#CharliesNaNoReMo


Even before I made my New Year’s Resolutions, I wanted to read more in 2017. In 2016, I read eighteen novels, this year I’m aiming for a minimum of twenty. And, to kickstart that, I plan to read five in January.

When I tweeted about this idea, I asked if anyone wanted to join me, and people were keen, so here are the details:

  • To join in, all you have to do is read five books (physical or digital) or listen to five audiobooks before the end of January.
  • It’s not a competition as such, so there are no prizes, but I may well send out chocolate and possibly other goodies to anyone who completes the challenge.
  • I will do my best to offer periodic encouragement and reminders via Twitter, using the hashtag #CharliesNaNoReMo.
  • If you want to take part, all you have to do is comment on this post, or let me know on Twitter, with a picture or list of the five books you’re planning to read.

Please do share this with your friends – the more the merrier – and let me know if you have any questions.

Charlie x

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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.

I’ve got a guest! #03: Kristina Lloyd on Writing on the Body

Kristina last guested for me when her last novel Undone was released. She’s been quiet for a while so I’m incredibly thrilled that she’s just published a collection of her short stories, On My Knees. The collection opens with one of my favourite of Kristina’s shorts, No Sleep, which features some super hot Sharpie action. As writing on the body is a relatively new kink of mine, and one that recurs in Kristina’s work, she kindly offered to write me a guest post on why it’s just so bloody hot…

Writing on the Body 

Pete withdrew his hand from my breast – much too soon – and pressed it to the flat of my chest, telling me to keep still. It was difficult. Passion made my thighs tremble and my head spin.

Then I felt the cool tackiness of Ilya pressing the lipstick to my back.

‘What letter’s this, Beth?’ he asked as the lipstick snaked a winding path from a few inches below one shoulderblade and down almost to waist level.

‘S,’ I whispered.

‘Good girl,’ breathed Ilya. ‘And this?’

As he stroked a lipstick line down my back, the other guy gave my clit a series of tiny circular rubs, the pad of his thumb hard and abrasive.

‘Oh God,’ I cried, my body swaying with delirium. ‘I can’t take it. Please –’

‘Keep still, Beth,’ urged Ilya. ‘What letter was that?’

‘L,’ I gasped. ‘L.’

Pete carried on leering, giving my clitoris the odd teasing flick or two. Ilya continued drawing on my back.

‘And that one?’ said Ilya, quietly demanding.

‘U,’ I said, a hint of weary resignation in my voice.

‘Well done, Beth,’ said Ilya. ‘S-L-U ­– What’s the next letter?’

I could feel all my juices flooding from my pussy on to Pete’s hand. My arousal was more humiliating than being humiliated. 

(from Asking for Trouble, Kristina Lloyd)

*

Erotic humiliation features heavily in my fiction, tending towards the psychological rather than the physical. For the most part, the humiliation arises from the woman’s failure to be sexually appropriate and decorous. She might be shamed by being ‘forced’ into acts which debase her, such as cocksucking (because nice girls don’t) or shamed for having sexual desire (because yup, nice girls don’t). In all cases, her worth and status are lowered. Writing on the body is, for me, a quick, powerful means of achieving degradation (that lowering) and eliciting those concomitant hot feelings of shame. In this piece I want to attempt to unpick why that might be; not to offer an insight into my twisted psyche, but because I think it’s super interesting, and often useful, to explore the underpinnings and dynamics of kink, both psychological and socio-cultural.

Humiliation is about falling from grace; about failing to meet or adhere to a social value system. It requires a public, even if it’s just a public of one, who brings that value system to bear on the wayward individual. Where it gets particularly interesting for me is when the humiliatee sets no store by the value system they are deemed to have failed. The public system, or representative of it, must then ramp up their activity so the failure is recognised and, ideally, felt in the gut by the individual who’s attempted to bypass the shared values. The rebel must be shown the error of their ways and brought back into line. They must be punished by being publicly shamed.

In our culture, women are not permitted to have a sexual appetite proportionate to men’s. When we overstep the mark, society has  names for us ­– slut, whore, cumdumpster, skank, tramp, slag and so on – words which all have the same meaning: you are having a lot of sex. In this context, ‘ a lot’, of course, means ‘too much for our liking’.

If, as the accused woman, your response is ‘Hey, I am having a lot of sex, thanks, isn’t that awesome?’, it’s still hard to escape the pejorative sting of words intended to shame, of words which carry the values one has tried to ignore or evade.

Words such as slut, whore, tramp etc, are layered with meaning and inference. They equate to ‘lots of sex’ which, for many people, is cool because lots of sex is exciting. The words also, for me, carry the thrill of shame which taps right into my personal submissive desires. The process of being shamed means, for the duration, the humiliatee is exposed for being outside the value system, be it the value system of a society or a house of kink in the countryside. The disobedient person is made lesser by their outsider status and their failure to conform. They need to be taught a lesson so they’ll think twice before straying again. During the lesson, they have no right to reply. They are being shown their failure and are being taken deeper, lower, closer to a place that is beyond culture or rules in order to then be brought back. (The word ‘humiliate’ has its etymological roots in the Latin ‘humus’, meaning ground or earth.) As punishment, they are being reduced by being done to by a greater power.

I get off on scenarios of women being done to; of women being rendered so insignificant and worthless that her male adversaries needn’t behave decently out of respect for her personhood or her femaleness. And I like (the idea of) unrestrained (archetypal) masculinity because it trashes all those notions that say women aren’t really into sex; that they need to be approached at an oblique angle, seduced into ‘surrender’, then gently made love to on a bearskin rug by the fireside.

Submission and being shamed for having sexual hunger is often a way for me (or my characters) to say ‘Have at me, big boy! I like it just as bad as you.’

What does all this have to do with writing on the body? Language is a social phenomenon. Words require a reader. A person wearing signage intended to shame comes with a ready-made implied and disapproving audience.  A few years ago in the States, a deeply unpleasant trend arose for parents disciplining their kids by forcing them to wear placards listing their domestic misdemeanors. Fortunately, the practice was short-lived but it spawned the internet meme we see now where pets are shamed by signs, the joke being that animals can’t read (so woof, no harm done).

Shaming someone with written words emphasises the viewing, reading public, making it a very efficient means of humiliation. With just a few strokes of ink, it states the crime and shames the criminal. Bring this practice into the erotic arena and skin becomes a canvas, the naked body the signboard. The implied audience doesn’t just read the words, they see the person stripped bare, exposed, powerless and vulnerable. Add text to a bare body and, thanks to that implied audience, the inscribed person becomes so much more naked;  there’s potentially a whole bunch of ‘outside’ eyes on them, those metaphorically clothed representatives of the disregarded value system.

When it is written on, the body becomes an object. The living, breathing individual, with their protective ego and their dignity, is diminished. I don’t have space here to delve in to the liberating pleasure many submissive-identifying folk derive from being stripped of the attributes comprising our social selves, of becoming de-civilised. But if language and literacy are one of the hallmarks of an advanced society, it’s easy to see why being turned into a tool that facilitates an expression of that advancement highlights the power disparity between the writer and the written upon, between dom and sub, between being a person and being parchment.

Top all those factors off with the speed, convenience and spontaneity a writing implement affords, and you have a neat and nasty means of erotic humiliation at a dominant’s disposal. While many people kink for elaborate, ritualised forms of punishment, my own preference is for shabbier, less structured expressions of powerplay. When Ilya from my second book, Asking for Trouble, makes a cameo appearance in my fifth book, Undone, he asks Lana, ‘I assume you have a lipstick in your bag? May I?’

He doesn’t need any kit to humiliate and horrify Lana; just a tube of colour and her skin. He doesn’t need to be prepared and that lack of forethought again implies a de-valuing of the person to be punished. And yet speed also implies value: the feelings she stirs in him are so powerful and immediate, that he, the dominant or punisher, is going to act on them right now. (In RL, I don’t believe men are beasts with uncontrollable urges but that dubious stereotype is a hot line to pursue in the realm of consensual play, fantasy and fiction.) Similarly, in ‘No Sleep’, the opening story of my newly released short story collection, On My Knees, the dominant guy rejects an available bag of cuffs, gags, blindfolds etc in favour of a sudden idea inspired by a Sharpie he finds in his pocket. ‘It was a testament to his dark imagination he could reduce her to a sobbing wreck with so little equipment.’

Writing on the body of the shamed, submissive woman encapsulates and condenses so many facets of my own desire. I like a lot of kinky stuff but this small act carries a big erotic charge. In today’s popular culture, sexual submission is frequently represented by the external trappings of that red room of pain, by equipment and fancy stuff that costs time and money. And while all that gear can be awesome, when we look behind those easy media depictions, we can start to see a sexuality that’s often complex, paradoxical, slippery, unsettling, and is rooted in both the personal and the political. I’ve used an awful lot of words here to fumble my way towards some kind of point. As the saying goes, ‘The pen is mightier than the sword’. And of course, each to her own, but for me the pen, the lipstick, the literate badges of shame, are far mightier than the tawse, paddle or fully equipped dungeon.

*

You can read the entirety of my short story ‘No Sleep’ via Amazon’s preview of On My Knees or by downloading a sample to your Kindle. And if you’re up for some lipstick-related fun, please check out my competition, Match the Writer to the Lipstick, and Charlie’s accompanying flash fiction lippy comp. One of the prizes on offer for each competition is a paperback of On My Knees. Charlie and I are both donating a pound per fiction-comp entrant to Refuge, the charity supporting victims of domestic violence. Closing dates are 11th October. Go!

PS: You can buy Kristina’s new anthology and her novels Asking for Trouble (my fave!) and Undone by clicking on the links below:

Asking for Trouble

Undone

On My Knees

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Anal, WHY???: On contemporary, literary, semi-autobiographical, women’s mainstream (erotic) fiction

And I told you that the main reason I didn’t see you, was because I was lost in my thoughts of you. This pleased you immensely. You had guessed as much. You could tell, you said, by the way my eyes stared, the thoughtful set of my mouth, that I was thinking about what we had done in the Chapel in the Crypt. The arrogance of this assumption annoyed me then and I rolled on my back on the bed, away from you, and tried to back-track, claiming I wasn’t thinking about you that day in the cafe after all, that I was thinking about the introduction I had to write to a new university textbook, a collection of essays taking a wide-ranging approach to molecular biology. You knew I was lying. You rolled on top of me, pinned my arms above my head with one hand and dug your fingers into the soft part of my waist with the other until I admitted I had been thinking about you, you, you …

Louise Doughty, Apple Tree Yard

What have I read so far this year? Lots, I think, or certainly more than in the last few years. Or maybe it’s just that I’ve read more that has stuck with me. Apple Tree Yard, by Louise Doughty, Hausfrau by Jill Essbaum, The Beautiful Indifference by Sarah Hall, In the Unlikely Event, by Judy Blume.

All have sex scenes. None are erotica. Truth be told, I’ve never really *read* erotica, I skip to the good bits and use them purely to get off. These days I might read more erotic short stories from end to end, as a way of learning the craft, but full (novel) length erotic fiction that holds my attention and brings me to orgasm? It’s harder and harder to find.

My earliest memory of getting off to words is not tied in with erotica, or even with a classic erotic scene such as the ones you find in anthologies like this. My earliest memory is of being aged around twelve, and of being allowed to stay up in my parents hotel room while they went for dinner and my sister slept in our shared room. I can’t remember what the book was called: it was a typical holiday paperback belonging to my mum – white glossy cover, ridiculously middle class protagonists – and the bit that I remember most is that when the FMC had her first child, a girl, her husband bought her pearls, when she had her second, a boy, she got diamonds. It was a sexist, dated, pretty crappy read, no doubt. None of the details of its (one) sex scene have stayed with me. But I do remember lying on the bed on my stomach, reading it over and over again. Of course, you could argue that what gets a twelve year old girl off is unlikely to titillate a grown woman. I think there’s some truth in that, although there have been plenty of mainstream novels with sex that both drives the plot and tries to be sexy. Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong; Ian McEwan’s Atonement. I’ve not wanked over either of these, but if I wanted something to wank over, I could just go to Literotica.

I class my own work as erotica because it has sex in almost every chapter. But it has sex in almost every chapter because endless publishers’ guidelines and other successful erotic novels have led me to believe that that’s what the reader wants. My natural inclination would probably be to include more sex than in the average non-erotic novel, but less than in the erotic fiction that’s out there on the shelves. I didn’t start out writing erotica, but I did start out writing sex: my first novel, which currently lies abandoned, opens like this:

Hope turns her head, hoping for a kiss. Her lips part eagerly and in the puddle of milky light from the street lights outside he can see her pupils are huge with desire.  He traces a tender finger across her lips and over her soft cheek and then bends to kiss the delicate valley of her collarbone, breathing in the faint scent of patchouli and rose oil that lingers on her skin.

He loves how everything about her feels so familiar.  Her breasts, small and pert enough to fit exactly into the palms of his hands, her tiny waist, the way the silver ankle bracelet that she always wears jangles as she moves.  Coaxed by his fingers, she grows wetter and wetter for him, but for the first time in their relationship, he feels nothing but cool detachment as her knuckles whiten, grasping the sheet as the heel of his palm presses firmly against her clitoris.

I’m a big believer in the school of thought that says that sex can reveal a lot about character, that it can change the relationship between people, that it can drive the plot forward. I’ve never wanted to write sex for the sake of sex, and I’ve never thought that my own writing was particularly hot. As a result, I agonise over what each sex scene is *telling* the reader about the characters, rather than whether I think it will turn them on. Right now, I have a post-it stuck to my desk which says ‘Anal. WHY???’ Not because I don’t enjoy anal sex, but because it’s currently in the story purely because I *do* enjoy it – it doesn’t develop or change the relationship between the characters or move the plot forward in any way. I, as a writer, think that’s a problem. Judging by the mood among erotica writers, the average reader doesn’t.

Like Malin James, I write to understand the human (or at least my own) experience. And because in RL, sex has taught me a lot about human experience, I write about sex. I’m struggling with my current novel for a number of reasons. Firstly, because like the other writers who’ve written on this topic – Tamsin FlowersRemittance GirlSessha Batto – I struggle to see where my work slots in to the market. Secondly, because it’s so strongly autobiographical – it’s me trying to understand the relationships I’ve had and the sex I’ve had within them. On my blog, that seems to work for people. Whether it would work for them in print is a whole other matter. The third reason is the one I gave above – that I’ve spent a lot of time learning how to structure and build a satisfying novel and that’s not a hallmark of most erotic fiction out there at the moment. And lastly because I’m wondering if I only started writing erotica because I’m lazy.

What do I mean by that? Obviously it’s an over-exaggeration – I care about plot, about character, about language – so I can’t be *that* lazy. Or maybe by ‘lazy’ I mean under-ambitious or just plain scared. I’ve always wanted to have at least one book published and when I started writing, Black Lace were still commissioning the old-style way: with a page at the back of their books inviting potential authors to send off for their submission guidelines and to submit their work. They made it sound easy, especially in a world where for almost every other genre (category romance aside) submitting direct to the publisher was a no-no: you’d need an agent first and finding that sounded hard enough, without even contemplating the fact that they’d then have to sell your novel on.

I think I was also scared off by the limitations (or not) of other genres: the book world seemed a true Goldilocks arena. Writing literary fiction allowed me to write the way I wanted to write, but I worried that it wasn’t intelligent enough, or conversely that it was too intelligent and therefore self-indulgent. Women’s fiction, when I started out, meant chick-lit, which I’d grown to hate, and although I think things have improved a bit, I still hear authors like Helen Walsh complaining that the publisher slapped a ‘chick-lit cover’ on their work, against their wishes, because it allows them to target the right audience. Chick lit, erotica, and romance all want the HEA. I don’t write HEA. Mainstream, contemporary fiction, which is probably where I should be aiming, just seems impossible: everyone, whether they’ve been published or not, seems to be talking about how ‘no one is buying anything right now.’

The benefits of erotica not requiring an agent have been totally lost: submission guidelines are no longer guidelines in anything but name: they’re requirements, and strict ones at that. Erotica has gone the same way as category romance: there’s undoubtedly a skill in being able to write to a tight brief, but building that skill is my day job, not the reason why I write fiction.

I’ve been contemplating these questions for weeks now and the more I contemplate them, the more the writers’ block sets in: I don’t know who I’m writing for any more, or what they want: we’re all taught that convincing plot and well-rounded characters are what matter to the reader, and I think we’re all trying to do our best for them, but honestly? That’s not what they want any more, or not from smut, at least.

And so for now, I’m trying to get back to writing for me. I like hanging out in the erotica community, so that’s where I’ll stay, but I doubt it’s where I’ll publish. But essentially, I think we need to stop worrying: there is a (big) market for well-written fiction with the bedroom door open, we just need to stop thinking we’re not good, or mainstream, enough to be part of it.

My Erotica Library Top Five: Bites, Bruises and BDSM

‘I still had a pair of tights in my hand, weightless, soft and black. I pulled them taut between my hands, lifted them so she could see what I was doing – winding them around my fists and stretching until I had a strong rope.
I brought it down. Lowered it gently, covered her breasts like a bandeau. I pressed down, my hands on either side of her, binding her tightly. Under the nylon her breasts spilled over, and I began squeezing those beautiful tits. Hard. Until she gasped. I bit the nipples and moved down, dragging at her skin, roughing it a little, pulling the nylon over her curves and hollows.’

Nikki Magennis, Bearers

‘Sol took the belt in both hands. I almost forgot to breathe as he hooked the leather length over my head and positioned the strap across my back. He threaded the end through the brass buckle and pulled the belt tight below my breasts, trapping my arms by my side. The tug of the restraint forced a low grunt of need from me. Jeez, it gets me every time that subtle impression of dominance. It might be the press of bondage, the hint of bossiness in bed, the fist gripping my hair as we kiss goodnight in the street.’

Kristina Lloyd, Undone

‘When he stood up to fit the wrist cuff his breathing was as loud and ragged as my own and I noticed that his hands were trembling. He bent down to pick up the rest of the knives then got up and walked away. He turned round to face me and I instantly saw that he had an erection. ‘Your cock’s hard,’ I said.’

Mae Nixon,  Under the Big Top

‘”Ow!” I’m not used to this, and I’m shocked. I feel completely helpless, and small. He smacks me again and the side of my face stings. Before I can even analyse my reaction, I start to cry. Wet, lonely tears run from my eyes and he wipes them away-and smacks my face again, lazily.
“What?”
I’m spread open, and within a few minutes, he’s put me in a place I could never access by myself.’

Vida Bailey, One A.M. Girl’s Night Out

‘He wrote the words across her chest in black ink: FREE WHORE. She held still, swaying only slightly.
“Arms folded behind your back,” he said. He pushed her bra straps down, lifted her breasts free and grabbed her by the hair. Holding her head firm, he drove into her mouth, increasing his reach until her throat was opening to clasp the last inch of him, so warm and tight. She gazed up obediently, her lips around his root, her eyes watering. Her makeup ran, making her tears as black as the words on her chest.’

Kristina Lloyd, No Sleep

My Erotica Library Top Five: Kisses

‘I rolled the condom down, my hands trembling just a bit. He wrapped a hand around my neck, kissing me roughly. I moaned into his mouth as he entered me, his thick cock spreading me open. He stayed still for a few moments, our eyes meeting,  before he started to pull back out.’

Heidi Champa, Chasing Jared

‘Danny leaned down and kissed me with a tenderness that lightened my heart and stoked my lust. All of that gentle sweetness was even more alluring because of the promise of a kink-filled finale.’

Sophia Valenti, From the Bottom of My Heart

‘His lips came down on mine very suddenly, as though he’d battled with himself and lost. It didn’t matter to me whether he had or not – all I wanted was a few dirty minutes of his time.’

Liza, London, Anonymous Sex

‘She yanked on his hand again, and this time, he let her lead him around the corner of the building to a narrow alleyway, which seemed uninhabited by either dossiers or rats. Julia stopped and he was on her, pressing her back against the unforgiving wall, his mouth ravaging hers, his body even through all the layers of clothing a hard, persistent presence she wanted to wrap her legs around and climb.’

Kate Pearce, Nine P.M. Victoria Coach Station

‘Perverse bastard that he is, he made me go back to the Three Kings with him for a drink. I had to sit on the steps in my rumpled, sweat-patched, dirty dress. There was a dead leaf in my hair, my make-up was melted to fuck and my legs bore definite tree-bark patterns. This time, though, I enjoyed the attention. I enjoyed the thought that anyone looking at me could see I’d just been firmly and thoroughly shagged by the ordinary-almost-even-ugly bloke sitting with his arm around me, fingers playing idly with the hem of my skirt. We kissed like swooning lovers until dark fell and we took the last train home together, parting at the station.’

Justine Elyot, Thames Link

My Erotica Library Top 5: An Introduction

IMG_4438I spent most of May 2007 hidden away in one of the reading rooms of the university library. It was the year of my finals, and the year I finally learnt how to revise. It turns out, if you’re reading literary criticism, revision doesn’t have to mean reading the same stuff you covered earlier in the year all over again. You can read new stuff, which is way more exciting, and copy out quote after quote onto A4 lined paper.

I’ve been a sucker for snippets of text ever since. Or maybe even prior to that, I’m not sure. When I read Kristina Lloyd’s Undone last summer, I wished I’d had a pencil to hand and that I’d underlined the bits that tapped straight into both kink and cunt. There were lots of them.

But I don’t read erotica that way. I don’t often read it two-handed at all, actually. But I do mentally file it that way: which is the story with the guy in the hoodie, the one where the description of the bar makes me weak at the knees, the one where the word snog seems perfect, not incongruous?

And I’ve been wanting to put something together on this for ages and ages, pretty much since I wrote this post and Kristina Lloyd said she enjoyed it and she’d like to see more like it. I’m not good at reviewing erotica, because it’s so rare for me to enjoy a story because character and plot and voice all come together. More often it’s because a single line connects with something fleeting and shadowy inside me, but you can’t guarantee that the same line will cater exactly to someone else’s kinks.

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In the end, I remembered something I did as a teen, and decided to try and kind of recreate it. At the time, I was reading a lot of Mills & Boon, and saving for a copy of Romance Writing for Dummies. In the meantime, I bought something great terrible great: The Romance Writers’ Phrase Book. And it truly is both great and terrible all at the same time. It’s basically a reference book of what it refers to as ‘tags’ or ‘short, one-line descriptions so skilfully tucked into dialogue and laced through the narrative that they usually escape notice.’ And given that the skill in writing category romance is being able to write to a tight brief and match reader expectations with very few surprises, it knows exactly what it’s doing. It contains such gems as ‘she tingled as he said her name’ and ‘her eyes held a gleam that no makeup could improve’ (always one of my favourites). My best friend and I used it to improve what could only really be described as fan fiction about our crushes at the time. Pity my GCSE French teacher, who was once described with the line ‘the smile in his eyes contained a sensuous flame.’

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Good erotica doesn’t work like category romance. There are no guidelines about the hero’s expected income, the heroine’s sexual inexperience or a requirement to have a slick, big city setting. You can have a list of requirements in your head (e.g. cunt = good, pussy = bad, fuck = good, shag = bad) and you’ll almost always find examples that force you to reconsider. There’s no room for a dictionary of accepted, surefire phrases here, right?

Hmm, kind of. There are three things that I often stall on when I’m writing: kissing and orgasms, both his and hers. If a description doesn’t sound like it’s been used a thousand times before, I might like it for a day or two only to reread the draft a few weeks later and think ‘Jesus, what *was* I thinking?’ So what I needed was a reference bank that I could go to when doubting my own voice – a reminder that different authors describe these things in all kinds of ways and that words can work in ways you would never have even dreamed of.

It seemed to make sense to tie this post in with Erotic World Book Day. Because I only remembered this fairly late on, I’ve had to sweep through my collection of erotica slightly more briskly than I originally hoped. What I’ve come up with is three separate posts, each containing my top five descriptions of the following: kisses, male orgasm, female orgasm. Eventually, I might add a BDSM one and potentially others in the future. The plan is to update them as I read new stuff; these are not fixed lists of favourites, and stuff will be removed and replaced as I encounter more great erotica in the months ahead.

Doing this has been an interesting activity: yes, I’m open to a variety of writing styles and situations, but my kinks shine through in my choices. Semen features heavily in the male orgasm list; women who aren’t ashamed of how they sound when they come or are changed by the sex they’re having appear several times in the female one. The kisses vary much more than the other two lists – there’s a bit of everything from soft and gentle to hard and bitey, with some beautiful juxtaposition of ‘kissing like swooning lovers’ and fucking a near stranger. It’s an eclectic mix, hopefully.

I want it to serve a number of purposes. Inspiration, when my words dry up. A thank you, to all the great authors who continue writing in what I see as increasingly challenging market conditions. And a forum for recommending excellent reads to one another – please do share your favourite lines from what you’re reading in the comments section, either here, or on the posts themselves. I can’t wait to see what you pick!

My Erotica Library Top 5: Male Orgasms

‘Her sex was soaked with their come and she felt it trickle down her legs. She slowly pulled up her trousers and retied the cord. Sofina did not want to wipe away the memory of their brief time together. It prolonged the pleasure to so intimately carry him about with her. She held on to anything of him that she could. These were stolen meetings.’

S.M. Taylor, Forbidden

‘There’s hair in my mouth and I try to spit it out, which seems to make my pussy clamp down on Clark’s dick. Who knew?

“Yeah, Becky.” He’s whining against my ear, so hot, wet. His words are everywhere. “Fuck yeah, Beck.”

Giselle Renarde, If You Know Where to Look

‘He hurt her some more, fucked her some more, sank into her throat, then came on her tits. He dragged her to the mirror so she could see what a whore she was.’

Kristina Lloyd,  No Sleep

‘He didn’t ask if I wanted to swallow. He just tightened his painful grip on my hair, shoved his cock deep and shot into my mouth. Come poured down my throat, overflowed past my lips and dribbled down my chin. I sucked and swallowed as fast as I could, drinking in his pungent, briny semen. Nothing existed for me but the sound of his coarse words and the feel of him as he jerked and came.’

Lydia Hill,  Tryst of Fate

‘He curses, groans and then pulls out. The splatter of his come lands on my ass and he whines like a wounded creature and collapses against my back. I shiver, find his hands and pull them more tightly around me.’

Laila Blake, More Light

My Erotica Library Top 5: Female Orgasms

‘My fingers rub his cock through the thin and magical membrane that separates my two holes, and he makes a dark and secret noise that sets me off. I can’t catch myself before I’m coming and chanting, “Oh, Jason. Oh, baby. Oh, God. I mi-”

– Sommer Marsden, Smokehouse

”I’m coming,’ I gasped, right on the edge.

‘Go on,’ he said. ‘Come on me. Come on my cock.’

I whimpered.

‘Little slut,’ he breathed. ‘Come on me.’

– Kristina Lloyd, Split

‘Head back, legs spread, I come hard, screaming like a talon-gutted rabbit, thighs quivering. My boy lifts his face from my wet crotch, his lips and the tip of his nose shiny with my juice.’

– Gina Marie, Seasonal Affected Disorder

‘I’m quickly overtaken by my own orgasm, pulsating and spreading out from my cunt all the way up my spine and into the base of my brain via delightful vibrations that echo out into my fingers and toes. I clumsily fall back onto the linoleum, staring at the tiled ceiling until I hear the creak of his desk chair.’

– Rachel Woe, The Art Teacher

‘She would come, violently, with more guttural sounds than she’d ever made before, the scream of an animal being torn from familiar territory and flung high and hard. Her body was loosening, unravelling, fucking itself into the strange cold night with a man she’d never met before. It was like discovering a whole new city, there under the bridge.’

– Nikki Magennis, A Whole New City

‘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…