Love without locks

Wrote a thing using the prompt photo for Round 7 of the 2019 Smut Marathon…

SM2019-07-Photo-prompt

Camille reads in Le Monde that they’re planning to cut the locks off the Pont des Arts. About time, she thinks – it’s been clear for ages that the damn thing is collapsing under the weight.

It is May 2015, and she crosses the bridge every morning on her way to work at the Institut de France, where she is embarking on two things, both of which are new to her. The first is a career in academia, the second is an affair with a married man.

He – Xavier – is older, nearly thirty years older, but Camille is somehow attracted to him nonetheless. She likes his hands – he plays the piano exquisitely – and the fact that his stocky frame makes her feel especially lithe and petite. Plus, the sex is surprisingly good – he pins her wrists above her head as he thrusts into her and grunts appreciatively when she wraps her legs around him, encouraging him to go deeper. Besides, even if she doesn’t always get off whilethey’re fucking, he fingers her afterwards until she does, every single time. Some of her friends have boyfriends their own age who can’t be bothered to do that, and those boyfriends don’t buy cute tokens of affection from Dior, either.

The whole arrangement suits Camille perfectly.

Later in the year, the metal panels are on the bridge are replaced with plywood, then with glass and, predictably, there’s uproar, as if the whole rest of the city isn’t a historical monument stuck in a time warp. Can’t people find something else to go and look at? Don’t they have bigger things to worry about? It’s just a bridge, putain.

No, it isn’t the glass that bothers Camille, it’s the selfies. The selfies that the mayor’s office is encouraging by putting up #lovewithoutlocks signs all over the place. As if there aren’t enough photos of smug couples on her social media already.

She doesn’t let that stop her. She persuades Xavier to take her for a drink one night, at a bar near the Louvre – it’s been several months now and, aside from work, they’ve spent barely any time outside her flat – even outside her bed, for that matter. So she throws a little tantrum about how she’s a person, not just an inflatable doll for him to fuck, and he agrees that they can go for a glass of wine, although she can see that he’s wary – he won’t let her hold his hand, and he doesn’t want to stop for a romantic kiss on the bridge, either.

‘A selfie, then?’ she begs, pouting.

‘Must we?’

‘I won’t share it on Insta,’ she says. ‘It’ll be just for us, like the photo you sent me the other day.’ The photo he’d sent her the other day had not been worth the effort she’d put in to get it. She’d had to send step by step instructions by text – he still hasn’t got Whatsapp – on how to attach a photo to a message, and when the picture did finally arrive, he’d taken it from directly above, giving the impression that his dick was wearing shoes. It didn’t get her off.

‘Fine, fine, but let’s be quick.’

‘We should use your phone,’ she says. ‘You have a better camera.’

This isn’t strictly true.

She makes him take several. In every single one, she’s looking at him with puppyish, smitten eyes.

‘Thank you,’ she says, afterwards. ‘It means a lot to me.’

At the bar, he lets her order the wine while he visits the Gents. He leaves his phone on the table. He leaves her alone with it all the time. Fool.

She knows his passcode, too. He isn’t careful, doesn’t tilt the screen away from her when he taps it in.

She has time.

She unlocks the phone, opens the Photos app. She knows he has a family shared album, she’s looked before to see how frumpy his wife is – although presumably he didn’t set it up himself.

She moves three photos from the main album into the shared one. Two of the two of them on the bridge, and one of his shoe-clad penis. It should be enough to raise suspicion.

It took 45 tons of padlocks and at least ten years for the Pont des Arts to start to crumble. Camille weighs less than 54kg and can make everlasting love fall apart in less than six months.

The thought makes her smile.

Fond memories (attempting Smut Marathon 2019 Round 3)

As another of the judges has pointed out, the dialogue round came a lot earlier in this year’s Smut Marathon, and I think was harder has a result. So, because I like a challenge, and I also had FOMO, I had a go. This is the result. I don’t think it’s particularly sexy/smutty, but I don’t mind it as a piece of writing. I’d be interested to know what other people think, so please feel free to comment.

Fond memories

They’re in a pub they never came to together. She gets her phone out.

‘You don’t have to do this,’ he says. ‘I trust you.’

‘Easy for you to say.’

‘We agreed we wouldn’t fight, remember?’

‘I don’t remember agreeing to anything of the sort.’

‘And I don’t remember asking you to do this.’

‘This is what normal people do when they break up, Finn. It would be weird to keep them.’

‘Nothing wrong with weird.’

‘Look, just watch me delete them, and then I’ll go. Let’s not make it a big deal.’

‘If you could only keep one, which would it be?’

‘What?’

‘You heard me.’

‘I don’t want to keep any of them.’

‘Not even…’ he takes her phone, scrolls. ‘Not even this one?’

‘Why are you doing this?’

‘Because I don’t believe in destroying fond memories.’

‘For fuck’s sake, Finn, it’s a bit of a stretch to call a photo of your dick a fond memory, don’t you think?’

‘No.’

She deletes the photo right in front of him. He gets up, leaves.

Her phone beeps. It’s him. Or rather, him. Button-fly jeans, favourite T–shirt, rock hard cock.

‘Sure you don’t want this?’

No.

Hey, where’s my conflict? – on writing solo sex

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It’s a truth universally acknowledged (or it should be), that the things that other people like best are not always the pieces you loved writing.

Little Silver Bullet came from nowhere, and not, all at the same time. Since the Smut Marathon Round 4 assignment (‘One character. One sex toy. No brand names.’) was announced, I’d been percolating a different piece. Not a different toy, I should say – in real life, toys are one of the few areas where I put efficiency and function way ahead of brand – and I’ve been repurchasing this pretty much since I turned eighteen (no, they don’t stock it anymore and yes, I’m worried).

The story I planned to write – the story that, until I decided to write this post instead and until Little Silver Bullet did so well I don’t want to betray it by writing an alternative and asking which people prefer – also featured a bullet vibe. But I’d envisaged an office Christmas party, a solo woman working with a team of extremely sexist and corporate salesmen, and a Secret Santa gift designed to undermine her. I’d pictured her slipping off to the loo in a city bar, and getting off as she pictured them fucking her one by one. The t story would have come straight from my fantasies, but LSB? LSB came straight from my *heart*.

The unnamed protagonist could be me. It is fiction, but I’ve been there, many times. And I think lots of women have. I think that’s why it resonated. It’s not a clever story, it’s just an honest one.

Clever is one way to stand out in something like the Smut Marathon, but writing clever can be exhausting (although that said, the clever entries in this round blew my mind). You can spend so much time trying to think of the alternative angle that you forget to write something that’s true to you. And – I know it’s my bugbear – clever should never override story, in my opinion.

Although I’d written and submitted this piece by the time I attended it, this round made me think a lot about a writing workshop I went to recently, a workshop which I tweeted a bit about but never finished my thoughts on, hence this post.

The theme of the workshop was generating new story ideas and, at the start of the session, we were asked to write down the following things:

  • three names for fictional characters
  • three names of places (geographical places or places in e.g. the home)
  • three objects.

We then had to cross out one of the character names, one of the place names and choose one of the objects and then do twenty minutes free writing with the five words we had left. And … it works. It makes you write.

Afterwards, the instructor explained why it works. It works because all good writing needs conflict (much easier when you have more than one character) and progression (moving from one place to another guarantees physical progression at least). The object is intended to embody whatever the theme of your writing is, although I’d be inclined to say that that’s a optional extra and depends how much you like symbolism in your work.

The Smut Marathon assignment only technically allowed for one character, which makes  creating conflict REALLY FUCKING HARDI, along with many others, decided to interpret this as meaning you could only have one character in the room, participating in the actual masturbation scene, but it didn’t mean you couldn’t mention people who were in your character’s thoughts/fantasies – as it turned out, everything I voted for took this approach.

Lots of the feedback I’ve seen on this round suggested that readers were disappointed that more of us didn’t pick more ‘out there’/unusual toys. I’m happy to admit that I think most, if not all, of the stories that did take this approach were really creative, but I still don’t think it was the only way to do a good job in this round. Think about the sex writing you’ve loved most – it doesn’t follow that you’ll always like anal scenes more than missionary because the former is technically more exciting.

It’s the human in the scene that matters, not the silicone.

 

Katy

I’m doing an online writing course at the moment – as ‘real me’ – and this week, for homework, we had to write up to 800 words taking a stereotype and portraying it in a complex way. I only wrote 500 words for that homework piece, but tonight I’ve been working on it some more, because sure, I only dreamt Katy up for the Smut Marathon, but you know what, since then I’ve kind of fallen in love. So here she is again, fleshed out a bit more…

***

There is nowhere in the living room for anyone to put down their cup of tea. Every surface is covered with cards – Congratulations! Good luck!, A New Baby Girl! – or flowers – big pink lilies, ripe with pollen, roses still in bud and the first tulips of the year. There’s a fancy cake from the local independent bakery and champagne for those who want it. Katy has half a glass, but no more – that way she knows it will have worn off by the time her daughter is ready for her next feed. Sarah teases her for this – Katy could always put away a bottle of fizz, two even, on a particularly good night – but really, no one is surprised. Katy adapts. At parties, she’s a party animal. At work? Professional as fuck. And in the bedroom? Filthy. Her friends know that because she tells them, and they have no reason to doubt her. She’s honest about who she is in every other area of her life, so why would she lie about how much she likes sex?

She’ll be good at motherhood, obviously. The cards might say good luck, but ultimately, her friends know she doesn’t need it. Everything Katy touches to gold. She graduated from Cambridge with a first-class maths degree, a place on a hugely desirable grad scheme and a boyfriend who not only equalled her in ambition, but also adored her. Plus, somehow, alongside her drive to succeed, she’s always made the time to have fun. Lots of fun. And now, after a straightforward eight-hour labour, she’s the mother of a baby girl. A baby girl who, at barely a week old, already sleeps through the night. A baby girl who is just as beautiful as Katy herself.

But on some level, her friends can’t quite believe it. She never seemed to have the kind of sex that would make babies, is what everyone is secretly thinking. Katy used to fuck so hard she’d make the walls shake in their university halls. She was a shrieker, never afraid to let people know what a good time she was having, and when she needed to pee after sex she’d walk to the loo stark naked. Girls were afraid to invite their high school boyfriends to stay for fear that, if they turned their back for one moment, they’d disappear, only to turn up in Katy’s bed, apologetic, sure, but ultimately unrepentant. And yet, other women didn’t dislike her for the way she behaved. Katy didn’t care what anybody thought and they loved her for it.

No one expected her to be settled by twenty-six, though. It’s been the topic of everyone’s group chats for months. How has she managed to have everything so sorted so soon in her life? Where were Katy’s fucked up years? How has she managed to bypass a whole shitty decade while everyone else still feels like they’re wading through treacle, barely able to feed themselves, let alone a kid? Because sure, Tom’s a nice guy, and he’s good-looking, too, but it seems like only last week that he and Katy got caught fucking in the jacuzzi at the hotel where her parents’ 50thwedding anniversary celebrations were being held. It was her cousin that stumbled in on them – her cousin who was sworn to secrecy but still ended up sharing everything on Facebook in the end. Even Katy’s mum found out. And yet, somehow, she got away with it.

Because Katy sails close to the wind, sure, but luck is always, always on her side.

Three months later

Her friends still love her because, when she’s with them, she doesn’t seem like a mother at all. Even when she brings the baby, she’s the Katy she always was. It’s just that now her tits are on show for a different reason.

Tonight, she’s childfree. Tonight, she’s late. Tonight, she has that just-fucked look in her eyes.

Tom follows her, clutching a bottle of red. He’s wearing jeans, a checked shirt, and, as of thirty minutes earlier, Katy’s juices, smeared from jaw to collarbone.

‘Filthy boy,’ she’d said, fingers on his neck as she lifted herself off his cock. ‘Filthy, filthy boy.’

At dinner, the wine flows. The laughter grows louder, the conversation sillier. They play ‘I have never,’ and Katy has done it all. Anal sex? Obviously. Threesome? That too.

During spin the bottle she winds up kissing Mike. Mike is her best friend’s husband. Nobody minds. Kissing boys is what Katy does.

The evening winds down. They drink coffee. Someone asks, ‘Bit dark, but if you could only save one thing in a fire, what would it be?’

‘Tom,’ Katy says, when it’s her turn to answer. ‘Obviously.’

Her friends are silent.

She doesn’t seem like a mother at all.

Where I stand (On disability in the Smut Marathon)

I was nervous about Round 3 of the Smut Marathon. In fact, scrap that – I’ve been nervous about every round. But this was different. In previous rounds, I’ve been nervous about the voting. This time? It was reading what everyone else had written that had me anxious.

Character flaws are fascinating to me. I’d be the first to tell you that I don’t like ‘body beautiful’ erotica, and that extends to personalities, too – I prefer characters who struggle with anger, self-confidence, conforming to social norms. Characters who battle with mental health issues. The fact that the word ‘flaw’ is so subjective, because after all, aren’t we all flawed in some way?  This should have been a round that suited me down to the ground.

Except – as I said to someone very shortly after receiving the assignment – it didn’t.

I didn’t want to read about disability.

For the benefit of Smut Marathon participants who may not usually read this blog or who don’t follow me on Twitter, I identify as disabled. I have left-sided hemiplegia, which is a type of cerebral palsy, caused, in my case, by brain damage at birth. My left leg is an inch shorter than my right, so I walk with a limp. I trip over a fair amount. I struggle with my balance. I lack dexterity in my left hand. My mental health is also compromised – maybe because of the brain damage, maybe not.

It’s not difficult to live with, in the grand scheme of things. And yet, it can be fucking impossible to live with nonetheless.

And so I didn’t want to see, in the competition, any character whose flaw was disability. The world tells disabled people that they’re undesirable every single day. We don’t need to see it reinforced in fiction, too.

What I really didn’t expect, though, was to see a disability that could be mine. A character with ‘a heavy black lift in his shoe,’ a lift which was, nonetheless unable to ‘hide the limp’. I blanched. I freaked out a bit. I had, as is typical for me, a bit of a rant on Twitter.

I had said, on more than one occasion, that if this happened, I would withdraw from the competition. I feel that strongly about it. And yet, I haven’t. I’m uncomfortable with it, absolutely, but the more I’ve thought about it the more I’ve realised that part of the reason why I’m uncomfortable is because I don’t quite know where I stand on this issue.

My main problem with the piece is that it doesn’t reframe disability as desirable. It tells the reader two things – that a) one person is capable of seeing past the disability, but this is the exception, not the rule (‘They saw disqualifying weakness’) and b) that the woman sees past the disability (‘What their pitying stares missed, she always saw. They missed the way his hazel eyes changed like quicksilver as his lips took control of hers, kissing her with careful command when he reached her. They missed his piano playing fingers, long and warm, brushing higher and higher up her thigh…’) The disabled man is desirable in spite of his disability, not because of it. And it’s writing that shows someone as desirable because of their disability that would really push the boundaries.

And yet. I’m not sure it’s possible. I’ve certainly never managed it.

There is good writing out there about disabled people making their peace with their bodies (one of the things that saddened me in Round 3 of the Smut Marathon is that the pieces about characters with physical flaws were not generally written from the viewpoint of that character). This wonderful piece by Keah Brown is excellent on that topic. But even there, Keah acknowledges that it’s difficult: ‘Admitting that there is comfort in pain is a strange but necessary truth. Happiness and acceptance still take more work for me, and that is also a necessary truth.’

Last year, I wrote an erotic short story about a character who also shares my disability, which can be found in the anthology Goodbye Moderation: Lust. It confronts the issue of disability head on, I hope – I really wanted to write something that didn’t shy away from my true fears:

“‘Tell me again,’ he says, ‘which words you wanted me to say.’

My voice is barely even a whisper. ‘Spastic,’ I say.

‘Say please.’

Jesus, really? There’s an uncomfortable pause.

‘I’m not doing anything until you ask nicely.’

‘Fuck. Okay. Please.’”

The problem is, I felt obliged to close that story in a more optimistic and palatable way, not just for the reader, but for myself, too. I couldn’t envisage a world in which disability, or disabled slurs, could be repositioned as sexy. I could only conjure up a world in which an ablebodied character helps the disabled character to make their peace with their disability:

“On my back, the words are different. Down my spine, they read:

Beautiful

Hot

Incredible

Strong

Mine

The tears start all over again as he gathers me in his arms and rains kisses all over my face, my neck, my hair.

‘That,’ he says. ‘That is what I see. None of the bullshit you made me write. When will you start to see that? It doesn’t matter what other people see. All that matters is what you see.'”

My male character sees past the disability. He wants the disabled character to see past the disability. Neither of them can envisage a world in which someone is actually able to see disability itself as hot.

It doesn’t stop me really wanting to read a story where someone does.

How raw is too raw?

This is (another) post about Smut Marathon, but it doesn’t start with Smut Marathon. It starts with a project the other me – the real me – is working on. A novel.

Early in 2017, I finished the first draft of a novel I’d been writing, on and off, since late 2015. This weekend, I was on writing retreat, chomping through a few more chapters of the rewrite. It’s slow going, but writing is slow going, especially when, like me, the reasons why you’re not sure if you ever want this particular project to be out in the world threaten to outnumber the number of chapters in the book itself. Also, I’ve written first drafts before, but a second draft of something? This is new.

I’m a sucker for a creative writing course. I love the company of writers, their passion, their opinions, their willingness to talk books for borderline unhealthy periods of time. What I wanted, desperately, when I moved onto Draft 2 was a rewriting course, or an editing course – was something that would tell me what the hell it was I was supposed to be doing. How was I supposed to know where to start? But also – how would I know when it was done?

It turns out that nobody can teach you that, or, at least, it’s a lot harder to teach someone to rewrite than to teach them to write in the first place. It’s a pretty personal thing – one great editing course I did do, lots of which I’ve put into practice, suggested that, when you  get bored of editing, you should rewrite any bits you know aren’t working from scratch, to give your creative brain a look in.

It’s a nice idea, but it doesn’t work for me. I’m a very linear writer – I go back and tweak, sure, but major rewrites of sections, especially when taken out of the context and order of the whole piece, are a disaster for me. I can’t write scenes and then retrospectively impose a structure.

Another thing I’ve considered, but abandoned, for reasons that will hopefully become clear later in this post, is rewriting from scratch. In some ways, I like this approach. You read the scene/chapter/story/whole fucking draft/whatever, then you go away and rewrite it in a separate document.

The advantage? You don’t cling to anything just because it’s there on the page already.

But my fear? You lose something this way.

So, how does this link to the marathon? In a number of ways, I think.

Firstly, there’s the very sensible tip that Marie sends out with each round:

Start writing your piece as soon as possible after receiving the assignment. Let it rest for a while, then start editing, deleting, rewriting. Never leave it until the last moment to start. 

What’s great about the tip, in my opinion is that ‘editing, deleting, rewriting.’ You have to find your way – we have to find our way – and you may find it easiest to do one, two or all three of those things.

But there’s also something to be said for leaving the damn thing the hell alone.

A lot of writers in the Smut Marathon, myself included, have been picked up on our use of grammar, and I’m afraid that’s something I don’t have a lot of time for. Grammar matters. Spelling matters. But when you’re telling a story, what matters most? The story.

In the last round, I voted for pieces that had a distinct plot, because that, to me, is the real challenge of writing something in a hundred words. Do you have a beginning, middle and end? Can I feel your story in my gut? Because, unless your sentences are so long that I have to revisit them to make sense of what you’re trying to say, unless your grammar and/or spelling are noticeable enough to pull me out of the story? I’m going to let it go.

I’m not a judge of the SM, obviously, so maybe it’s not my place to say, but I worry about the number of writers who’ve taken the grammar feedback – and seemingly little else – to heart.

In real life, I’m an editor. I’m trained and I work for a company that takes itself pretty bloody seriously. I don’t edit fiction, which is why all of this comes with a proviso, but I do know how to break a piece of work down and prioritise the right stuff.

I’m not paid to look at grammar and spelling on my first pass through anything. No company wants to spend its money having someone get this stuff perfect until the structure, the body of the thing, is in place. The same goes for fiction. I’m not saying spelling and grammar don’t matter – they do, they’re what make work look polished – but the idea, the plot, the characters? They matter so much more.

On Sunday, I shared At Peace, the original micro fiction I wrote for round two of Smut Marathon and ended up not submitting. Maybe I made the wrong choice, maybe I didn’t (Little Pyromaniac, my alternative piece, did absolutely fine), but two things struck me:

  1. In general, people who follow my blog, rather than the Smut Marathon, preferred At Peace
  2. There wasn’t the huge gulf in opinion between the strengths of the piece I edited to death (LP) and the one I barely, if at all, touched (AP).

Which brings me to the key point of this post. I said, after round one, that I wanted to take more risks, and Little Pyromaniac is the riskier of the two stories, in method, if not in content. It’s a perfectly fine story but I interrogated every word to the point of exhaustion. At Peace is the story that came from my heart, so maybe it’s no wonder it’s more raw, and seems to resonate more.

That rawness has a value. It has an energy. It’s drenched in you as a writer. Don’t clean your writing up so much that you wipe all the you off it.

I wanted to end with something I’ve been sharing on Twitter a lot recently, a piece of advice given in a writing workshop by an author whose work I love, Garth Greenwell. He said, ‘No good comes from listening to the opinion of people who are unsympathetic to your project,’ and it’s the most sensible thing on feedback I’ve ever heard. People who sympathise with your project will criticise it, as they should, but they’ll have good to say about it too. You’ll know.

In the early rounds of the Smut Marathon though, I feel like it’s harder to know. The challenges are fun, but they’re short – who knows what your bigger project is? (Although shout out to the judges who pointed out where they could see the potential for one).

All any of us can hope for – in the next round or any of the remaining seven – is that out there, among the voters, there’ll be people who are sympathetic to our projects.

Listen to them. And the rest? Let it go, and keep writing.

Smut Marathon Round 2

As those of you who follow me on Twitter will have seen, I’m having issues with the Smut Marathon today – it’s causing me levels of anxiety that even I didn’t foresee and I’m having a long think about whether carrying on is the right thing to do (it probably isn’t, which means I almost certainly will – being kind to myself is something I am *not* good at.)

Anyway. I wrote two possible entries for Round 2, and I was really pleased with the one I submitted (and it got positive feedback, which backs that up, and is always nice). I’m not going to lie though, I was disappointed with how it did overall.

So, here is both it, and the other piece I wrote. Which do you prefer? Should I have submitted the other piece?

Little Pyromaniac

‘Stop it.’

The restaurant is fancy and my behaviour is inappropriate, but I can’t help myself. I poke at the candle, watch as molten lava flows down its sides.

‘Little pyromaniac,’ he growls. ‘What did I tell you?’

I like to play with fire.

I break off bits that are newly solid, let the orange heat lick at them until they are liquid once again.

Suddenly, my game backfires. The candle splutters, dies.

‘Right,’ he says, ‘come with me.’

Outside, around a corner, we find ourselves hidden in the shadows. His lips meet mine. His hand closes around my throat.

My body melts under his touch. He is the flame, I am the wax, I am fluid beneath him, I drip, drip, drip as he burns me with his desire.

At Peace

She’d taken two week’s leave from work, though the doctor had offered a note. It was easier like this: no questions, no sympathetic smiles, no loss of the person she’d once been.

With him, it had been harder. ‘Talk to me,’ he’d murmured, more than once, and she’d tried to smile through her tears.

‘It’s best if I work through this on my own.’

She booked a cabin, not far from Inverness. For five long days, she read, ate and slept alone.

By Friday, she knew it was no good. She needed help. She changed her flight.

That night, his flogger painted her cunt into a sunset, glowing between the mountain-purple shadows of her thighs.