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?

 

Advertisements

On the fourth day of Christmas: April 2015

You got turned out, Jade A Waters, April 15th

‘… I was wrapping up one of the most painful breakups of my life. I’ve had many relationships in two decades—some of them waking me in one way or another, others serious enough we nearly ended up engaged, and still others breaking me in ways that required many years of lightness to heal—but this was different. It was heavier somehow, more real, more intense. If I were to describe my past relationships as watercolor paintings, this one was made of oil—dense with color, small details, and texture, and labored over not just with brushes, but with rags and carving tools that molded the canvas of us. It started as a casual fling that should have meant practically nothing, but in the mere nine months we lasted—including four breakups, three standoffs, and two attempted months of silence—the impact still coursed through my blood and transformed me.’

A post about an unorthodox relationship shaping you in unexpected ways? *Of course* I loved this. What struck me most of all is how it brims with positivity and energy about the whole experience – that reference to ‘the impact still coursed through my blood and transformed me’ is a super-empowered statement.

That face fucking look, Girlonthenet, April 22nd

‘It’s the willfulness that makes me hot. His deliberate, hard strokes as he pushes my head against the back of the sofa. I’m not sucking his dick, I’m being fucked. Barely holding myself together as I splutter and gag and angle myself just right to take him all the way down to the base. To feel the head of his swollen cock thumping against the back of my throat.

Face fucking. Not a blow job. Not doing something, but having it deliberately and precisely done to me.’

Because GOTN writes so well, it’s easy to read about stuff that isn’t your kink and find it hot, which means that when she is writing about your kinks … jeez. This captures perfectly the hotness of giving head as a submissive act – it’s not elegant, or pretty, but god, it’s good.

The Case For: Dining Alone, Floraidh Clement, April 23rd

‘So, this isn’t so much of a blog as it is really a dare. I dare you to wake up one day soon, make a conscious decision to get the hell over your worries and then take yourself out for a meal somewhere you’ve always fancied visiting. I dare you to not worry what strangers might think of you when you walk in and ask for a table for one, before ordering your meal as you sit with a book, newspaper or tablet. I dare you to smile afterwards and realise “hey, I guess that wasn’t so bad!” because it just really isn’t. Remember, these are dares, so don’t forfeit the ability to create your own bliss.’

To get as many people as possible to understand the joys of dining out solo is my personal one-woman mission, so I love it when someone gets on board with it. In this post, Floraidh doesn’t just skim over the things people commonly worry about when eating out alone – she tackles them head on; compares them to bigger worries that most of us have faced at one time or another, and ends on the most important note of all – eating out alone is great, but more importantly – be kind to yourself.

Wet and wild, Molly Moore, April 27th

‘On one of my visits to see him, after a night out, he called me into the bathroom, unzipped his fly and told me to hold his cock while he peed. I did as he instructed and at first everything went well but I think it might have been the kissing that distracted me from my task but I discovered that just the smallest movement could have rather alarming consequences. Luckily the hotel bathroom wall was tiled but my ‘license to drive’ (his words, not mine) had been well and truly revoked. (He was also very good about doing the wiping up while I laid on the bed laughing so hard tears ran down my face)’

The complete opposite of the GOTN post above, this is not one of my kinks. What I like about this, though, is less the kink, and more the dynamic it captures between Molly and @Domsigns – the intimacy, the humour, the affection …

What do you do when the Internet hates you?, Dani Shapiro, date unknown

‘Of course, you might say I asked for it. To be a writer—to do anything that involves putting oneself out there—is to invite criticism. And if you write about personal stuff, well, what do you expect? I’ve now spent nearly two decades writing about my family, my history, my fears, my anxieties, my spiritual crises, my sorrows, and my joys. I’ve tried to carve out of my own experience books that will resonate with others.’

I don’t worry that the internet hates me, but I am conscious, the more I write, that every time you put yourself out there, you never quite know what the reaction will be. This is a useful reminder not to take the opinions of strangers too personally – it’s about being wary of projection, of other people’s stuff, and taking the constructive criticism on board while letting the rest wash over you. The closing lines ‘And so I close the door. I write these words. I don’t click over to Google to see what people think. In the silence—in the absence of all those voices—here is where I discover who I am,’ resonated.

On the third day of Christmas: March 2015

On Forgiveness, Love and Moving On, That Pesky Feminist, March 2nd

‘The thing is, though, that at that time, a lot of what I was being fed was a lie. I don’t wish to play a blame game, and I have no interest in dredging up the past, but the behaviour that welcomed me into the second month of my first relationship didn’t end there, by any means. I was tortured, intentionally or not, for months and months to come. At some point a realisation had to be wrought that actually, not everyone is going to treat me the same way. This was hard to swallow. At a point I believed wholeheartedly that every partner I would ever have would be the same, because how could I deserve anything else? Perhaps this is not so. I can’t say for certain, of course, but I am able to make a choice to believe one thing or another and that is what I am doing now. I never thought I would.’

If it was difficult to read about break ups, losing your self confidence in a relationship and worrying that you’d never find love back in March, it’s even more so now, when most of my anxieties centre on the fear that I’ll be alone forever. This is a positive piece overall though: about kindness, time, and learning to forgive.

Sex: Love and fucking, Happy Come Lucky, March 5th

‘In addition to the perceived domesticity of the phrase, there is also the choice of verb in itself. I actually really enjoy making things. I enjoy the process and the product but, and here is the important bit, when I make something, it is external to me. In making something, my actions affect something else and hopefully change it for the better. I get satisfaction when it works, but it is at all times external to me. I do it. I make it the best that I can, but at all times, there is a distance between my soul and what I am making. Sometimes that distance might be very small but there isn’t the direct connection.’

The relationship between kink and craft has always fascinated me, and so I particularly enjoyed the paragraph above in this post, as well as the other insights into problems with the term ‘making love,’ including the domesticity of the phrase. Plus, I totally agree about everything ‘fuck’ has in its favour when being used as a verb.

The Darkness Within, Molly Moore, March 5th

‘The ones I have trouble with sharing seem to be the ones that have not gotten that far. They are often very specific little snippets of a moment that play over and over in my head almost like a .gif image that only stops when they finally make me cum. The detail of those little snapshots are very precise but oddly difficult to put into words when not framed within a wider story or scenario to give them context.’

Molly and I seem to have very similar fantasies, but I completely recognised this description of scenes like gifs, playing over and over, rather than fully-formed stories. This is a fascinating insight into fantasies and sharing them.

Kiss an author, Alison Tyler, March 12th

‘If you’re on Twitter, post a tiny snippet of a story by an author you adore. Hashtag the post with #kissanauthor. I was able to snag some lines by several of my favorite writers yesterday. (I’m a lucky editor who has access to thousands of stories.)

The math trick is that you only have 140 characters to work with. Some of the lines kept spilling out of the box. Which meant I had to be very selective with the words I chose.’

Alison Tyler works seriously hard at promoting authors she’s worked with, and I loved this idea she had back in March, because it reminded me of the difficulty of picking a 140 character quote from anything you’ve read and loved, in order to share it on Twitter. I’m not sure if she’s still running this, but I plan to do it as much as possible in 2016 either way.

I like to watch you flirt, Girl on the net, March 15th

‘Ten years ago, this kind of thing would make me wild with jealousy. It’d have me biting back sarcastic comments or storming out in a huff. I’d be worried that this girl’s lust would demean the lust that I felt for him – that she was stepping into the circle and pushing me out.’

 

I sat on this post for ages, because I knew it would make me uncomfortable, and sure enough, it did. I was (and am, no doubt) stuck in the phase that GOTN describes above, hoping to get to the point she reaches as the post progresses. Because deep down, I think she’s right: flirting is a good thing, not a bad thing, and just as I wouldn’t want anyone to try and stop me flirting if I was in a relationship, I’d like to learn to not feel threatened by a partner doing it, too.

Fucking interrupted, Girl on the net, March 22nd

‘He fumbles to stay upright, one hand on the sink which won’t hold his full weight, another hand rummaging awkwardly down my top. Frustrated, I pull at the cotton and turn down my bra so he can get his hot, sweat-slick fingers on one of my nipples, and moan deeply as the head of his cock hits the back of my throat. I want to go faster. I need him to speed up. After all, we only have four minutes and I need time to straighten my clothes and get back to my seat before he takes his place on stage. And I’m damned if I’ll miss out on the ending – where he spurts warm come down the back of my throat and I get the pleasure of seeing his shellshocked face as I wipe my lips and grin.’

Girl on the net appears three times in this month’s posts, so clearly she was on top form. The post above is hot, pure and simple, and the details – the fingers on her nipple, his hand on the sink – totally make this for me.

Sex stories, lies and memory, Girl on the net, March 25th

‘Non-fiction sex stories are as much about that ‘me too’ feeling as they are about the anecdote itself. I don’t just want to talk about the hot things I’ve done, I want to tap into exactly why they’re hot – to make you feel the same sexy shiver that I did.’

Another subject I feel super strongly about – when I’m writing about a particularly encounter, details will stand out to me that might not even have been noticed by someone else. When it comes to writing non-fiction, there is no objective truth, and the truths of the two people involved might vary significantly. In my opinion, that’s not a problem – it simply makes things more interesting.

Hold me tight, Molly Moore, March 30th

‘Everything feels safe in a corset and that tightness creates an intimacy with your own body, you become much more aware of how it moves, how you breath, how you sit and then there is the way it looks. The narrowing of my waist, the lifting my bust, the curve from my waist to hip. A good corset takes my shape and figure and hides away all the bad bits whilst making the most of and displaying perfectly all the best bits. I look at myself in a corset and I see sexy and that is a very powerful thing because when you can see, then you can really own it.’

Underwear is one of my favourite things, and this post made me envious of the fact Molly has someone to lace her into her corset, which is the main reason I don’t own one yet. Plus, the idea of ‘an intimacy with your own body’ sounds like something it would be pretty damn beneficial for me to achieve.

On the second day of Christmas: February 2015

Things I’ve learnt: endings and emotional honesty, Megan Kerr, Feb 3rd

‘The ending is where storytelling and truth go to war. Most emotional crises, of whatever sort your character faces, don’t end with a grand gesture, a revolutionary decision, a pivotal moment: most of our emotions end not with a bang, but a whimper. They peter out slowly, an imperceptible fading or easing from day to numbered day, the broken jaw of our lost kingdoms or a return at last to unheard music hidden in the shrubbery. There’s no decisive battle to win. And most of human reality has that complexity.’

Fear of writing a weak ending is what often keeps me from making progress on my novel. I’m more drawn towards endings that ‘peter out slowly,’ but equally worried I’ll end up writing something with an ending as unsatisfying as many French films. This post is a really interesting insight into how to write a strong ending.

Vaccines Don’t Cause Autism, But That’s Not The Point. Stop Being Ableist, Anne Thériault, Feb 5th

‘Autistic people aren’t “gone.” Their brains function differently than neurotypical brains, which often leads to them becoming overwhelmed by outside stimuli in a way that other people might not. So, in a sense, they’re more present than many of us are – they’re bombarded by sights, sounds and smells that neurotypical people can ignore or dismiss. They are very much “here,” trying way harder than most to process what “here” is. So get out of here with your misinformed ideas about autistic people having no light in their eyes or no soul. Get out of here and maybe go meet an actual autistic person.’

When I started reading this, I had mixed feelings because I’m undeniably of the view that life *is* harder for people with disabilities, and so fear of disability makes sense to me. *BUT* it’s absolutely true that the ‘light vanishing from their eyes’ thing that Anne talks about here is absolute scaremongering bullshit which totally needed calling out in the way that this post does brilliantly.

Resist the Erotic Euphemism (A.K.A. Don’t Let Me Plunge Your Coffee Bean), Behind the Chintz Curtain, Feb 11th

‘It was the first time I’d ever heard an anus described in such a way and, let me tell you, the mental picture it conjured (read on for that) was about as far from sexy as you could get. And then I happened to listen to Molly’s latest KissCast with Jade A. Waters and discover that the two of them had also been chatting about erotic metaphors that they, personally, have found to have set their respective sets of teeth on edge. Ah, I thought. The stick figures are a-calling.’

The post that ultimately led to two rounds of the epic #Euphoff, this is worth reading for the stick figure drawings alone…

At my most beautiful, The Shingle Beach, Feb 12th

‘But afterwards – tonight – I look pale and rosy and wild and just fucked.
I look amazing.’

As someone who frequently struggles with what they see in the mirror, but feels improved/more at one with their appearance after sex, this resonated a great deal.

Morning Sex, Absolutely Ruby, Feb 17th

‘I wake up with a silly grin on my face, the way I normally do when he stays over and am pleased to see him smiling back at me before we share a small good morning kiss. Morning sex isn’t really our thing, there normally isn’t time, no one has brushed their teeth and everyone needs a wee. Still, one of my favourite things is seeing his hard cock in the mornings, as though it has woken up just like us, ready for the day. Despite it being the morning and my mouth being a bit dry I still want to get to it. He pulls back the cover showing me his gloriously thick, hard, morning cock and I ask, like a good girl, if I can suck it a little bit before we get up.’

Morning sex isn’t really my thing, either, but this post perfectly captures why, when it’s good, it’s so good…

On Being a Trans Woman and Crossing the Bathroom Line, Xeph Kalma, 20th Feb

‘If you ever run into someone who might not visually match the gender of the washroom you’ve found them in, just chill. They are probably way, way, way more scared of you, than you of them. Scared of losing their job, scared of not being able to find employment again, scared of losing housing, scared of having to even look someone in the eye/talk to them. Don’t say anything; just leave us be. We’ll be on our way in no time.’

As a cis-woman, there are some things that barely cross my mind. I can talk about the fear and anxiety that go hand in hand with MH issues, or physical disability, but nothing about the fears associated with being trans. This guest post for Anne Thériault was a hugely interesting look at trans issues in the workplace.

Fishnets and buttsex and all the right noises, Girlonthenet, Feb 25th

‘He touches me. Rubs his hands all over my thighs, my arse, my cunt. Rubs fingers into the warmth of my crotch and makes a dark moaning sound at the back of his throat. I want him to pull them down. I picture him pulling down my fishnets and pushing his cock up against me, and until that moment it’s been all I’ve really wanted since the tedious evening began. All the way through the speeches and the chat and the token efforts to dance, I know I’ve been waiting for the moment when he pulls down the tights, pulls my knickers to the side, and slides his dick into my tight wet cunt.’

This is Girlonthenet at her finest and filthiest. It has all the good stuff – ripped tights, anal, and that beautiful way GOTN has of writing sex where she gives you just enough detail to allow you to picture the scene, but also room to totally project your own fantasies onto it too. Bloody brilliant.

On the first day of Christmas: January 2015

Round ups and review posts are some of the hardest to write, I find. In 2014, over the twelve days of Christmas, I featured a blogger a day, and my favourite three posts they’d written over the course of the year.

This year I’m doing it slightly differently.

I’ve been bookmarking all of my favourite posts, on all kinds of topics – sex, feminism, disability, food, mental health – and from now until January 6th, I’ll cover a month of 2015 a day, featuring the best things I read.

The number of posts I bookmarked varies, and obviously, some bloggers recur often – I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have any favourites. But there should be a variety, and I hope you enjoy. With any luck, this could become an annual tradition.

Anyway, January 2015…

WARNING: “Crunchy” Roads Ahead, Sommer Marsden, Jan 2nd

‘I am a newly hatched widow, single mother of two, who can often be found standing in the middle of some random room at any given time, wondering what the fuck now? And who the fuck am I now?’

This blog post may well break your heart, as you’ve probably realised from the quote above. But I really admired the honesty, candour and bravery with which Sommer approached such a massive life change, and I hope life is a little easier with each day that passes.

Resolutions for a (Mentally) Healthier New Year, Anne Thériault, Jan 2nd

‘I’ve seen a lot of promises to bike to work, to eat healthier, to get a gym membership, and so on and so forth. I used to make resolutions like these, although mine were almost always unhealthy and centred around weight loss. I would frame them as “feeling better in my body,” but really what I meant was, “exercise and withhold foods I love until my body is a size that makes me feel good about myself.”’

Mental health emerges as a theme of the posts I bookmarked in January, which is unsurprising, given that a) New Year is bloody tough and b) I was having a pretty rough time in January last year. This list of 10 resolutions for better mental health is worth rereading from time to time, especially number 10. Essentially: be as kind to yourself as you’d be to other people.

This girl can’t, not yet, Miss Smidge, Jan 15th

‘Lets repeat what I just said above, yes I was uncoordinated, yes I kept messing up, but I was doing it with a massive grin on my face. Thanks to some clumsy language from the instructor – that massive grin – was gone. For the next 30 minutes any co-ordination I did have totally disappeared, along any enjoyment of the class I’d been having. There were others in the class just as uncoordinated as me – maybe she thought I could take it as the smile I had on my face looked like confidence. It wasn’t.’

2015 was the year I was lucky enough to find a really good Zumba class, but the sentiments in this post really resonated with me, because I’ve felt them so many times in the past. A great reminder of the importance of finding a form of exercise you enjoy, but also an instructor who makes you feel safe, comfortable and accepted.

Mumblecore: Whispers of a feminist revolution?, The Cocktail Hour, Jan 15th

‘Over the past couple of years, I have watched a lot of indie ‘mumblecore’ fayre. Mumblecore itself is arguably a pejorative term, and a label that the filmmakers themselves would not necessarily favour. Most films that do appear to fall under that banner are woven together by common thematic and stylistic threads. They are typified by loose plots, minimal camerawork and deal with the minutiae of daily life: slackerdom, 20/30 something ennui, navigating social norms and responsibilities. So far, so familiar, but it recently dawned on me that there is something more exciting happening beneath the scruffy surface.’

I had no idea what mumblecore was when I stumbled upon this post, and I’m still not sure I could define it, but I do like art house film, and I think I probably tagged it as a reminder to go and see Obvious Child (which is great, btw). This interests me on the same level that anti-heroines interest me in literature – I like things that don’t tread well worn grooves when it comes to female characters, and that applies to film just as much as it does to books.

Reclaiming my wheelchair through sexy lift snogs, Desire on Wheels, Jan 30th

‘There would just be space for him to stand behind my wheelchair, so I would tip my head back, he would lean over me, and we would kiss until we felt the jolt of the lift stopping again.  You can’t do much like that, just lips touching and perhaps hands on faces, trying not to let the wheelchair run away if we were too intent on kissing to remember to put the brakes on.  There’s something delicious about being limited in that way, with your throat exposed and no idea whether someone’s watching disapprovingly on a security camera.’

This is a guest post for Girlonthenet, and it’s great for a number of reasons. First, because it tackles disability and desire, something which is definitely not written enough about, secondly because it talks about disability and shame, which is super real to me, and thirdly because it’s a reminder of a universal truth: some guys are shits, but many are not, and the relationship between the post author and her partner is enviable, to say the least.

Why not accepting anorgasmia doesn’t mean wanting orgasms all the time, The Shingle Beach, Jan 30th

‘Getting my sex drive back – then getting my orgasms back – did as much for my mental health, my general wellbeing, my ability to deal with the rest of life, as did treating the mental symptoms and getting good counselling.’

I love this post because TSB so clearly understands both herself and the power of good sex. I’m totally with her (though more so on sex than orgasms), because touch is powerful, and calming, and easy to forget about. For anyone struggling with mental health issues and anorgasmia, it’s worth not only reading this but also the multitude of other great blog posts it links to.

‘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.

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.

Continue reading