#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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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!

Damaged heroes and tea-swilling heroines

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So, by my calculations there are 7 days and oh, 12 blog posts left until the end of October. And I really want to hit the full 31 posts because I have a bit of a project that I want to launch on November 1st and I’m only going to do it if I complete the blog posting challenge successfully.

With that in mind, missing this week’s Wicked Wednesday was a slight disaster.

It sort of took me by surprise, even though I’d been thinking about the prompt since a conversation I had with Kristina Lloyd at her book launch last Saturday night. Well, sort of. It actually also ties in really nicely with something I’ve been thinking about since I went to a couple of events at the Cheltenham literature festival at the beginning of the month.

Anyway, let’s start with the prompt. I feel a little guilty saying this, but drunk, rambling man in a bar feels a bit cliche to me. Or rather, it feels cliche, but also an entirely feasible situation with which to start a story.

Back, briefly to the literature festival. The first talk I went to was this, on the ‘Rise of the anti-heroine.’ Although I fully recognise that feminism still has a long way to go, and that men and women are far from equal, I’m always stunned as to how much this affects women in fields like literature. It’s supposedly harder to get published if you’re a woman, something which kind of makes sense when you look at things like the statistics behind ‘The Year of Reading Women.’

I have a handful of notes from that evening – one of which just says ‘relatable, likeable.’ Another is a quote from Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn, which i failed to copy down exactly but is something along the lines of ‘Feminism is the ability to have female characters who are bad.’ One of the authors on the panel said that women writing chick lit are told that their female characters must be the kinds of women you’d want to sit and drink tea with. I think that’s meant to mean ‘sweet and nice’ – in short, the kind of women I personally loathe spending time with. I’m pretty flawed and I like to spend my time, both when I’m reading and in real life, with women who are equally so. Which is probably why I haven’t read chick lit for years. Someone else said that what we refer to as ‘the anti heroine,’ if it was a male character would simply be referred to as realistic and interesting.

I finished The Lemon Grove back in August, and so I asked Helen Walsh about her portrayal of anal sex in the novel, which caused a bit of a stunned silence, but hey, I can handle that. More specifically, what I asked was ‘Is an openness and a love of sex for the sake of sex a characteristic of the anti-heroine?’ The answer was pretty much ‘Yes.’ So you can imagine my joy when, after I’d asked that question, a middle-aged man (in a mainly female audience) asked for the mic and posed the question ‘Why does writing strong women have to mean writing about sex?’ I gave him side-eyes, but I don’t think he noticed. I can’t quite remember what the panel said, but my answer would be ‘Because for so long we haven’t been able to. So suck it up.’ As an aside though, things are hopefully changing. The boy walked in on me in the middle of reading that anal scene: when I asked him what he thought of it he said ‘You might want to use some lube, love.’ Which is definitely progress of a kind.

Let’s go back to men. Based on what I’ve said up till now, you’d think male characters have a much easier ride of it. After all, complex men are just realistic and interesting, right? Well, yes, up until the arrival of a certain billionaire (by the by, I was in WH Smith today and the covers in the erotica section are now literally fifty shades of grey. Who is still reading/publishing/buying these novels?)  Except it seems that in erotica, if you’re writing men  who have much growth/self-discovery to do as the heroine, men who are still learning about/discovering their own desires and men who make (sometimes pretty awful) mistakes as a result of that, those men are automatically ‘damaged.’ I call bullshit. *That’s* equality – learning about sex, about desire, about what turns us on and off, about sometimes misjudging things is something we all do, not because we’re male or female, but because we’re human. Those are the kind of men I want to read, and more importantly the kind I want to write. The photo at the top of this post is my notes from feedback from my writing group: at the top right it says ‘Neither character has proper character arc; he’s on the margins; entire relationship is a projection onto him.’ Those things are top of my list of things to fix. Because I don’t want cardboard cutout men, or women who are dependent on those men for everything they discover about sex. Real men do get drunk and messy in bars. So do real women. Life is messy. Fiction should be too.

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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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.

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 …

 

Things I read in 2013: Part 1

Lots and lots of people are writing year in review posts right about now, I know, so sorry for not being particularly original and just jumping on the bandwagon. I thought though, that seeing as this blog hasn’t even been around for a year yet, rather than looking back at the highlights of what I’ve written, it would be better to write about the best things I’ve read. Part 1 is all about blog posts; Part 2 will focus on erotica and will follow in a few days when I’m back with my books.

Because Sex blog (of sorts) was neither a blog nor a Twitter account at the start of the year, I went back to my personal Twitter account in search of good things I’d read. In January, there was apparently nothing that I enjoyed enough to warrant a retweet or a mention; and my memory doesn’t go back that far, so I guess we’ll have to assume that there really was nothing good out there. 

The same was true of February. It’s going well so far, this year in review, isn’t it?

March was better. Not only did I discover that there’s such a thing as a Naked Man Orchid, Girlonthenet also wrote about the way men smell. Just rereading the words ‘active sweat’ makes me wriggle in my chair a little bit.

April was bittersweet. Nic and Lace posted this wonderfully hot story about losing your anal virginity, which I still go back to whenever I need a quick turn on, but April was also the last time that they blogged at all, which made me sad, because I thought so much of their writing was excellent. On the love and relationships side, I really enjoyed this article in the Guardian by Ruth Wishart about deciding not to have children, and on the general life/health side, this one on keeping your shit together when you’re depressed

I’ll start May off by cheating a bit. Technically, this post by Kristina Lloyd, with an extract from her novel Thrill Seeker, should probably be in the 2nd part of this post, but I was so excited that she’d written something new that you’ll have to forgive me for mentioning it all over the place. I’ll come back to Thrill Seeker at the end of this post. Completely different, but equally thrilling was the fact that Allie Brosh started blogging again, after a long battle with depression – if you’re struggling to explain to family and friends what depression feels like, show them this. 

June brought Mathilda Gregory writing in the Guardian about whether werewolf erotica has literary merit, and a great post by The Pervocracy on domestic violence. Most memorably for me though, it was the first time that Alison Tyler put up a call for submissions that I actually had the guts to send something in for, and better still, it was for a great cause. 

Nothing at all for July, I’m afraid.

In August, I went to a great erotica writing masterclass with Rowan Pelling as part of the Edinburgh Festival – no posts linked to this but it was memorable because it was the first time I started to think seriously about blogging/writing. I also read this guest post for Girlonthenet by Halfabear, about sex, disability and inappropriate questions, which rang very true with me and made me realise that ‘sex blogging’ isn’t necessarily restricted to people who are great in bed or know loads about sex, and that it was fine to approach it in a slightly different way if I wanted to. 

September was the month in which I wrote my very first blog post, which was a bit of an introduction to me, but reading-wise, I really enjoyed this piece that Sommer Marsden wrote for Alison Tyler about how far you should let your significant other define you.

In October, I really caught the blogging bug and amazingly, Girlonthenet, who is, y’know, someone I idolise just a little bit, let me write a post for her all about my first time. In the same month, she wrote about how words are hotter than pictures and I discovered  Rosetintedguy and this piece on the hotness of the walk of shame, which is something I plan to write about myself this month.

Most of November was taken up with NaNoWriMo (which I won, yay!) and listening to this great Kings of Leon cover version of Robyn’s Dancing on my ownbut I still managed to read loads and loads of wonderful stuff. Firstly though, this piece from the Telegraph, about flirting via text made me pretty uncomfortable – this is something I do a lot, and the thought that when someone appears to be engaged in a text conversation they could actually be giving you just 10% of their attention, struck me as the kind of train of thought that could very quickly drive you crazy. The stuff I agreed with/liked more? This piece by Mollysdailykiss on why we shouldn’t ban simulated rape porn and Rosetintedguy (again!) writing about fuck buddies, in a post which broke my heart a little bit (I can’t bear the thought of something not having a ‘proper’ ending.)

And finally, December. In a way, there are far too many posts to link to here – December was the month in which I realised that I was becoming more of a relationship blogger than a sex blogger (weird, seeing as I’m Little Miss Doesn’t Do Relationships) and added four bloggers in a similar vein to my BlogLovin feed because I was enjoying so much of what they wrote. I’ve linked to Juniper’s post on finishing her dating blog in a previous post, but it’s definitely worthy of another mention here, as is this piece by Laurie about avoiding married men not just due to moral objections, but also because they’re unlikely to be the ones who’ll give you what you’re really searching for.

So, that’s my year in blog posts. Anyone else got something they read in 2013 that they think I’d love?

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.

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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