FFS, or, ‘The rise and rise of erotica for women’

So, the plan for today was to write the second part of ‘Things I read in 2013.’ But, as often happens, something got in the way, something which matters more to me and which I think needs writing more urgently. Secretly, I like it that way – I much prefer writing posts about things that have got me riled up than calm, collected review posts (don’t worry, Part 2 will still happen at some point).

This morning I got up, and was all cosied up on the sofa in my dressing gown, watching Gary Barlow’s Big Ben Bash Live (although not live, obviously) and browsing Facebook, when I came across this article entitled ‘The rise and rise of erotica for women.’

Sounds good, yes? Sadly, like most things in the post-FSoG era, the truth is a little more complicated and a lot more disappointing. I’ll start by saying that yes, I’ve read all three FSoG novels, and sometimes I even defend them (I think EL James has mastered the romance plot. Do I think it’s erotic romance? Not particularly, no.) Plus, after FSoG was published, a lot of good things started to happen, which I thought were promising both as a reader and as an aspiring writer of erotica, not least that the UK erotic romance line Black Lace was resurrected.

Black Lace books have featured prominently in my life for years now. As a teenager, I bought them in secret and stacked them high on my bedside table, hidden by ‘real books.’ I’m pretty sure my mum knew they were there all the same. When they stopped publishing, I kept buying old titles from the only places they were still stocked – motorway service stations – and tried to avoid the curious looks of checkout staff more accustomed to selling overpriced chewing gum. I even mentioned this by way of an utterly bizarre chat up line to someone once, but hey, it worked!

So when it returned, I was understandably delighted. Except … I’ve been disappointed with nearly everything I’ve read by them since. There are exceptions, of course. I loved Kristina Lloyd’s writing the first time round, and I still do. Black Lace also own the UK rights to Alison Tyler’s Dark Secret Love, which I’ve just finished, and which I’d also highly recommend (review to follow in the coming weeks). But a lot of the other stuff has just felt gimmicky, or too much about the happy ending (no, not that kind of happy ending!), such as the Christmas anthology, Stocking Fillers (Black Lace used to do excellent anthologies – check out this one, if you’re interested).

The Contributoria article quotes Gillian Green as saying:

“Black Lace titles are erotic romances rather than a string of sex scenes held together by a thin plot. Women, it seems, still want their Mills and Boon-style happy ever after, just kinkier.”

Now, I read Mills & Boon – rarely, now, but often, in the past and I just don’t agree. I’m pretty vanilla (monogamous, Gary Barlow fan, used to enjoy the bit in Famous Five books where they all go home and have tea way more than the actual plot), but when I’m reading erotica, it’s the sex scenes that matter, more than the plot, or the ending. Of course it is – these are the books I use to get off. Someone asked me on Twitter the other day whether the ending of Kristina Lloyd’s Asking for Trouble made me cry. Er, no – because by the time I actually read the book in order I pretty much knew it inside out anyway. Which isn’t to say that Kristina writes a weak plot or a weak ending – nothing could be further from the truth. She just doesn’t write a romance plot (although she writes emotion amazingly). So why does Gillian Green think it has to be romance – why not an erotica thriller, or just a contemporary erotic novel in which the girl doesn’t end up with her guy?

Plus, the article also mentions that Black Lace “plans to publish a series of erotic memoirs.” Do these all have happy endings? Really? Because that makes me nervous. I wrote what could essentially be classed as erotic memoir for NaNoWriMo this year and Black Lace is one of the publishers I’d eventually consider submitting to. But what I wrote doesn’t have a happy ending, because I think true life rarely does. I’d be pretty gutted if, in order to find a publisher, I had to put some kind of positive spin on the ending.

My final bugbear with the article is the way it ends:

“All publishers and authors agree that stylish covers are important for sales, as well as good proofreading.”

Maybe Black Lace books do have what the industry consider to be stylish covers, I don’t know. Personally, I’m not a fan. They do, at least, finally have men on them sometimes, but when you compare them to the beautiful covers used by the US imprint, Cleis (this is my favourite), they’re pretty disappointing. When I bought Alison Tyler’s Dark Secret Love, I was disappointed to get this cover, not this one. I’m not the kind of girl who’s ashamed to be reading erotica, so please, let’s have covers that reflect the content of the book.

Still, at least there’s one positive thing to come out of this:

“Green says she is always on the lookout for broadminded editors who don’t flinch at editing explicit sex scenes.”

Maybe 2014 will be the year I get a new job …

 

Books

A few people have commented on the bit in my bio which says ‘I only fuck people who love books,’ which I guess kind of surprised me. It was intended to be tongue in cheek, but actually it is pretty accurate too. Of the guys I’ve slept with, one was a friend from my degree course who loved French literature way more than me, one was an undergrad medic (probably involves quite a lot of reading?!), and one is the boy, who loves books so much that he often ‘borrows’ mine and never returns them. In fact, it’s getting to the point where I’m considering buying this.

That leaves two. One I slept with during freshers’ week, and after we’d had sex he showed me his lecture schedule to prove that land economists ‘do have to work hard!’ Yeah, not so sure about him on the book front. The other was so fleeting that I never even knew his name, let alone his thoughts on reading material, so let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he was a book lover, too.

Anyway, the point is that much as it was intended as a joke, my love of books is not. I’m spending Christmas abroad and yesterday I was looking for somewhere to have lunch. There were a few places that I could have gone to, but I picked the one with an entire wall lined with used cookbooks which you could buy if you wanted to. Because how can a place with books be bad?

One of the great things about fucking boys who love books is that they often leave their books lying around when they’re cooking, showering, or otherwise engaged, which means massive potential for discovering authors and genres that you might never have stumbled upon if, like me, you tend to stick to what you know (Yes, I’m bad – if you have any recommendations, send them my way.)

But books are also what make it easier for me to connect with people who I might otherwise be intimidated by or feel that I don’t have that much in common with. Truth be told, people who are purely sex bloggers intimidate me, erotica writers less so. Sometimes, I think it’s easy to feel completely out of your depth when surrounded by people who know so much more about a subject than you do, but somehow, the fact these people like both sex and writing makes their knowledge less scary. Sometimes I think that erotica is a bad choice of genre for me – my spacial awareness is so bad that I often have people lying on each other’s arms to the point that they’d be more likely to have cramp than an orgasm.

But the good thing about being bad at sex logistics in my writing is that it just means that I have to read more, not only to learn about style, but also to work out where everything goes (yes, seriously!). And yes, although I didn’t mean it seriously when I wrote it, from now on it’s going to be true: if you want me to fuck you, you’ll need to at least pretend to have read a book.

We’re just people who fuck … and buy each other Christmas gifts?

Sometimes I worry that online shopping is my greatest skill. Seriously, I’m the kind of girl who not only has three Amazon wishlists for herself (one for stuff I’d like as gifts, one for boring stuff I need to buy myself and one for stuff to treat myself to – which is mostly erotica), but also has a private one that runs all year round with gift ideas for the people I love. I don’t technically *start* my Christmas shopping until November, but usually I know long before then what everyone else is getting. I don’t understand why people put themselves through the hell of the high street in December when there’s so much good stuff being made and sold by independent designer/makers and retailers. And books. If you have no other ideas, there are always books. Don’t even get me started on the joys of wrapping …

As usual with my blog posts, none of the above has that much to do with the central point here. The point is that, despite all my fabulous lines about how much I don’t care about him, about how we’re not even friends, just two people who fuck, I think I’ve pretty much undermined that with a lot of what I write here, so it probably won’t kill me to admit that, yeah, not buying him anything feels weird.

Actually, since I’ve known him I have bought him gifts at Christmas. Except for this year. Look, I’m trying to stay emotionally detached, ok?! He doesn’t buy me stuff, except for my birthday last year, when he did (best that I leave the specifics to your imagination!) This post isn’t about accusing him of a lack of generosity – he’s definitely well up on the tally chart when it comes to paying for drinks when we’re out and about, nor, really, about accusing him of not caring enough – he’s never made any promises regarding affection – it’s just that buying people stuff is one of the key ways I demonstrate to people that I like them, but I can’t do it with him because it just makes me look stupid.

So, essentially, I don’t want him to buy me a gift because I think I deserve to get stuff from him, or even because, whether I deserve it or not, I want it anyway (and don’t get me wrong, I do *love* it when guys buy me flowers). I’d like him to buy me a gift because then it means I can do  the same for him. Because, in my opinion, when it comes to saying ‘I care,’ nothing says it like ‘I spent twenty minutes tying this ribbon and it still looks wonky and shit.’

My erotica library

I hit my NaNoWriMo target wordcount today, so even though I’m already a fair way behind where I should be at this point in the month, I’m rewarding myself by writing a blog post. (Yes, you’re correct, it’s weird to reward yourself for writing by writing.)

I’m having a first stab at erotica for this year’s NaNo, which means I’m writing with a huge stack of inspirational erotica on my coffee table at all times. Now, while I understand that the mark of great erotica is whether it can maintain the feeling of sexiness even outside of the sex scenes, I realised recently that in my head is a catalogue of my favourite lines and that when I’m horny I’ll zone in on one of these lines and that’ll be the book I pick up.

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