Friday, 30 August 2013

Oxford: the naughty bits

I had a day in lovely Oxford last month. I'm sort of ashamed not to have been there before and I will certainly go back. Beautiful architecture, idyllic punting scenes on the Isis, the pub where Tolkien and CS Lewis used to hang out with their Inkling friends ... no, I'm not going to show you any of that! I'm going to share pictures of sexy stuff I found in the Ashmolean Museum!

Because the best thing about Culture is the cracks through which you view the eternal dirty mind of humanity.
Yes, it's a prehistoric vase shaped like a giant booty

Beware ... she may look hot but she's a smallpox goddess

The art of the decolletage was perfected in ancient Crete

Well, you wouldn't being mummified to diminish your feminine allure, would you?

Remnants of a giant statue of the phallic god Min, doing precisely what you think he's doing
Culture ... I can't get enough of it ;-)

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Taxing times

Yes, it's that filling-in-the-self-assessment-tax-form time of year again. These are the files full of receipts and paperwork I've kept for each year since 2003.

The fact that the box is close to full is a reminder that I've been an, ahem, professional writer, for 10 years now. How did that happen?!

In those ten years I've seen a load of changes:

  • I've seen erotica books go from something you bought in paperback to something you're likely to buy in e-form, or just read for free on some website.
  • I've seen my first publisher, Black Lace, crash into nothing and then magically reappear.
  • I've seen guy-on-guy fiction go from something forbidden by mainstream editors to a bizarre but recognised alternate reality all of its own.
  • I've seen the rise and rise of erotic urban paranormal romance: shifters, shifters, vampires, shifters.
  • I've seen the 50 Shades of Grey bubble expand - and now it's deflating again.
  • I've seen several really good writers give up on erotica because they're fed up with the silly rules, the sneering of the establishment, and/or the lack of financial reward for their work.
  • I've seen the reading market absolutely swamped with self-published e-books of, let us say, "varying" quality.
  • I've seen BDSM become mainstream, AND the rise of a new puritan censorship - simultaneously and sometimes perpetrated by the same people.
  • I've seen Amazon take over the goddamn planet. We are all its slaves now.
The landscape is changing. Goodness knows where it'll be in another 10 years time. And since I can't guess, I suppose I'm going to just go on writing my stuff, my way. Maybe one day the bandwagon will catch up with me...


Monday, 26 August 2013

Eyecandy Monday: health and safety

I like to keep my readers in top physical form.
I wouldn't want them seizing up when they read my books ... ;-)

Friday, 23 August 2013

Fantasy Girl

This week I went to see Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. It's a YA urban fantasy, based on a book series. It's not a great movie by any means (it's good fun if you like that sort of thing, that's all), nor is it clarion-call for feminism. But it got me thinking.

It's a film with a teenaged female protagonist that fully acknowledges not just her centrality in her own story, but her sexual desire. It's a movie with a teenaged-girl point of view that doesn't treat her as an unawakened child.

Getting her wet: the roundabout route
Now, I can't remember any movies from when I was a child that did that. Except Dirty Dancing (1987) ... which incidentally became a massive cult hit among women who identified with the coming-of-age story. But that was marketed as a straight romance. In the supernatural field ... well, there was The Company of Wolves ... but as an 18/X-rated movie that was specifically not meant to be watched by the adolescent girls who might be feeling that way right then. Oh - Labyrinth.  That was the one! For most of my life action movies aimed at teens have had a male protagonist. Girls feature as the love interest or backup to the hero, from Lost Boys to Harry Potter. It's still overwhelmingly the case (I'M LOOKING AT YOU, PERCY JACKSON).

"We'll go when you say the word, Percy! Because you're the only one in our gang who's white and a dude."
But nowadays we have Twilight. We have Mortal Instruments. We have The Hunger Games. Movies based on best-selling books that have humungous female readerships. Girls as a demographic read way more than boys, and they are finally being taken seriously as a cash-cow by Hollywood producers.
Now sure, I'm not saying these are good movies. I saw Twilight (on TV) and I thought it cheesy as a ripe parmesan (and no, I cannot bring myself to read the books), though Hunger Games is actually pretty good.

But wow, look what's happening: they feature girls' fantasies - which are oddly not dissimilar to boys' movie fantasies too - empowerment; being someone who is secretly "special"; getting the most desirable boy; looking cool as fuck in front of everyone; independence from the family circle (the whole coming-of-age thing); being someone who matters to the world.

I can do MAGIC!! I'm a wizard, Harry!
In City of Bones, Clary is ridiculously beautiful but doesn't really see it or make capital out of it (Ugly Duckling fantasy!). She is desirable, but crucially she also desires. She meets sexy shadow-hunter Jace and there's no fudging the fact that she fancies him. Meanwhile, her longtime male friend Simon follows her into peril because he desperately loves her, and at a critical moment reveals his feelings. Now, if Simon had been the protagonist of a boy's movie, what would have happened is gawky plain boy would have proved his staunchness/courage/unselfishness/ninja fighting abilities to super-hot female (probably the only female in the movie except his Mom) and when he told her the scales would have fallen from her eyes and she'd have lurved him back. Because that's what he'd be entitled to, for all his hard work. Because that's the presumed fantasy of all the boys in the audience who are identifying with the hero.
What Clary does in this chickflick is convey, more or less, "Well, that's embarrassing. I appreciate the sentiment and feel bad for you, but ... No. Just no."

Sorry, Jace is just WAY hotter, Simon.
"Ah fuckit."
Good grief, they are starting to get it.
Girls are being seen as a movie audience with a financial footprint. One to cultivate. One to cater to. One, just possibly, that writers and directors might respect in future.
Well, we can dream.

The purchasing power of teenage female lust, made manifest
I wonder what it would have been like, to grow up with empowerment/romantic/sexual fantasies I could recognise on the screen, instead of piggybacking on male fantasies (straight or gay), or the presumed fantasies of much older women. How would it have been to see young good-looking men presented as heroes, instead of plump crusty old farts like James Kirk inexplicably fucking their way round the galaxy?  Or to imagine myself as Katniss, not Indiana Jones?

How would it have affected me?
I can only imagine.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

"The writing is out of this world"

"This book in one word…Wow!" 

Another lovely review for Named and Shamed, this time from I'm a Voracious Reader:
 "Humiliation is not my particular sexual kink which is why the book gets a 4.5 from me, but the writing is out of this world and the characters are well-fleshed. *cough* So to speak."
Full review here

Thank you, Voracious Reader!

 Buy at Amazon UK : Buy at Amazon US

Monday, 19 August 2013

Eyecandy Monday

Very appropriate for the story I'm writing right now ... Oh, if only she had wall-bars to hang on to  :-) 

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Friday, 16 August 2013

Nine Worlds photos

Nine Worlds Geekfest: a place to make new friends...

And meet up with old ones ...

With Kristina Lloyd

To show those Steampunk ladies how a thoroughly MODERN young woman dresses...

With Miss Emily Ladybird

and to feel superior to the rest of the human race ...

The view from the breakfast room window: plane-spotters gathering to watch the morning flights from Heathrow. Ironically, hundreds of LARPers, cosplayers, gamers, fanfic writers, bronies and comicbook fans must have looked out at them and thought, "What a bunch of nerds."

Hand on heart, I thought Nine Worlds was a whole heap of fun. Even though this was its very first year it was REALLY well organised (half-hour breaks between sessions! YES!!), and they had pulled out the stops to make it feel inclusive and safe. The female attendance must have been up around the 50% mark, there were dedicated feminism and LGBT streams, and plenty of cross-dressing cosplayers enjoying themselves. And unlike Eastercon, I went as a punter and steered clear of doing readings or appearing on panels, so it was much more relaxed experience for me!

Especially, it must be said, after this gentleman's workshop:

Mr Kit Cox: gourmet gin-tasting

Other educational highlights - the mathematical secrets of The Simpsons:

Simon Singh, mathematician

- And how to kill someone with a wooden sword:

SQWEEEEE!! Game of Thrones fan moment! It's Syrio! (Miltos Yerolemou)

Life-lessons we could all benefit from, I feel...
I'm definitely hoping to go back next year. I still didn't get round to the Brony Q&A :-)

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

I've got Mail

Oh dear god, I've got my picture in the Daily Mail. David Woolfall's photography project has hit the national papers!

I'm pleased, sure. With reservations. The Mail is one of Britain's most right-wing (though not by American standards) and anti-feminist (though not by American standards) newspapers, and its comments sections online is notoriously bitchy. I imagine we can now look forward to hundreds of people telling us we are ugly, boring, can't write for toffee, aren't getting any real sex (Ha!) and have no moral standards.

Which I guess means we've finally arrived!

Monday, 12 August 2013

Eyecandy Monday

Well, I have been hanging out in the Steampunk room this weekend, drinking free gin. It was bound to rub off on me...

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Nine Worlds

Oh deary me, I somehow forgot to blog yesterday - I was so caught up in going to the Nine Worlds Geekfest! So here's a live-action report from my darkened hotel room before breakfast...

I've been to a few talks so far - the Skeptics thread did one on the psychology of ghosts and hauntings which included some fascinating EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon) recordings and - for the first time for me - the famous Led Zep recording which when played backwards supposedly invokes "my sweet Satan". This was a shocking example of what they call Top-Down psychological processing: the way your brain overlays patterns on ambiguous data. Unprepared, it is all but impossible to make any words out of the gibberish recordings. But once you've read the supposed 'script' the words become clear as a bell and almost impossible not to hear. I was aghast!

Then we went to a Steampunk 101 talk and signed up for the gin-tasting on Saturday (huzzah!). And then the guys had a dancing lesson ... with Syrio Forel!!! After a pizza we attended a gig by comedian Helen Keen which was all about the history of rocket science and WAY funnier than that sounds. She's great. And now I know way too much about the Nazi and Satanist roots of NASA...

And we've done things with the hotel-room copy of the Book of Mormon that you wouldn't believe.
Or maybe you would...

Off to breakfast and to see Judge Minty ... or maybe watch a Quidditch game :-)

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Bosnia and Herzegovina

So after a few days in Montenegro, I moved on to Bosnia.

At the village of Lukomir, a remote village in the high mountains

We swam at the falls of Kravice

The fort above the walled town of Počitelj
Derelict concrete building destroyed by war: ancient symbols, shell-hole from the 1990s.

Bosnia and Herzegovina was also part of the former Yugoslavia federation, of course, and was the area worst-hit by the appalling civil wars and genocidal slaughter of the 1990s. Nowadays it is divided administratively between a Serbian (Orthodox) area, and a Bosniak (Muslim) + Croat (Catholic) area. Politically it's in a sad way - religious tensions, corruption, lingering war-damage both physical and mental. But our Bosnian guide was optimistic that things will improve as the younger generations slowly take power from the entrenched old guard. Here's hoping.

Sarajevo: on this spot started World War 1. Some places just can't catch a break.

I actually found Sarajevo one of the most beguiling cities I've ever been in. Here's the old Ottoman trading area:

And here's the Austro-Hungarian area, which is just like any European city-centre:

You can step from one to the other in two paces. Everything changes - the paving, the skyline, the smells, everything. Most peculiar. It's like teleportation from one continent to another!

A cultural contrast in coffees, at the Viennese Cafe

We arrived on the first night of the Islamic festival of Ramadan. We went up the hill to see the mosque lights go on when they fired the mortar signalling sunset. Several local people handed us turkish delight and special Ramadan bread - it was really touching.

We went, of course, to the town of Mostar - famous for its medieval bridge that was destroyed by Croat forces but rebuilt in 2004 from the original designs.
"Don't Forget Srebenica" says the banner - it was the annual mass burial that week

It's still a divided city, and a bit of a tourist-trap, though very beautiful.

I climbed this minaret ... in a thunderstorm. Some atheists are just asking for it!

The medieval necropolis at Radimlja. Adherents of the local Bosnian Christian church came under persecution as heretics and Bogomils by the papal Inquisition, and so, unsurprisingly, took the first opportunity to bail out of the Catholic church and convert to Islam in the 15th Century. 

And finally I proudly include another dessicated piece of saint: Queen Helen of Anjou (13th Century), who founded the first girls' school in Serbia.

Bosnia's fascinating and beautiful. And HOT. I'd like to go back and see more one day. I didn't get long enough there, or in Montenegro!

Friday, 2 August 2013

I couldn't have done it without...

Photobombed by my toes...

These are the main print books I used as reference and research in writing Cover Him With Darkness. Note that the Bible is the King James version (copyright-free for quotations, yay!).
As a novel set in a foreign country it presented me with some interesting challenges!

Books about Montenegro are actually in pretty short supply, but I thoroughly recommend travel guides of the more detailed warts-and-all kind (Bradt, Rough Guides) as a starting point for any writer using a foreign setting.

Some of my research material can't appear in this photo because it's on my e-reader. Which is definitely the cheaper option.

And there was Youtube - for footage of Serbian Orthodox religious ceremonies (very musical) - and of course Wikipedia. Good grief, what would I have done without Wikipedia?

Say I'm musing, "Okay, so this priest is going to cite some historical incident of man's inhumanity to man ... If he was British he'd certainly use Auschwitz as the obvious example. But he's not British or American, he's Serbian. What's he likely to think of first?" And lo, a swift Google search and I have my answer - though ignorance might be bliss in that case.

And of course I went to Montenegro for a few days. Okay, so strictly speaking this changed maybe 500 words of the book. It's not like there's room for huge swathes of landscape description in a modern genre novel: that sort of thing just isn't wanted nowadays. But goddamn, I want to get things right. I want to be able to picture things accurately when I write. Every word counts.

'Technically right' is the best kind of right ;-)

And yeah, I know there will still be errors. It's embarrassing me already.