled into a pile of kindling, waiting for someone to strike a match. Sweet wrappers. A surprise £20 note in the pocket of her jeans. Crunchy, orange leaves in autumn.

The holiday ends, as does the summer. Shortly after, he moves in, and adds new crumpledness to her life. His shirts on the ironing pile. Condoms wrapped in screwed up tissue in the bathroom bin. And a receipt that she finds in the hallway one morning when she’s tidying. There’s something written on the back, and she flattens it carefully so she can make out the words. In his sloping, squished up handwriting, he has written

Will you marry me?

Marry me?

I love you.

Any of those would do.

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Disabled characters: who do I really write them for?

A few months ago, I tweeted about the huge disparity in follower numbers between the @EverydaySexism and @EverydayAbleism Twitter accounts. And somebody random came back to me and said something like ‘Well, there are lots more women than there are disabled people.’

I accept that that’s true to an extent, but probably less so than you imagine. Factor in all the people with invisible disabilities, who tend to get ignored, and I bet the number shoots right up. Plus, it’s a pretty fucking limited view of who can care about these issues, isn’t it? Only women give a damn about sexism and only disabled people fight against ableism. And yeah, sometimes it feels like that. Which is a good enough reason, in my book, to pepper my erotica with my own experiences of disability. So that other people, able-bodied or otherwise, get it. That they see the challenges, the unexpected triggers, the psychological battles. I’d like to say ‘so they see that disability can be hot,’ but if I’m being totally honest, I often don’t care whether readers think what I write is hot or not – I just desperately want to share my own experiences.

I’m currently writing a short story featuring a disabled female character, with the intention of submitting it to an anthology. The character in question is freaked out by a physical challenge that would seem relatively insignificant to anyone able-bodied, but it’s a big deal to her. In this particular case, she overcomes her fear, but I don’t want that to be the narrative of every story about disability that I write. It’s just not realistic. But my biggest problem with this story is that she overcomes the fear with the help of a man, she doesn’t manage it all by herself. And in today’s climate of sex-positive, strong women, that feels like a failing.

The pressure I feel to write strong women, a pressure that causes writer’s block like nothing else, is equally applicable to characters with disabilities. In the story I’ve just had published in the For Book’s Sake anthology Tongue in Cheek, the (able-bodied) FMC cries during sex:

He’s losing me, and he knows it. Neither of us can gain enough purchase here on the cushions for him to up the tempo of his thrusts and re-centre me in the moment. So he takes me upstairs, and we fuck like we’re fucking, not kissing, and I give up the pretence completely and start to cry.

Until recently, I’d have found it hard to write a disabled character who cried during sex and not feel like I was perpetuating myths about disabled people being weak. But the truth is, if we write disabled people who are all happy and cool about their disabilities, who’ve dealt with all their issues, and are basically disabled only in a physical sense, we’re doing people who identify as disabled a massive disservice. I think the able-bodied world is often guilty of holding up as role models disabled people who’ve achieved way more than the majority of us could ever hope to – Paralympic athletes for example. While I find what they do hugely impressive, I can’t relate. Partly, it’s about finding it easier to relate to people whose condition is very similar to my own and whose strengths are similar too (Conservative MP Robert Halfon, for example, who mouths off about anything he feels strongly about). But it’s also about feeling immense pressure to be above average – I’ve done it in some areas of my life, and it frustrates me hugely that my body prevents me achieving what I’d like to physically. I want to write erotica that shows it’s ok to be weak, to be scared, to be angry. Because I think those are universal emotions – felt by able-bodied people as much as disabled people, men as much as women.

But universal though the emotions I’m writing may be, the writer’s block on the novel continues. Weak, scared and angry might be ok in a 3k short, but they’re pretty relentless in a full length piece. When I posted an extract on here, I got detailed feedback from several people who I like and whose opinion I trust. One pointed out that the female lead was clearly me, and that that was a risk – no one expects to get 100% positive feedback on a novel and I’d have to be prepared for readers to potentially criticise or dislike a character who is a barely veiled version of myself. And because she’s a barely veiled version of me, she spends the majority of the novel beating herself up. I’m not always sure I like her: how can I possibly expect readers to?

Perhaps readers won’t like her, but if the novel does get published, it should be a pretty good sign that some, at least, do. All my hang-ups when it comes to writing are not caused by other people’s opinions. They’re caused by my own. *I* worry that to turn to a man for support when I’m scared makes me weak. *I* worry that a heroine with a disability that she hasn’t fully come to terms with can never be sexy.

I write to make disability less scary. I write to reduce the stigma that surrounds it. I write to show that you can be disabled and still be sexy.

But right now, it’s not readers I’m trying to convince. It’s myself.

One day I’ll learn to love you

You’re warm, and soft, and curvy. You have good bits, like tits and beautifully shaped fingernails. And today, I hate you.

And do I trust you? Ha, you must be kidding. Why would I trust you when you constantly let me down?

Take this week, for example. Every time I stand up, my left ankle tries to collapse. My right knee is tired of putting up with that shit – I know, because it aches so badly.

We don’t understand each other, you and I. The ankle thing, someone suggested, might be because you don’t like the cold. Oh. I *love* the cold. I didn’t know it caused your muscles to contract, made you tight and inflexible. At night now, that ankle gets a hot water bottle. Does that help? I wish I knew.

I tell my mum what I found out about you, too: that it’s not just that the left leg is shorter, it’s that the hip muscle has yanked it up and won’t let go.

‘What’s the point of knowing that,’ she says, ‘If you’re not going to do anything about it?’

But I don’t want to change you. I want to like you the way you are.

That’s not to say we don’t have good times. We just mainly have them alone. Just after Christmas, we went for a walk, and as usual, we set out later than we should – sundown, it turns out, isn’t at 5 p.m. in early January, it’s at 4. And so we’re under pressure. The walk is flat though, according to the book, so we’ll be fine, right?

I forgot about mud. It coats my boots, means there’s no friction between you and the ground. I force you to swing from branch to branch to get down the first bank, and they snap and you have to clutch and grasp for another. Over and over again. We survive. Just. And I’m proud of us.

There’s more mud, and water that slops over my boots, but we cope. Ultimately, it’s not you that brings the whole endeavour to an abrupt end, it’s me. I have plenty of ridiculous fears, but this one I think, is justified. Staring back at us, from the field which ‘has a stile in the corner diagonally opposite’ are three bulls. Uh uh. No way.

So together we try to scramble back down to the road. And we almost make it. We’re probably three steps from safety when you fail me and I land flat on my back in the mud. I could cry, but there’s no one to see my humiliation. So I forgive you and we set off along the road instead.

We get to a junction. Googlemaps seems to think we’ve gone the wrong way, and then my phone dies. Obviously.

There’s a grim looking hotel and I go in, and ask the guy on reception to call me a cab. And could he check they’ll take cards?

‘There’s a cash point in the petrol station,’ he says. Then: ‘I can’t call it unless you stay here. Sometimes people do runners.’

Yeah, he’s a cunt.

In the petrol station I ask a woman if she’s going the way I need to go. It’s only just over a mile, but it’s dark, I have no torch, no phone and there’s no pavement.

She’s not, but she points in the opposite direction. ‘You can get back that way, too. It’s quicker, and there’s a pavement.’

Thank fuck for that.

We drive home via Sainsbury’s. I want to buy you something nice for tea. I’m proud of you. And it even makes me laugh when, later, in the bath, the bits of twig floating on the surface confuse me until I realise that my hair is bloody full of them from when we were swinging tree to tree.

We’re ok, you and I. We just need to learn to love each other. To trust each other. And maybe, once we’ve done that, we can start to trust other people.

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Inexperience

When I was six or seven, I got a bike for Christmas. I don’t recall much about it, other than that it was almost certainly pink, that I spent a lot of time pimping it with plastic shit from packets of Frosties, and that by the end of the winter I was regularly in the habit of pedalling so fast that the stabilisers didn’t even touch the ground.

And then my dad took the stabilisers off.

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