Him before me: my thoughts on ‘Me Before You’

*contains spoilers*

It could be a coincidence. It could be merely fluke that three weeks ago I walked into a cinema showing Me Before You relatively relaxed, calm and at ease with myself and left it shattered and tearful; descending within days into a depression so sudden and severe I’m still struggling to drag myself out of bed in the morning; my desire to live completely sapped.

I should clarify: I don’t blame Jojo Moyes’ now world-famous story for my recent mental health crisis. I do blame it for forcing me to confront hard truths about how I see disability and love, in a way that I’m not wholly comfortable with a book about disability written by an able-bodied author doing.

When I spoke at Eroticon back in May, I said that I didn’t think writing disability should be the preserve of the disabled, and I think I still agree with that. I also read out this quote, from Susie Day: “If yours is the first time a reader has met a fictional someone “like them”, it’s almost inevitable that you will disappoint.” And oh my, how Me Before You  has disappointed the disabled community.

The conversation around the book has been too lengthy and too nuanced for me to replicate all of the arguments here. At the risk of massively oversimplifying, most of the backlash has come from the fact that Will, the book’s protagonist, tells his carer, Lou, to ‘Live Boldly,’ just before he travels to Dignitas to end his own life. The implication? That ‘living boldly’ is something only the able-bodied are entitled to. If you are interested in the various commentary from the disabled community, Kim Sauder has an excellent round-up post here.

I recognise why the book is problematic based on the above, and yet, at my lowest, I fall very much into the ‘some people actually feel that way,’ camp, which, you know what? Makes me feel guilty as fuck.

I’m a firm believer that the relationship between how you feel about your body and your level of (dis)ability is not linear. That is to say: there will be some people who are para- or quadriplegic and feel every day that life is worth living, just as there will be some of us who, in comparison, look essentially ablebodied, but struggle hugely to accept our bodies the way they are.

So going in to Me Before You, knowing in advance how it ended (thanks, mum!), I thought I’d be able to handle it. I thought I was personally far more able to deal with the reaction to disability that I share than I would be with a plot line that essentially saw a man whose condition left him suicidal saved by the love of a good woman.

Oh, how wrong was I?

Books are funny things. Stories are strange. In real life, we want to believe we’re rational, sophisticated creatures who won’t be satisfied with a trite, neat little ending that goes against how we see things play out in the real world (or I do, anyway). And yet, when it comes down to it, a book which doesn’t follow the conventions laid down over centuries of literature can be strangely unsettling. When I said I was planning on ending my own novel, which is about a relationship between two people who are clearly terrible for each other, with the woman leaving and realising that she’s just fine on her own, someone in my writing group warned (rightly, I think): ‘People are going to be disappointed, you know. They’re going to expect a happily ever after.’

I scorn the happily ever after. Or, more accurately, it makes me uneasy. Do I think #liveboldly should be confined to the ablebodied? No, but that’s easy for me to say, when I’m fundamentally independent despite my disability: I live alone, I travel, I drive, I work. Do I think #happilyeverafter, in a romantic sense, is the preserve of the able? I’m afraid I do, yes. I don’t expect to find someone who’ll love me in spite of the disability.

So I needed Me Before You to tell me otherwise. I needed it, there in that popcorn-scented, slightly grubby Vue, to promise that I could find love, and not only that I could find it, but that it would be enough for me to forgive myself, to find peace. And it let me down.

Will finds love. He falls in love with Lou. Lou falls in love with him. But for Will, it’s not quite enough: it’s not the powerful, executive, highly-sexed, action-sport-heavy life he led before the accident that caused his quadriplegia, and he picks the assisted-suicide route anyway. It broke my heart.

What did I want Me Before You to be, on a personal level? Did I want it to represent me, and the way I see the world? I don’t know. Maybe. But I think more than that, I wanted it to lie to me. I wanted it to tell me that love could save me. Because unless he’s out there, and he can love me first, how the hell am I supposed to do the same?

 

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Review (of sorts): How a bad girl fell in love

For the sex blogging community, and especially, I imagine, the British sex blogging community, Girl on the Net is the thing we have in common: the blog we all read, the blogger many of us aspire to write like. It’s weird to me that the world beyond blogging is less familiar with her – when my RL friends claim not to have heard of her, I’m surprised, disappointed even – because her blog is a way in to conversations about sex, albeit a seriously filthy one.

How a bad girl fell in love is her second book, but the first in paperback, which delights the print-geek in me. My favourite sex blogger just became giftable! And that’s important, because, all the good stuff I have to say about this book aside, what I think will be really interesting is how it’s received in the market more widely.

The Amazon blurb reads as follows:

From the UK’s smartest and most controversial sex blogger comes a unique story of ordinary love and incredible sex – and what happened when they came together. This is Girl on the Net’s true story – of falling in love and falling apart. From the honeymoon days of sex whenever and wherever, to the everyday issues that come with a solid relationship. This is more than a memoir, this is a must-read for all of us who have ever wondered…can great sex and real love ever go hand in hand?

I liked it a lot, but I wasn’t sure, when I started it, what made it different from the blog. One of the things I loved about Girl on the Net’s earlier blog posts was that they were all titled ‘On X…,’ a trope that many of us have since borrowed, because it works, and the equivalent trick in How a bad girl fell in love is to name the chapters with genuine magazine article titles and to introduce them with a snippet of conversation between Sarah, the narrator, and the lovely Mark, who I fell a bit in love with pretty damn quick. For example, Chapter 8 is called ‘Work-Love Balance: 8 Tips on Juggling a Career & Couplehood,’ and it starts:

Me: Thing is, it’s easier to ask for a fuck than to tell someone great that you love them. 

Him: For you. Easier for YOU.

It’s clever, and the intro snippets are all funny and cute, to the extent that I kept sticking the book under friends’ noses and going ‘Ohh, this one’s *lovely*’ but I did worry for a while that it read more like a series of articles or blog posts compiled than a novel with a distinct plot arc. For some people, of course, that would be perfect, because they like to dip in and out of stuff, and it certainly makes it easier to do that, but me? I want arc.

On Wednesday evening though, with 75 pages to go, I meant to go home and eat before heading out again later. I was pushed for time and the book was burning a hole in my handbag. In the end, I snuck off to Carluccio’s and over sausage pasta, wine and tiramisu, I devoured what was left of it. It pulled me in so deftly, I didn’t even realise it was happening.

This is a book that’s strong on hot sex …

When Mark pushed his cock inside me I let out what felt like a sigh of relief. All the times I’d said no, and all moments when I’d sobbed myself to sleep feeling dry and useless and pathetic: they all came out in that breath.

Then he smacked me.

… on mental health …

I’m not weak. I’m fighty. I’ll shout and get angry about things all the time … Buggered if I’m going to cry just because my boyfriend is trying to push me to explain why I cried in a restaurant, and why all my friends have started tiptoeing around me, as if just one wrong word will turn me to dust.

… and on love and affection …

The miracle came the next day, when his key clicked in the lock and he came running through the hallway shouting my name.

‘Ugh,’ he grunted, as he pulled me into a hug. ‘It’s been a long day. I fucking missed you.’

The Evening Standard reviewed it a while back, and I think they missed the point. Is it clickbait in print form? Maybe. The title suggests so, at least, and perhaps the cover, too. But this…?

So what do women want? To fuck “for a variety of reasons: true love, sheer curiosity, politeness, money, boredom” or “because we’re horny and we just quite feel like it”? Or to find Mr Right? To be honest, I’m not sure GOTN knows. She swings erratically in her search for that special experience, from pub toilet cubicles to down the aisle.

The point, for me, is that Girl on the Net *doesn’t* know, and that’s the joy of this book. Personally, I’m sick of heroines who are nice, and uncomplicated – scatty, but essentially good – who know what they want, and always get it in the end. Real women *do* ‘swing erratically,’ though there’s not currently much on the shelves that acknowledges that.

Girl on the Net does. It’s what makes this really worth reading. I think the blogging community will love it. I hope the rest of the world will too. And in six months, I’ll be checkIng the Amazon reviews to see if they did, because the verdict will tell us a lot – about where we are with regard to talking about sex, feminism, MH issues and our bodies – and how far we still have to go.

***

I received an advance copy of How a bad girl fell in love in exchange for a fair review. I also have a competition, where you can win a signed copy.

‘The Theory of Everything’ or ‘Writing Disability’

‘Yeah, she liked it. She thought maybe it glossed over his disease a bit, but yeah, good.’

So said a friend about a friend of hers who’d already seen The Theory of Everything, the film about Stephen Hawking and his first marriage, when I told her I was going to see it at the weekend.

And you know what? I thought it was bloody good.

I think you’d be hard pressed not to like it, if Rom Coms are your thing (although, admittedly, there’s not that much Com). Eddie Redmayne is amazing as Hawking, Felicity Jones is perhaps even better as his wife, and well, it’s set in Cambridge, and when is Cambridge not beautiful? Certainly not when a huge budget has clearly been spent on giving it extra soft lighting and sparkle.

But the motor neurone disease needs that soft lighting and sparkle, right? To make it watchable?

Well, no, I don’t think it does, actually. And that’s exactly where the film triumphs.

If it glosses over the grim reality of the disease, and certainly my friend’s friend was not the only one to think it does, it glosses only over the physical side, not the psychological. Personally, I’m ok with that. I don’t want this post to become a debate about whether the primary purpose of showing more disability in books, films and the media in general is to ensure people with disabilities are sufficiently represented in those areas or to educate the wider population (although I’m happy to discuss this in the comments), but I do know that I don’t think the representation of physical pain/distress tells us much. What it’s important to show is the psychological damage that disability causes – the shame, the frustration, the anger – and without a doubt, The Theory of Everything doesn’t hold back here. It’s in the inability to match finger to thumb (I’ve been there), the inability to eat unassisted, the gradual triumph of the flight of stairs over the able-bodied man.

I don’t have motor neurone disease, or anything remotely that severe. I’ve never been told that my disability will cut my life short. I’m not in permanent, irreversible decline. But I do know what it’s like to watch your body let you down – for years mine steadily overcame its own issues – I was told I might not walk, and then I did, my limp became less pronounced, my left hand ceased to want to ball into a fist at all times – and then all of a sudden, it didn’t. I had hip pain, knee pain – neither of which I’d had before – and I was back in the MRI scanner for the first time in eighteen years. A day at a craft fair bizarrely threw my hips so out of sync I could barely walk. I had frequent neck ache, back ache and indigestion – caused, the physio said, by the fact that my rib cage was likely twisted because my right side was pulling too hard when compensating for my left. But I care less that people understand the physical issues than that they understand how I feel – why I’m scared, why I’m angry, why I’m ashamed. If I’d started life able-bodied? Yeah, I can’t even imagine…

But this isn’t the first thing I’ve watched about Stephen Hawking, and I’ve come to the conclusion that he’s not that nice a guy. Sure, the film is based on his wife’s autobiography, and he left her for his nurse, so she was never going to paint him as a saint, but it’s such a relief to finally see something that shows you that someone can be hellish in spite of their disability, and that the physical difficulties just exacerbate the problems of excess pride, stubbornness and selfishness. I’m so, so tired of seeing disabled people described as role models, ‘inspirational,’ or worst of all ‘cute’ (yes, Channel 4, I’m looking at you) – they’re *people*, and as such they come with a full range of emotions, hopes, dreams, fears and faults.

It’s why, in a way, I think erotica is an interesting genre in which to write disability. i’ve touched briefly before on my belief that the best erotica delves into the psychology of its characters and I think the psychology of disability is fascinating – how do you develop sex positivity, body positivity, healthy relationships, when living in an ableist world that does its best to remind you, often, that you’re not *normal?* Too much focus, at the moment, is put on disability as difference, when really, it’s not – it’s often  just a magnifying glass on the physical insecurities that everyone suffers. As such, it deserves to be written not just for the sake of fair representation but because it highlights universal fears and concerns.

I have two concerns though, when it comes to writing disability, and the first is personal. I’m revising the first draft of my novel at the moment, and there’s no doubt the FMC is pretty much a carbon copy of me. I don’t regret that, because it’s important to me to see physical disability depicted in sex writing for all the reasons I’ve given above, and doubtless she’ll stay disabled right up the final draft, but ultimately I think as you mature as a writer you hope to move away from writing your own issues and insecurities, and I think this is an issue I’ll always be too close to to view it impartially. Nor do I think you have to have experienced disability to write it well. I have no issues with able-bodied people writing disability, provided they do their research properly, just as I hope that ‘cripping up’ (ugh) will never be widely seen as equivalent to ‘blacking up.’

My final concern, and my final point, for that matter, links back to disability as ‘cute.’ It’s not cute. It’s equally not sexy (which isn’t to say disabled people can’t be hot, just that that hotness is about the person, not their disability,) but judging by the way erotic romance is currently portraying mental health issues, you’d never know that. Take Sylvia Day’s Captivated by You as an example (and a longer post on this is coming soon.) The MMC (there’s no way I’m calling him the hero), Gideon Cross, has a history of being abused, and as such, some pretty severe MH problems. Can he be sexy nonetheless? Of course. Is he sexy because he’s ‘damaged?’ No, FFS.

Writing disability isn’t something that needs doing because it’s ‘cool.’ Physical disability and mental health issues aren’t having their fifteen minutes of fame, they’re the reality of the world we live in. We need to stop writing disability as a quirk that makes characters interesting and start writing interesting characters who also have a disability. And please, if you do, spare me the cute…

How to write a book review

I don’t review books often, so if I do, it’s pretty safe to say I either loved them or had a huge issue with them. More on books with which I’ve had huge issues in a couple of weeks.

So here’s the thing. Increasingly, I feel like reviewing erotica honestly and fairly is becoming harder and harder to do. Erotica is a relatively small genre. Many erotica authors follow each other on social networks and interact with each other regularly. Many of us who read erotica are privileged enough to be able to interact with our favourite authors too, something which I think would be harder with many other genres. In short, erotica authors have the potential to be one of the most supportive, friendly and inclusive groups of authors out there.

But. As a reader, just because I interact with an author, just because we get on, doesn’t mean I feel obliged to review their book, or their writing, in a way that doesn’t dare to mention anything negative at all. If I like their writing, it’s almost certainly because it’s nuanced, intelligent and hot. If it’s an anthology they’ve edited, I think it’s fair to say that I’ll find some of the stories hot, others well written but not my kink or fantasy, and a few which don’t do it for me either in terms of hotness or prose. If I *really* like two or three stories in an anthology, I think I’ve got a pretty good deal – after all, those are the stories I’ll revisit time and again, and how many books on your bookshelf, even those which you enjoyed a lot, do you really go back to multiple times? I guess what I’m saying is that, if you’re intelligent enough to write beautiful and nuanced prose, you’re intelligent enough to recognise that a positive review with a handful of ‘not quite my things’ is not a negative review of your work. Not everybody will love everything you’ve written and that’s fine – good reviewing, that says what does/doesn’t work for the reviewer will ultimately make sure your book reaches the audience it was intended for all along.

And so you won’t find me writing uncritical reviews. It’s not my style. When I blog, I expect people to come back to me and be honest about what they do/don’t like and when I edit, in RL, I expect my authors to listen to my opinions, take on board the bits they agree with and to challenge the rest. I’m not going to start writing super critical reviews, not least because I think to write a fair book review you have to finish the book in question and if I really hate something it’s unlikely I will.

But I don’t think it’s unfair, either, to admit that you recognise that something is well written, but that it doesn’t turn you on. I don’t think it’s wrong to say ‘Femdom is not my kink, so x story didn’t work for me but hey, it was superbly written, so if that’s your thing, you’ll love this!’ Nor, if you really don’t like something, is it wrong to write a constructive review saying so – you’d do it for a restaurant, so why not an erotica anthology?

In short, whether we’re friends or not, I (or anyone else) am not obliged to shower your writing with praise. I’m allowed to be objective. After all, it’s your book, not your baby.

The Lion, the Witch and her Wardrobe

At the very beginning of #NaBloPoMo, I asked you guys what you wanted me to write about, and Kristina Lloyd came back to me and asked if I’d write about clothes and make up.

I’m not a big believer in gifs in blog posts (and this isn’t a gif anyway), but this was the first thing that came to mind:

I’m kidding, of course. I don’t *actually* think Kristina wants me to blog about those things because she doesn’t think I’m up to sex blogging yet (at least, I *hope* that’s not what she thinks!), rather I think it came from the fascinating conversation we had over on Facebook about Liz Earle’s Hot Cloth Cleanser (which we’d both highly recommend.) They also sell it in a beautiful Christmas tin, if you’re looking for a gift for your grandma.

Seriously, though. This post is probably the closest I’ll ever come to lifestyle blogging, and I personally think I’m totally. ill-qualified to write on fashion. When I told the boy what Kristina had asked me to write about, he laughed in my face. Then we had a minor row about what John Lewis’ ‘Never Knowingly Undersold’ policy *actually* means. Which should probably be the second disclaimer. I spend a fair amount of money on my clothes. This post is probably going to end up  an exceedingly middle class read. Please feel free to not read beyond this point – I’ll try to be back with the sex tomorrow.

Like I said, fashion has never really been my thing. My mum was still buying me clothes from M&S long after my friends had started choosing their own. When I did eventually graduate to Tammy Girl, I made some exceedingly poor choices, including a black long-sleeved maxi dress  with Adidas-style stripes up both sides. And a crop top. Tits aside I’m not built for crop tops now, and I wasn’t at 13, either.

At university, there were pretty much two camps of girls when it came to fashion. The scientists and mathematicians wore a uniform of jeans and black fitted T-shirts. The arts students wore little dresses and scarves. Lots and lots of scarves. Based on my clothes, I looked like I was studying Physics, just with a lot more cleavage. My personal ‘style’ didn’t come until I started working.

These days, I think I know what I like and what suits me. I make the odd bad choice, obviously (don’t we all), but I’ve mastered dresses and a look I’m confident in but no longer involves my tits falling out of my neckline quite as much as it used to. I haven’t bought a lot of clothes this year – Jigsaw is absolutely my go-to store, both for its dresses and for its vest tops, which, while pricey, last forever and are really nice and long in the body. Dorothy Perkins can be great for cheap tea dresses which will fall apart if you wear them often enough, but which someone said to me the other day ‘look just like Cath Kidston.’ I bought jeans again a month or so ago (I haven’t owned any for two years!) – Levis demi-curve, which are high-enough, but not too high, at the waist and have enough room to accommodate my arse. If you’re curvier than me, I’m pretty sure the curve increases beyond demi-, too. For blouses to go over jeans, I think Oasis is the best bet.

The pieces I’ve bought that I really, really love this autumn are this dress and this dress, both from Jigsaw. Office-appropriate, dinner appropriate – I finally feel like I’ve found the clothes that make me feel like me. Don’t believe for a minute though that if you have big tits you’ll look like the model does in that second one – I need to wear a camisole under it to be remotely decent in public.

So, what am I still coveting, clothes-wise? Well, I wouldn’t mind this dress and I really, really want this jumper dress from Toast, too. I have a bit of a soft spot for elbow patches. Aside from that, I’d love the Cambridge Satchel Co Music Bag in red.

I’m not great on tips for where to buy jewellery – I have a friend who understands my tastes very well and buys me great earrings as gifts, and round my neck I mostly wear my Alex Monroe bumblebee, which was a gift from my parents. Other than that, I love the majority of what Oh My Clumsy Heart do,  and I’m a sucker for Metal Taboo‘s filthy wares, as well. Of all the earrings I’ve lost, these are the only ones I’ve desperately wanted to replace.

And make up/beauty products. I’m pretty faithful to the products I like – as well as Liz Earle, a lot of the stuff I use in the bath gets bought again and again – like Origins’ Ginger Float bath cream, for example. On my face, I’m just trying to get to grips with primer,  but I’m loving YSL’s new foundation, which was a Twitter recommendation. We’ll just ignore the ‘Youth Liberator’ bit. My lipstick is either Bobbi Brown or MAC’s MAC Red, and my perfume is almost always Dior Pure Poison. Blusher? NARS Orgasm, obviously. I still can’t find a mascara I’m in love with though, so if you have any tips, please leave them in the comments…

Kristina Lloyd’s Undone: the ‘unsuitable for Amazon’ review

My copy of Undone arrived with strict instructions from the author herself:

‘Promise that you’ll read it in order.’

Well, of course, Kristina. How else would I read it? Do I look like the kind of person who trawls books looking for an immaculately written blow job or any hint of anal? Maybe don’t answer that.

Kristina has her reasons for not trusting me. Her second novel, Asking for Trouble, is my favourite erotica novel ever. It never leaves my bedside table, and it rarely leaves my actual bed. I lent it to the boy when I wanted him to understand what turns me on. I use it when I need reminding how to write well. It’s a superb work of erotica, but it more than holds its own as a piece of fiction outside of the genre. It’s taught me how to write characters, how to describe place … wait, I’m reviewing the wrong book.

Anyway. Asking for Trouble is the reason Kristina doesn’t trust me. When we first started chatting via Twitter, I confessed that I’d owned it for months, years even, before I fully pieced the plot together. Why? Because the sex in it is so hot that I’d been ‘reading’ (wanking over) the sex scenes time and time again, and figuring out the plot using a mixture of guesswork and logical deduction. That’s how you have great orgasms. It’s *not* how you read a book.

So, good girl that I am, I obediently started Undone at the beginning. Like, right at the beginning. With the dedication.

I’m not totally sure what the etiquette is regarding mentioning the dedication in a review. It sort of feels like it’s not fair game because it’s not part of the story: the story is *not* about Kristina’s life, the dedication presumably *is.* But anyway, here’s what it says:

For Ewan, for being generous with the measures.

For that to make sense, you kind of have to know that the book is set in a cocktail bar, and, bad reviewer that I am, I haven’t filled you in on the plot. But the cocktails aren’t really my point. Lana and Sol, the characters in Undone, aren’t Kristina and (presumably) her partner. What they do have though is affection and respect for each other that underpins all the sex in the book and proves the publishing industry wrong about everything it holds true about erotic romance. And for me, the stunning simplicity with which Kristina writes emotion and affection is captured wholeheartedly in that dedication.

Unlike most of what Black Lace publish these days, Undone is described as ‘erotic thriller,’ rather than ‘erotic romance.’ It really, really bothers me that we’ve come to understand erotic romance as being synonymous with billionaires, helicopters and fifteen-million page contracts. The reason I picked the dedication as an example of Kristina being so much more than just a sex writer is because it’s too hard to pull out an individual quote from the novel itself that proves that this is romance too: the whole text is shot through with the depth of Sol and Lana’s feelings for one another.

Not that those feelings cast any kind of soft focus glow over the sex scenes. When I first started reading Kristina’s work, I picked it up by chance: in those days I’d read pretty much any Black Lace book. Since then, I’ve learnt a lot more about my own kinks and consequently, become a lot more discerning in what I read, erotica-wise. Even in a year and half’s worth of blogging I’ve discovered that I’m not as vanilla as I thought I was: I identify as submissive far more strongly than I did at the start, but I know more about what kind of sub I am, too. What I’d call ‘formalised kink’ – beautiful rope work, toys, spankings, the word ‘Sir’ – none of that really works for me. I like improvised bondage, bruising, shame – and Undone is very much about the last of those things. Not that it doesn’t have stunning S&M kit in it – Kristina has certainly done her research into handcuffs – but it feels much more about the psychological aspects of kink than her last novel, Thrill Seeker, did.

It’s a massively intelligently-written book, but if I flick through my copy now and find the bits I underlined, it’s the visceral quality of the sex that means I’ll probably return to this as wank-fodder almost as often as I do to Asking for Trouble. Again, it’s difficult to the pluck the best bits out of context, but I particularly loved the following:

Specks of purple and green glitter shone where he’d rubbed against my make-up. I thought of the ways in which we become each other’s bodies, how a punch becomes a bruise, how fluids mingle in kisses and how I take him inside me, the boundaries of our selves no longer sealed and whole.

And then, a little later, this:

He raised himself over me, his cock bumping at my entrance. He grabbed my wrist, pinning my arm awkwardly above my head as he drove into me. His bulky shaft pushed me open, my heavy, wet insides clinging to his thickness. I cried out, as thrilled by the hand squeezing my arm as I was by the cock surging into me. He shoved high and hard, his fingers tight around my wrist.

So, do I recommend it? Hell yes. But do yourself a favour and take Kristina’s advice. Read Undone in order, as much for the thriller plot as for the sex. Don’t look for (or post!) spoilers on Amazon. It’s better that way. If you must know though, the super hot anal starts on page 221.

Asking for Trouble

When I was staying with friends the other day, we were lying in the park and, having read the Sunday papers from cover to cover, had turned to Siri for amusement. I already have my favourite exchanges with Siri, namely:

‘Do you like anal, Siri?’

‘This isn’t about me, Charlie, it’s about you.’

Yep, OK, Siri, you’ve got me all figured out.

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The Delicious Torment – A review

Alison Tyler and I agree on a crucial point: that it’s important to do things properly, especially when it comes to sex. At the start of her last novel, Dark Secret Love, she says:

I’m hoping to paint the proper picture. I want you to know the way the wood felt under my bare feet. I want you to be able to trace a cut-crystal whiskey glass with your fingertips, to feel the sting of a slap and feel the rising blush.

With erotica more than any other genre, I think, the details are important. A single ill-chosen word can squick the reader; for me personally, even the cover can be a turn off.

Continue reading

Dark Secret Love: A Review

Wow, the blog has strayed far from its original purpose, hasn’t it? Look at what my About section says: ‘I blog not only about my fiction, but also about the things that matter to me, both in the bedroom and out of it.’ My life in the bedroom is supposed to be secondary to my writing, and somehow it’s become the main focus. This isn’t leading to some big conclusion, or change of direction, it’s just a reminder to myself that the people in it are real and I should go steady here with what I write about them.

Anyyyway … this post is more about me doing something I’m uncomfortable with – reviewing someone else’s writing. I haven’t written a book review since I was in school, and honestly? I don’t really know where to start. Especially because, when it comes to erotica, I don’t always read chronologically, and some bits get, erm, much more read than others. But I do think it’s important. The erotica market, in the UK at least, feels to me like it’s in a bit of a mess at the moment, and surely if women want to see a range of high quality, well-written erotica, then we actually have to talk about the stuff we’ve enjoyed and recommend it to others.

Starting with something based on someone’s real life experiences seemed a good place to start – after all, it’s something I think I understand the motivation for. And the other thing I loved about Alison Tyler’s Dark Secret Love? The heroine has agency.

I think that’s a bigger deal than it might seem at first. I plan to review much more of what I read here, and I have no intention at all of comparing everything back to FSoG. But it’s worth doing here. In FSoG, Ana doesn’t have any submissive desires of her own – she desires Christian, and she wants to be sub because that’s what he wants.

Although in the UK edition, Black Lace have tried to suggest otherwise with the cover (‘It’s ok, bashful ladies, this is just a book about a rich guy with nice ties, nothing to be ashamed of’), there’s none of that in Dark Secret Love – Sam, the heroine, is very much submissive by her own choice.

The other thing I really liked is that she’s fundamentally monogamous. If you put FSoG and all its spin offs to one side, it can sometimes feel like erotica is dominated by people who are polygamous, and that, if you really love sex, you have to be having it with more than one person. Dark Secret Love proves that that’s just not true. Monogamous but filthy? Yep, that’s totally a thing.

For me, the only downside was that the type of BDSM Sam is into is the formal kind: whips, canes, spanking … whereas the type that gets me off tends to be more about psychological domination. That’s very much a personal thing, and if you prefer the former, there’s no doubt that this is a very hot book.

In the introduction, Alison writes: ‘This is meta-fiction, beta-fiction, masturbatory fiction.’ For me, it wasn’t the last of those, not quite. But for a lot of people it will be, and it’s good to know that Alison is happy for you to use it for that purpose.