I know I’m a little late to the party, but I watched Fifty Shades of Grey recently. I watched the film instead of reading the book because I’d rather waste two hours of my life than several days trying to read stuff like this:
"I flush. My inner goddess is down on bended knee with her hands clasped in supplication begging me."
"My inner goddess is beside herself, hopping from foot to foot."
"My inner goddess fist pumps the air above her chaise lounge"
"My inner goddess stirs from her five-day sulk."
"My inner goddess is doing the merengue with some salsa moves."
“My inner goddess is doing a triple axel dismount off the uneven bars, and abruptly my mouth is dry.”
“The remaining subclauses of this clause 15 are to be read subject to this proviso and to the fundamental matters agreed in clauses 2-5 above.”
I’m guessing the last line is something to do with the contract they keep banging on about (wahey) all the way through the film, the one she never actually signs. Ironically, this contract seems like the healthiest, most respectful part of their relationship, and is probably more interesting than any of the sex scenes. It’s so boring it’s almost ‘grey’ you might say (sorry, another awful joke). It takes about 45 minutes to even see nipples. If you want saucy stuff, just watch porn. Christian Grey’s BDSM gear is so clean and tidy it looks like it’s never been touched.
I have no experience of BDSM but people who are into it seem to be pissed off. I’m told it’s often not even about sex. It should be done in a controlled, safe space, with trust and respect. In Fifty Shades if they want to play dom/sub in the playroom that’s great, but instead Christian Grey uses his sexual tastes to try to control Anastasia Steele’s whole life.
I was trying to figure out what makes Fifty Shades so popular, but it seems it’s as famous for being bad as it is for being good. It’s wound people like me up enough to shout about why we hate it, giving it more publicity. The widely known bad writing in the book seems like a clever marketing choice – there’s no way a publisher would allow it otherwise. They’re books marketed for people who don’t often read books, it’s genius really. But this could be so damaging in terms of how people see relationships.
People I know who’ve seen/read it say something got them hooked on the characters (God knows why, they’re so dull) and they needed to know what happened. This is rather like Twilight, which Fifty Shades was originally based on (it was erotic fan fiction). I never want to have to watch the second film or read the books, so I read the synopsis for the sequels. I didn’t care about the characters, I just needed to find out if they got together– that thing they refer to as a ‘happy ending’. And no, not the rude kind. That, in fact, would’ve been better. Finding out what happens in the rest of the story demonstrates the message of it. This is the thing that most people ignore in films, mainly just because the messages are now so normal that we don’t question it: the hero wins, the boy gets the girl, they’re madly in love and live happily ever after and all that fairy tale bullshit. This, somehow, apparently happens in Fifty Shades. But more about that later...
Anastasia is a virgin at the start of the film. A virgin! And Christian expects her to move in with him and be his sex slave? Talk about being thrown in at the deep end. We see Anastasia losing her virginity in that perfect way that people do in films where it’s all clean and tidy. Her character development consists of having sex twice, then suddenly she’s wearing a sexy fitted dress and heels. Christian continues to act like a complete psycho, pestering her and turning up everywhere she goes in that Edward-Twilight-vampirish stalker kind of way. He’s like a mix of Donald Trump and Patrick Bateman from American Psycho. There are so many red flags in their relationship that had me screaming ‘just turn around and get out while you can!’ It was almost like watching a horror.
At the end of the film, Anastasia leaves. You could almost be fooled into thinking she came to her senses. This is why it was important to know what happened in the sequels, so here we go… She changes him, they get married and have kids. So what does this tell us? It tells us that Christian’s behaviour is worth tolerating. But if you were to tolerate behaviour like his in real life, it’s unlikely he would change so dramatically that quickly. So all you’re actually doing is going along with what men want, and quite frankly, enough time has been spent doing that.
It’s seen as a ‘romance’ film, let’s not forget this. It’s marketed as romance. It’s about a troubled man coercing and controlling a woman who clearly has low self-esteem. Romantic? Really? But it is hugely popular, so I’m guessing this means lots of women have this fantasy - to be bought and owned by a man who will treat you like shit. That really saddens me.
Fifty Shades is a symptom of what happens when women grow up with fairy tales and romantic comedies. The notion that you meet ‘the one’, get married and have kids and then you’re happy forever.
Now I’m aware that people often aren’t going to the cinema to see gritty realism about troubled relationships (that’s what I’d go and see) but this is what Fifty Shades should be marketed as. Instead, it’s dressed up in a romantic ideal which too many women can relate too – that the bad boys can change. I’m not saying they can’t, but in the case of Christian Grey, he needs the help of a therapist to do so, not the love of a needy woman.
I can see why women can identify with Anastasia, many of us struggle with low self-esteem. I certainly have felt intimidated by successful men in suits at times. I quickly learned my place as a child – the men were the bosses and the women were secretaries. I had to always be on a diet, had to wear make-up to look pretty for the boys. I had to keep my legs closed and act like a lady. If a boy was mean to me on the playground? Well that’s just because he liked me. Girls are taught to tolerate things from the moment they learn to speak. They’re taught that success is bagging a man with money, marrying him and pushing out babies. That his over possessiveness and jealousy are romantic, and that his sexism is just a ‘boys will be boys’ thing. Women are taught that this is the best we can get. We go along with it because it’s normal.
Fifty Shades is for women who grew up accepting misogyny, never questioning it, and it’s dressed up as empowerment because it’s their choice. They’re giving consent like Anastasia does in the film, but why? Because she, like so many women, has been taught to do whatever it takes to make a man love you.
It's just a film, you say. A bit of saucy fun, like other ‘romantic’ films. With the amount of media we humans consume every day, please don’t be stupid enough to think this stuff doesn’t seep into our subconscious. Fifty Shades is a toxic relationship with characters similar to those in Last Tango in Paris. It should be shown on the basis of how NOT to do romance, exposing behaviours to look out for in an abusive relationship.
So let’s just reiterate again what Fifty Shades is about. It’s about a man who is rich, white, young and hot. He had a difficult childhood resulting in him being a complete control freak. He uses BDSM as an excuse to stalk, control and abuse a woman. She is a virgin with low self-esteem who will do anything for him to be one step closer to the fairy tale dream. So tell me, if a friend or a family member was going out with a guy like Christian Grey, would you be pleased for her?
Fifty Shades is proof that women have been taught to love rich, white, powerful male control freaks. Need more? Just look at how many women voted for Trump.
Saturday 18th Feb saw the first of Talking Tales of 2017, this time with a bad erotica theme!
Talking Tales is a storytelling night run by Stokes Croft Writers, held bi-monthly at Leftbank in Bristol. Normally we don’t have a theme but somehow I managed to talk the group into letting me take over with ‘bad erotica’ as a sort of anti-Valentine’s special.
So what is bad erotica? I was open to anything (wahey), from just a little sauciness and innuendo, to fan fiction, to badly written attempts at filth. I run a bad erotica podcast called Fully Activated. It's about as sexy as a lardy sizzling sausage, so not sexy at all basically. I like to think of it as satirical erotica with a feminist twist.
We kicked off Talking Tales with a story of mine called Colin Grinder Groaned, an ‘erotic’ (ie not erotic) novella which will feature on the next series of Fully Activated. I read the first chapter, which was called ‘The Cleaner’. Colin Grinder always makes sure his staff and customers are happy (very, very happy) and this includes the wonderful Regina Hymen, who is particularly good at polishing knobs... door knobs (wahey, again)
I attempted to wear some very silly shoes which I joked I’d keep on for 5 minutes, but then did actually take them off after about 4 minutes. I have no idea why anyone would choose to wear such ridiculous things on their feet. Fuck long legs, I want to stay short and be comfortable.
Then we had a break to go for some much needed weeing/wanking/drinking. Ellen and I scared off a group of rowdy stag do golfers by staring at them until they downed their drinks.
Thomas David Parker acted as unofficial door security in the second half, stopping noisy groups from coming in, all whilst wearing a t-shirt full of multi-coloured dicks, which I made myself (I am available for commissions!)
In-between the stories I read some mini delights I’d found whilst trawling the internet for erotica generators (my favourite form of procrastination). My personal favourite featured me, Christie, and her lifelong love Phillip Schofield. More at the bottom of this page.
We heard some great finish the lines, we drank wine, giggled a lot, we gave out badges… and then I’m sure everyone in the audience probably went home for a very big wank.
Stay tuned to SCW on Twitter for more info on future events, but if you’re hungry for more saucy silliness then please check out my podcast Fully Activated. Or not, don’t check it out if you don’t want to. I don’t care. Don’t check out the Fully Activated Podcast, on iTunes, Soundcloud, YouTube, acast, and all those places they have podcast. See if I care if you don’t… whatever.
Until next time, stay sexy!
Want to write a story in minutes? No writing experience? It doesn't matter! I'm about to make your wildest dreams come true. I bring you, the Plot Generator - a series of clever little tools to help you quickly formulate ideas and pass them off as your own! I did not create this, it's clearly a gift from God.
Seriously though, it's a lot of fun but if you're trying to get on with actual writing, stay away from it. You'll get sucked in, trying all sorts of stuff about celebrities and people you know in different sexual situations...or maybe that's just me. I found the Plot Generator through the erotica page and used it to write a Christmas themed story for my podcast, Fully Activated. Then I got a bit carried away and wrote another, which I'm going to share with you here. It's not on the podcast as I thought I'd better write more of my own stories for that.
Please be warned, it is very rude!
The Erotica Generator also designs the book cover - highly original as you can see.
Confessions of a Twatish Douche-bag
Twatish douche-bag, Donald Trump, is mortified after he gets carried away and admits to his ex fuck buddy, Hillary Clinton, that he longs to experiment with BDSM. Whatever must she think of him now?
Hillary is a hilarious psychopath from Mars, who also happens to be a dangerous vampire. She is short with green hair, has a terrible figure and dagger-like fangs. Despite the undeniable threat to his life, Donald finds himself unable to stop picturing Hillary's squidgy abs and terrific sausage, fantasising nightly about submitting to her deepest desires.
One evening, Donald spots Hillary flirting with the mean wanker, Katie Hopkins. Damn that Katie with her gross body and tiny boobs. Donald tortures himself with thoughts of Hillary working her man-sword into Katie's woo-woo. Donald's desperate ambition to become Hillary's sex slave begins to feel like nothing more than a dumb fantasy.
However, when Donald gets home that night, Hillary sneaks up on him from the shadows and fervently caresses his flabby man boobs with her hungry hands, before dragging him into the bedroom where she eases her fist into his chocolate starfish. He delights as his dirtiest dreams begin to come true. Hillary takes him on a journey of gagging, facials, figging* and passionate anal probing.
One night, after a thorough rimming, Donald fights back, testing how far he can push his undead lover. Defiantly, he tries to gag her. Furious, Hillary takes Donald to a crypt. At first he thinks she is going to bite him, but instead she puts horsey ears on his head and then zaps his bajingo with an electrically-charged metal wand.
As Donald lies in bed afterwards, enjoying Hillary’s pussy and reminiscing over the evening, he feels that they are finally connecting on a human level. (Also, he is less hungry.)
However, as Hillary's desires get darker still, she reveals that she has a very special task in mind for Donald, involving a really tiny strap-on, which she whips out with a look of pure glee. Donald studies the piddly little dong attached to a black harness with trepidation - does she really want him to do her with THAT? He looks into Hillary's intense, red eyes and shudders.
Will Donald be able to fully submit, or is the hilarious psychopath vampire, Hillary, going to go too far?
*I had to look 'figging' up:
"Figging is the practice of inserting a piece of skinned ginger root into the anus or the vagina of a person. It has been used as a means of punishment. It is also used as a BDSM practice." - Wikipedia
So there you go. You learn something new every day.
Check out the Erotica Generator, and listen to Fully Activated on:
All episodes feature different, unconnected stories, so you don't have to listen to them in order!
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Follow us on Twitter for news! @Fully_Activated
Novels. They're long, like really frickin' long.
I've written two... they're quietly hiding away in a folder within a folder within a folder on my computer somewhere. Every so often I'll open my recent one, leave it up on screen for a few hours whilst I browse vintage dresses on eBay, and then inevitably run out of time and close it. I've been trying to get back to editing this novel for a while now. It's finished, as in written to the end, but it's a messy first draft. Surprisingly, banging all the words out was relatively easy as I did it for NaNoWriMo (50,000 words in a month), but trying to get myself to go back and read it? Well, I'd rather do the washing and the cleaning... and go shopping for something tasty for dinner, and bake carrot cake, and eat carrot cake... and well, you get the idea. It's called procrastination, and I know a lot of writers do it, but I wanted to get underneath that to see what it is that really makes editing so damn hard.
The thing about a first draft is, it's allowed to be crap, because it's a first draft. I've read a lot of articles which say not to worry about what it ends up like, just get the words out instead. Having the incentive and community focus offered with NaNoWriMo, I indeed managed to do that. I surprised myself to be honest, I didn't think I stood a chance... but then there's editing. That's when you have to take the mess and try to make it good. Uh oh.
Now I know I should "set aside time", "create a writing space", "get into a routine" and all that sort of stuff we're told to do. But if I simply do not want to do it, then nothing is going to make me. Nothing will stop me from shopping on eBay or eating cake, or binge watching Stranger Things.
I'm fortunate that I don't ever seem to get writers block. I always have ideas, so in fact part of the problem is that I always want to write new stuff instead of editing and finishing something else. This is dangerous territory as it results in folders full of documents which maybe should be 'out there' in the hope that real life people will read them one day.
The truth is, I think I'm just scared, and I'm sure many other writers are with me on this.
Editing a novel means revisiting your baby, which is terrifying because that 80.000 words you spent months or sometimes years writing will now be back under your critical eye. What if it's crap? What about all the time I wasted writing it? I long for the time I can read something and not worry about how rubbish it sounds. Sometimes I can look back at my own writing and think it reads like a five years old's.
Then there's getting it out into the world, if you do manage to 'finish' it (will it ever really be finished or do we just need to know when to let go?) Then it's open to the perusal of scary people such as literary agents, and that's even more terrifying. A novel is a piece of you, It's likely you poured your heart and soul into it and now that part of you will be out in the open for people to judge. You hate it and love it at the same time, and now you have to send it over to some fuckers who probably just want to change it anyway. The whole thing will be horrible and we question why we ever wrote the thing in the first place and swear never to write another, but then the ideas come. Then we realise that you can't not do it, and then write another.
Writers are bonkers. I wish I didn't want to be a writer. Or, do I wish I could be a better one? What even is a better one? It's all so subjective. Would I even realise if I was better? I try to tell myself that things I've written are good, I say this so much that I hope one day I finally start to believe it. It's hard to keep going until then, especially through the editing stage, because I'm constantly feeling in denial of the whole thing.
Then there's the lure of short stories. They're short enough to be able to finish and edit without the self-doubt eating away for too long, and if you're lucky enough to have a great writing group like I have (Stokes Croft Writers) then it's even easier. Often I find short stories bring variation when writing something longer. My novel is pretty dark and gritty so writing comedy short stories alongside keeps things a little more lighthearted. There's no doubt that writing dark, emotionally charged things are harder to work on, certainly for me. I feel a strong emotional connection to my characters and have to get really in their mindsets to be able to write. That's not necessarily fun when some of them are going through a very tough time!
I wish I could suggest a way to solve the problem, but I don't want to give all the usual cliche bits of advice. The truth is, I'm still looking for that magic answer too, and its through sharing my thoughts like this that I hope others will relate to it too (answers on a post card?). However, I had some great advice recently: pick a chapter of your novel you think might be okay. One that won't need much editing, or is short, or just one you like, or one that's funny. Whatever it is just see if you can pick one and just do that one.
I tried that and found it wasn't as hard as I thought, and in fact got on a bit of a roll and did several chapters. And in all honesty, they weren't as bad as I thought, which was a great relief. I think this theory of chipping away at different little bit of it may work, I'll just need to keep trying. This may not work for you, but if you try to give different things a go then at some point you'll find a process that works for you.
Don't give yourself a hard time - if you want to work on a short story, a blog or something else instead then just do it. It's all good practice.
The thing that ultimately keeps me going to knowing that if 80,000 words just sits on a computer, that's such a shame. Believing it is worthy of the outside world is hard to do but I'm determined to keep practicing, and I hope you can too. We're all worthy of having our work 'out there.' Let's start by just trying to be kind to ourselves.
Thanks for reading.
How do you write/edit? Do you have any tips for when you lose confidence or faith in your work? I'd love to hear your experiences and advice!
If you’ve read some of my previous blog posts, first of all – thank you. You are one of my favourite people in the world. Secondly, you might know that I’ve lost myself into a world of dark, gross, unsexy erotica. It all started with a podcast called My Dad Wrote a Porno – you can read how it all happened here. Since then I've been having fun writing lots of my own silly erotica stories, which seem to have just gotten worse as time goes on. I’ve paid homage to Ghostbusters, Rocky Horror and Jurassic Park so far, and then there’s the ‘celebrities’. Nobody is safe.
I sometimes perform at a comedy open mic night in Bristol called Show and Tell, which is run by Sophie Bishop who used to be a member of my writing group (Stokes Croft Writers). It’s always great fun, and the audience are really nice and friendly so it feels like a safe environment, not filled with try-hard comedians or laddish blokes who think they're funny. There’s usually a theme, and the last one was ‘birthdays/Sophie Bishop’, which Sophie then backtracked on, saying ‘just birthdays’ but by that point it was too late. I had already planned what I was going to do.
I asked Sophie for her top 5 celebrities she would most like to sleep with, which she offered up with no issue at all (this is why I still maintain that she totally let herself in for it). I then wrote 3 of them into an erotic story (I used 3 because 5 was too many in one short story!):
Jesse Eisenberg (from The Social Network)
Gael Garcia Brunel (from The Motorcycle Diaries)
Gareth from Los Campesinos! (indie pop band)
But here’s the exciting part! My friend and fellow performer, Ellen Waddell, used to be in Los Campesinos!, so we started making sneaky plans, hoping that somehow we could include Gareth in some way…
So on the night we made sure I performed before Ellen (we told Sophie it was for absolutely no reason whatsoever) and I read my story called ‘A very sexy story for Sophie’s birthday which is very sexy.’
If you can handle the sexiness, here's a taste of it....
‘All this planet saving sure does make me horny,’ said sexy Gael Garcia Bernal. ‘Call in the slave.’
Jessie Eisenberg whistled and Gareth from Los Campesinos entered the room.
He looked at Jesse Eisenberg and sexy Gael Garcia Bernal and smiled. ‘Oh hi Jesse Eisenberg. Oh hi sexy Gael Garcia Bernal. What can I do for you today?’
‘Well, I’d very much like a blow job please,’ said sexy Gael Garcia Bernal.
‘Yes, blow jobs please,’ agreed Jesse Eisenberg. ‘But first, can you play a sexy tune your sexy glockenspiel to get us in the mood?’
‘Of course,’ said Gareth from Los Campesinos enthusiastically.
He played ‘Take on me’ by A-Ha, and they all did a little sexy dance, and it was all very sexy and very lovely. They were all starting to feel horny now and their willies were starting to twinge a little in excitement from all the sexy glockenspiel action.
There's me with my highly professional illustrations, which I spent hours doing myself.
Anyway, I’ll get on with the rest of my post quickly as I’m sure you’re probably eager to get off and relieve yourself after such sexy words. Ellen performed after me and surprised Sophie with a birthday video message from Gareth from Los Campesinos!, to which she seemed a mix of mortified and delighted (she did hug me after so I think it’s safe to say she doesn’t hate me...hopefully).
Apparently, some of the audience reactions to the erotica were mixed. Some thought it was hilarious (obviously just a small percentage of people get my sense of humour) but I should imagine many people were massively grossed out. That's okay. Nobody walked out and nobody vomited, so it's not that bad (but I’ll try harder next time!) To provoke a reaction with my writing is always great, even if that’s not in an obviously entertaining way. This was the first time I’d read my erotica to an audience so it was a good test. People seemed generally more shocked than I’d imagined, and that was one of the tame stories!
A friend of mine had a birthday shortly after so I decided I would carry on the birthday erotica thing. Anyone who knows me - yes, you will be getting birthday erotica from now on, sorry. In fact, even if you don’t know me, please feel free to get in touch if you want to commission a piece of birthday erotica (worth a try?)
Here’s an extract from a story I wrote for my friend's birthday. The story is called ‘The Rogers Get a Good Rogering’:
‘Oh no,’ said Roger Taylor from Queen, ‘I seem to have got caught with a flat, well how about that?’ He got out of the car and into the pouring rain. His hair was quickly soaking and dripped down his very sexy body, because for absolutely no reason at all he wasn’t wearing a shirt.
‘I know,’ he said to nobody, because he was alone, ‘I’ll go to that completely normal looking castle back down the road, which definitely wasn’t filled with singing, dancing transsexual aliens, who definitely won’t give me blowjobs.’
He arrived at the castle and was welcomed by two weird incestuous people wearing too much make-up, who then sang a song which had been way too over played at cheesy wedding discos.
All of a sudden, the music got slightly better, and Roger Daltrey from The Who (in the 70’s when he had curly hair and looked all hot) entered the room. He was wearing a black corset, stockings and suspenders and a tiny black thong which beautifully cupped his obviously very large penis and balls.
‘Oh hi Roger Daltrey from The Who,’ said Roger Taylor from Queen. ‘My car broke down, do you have a phone I might use?’
You may have picked up on some correlation between this and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but if so, that’s completely in your mind.
So, if you have a birthday coming up, be sure to give me a list of the celebrities you’d most like to sleep with or else I won’t be able to make your birthday complete with my bad erotica. You know you want to. There’s no crime in giving yourself over to pleasure.
So what’s next, you’re asking. Well, you’re probably not, but I’m going to tell you anyway. I’m writing lots of little erotic stories which I aim to record, using crap sound effects and funny voices, into some kind of amateurish podcast. If you’d be interested in getting involved then do let me know. If you are easily offended or get squeamish, or are not willing to get drunk and make sex noises, then you need not apply. Before you ask, no - payment will NOT be made in blow jobs, but when we’re all more famous than My Dad Wrote a Porno, then you’ll be thanking me.
Follow me on Twitter:
@RobertaRampant (for erotica only)
Like Bristol Show & Tell on Facebook!
UPDATE - I now have a 'sexy stuff' page - check it out here!
It seems ages since my last post (though there have been some entries on my 'Freesized' page) so here's a little writer update, if you care. I'm hungover and bitter today so this will be the general tone of the post. Fucking enjoy.
So, I have a tendency to get quite obsessed with new things I've discovered. If I find a new band I like I'll listen to them over and over for about two months and then won't listen to them again. I fall in the love with the singer/guitarist/bassist (rarely drummer) and act like a 12 year old. My obsessive teenage style drooling has now moved to podcasts. A friend told me about a podcast called My Dad Wrote a Porno. It's hilarious - it's just a guy who reads out his dad's bad erotic fiction. The authors name is Rocky Flintstone (real of course) and the book is called Belinda Blinked. They've really hit it big now, with millions of listeners, and it's become almost cult-like. Trying to get tickets for their live show in London in September was like trying to get bloody Glastonbury tickets.
I became so into it that I jokingly tweeted Rocky Flintstone saying that I should start writing fan fiction. He seemed very up for the idea so I thought, hey - this could be fun. And so I began writing really really unsexy erotica, and it was really really fun. I wrote an 11,000 word novella faster than I've ever written anything in my life. When I had to write large chunks of my novel it felt like a grueling uphill trek but this felt like skipping through a field full of pomegranates (that's a Belinda Blinked joke for anyone who doesn't get it.)
I sent my novella to Rocky Flintstone, who emailed back the next day saying he'd read it all! I wondered if maybe he was just saying that, but he'd attached the document and had pointed out some typo's (which is ironic for anyone who is familiar with his work). He was very supportive and helpful and suggested I should self-publish it. I only used one of his character names (the character I've written is in fact different so it is literally just the name - Des Martin) and he was fine about me using it.
But I just had to go one step further - I recorded it. Not like in the same way they do My Dad Wrote a Porno, but more like a radio play. With the help of a few great friends from my Writing group (Stokes Croft Writers), and a shit ton of wine, we recorded my novella 'Des Martin Groaned' and it was so much fun!
A few days later I contacted the Porno team and Rocky Flintstone to tell them it had been recorded. I had actually emailed both a few weeks before to check it was going to be OK, and hadn't had a response. I presumed because Rocky said it was fine, that it probably was fine - I know that's probably rather naive on my part. They have become super famous, of course they're not going to let me use it. So when I received the email, it explained very nicely that I couldn't use anything to do with Rocky Flintstone or Belinda Blinked at all. I can't publish the novella or the radio play anywhere at all. They're publisher owns the brand now. It's completely understandable, so I'm not bitter. Really I'm not. What? I'm not. NOT....
OK, I'll admit that I did have a little cry and then I felt a little bit stupid. I'm glad that they're successful and have a publisher/agent who is so protective of their work. When I'm a famous writer I'll have the same I guess. It was a bit annoying but it's the way things work. After a bit more reflection on it, I wondered why I did and what I was really hoping to achieve. I've never written fan fiction before and don't generally read it, it;s not something I really have any interest in doing. But when writing Des Martin Groaned I realized how much I had taken it off in my own direction. The only thinking I knew about Des Martin was his name, he was only in Chapter 3 of Belinda Blinked 1 for a very short time. I'd made my own version, and a whole bunch of other characters. Aside from some Belinda Blinked parody/homage, it wasn't really fan fiction I guess, it was more my own work.
So I did wonder about just changing the name and taking the references out but I don't want to risk it or step on their toes. I'm going to move completely away from My Dad Wrote a Porno now (I mean in terms of writing, I'll still probably listen to it), but I'm excited at the prospect of being able to write my own stuff using all these great characters I unintentionally created. And being my own work, I can throw in as much feminist agenda as I want. In my work, women are never passive and pathetic. There's no casual lesbian sex just to please men, everyone has sex with everyone. And they always clean up really well after themselves with anti-septic wipes.
So watch this space. There will be erotic fiction coming and it will be even less sexy than you can ever imagine.
I have a new favourite podcast now - it's called The Guilty Feminist and it's awesome. Check it out. I'm totally in love with Sofie Hagan and probably will be for about the next two months.
Thanks for reading. I'm off to do some porno. Then.... I might even make my own podcast.
In January I was fortunate enough to spot something shared on Twitter about a ‘Discovery Day’ for aspiring novelists to be held at Foyles bookshop in London. I jumped at the opportunity, emailed them and luckily bagged myself a slot– 6 minutes with a literary agent from Curtis Brown or Conville & Walsh!
So what is Discovery day? The name could be misleading for some. Agent representation isn’t something that can be offered within such a short pitch slot, so it’s not an interview or chat which leads to a book deal. Instead, it’s a great opportunity to get feedback on your novel from an industry expert.
They asked for a 30 second pitch to be said verbally, and the first page of your novel printed out for them to read. I’m fortunate to have a wonderful writing group who double-checked my first page, and fellow pitcher Grace Palmer also gave me some great advice. I felt I’d done the best I could do with it, and my pitch…well, 30 seconds is tough when it’s a character driven drama. I wish I could’ve just said ‘Jaws in a council estate’ but somehow I didn’t think that would work. So I tried my best to whittle it down to who it’s about and what they do. I also planned just to say a line about myself and that I’ve had a few short stories published.
The day came around I was all prepared with tube maps and a bucket of determination not to get freaked out in busy Underground stations in London. I used to have a huge fear of escalators (I fell down one from top to bottom so I had good reason to) so I avoided going to London when I was younger. I’m okay with escalators now, but am not too familiar with London, so making the trip was quite an empowering part of it to be honest.
The queue of writers waiting for their pitch slots was curling around two flights of stairs when I got there. We weren’t able to join the queue before the start of our half an hour slot time – mine was 2.15 – 2.45pm but I think I was seen at about 3.15. The Foyles staff were very organised and nice though so it was fine. I used the time productively editing my novel (the latter parts, not the bit I was pitching) whilst I was waiting. I’m not sure if there was an air of competition or if everyone was just too nervous to talk to each other. In the queue to the toilet earlier I’d heard a girl say she saw Claire Conville from Conville and Walsh and I was really surprised. I wrongly presumed they’d just send the readers, but the big agents were there – agghhh!
There were a lot of agents, and the plan was just to see whoever came free first. I got a male agent from Curtis Brown. I asked him if he wanted the first page or 30 second pitch first, and he said it was up to me. That kind of threw me a bit as I thought they’d have more of a set format. They didn’t have stopwatches to check it was 30 seconds, they just say that so you keep it short. It’s a great exercise to do even if you aren’t going to an event like Discovery Day as it really helps get to the essence of your novel. I’d played about with mine so much, but still he said it needed some work. He didn’t really say what, just that ‘we need to know the story’. My pitch was something like this:
I’m Mel. I’ve written two novels, a screenplay, have had short stories and blogs published and I co-run a storytelling night in Bristol. ‘Paper Cuts’ is a gritty character-driven drama about a troubled young woman called Izzy from a council estate in the Midlands. She travels to a Tibetan region of India to escape her turbulent relationship with her family. The stories of her and her mum (Sue, in the UK) run side by side through their mirroring struggles with substance abuse and mental health problems. It’s influenced by some of the places I’ve travelled.
He asked me how the novel ends. I told him but he didn’t look very interested. Maybe I’d started to ramble.
Then he read the first page. He said ‘well, it’s hard to comment just from the first page’ to which I felt like screaming ‘that's what you bloody well asked for’ but instead I nodded and smiled politely. He said ‘the question is, does it want to make you read more?’ so I asked him ‘would it make you want to read more?’ and he said ‘yes, it’s fine’. That was pretty much it. Not massively useful, if I’m honest. I think maybe I was just expecting a little more feedback. Here it is, if you want to read it. I don’t meant to be self-indulgent, but I thought maybe it might be useful to read it:
Izzy sits in the back of a rickshaw speeding through Delhi in the early morning haze. Her long black fringe clings to her hot, sticky forehead as she tries to breathe normally, certain she’s made a huge mistake. Since leaving England her stomach has been churning, and that was several hours ago. Feeling sick, hot and cramped, she steadies her second-hand backpack, bought from a charity shop a few days before, in front of her. Izzy knows she’s a fake and a wannabe. Maybe they were right, this is a joke. The owner of this backpack was probably a real traveller, she thinks, trying to shake her fringe loose. The rickshaw lurches to the left and the backpack strays from her fingers. She grabs it just before it topples over, her slash-necked t-shirt sliding down one shoulder exposing a tattoo of three doves.
It’s 5.30am and the streets are mostly quiet except for the chai stalls setting up. She stares as they pass ramshackle huts, grey and jagged, surrounded by litter, dust and mess. Every inch of space on the street is used by people sleeping in rows, small children curled up next to their parents. She pulls her backpack in-between her legs, gripping it with her knees and then clutches the seat. Her nails, bearing the remnants of black nail varnish, dig into the torn upholstery. The rickshaw starts to slow down to overtake a grubby white cow, so thin every bone in its ribcage protrudes as it plods across the road. A group of Indian men chatting nearby stare at Izzy. She instinctively folds her arms across her chest, keeping her head down, her knees trembling against her backpack. When the rickshaw suddenly lurches forwards again, Izzy quickly grips the edge of the seat with sweaty hands.
After a few more sharp corners, the rickshaw stops and she slowly starts to loosen her grip. She peers out towards the building next to them, a tall, grotty place with bars over the windows and hanging baskets full of dead flowers at the entrance. Just yesterday, she’d been in a council flat in the Midlands. She can’t believe she’s really in India. She’s finally done it, got away from them…and she’s shit-scared.
I guess I felt a little disheartened at Foyles from the beginning. There were so many writers there so it really made me realise how many people are working so hard towards the same dream. I think I may have initially seen the ‘it’s fine’ feedback as negative because I was feeling a bit lost in the world of writers. I felt like just another wannabe novelist pitching the same idea as hundreds of others. In hindsight, I feel like it could have been a lot worse!
After the pitch slot we were taken down to speak to other agents in groups of about 5 writers. We had a lovely lady from Curtis Brown and we were able to ask a few questions about the publishing industry and getting an agent. I asked what the worst things she’d seen in cover letter were. She said they hate ‘dear agent’ so do your homework and find an agent to send it to directly. I was surprised at how little some of the others writers knew; one guy asked ‘I’ve got a bunch of words on a computer and written down, what’s my next step?’ We also talked about writing a synopsis. She said it’s fine if it reads like a boring document, it basically is just a ‘they do this, they do that’ sort of format. In fact, she said that she usually reads the cover letter and the chapters first and then the synopsis after.
So is it worth doing Discovery Day, that’s the question? My friend Grace Palmer who also went along this year had a very positive experience, so it’s sort of luck of the drawer as to who you get. If London is easily accessible for you, then I’d say give it a go. It’s good practice. Otherwise, anyone can submit to the agencies (and it doesn’t involve a 30 second pitch!) through their websites. Or you could try Tweeting #PitchCB if you can manage to get your pitch down to 140 characters!
I had a great day overall. I feel much more confident about going to London and going to these sorts of events. Having to explain what my novel was about in such a short amount of time was a great tool, and to know that my first page is ‘fine’ is in fact, just fine.
Here are my tips for anyone going to Discovery Day in the future:
Copyright Mel Ciavucco 2016
On the 2nd November I couldn't sleep. I was still up at 3am, mindlessly scrolling through the world of social media where nothing much was happening, until I saw some NaNoWriMo posts. I'd heard of it before but I'd never considered doing it. Writing a novel in a month? That was for pro's for sure. I'd already written a novel which had taken the best part of 3 years. A month just sounded impossible. But as I read the posts and tweets, I liked the community vibe and friendliness that was going on. It felt like an exiting, positive environment. With such a lot of creative people in the world I often expect more competition, but the more I delve into the writing world, online and offline, I realise how friendly and supportive it is. A friend in my writing group had decided to do NaNoWriMo this year, and suddenly it hit me (at 3am)...I should be doing it too. Yes, I was 2 days in, but I could catch up...right? I considered my month ahead, noting one weekend away but otherwise nothing to stop me from committing myself. I signed up to the NaNoWriMo website and explored, feeling more certain with every second that it was definitely what I needed to do.
Now, this is where I have to admit to my advantage. I already had a story, that's the only way I could do it on such a whim. I had already written a screenplay called 'Papercuts' which I aimed to write into a novel at some point, but I'd been putting it off. Another 3 years, like my last novel, just seemed so daunting. But, I thought, if I could at least get started with NaNoWriMo then it might give me some discipline and a routine. Even if I just did 25,000 words it's more than I would have done, so why not give it a go?
The first few days
I had to do a couple of days of binge writing to catch up, but I enjoyed it. I read each scene of my screenplay and just started writing, and the words pored out naturally. All the stuff I had in my head which had to be limited for the screenplay could come out and onto the page. My main worry was that the story I'd worked on for so long as a screenplay wouldn't work as a novel, or that it would change the story, but it didn't. All the same scenes happened, but I could slow it down and write all the little details around it. My characters could have longer conversations and get to know each better. The protagonist is a girl with a troubled past and lots of family issues, who travels to India and befriends an Australian monk. Their friendship became even more of a joy to write than the first time around in the screenplay.
I surprised myself by quickly getting into a daily writing routine. It wasn't at the same time everyday due to other commitments, but I always made space for it. This may sound sad, but I bloody love that table on the NaNoWriMo website. You can load your word count and it puts it into a graph and a table which tells you how much you've done so far (right). I loved updating it everyday and seeing the light at the end of the tunnel as time went on. The theory is that, although 50,000 is not a novel, it a good chunk of one to get you started, plus it makes a manageable target every day of around 1,660 words. I found it much easier to stay on target that I imagined. When I started it was the 3rd November so I had to do over 10,000 in 2 days, and I did the same at the end to finish early. That felt like a lot, but I still enjoyed it. In fact, it's great to have those binges to get in 'the zone'. I was in my characters' world and could easily just get on a roll.
Little chunks everyday
So I kept going everyday for the first few weeks, and was still on target. I couldn't believe it. I started to realise that if I kept going, I might actually do it. I still didn't really believe it until I got close to the end of the month, I think that's why I did another binge at the end to make sure I definitely got there! It would have been a shame to get to the end of the month and only be 1000 words out. I got to just over 50,000 and allowed myself to feel proud, something I've often found very hard to do in the past.
Now, I know the ideal thing after NaNoWriMo would be to carry on at the same pace until the novel is finished (I was near the end but still not finished), but I had a busy week starting in December for my birthday. So I allowed myself the breathing space and had a very, very fun week: a meal out with my writing group, had a friend to stay, had a meal with other friends, and... (drum roll...) went to see one of my favorite bands growing up - Ash - and got a hug from singer/guitarist Tim Wheeler (who I've loved since I was 13! Best birthday present ever - call me sad, that's fine). Since then I've been busy getting ready for my trip to Vietnam over Christmas. I planned to work on the novel again in January, setting myself daily targets inspired by the discipline of NaNoWriMo, but I may even do a bit on the beach whist I'm away!
So what have I learnt from NaNoWriMo?
This is probably the stuff everyone says, but I realised that I can be disciplined if I really put my mind to it and have a clear target. I think it really works for me adapting from a screenplay (I'd hate to try and adapt the other way around!). I haven't yet decided what I prefer writing - novels, screenplays or short stories, or even what genre I like writing, I just like doing them all. I thought that 'finding my voice' meant finding the genre I write in, but that's not it. It's the words you use, the language and the style. I write simply, I don't use metaphors or similes and I don't use flowery descriptions. I used to think this meant my writing was rubbish, but now I realise it's just my style. I have't quite got to that confident point where I can say that my stuff is good (and I'm not sure I ever will!), but I've realised that it's not that bad, which is far from how I felt a few years back. In short, NaNoWriMo has really given me a confidence boost.
Thinking about doing NaNoWriMo in the future?
Plan, plan and plan some more. I think I only managed to bust out that many words because I knew my characters and the story so well. When I was planning the screenplay I had pages full of character details. I wrote a list of questions about favorite films, music, what kinds of socks they wear, what their experiences at school were like, and many more. I didn't necessarily use all this information in the story but I did it to get to know the characters inside out. I also wrote scenes on sticky notes and stuck them all over my wall. Even if you're a novelist, reading up on some screenwriting methods can be really helpful in terms of planning. Novels are so long that it's hard to keep track of where it's easy to get lost in it, so lots of planning can really help.
The thing I enjoyed the most about NaNoWriMo is the sense of community. Knowing that lots of people from all over the world are doing the same as you feels like a lovely connection to have. All these creative people all connecting through writing - it's so inspiring!
Give it a go one year, you've got nothing to lose! Even if you only do a few thousand words, it's better than nothing. Nobody fails at NaNoWriMo really, except for those people who have a novel in their head and never try it!
Happy Writing, and Merry Christmas!!
I've written a lot of words and I'm sure you'll understand why I don't want to write anymore today! But yay! More to follow after a bit of a rest. Phew.
Now, I'm doing NaNoWriMo so I don't have time for words on here. Here's a very, very short version of my day on Saturday (21st Nov)...
Snow in Staffordshire!
Snow buggered off. Thankful.
Broken down train.
Stress at Birmingham New Street.
Chris Fielden's Anthology launch at Cafe Kino.
Tequila (bad move).
Sleep and sleep and sleep.
And I think some people read some stories and I took some pictures. Hopefully people bought books too but if you didn't, you can here.
If you want to use these pictures please feel free, but please attribute to me: