I went through a phase of entering a lot of short story competitions. As an aspiring writer it’s seen as a way to grow your profile, possibly even shoot you success. I quickly learnt that my style of writing won’t exactly fit the classy literary standard of many competitions. Many of them don’t like sex scenes, gratuitous violence, sci-fi or erotica, which is fair enough. Many have particular themes or even prompts, which many writers in fact find helpful.
But a recent flash fiction competition went a step too far with a “No LGBTQ” rule.
I almost couldn’t believe it when I saw it shared on Twitter. I was disgusted but simultaneously proud of the wonderful online writing community for sharing it far and wide to say “THIS IS NOT OKAY.”
I contacted the competition organiser to question why they don’t allow LGBTQ stories. This was her response:
Copy and paste job? It seems plenty of others had been questioning her too. At least a few fellow writers on Twitter had the same response.
This was my reply:
I expected one of those fake/polite kind of responses. A sort of "we'll bear that in mind" which means they'll totally ignore it. But instead, I got a classic five-year-old "you are" response:
To which I replied, "yes, I am intolerant." I am intolerant of homophobia and transphobia. I am intolerant of writing competitions that discriminate against people.
We need diverse stories more than ever.
It's not fair to limit creativity to certain groups of people. The way we become more accepting in our society is to read and share stories from all different people; all ethnicities, backgrounds, genders, sexualities, abilites. It's a way for us to stand in somebody else's shoes for a short time and understand their world.
It's how we cultivate empathy.
I recently saw that the rules of the flash fiction competition had changed:
To me, that means "we'll decide how much gayness is acceptable, thank you very much."
Well, cheers for clarifying, Deborah. How helpful.
Now, I have a bad habit for taking things too far and I LOVE breaking rules. Zombies on a Boat is enough proof of that. So I couldn't help but write a story. I'm not sure I can submit it to the competition though as I may have broken a rule or two. Oops.
Writers of the world - there are lots of writing competitions out there, please don't enter and support ones that discriminate against people. Chris Fielden runs a really fun competition called To Hull & Back. Go and enter that instead!
You know those people that quit their jobs to follow their dreams? I’m one of those silly people. Except I’m not sure the dream I had in mind was really my dream.
I took a sabbatical from my job and went to Thailand for three months to do a writing residency at The Content Castle. You can read all about that in this guest post for Chris Fielden, but the short version is…
I stayed in a madhouse for six weeks.
I left having had a rather memorable, life-changing experience.
The Content Castle residency was like starting a new job but having to live with your colleagues. It was a cross between a digital marketing agency and the Big Brother house. Walk out’s, cats pooping in suitcases (well, okay – just one) and a naked Thai guy breaking in at 2am. Fun fun fun.
I’ve now been back in the UK for about four months. My whole Thailand trip was just under three months. So much happened in that time. It literally feels like nothing has happened since I got back other than bidding and applying for a lot of jobs. My bank balance is getting more and more sad, as am I.
The digital nomad life
The best experiences are often the most difficult ones. That’s what I keep telling myself. I was full of hope when I left Thailand. I’d met amazing people, some of them doing the proper digital nomad thing. In the week after leaving the Castle I almost felt like a digital nomad myself, though I knew it was only temporary because I wasn’t making enough income to sustain that lifestyle.
I’ve always loved the idea of sitting on a beach, writing. But realistically, that’s a bad idea. Laptops and sand don’t mix very well. Even sitting out in the sun doesn’t work – you can’t see the screen. So really, being a digital nomad is more about being stuck inside with a fan blowing on your face locked in a room wishing you go to the beach.
Though it can work for some people. It’s about managing your time well. I found most people worked at night so they could get out and do things and day.
Quit your job and live your dream…if you’re already rich
Here’s the thing that’s probably obvious to most people – you need to have a good amount of savings behind you before you go freelance. I didn’t. Halfway through my stay at the Castle I decided to quit the main part of my job, the bit that bought in most of the money. I somehow now still have two part-time jobs and a bit of freelance work but all that together doesn’t cover my living costs. When I quit my job I knew I was letting myself in for this, but I’m still going to feel sorry for myself. This is my blog and I’ll have a whinge if I want to. Boo hoo. Poor me.
Let’s start with freelancer content mills – slave labour for self-employed people. They are disheartening to say the least. Every job has at least 50 people bidding on it. Everyone else has loads of reviews five stars and it just seems like there’s no way you can compete. I feel like I’ve spent most of the last four months being ignored. Even when applying for “real-life” jobs too.
Ghosting beyond dating
In the dating world, someone not messaging you back is called “ghosting” and it’s seen as a crappy way to treat someone. I think we need to start using this term for recruiters too. It’s not okay to ignore people! In my previous job I recruited people and I always responded to every applicant. Granted, I didn’t have hundreds, and I copy and pasted a template which I tweaked, but at least I responded. Application forms take a long time to fill out. Many employers don’t even respond after an interview, which is totally unacceptable. In fact, I don’t think “ghosting” is a strong enough term for it. Any ideas for a new word? Answers on a post card.
The “successful” freelancers who make YouTube Videos about how to be a freelancer always talk about “finding your niche”. I have a few niche’s - body image and self-esteem, travel, relationships and yoga. But I realised the sub-text of “find your niche” is “pick a niche that pays” meaning something techy or business-y, or cryptocurrency-y (this is getting silly now), or something boring like that. Or, closer to my own niches - health and fitness – which is an absolute NO WAY from me. Health and fitness writing often has to buy into the worldwide myth that beauty comes in the form of a perfect body. Nope. No way. Not adding to that toxic message.
Through the last four months of trawling freelancer sites and watching these so-called “expert” freelancers on YouTube, I realised that I don’t want to write generic crap for the internet that I don’t believe in. I became a writer to write about important issues. I write in order to help people, to have an impact, to make people think. I need to write on my topics from my heart…but that’s going to make it a lot harder to make money.
My humungous online following of 22 people
I applied for a part-time administrator job. The interview went well and I was offered the job, only for them to ring me a few days later and tell me that they didn’t want to give me the job because they’d Googled me. Apparently I have too much of an online presence which, after a lengthy conversation with them I realised they meant they had issues with the things I write. I currently have 22 subscribers on YouTube for my Body image and Self-Esteem series. I’m guessing about five people will read this post, all of them people I know. I do not have a big online following – if I did, I wouldn’t have been applying for that job.
Many of the things I’ve written are about pretty heavy subjects, which could be triggering to some people, and some of it contains sexual content and swearing. I always use trigger warnings and list extra resources for support where appropriate. My posts always have the intention of raising awareness of an issue with a solution-based ending, usually with a general message of kindness and compassion.
Over the past few years it has become my priority to write about gender equality and body positivity – I’ve realised it’s my passion and it’s the way (I hope) I can help people. I feel it’s really important to be talking about the controversial, big taboo issues, using trigger warnings where required of course. How will we ever start a dialogue otherwise? There are loads of terrible people on the internet who say terrible things (Men’s Rights Activists for instance). I am not one of them.
It was a real knock to my confidence when I was refused the job, but I’m trying to use it as a tool to make me even more determined to write what I believe in. I’m not always going to please everyone and that’s okay.
Self-doubt and self-esteem
Being a freelancer is pretty hard, but I can’t feel too sorry for myself because at least I have a bit of money coming in. Not succumbing to the self-doubt is the hardest part. Rejection, being ignored, ghosting (I’m making that a thing now, see?) is all really bloody hard to shake off, especially when you’ve struggled with self-esteem issues like me.
Working for yourself, whatever it is you do, means that you haven’t got anybody tell you if you’re doing a good job or not. One of the hardest things for many writers is maintaining that self-belief, whether they’re writing fiction or non-fiction. The ones who seem to “make it” are the ones that keep going despite doubting themselves and despite thinking they don’t know what they’re doing. I’m trying to get to that level of confidence but it’s a long road ahead.
My body image and self-esteem videos have really challenged me. I don’t like being on screen, but the more I do it, the more I’ll hopefully get used to it. This is me doing the “fake it ‘til you make it” thing.
My newest challenge is writing a new book. It’s non-fiction - about body image and self-esteem too. At first I thought it might be easier than writing fiction, but since then I’ve just had the niggling voices saying “what do you know about this? You’re not an expert - you can’t do this.” I read a great book on self-esteem by Dr David Hamilton called “I 🖤 me”. He’s a scientist and an “expert” but he said that writing this book made him realise that he had almost no real self-esteem. He learnt as he wrote the book. I keep telling myself this now – I will learn through writing my own book, then hopefully it might help others. Lived experiences and storytelling is the way forward. By sharing our own journey, we can help others. I’m one of those people that can give advice but I never seem to take on my own advice. I need to keep practising. Learning to unpick the critical voices takes time.
It doesn’t matter if you’re not the best writer in the world, your story needs to be told. Stay true to what you believe in and keep on keeping on. Now I just need to start believing that myself.
You can check out my writing and editing business here - Write Kerfuffle (during my Content Castle stay the other residents and I realised our love for the word "kerfuffle").
If you want to keep up-to-date with my videos and blogs, follow my Facebook page called The Compassionate Feminist.
And if you want to check out some interesting talks in your area, check out Funzing (if you like TED Talks, you’ll love these!)
Hello to all my fans eagerly refreshing their screens waiting for me to post a blog post. Yes, that means my mum. Hi mum - you’re allowed to read this one, it’s not very rude.
So I’m in Thailand! This trip has been a long time in the making. I wasn’t sure if it could ever happen - a three-month sabbatical from two jobs seemed like a lot to sort out. But it happened, I’m here! So far I’ve mainly posted idyllic pictures on Facebook and Instagram to annoy everyone back in England, but in an effort to be a little more real and honest, this is where you’ll get the whingy bits and possibly some descriptions of my poo if you’re lucky.
It’s fair to say that my journey here was crap. Delayed flight, then cancelled flight, then waiting and more waiting, and all whilst I had a horrible cold/flu thing with aches and pains. We (‘we’ refers to me and the long-suffering boyfriend, John) arrived on the same day we were meant to at least, but it was too late to get a ferry to Koh Phi Phi. So we stayed a night in Phuket, which was… meh. Didn’t have time to explore, we just ate in a strange restaurant with some kind of weird funnel decor, then headed over to Koh Phi Phi the next morning. I’ve been to Phi Phi before but it was nine years ago so I didn’t recognise anything. No, that’s not because I was drunk the whole time I was there last time, although that does seem to be what everybody on the island does now.
Koh Phi Phi is much nicer in the mornings when all the 20-year-old backpackers are either still asleep or have their heads in toilets puking up their “super strong bucket” contents from the previous night. One morning I went for a walk on the beach at 8am and saw the locals working away, clearing the beach of cups and bottles, neon clothes and rogue flip flops. Litter is so bad on Koh Phi Phi, they have to charge 20 baht to everyone on entry. They may as well call it the “tourists are shit” tax. It makes me ashamed to be a tourist sometimes. Is it that hard just not to trash the beautiful beach you’re partying on?
There are A LOT of tattoo shops on Koh Phi Phi. I’ve never seen so many in one place. They’re all open really late, interspersed with bucket venders which is probably no coincidence. I’m beginning to realise the “shit Mel did in Thailand nine years ago” really wasn’t that bad – at least I didn’t get a bad tattoo after too much vodka and Red Bull.
One of the main reasons for going to Koh Phi Phi is to do the obligatory boat trip to “The Beach”. That’s the one from the film with Leonardo DiCaprio, which is a mediocre film at best but the book is much better. I did a similar trip nine years ago. Most trips involve going:
1. To piss off some monkeys
2. To piss off some fish
3. To piss off other tourists at said famous beach
Monkey Beach is a tiny beach inhabited only by monkeys who probably just want to be left alone but stupid tourists keep taking selfies with them. (Note to self – short story idea: Zombie Monkeys on a Beach).
Next, we went to a gorgeous green lagoon where some middle-aged Russians who thought they were 15 repeatedly did backflips off our boat. Then there was the snorkelling, which was nice but I guess I’ve been spoilt being as my first ever snorkelling experience was the Great Barrier Reef. Then we approached a cliff face and our driver announced “Maya Bay” (which is The Beach). I looked up at what can only be described as a PE teacher’s wet dream… and my worst nightmare: lots of jagged half-submerged rocks and climbing ropes. I really dislike longtail boats, and getting on and off hadn’t been easy, but I hadn’t been expecting an obstacle course too. From what I remembered, the last time I went the boat had gone straight into the bay.
At least it wasn’t just me. A lot of people were struggling - clambering over rocks, wading through water, desperately trying not to fall with their bags. I’m not sure if this is an effort to keep too many boats out of the bay, or if it’s meant to give more of an authentic Leonardo DiCaprio experience, but at least Maya Bay was as amazing as I remembered…when I finally got there. I’ve still got the bruises to show for it.
Sharing the bay with lots of other tourists is unavoidable. There is no accommodation and no camping, though I think there used to be… but guess why there’s not now? Because tourists are shit. The slogan for the Maya Bay experience should just be ‘this is why we’re not allowed to have nice things’. So that was the beach trip over and done with. It’s still a gorgeous beach, and I still hate longtail boats.
Now I’m on Koh Lanta, which is way more chilled out. We’re staying at a place called Sanctuary which has everything I wanted – beach, yoga, good food and a basic beach hut. As I write I’m hiding under a mosquito net trying not to need a wee because it’s raining and the toilet is outside. The outside bathroom was a novelty at first until I had to fight off ants and mosquitos last night. Still, you can’t beat having a poo wearing sunglasses, looking up at the clouds.
Thanks for reading, part two coming in a bit.
Ps My poo is okay, don’t worry.
Somehow, both of my jobs are letting me take a three-month sabbatical to go to Thailand in January 2018. I'm getting a bit old though - I'm just about to turn 35 and people keep telling me that's pretty much 40, which is pretty much middle-aged, which is pretty much dead. All the more reason to go.
So whilst I ponder if I can get away with telling every person I meet that I’m 27, I've also been reflecting on my first few trips to Thailand (and around South East Asia) and some of the silly things I did that I really shouldn't do again…
Drink things from buckets
In my experience, this meant one of two things – either you don't know what’s in the bucket, or you do and you drink it anyway.
Vodka, whiskey, Red Bull and Coke = green diarrhoea. That was a valuable lesson.
Ride an elephant
A serious one. I'm not proud of myself. It was nearly a decade ago. I was naive going into it thinking all the elephants were going to be showered with luxury in beautiful surroundings by loving hippy type people who treated them like Gods. As soon as I got there I knew that wasn't the case. The elephant was being controlled with a stick digging into its head and the poor thing was actually bleeding.
I didn't have the confidence to say I wanted to get off. Riding an elephant was meant to be a beautiful experience, everybody else seemed to love it so I just went along with it. As I said, I'm not proud of myself. I went along with these silly things just for my silly backpacker metaphorical tick box.
I'm sorry to all the elephants. I'm glad I never petted a sedated tiger.
Be a sex tourist
I’m now wondering how many times I'm going to use the phrase "I'm not proud of myself" in this post. If you're my mum or my boss then stop reading.
When you're in Patpong – the red light district in Bangkok - and the first man you see asks if you want to go to a "lady show", you should probably just say no. I often joke that my first date with my boyfriend was a ping-pong show, yet somehow were still together. It's a cultural experience, I thought. Something everyone needs to try when in Bangkok. Turns out, ping-pong balls have multiple uses and so do ribbons and razor blades.
The women looked bored. The atmosphere with seedy. There was not an ounce of respect between anyone. Some Thai girls came over and put full drinks down on our table and I knew what was going on. I started to feel an impending sense of doom, and knew that we were going to be presented with a huge bill as soon as we got up to leave. And indeed we did. We protested but there suddenly seemed to be a lot of stocky, stern-looking Thai guys surrounding us. I knew we'd have to pay it, but we didn't have enough cash on us. I wasn't sure what the safer option was – stay there with a bunch of scary Thai guys who might kidnap me (yes, I've watched too many films), or go out to the cash machine. I chose cash machine and left my boyfriend with the Thai mafia watching women pulling ribbons out of their vagina's like clowns pull handkerchiefs out of their pockets.
There was a cash machine just downstairs but it didn't seem to be working. It wasn't giving any cash out so I started to freak out as my chauffeur (the guy who was standing next to me to make sure I got the money) told me would have to go to another which was "not far." I was convinced that this was it – I was going to die. This was all part of their evil plan, to pretend the cash machine wasn't working and lead me down to an underground cellar where they chop up backpackers for being horrible sex tourists. I'd be fed to snakes or have my fingers chopped off and sent home as ransom. Again too many films, I apologise.
He actually took me to a working cash machine. I didn't get robbed, in fact he didn't even talk to me or look at me and neither did anybody else. I went back and handed over the money and suddenly there were no stocky Thai guys and we were free to go. We got straight to the taxi as my boyfriend started to tell me about the finale – razor blades. I’d paid a small fortune but missed supposedly the best party trick, though I think it’s something I’ve been able to live without seeing.
I really hoped that most of the money would go to those women with the vagina's full of ribbons and balls, but it probably didn't.
Consume anything with the word ‘happy’ before it
Happy shake. Happy pizza. Technically this wasn't in Thailand but it's still good advice for myself. I made the mistake of having a happy shake. It did not make me happy. Yes, I was aware it had drugs in it (mum, you definitely shouldn't be reading this now) but I thought it was only a bit of weed and it would just make me sleepy or giggly. It didn't actually take effect until the next day when I had to do a 6 hour bus trip through the mountains of northern Laos. I just felt wrong, that’s the only way to describe it. Just wrong. Sick and out of control and spaced out yet anxious, it was horrible. People have suggested maybe it wasn't just weed. There's a high chance they could be right (no pun intended).
That was the second worst bus trip of my life. The worst was 16 hours on the back seat of a bumpy bus in the foothills of the Himalayas. Fun.
Get in a Tuk Tuk on Koh San Road
There is a magical place where all the backpackers stay in Bangkok called Koh San road. It's loud, busy, noisy crazy, everything you'd expect it to be. If you've seen the start of The Beach, it's like that – drunken backpackers, overpriced souvenirs, scams galore. So when a guy offers very reasonably priced tuk tuk ride to see "all the temples", trust me – you'll be lucky to see any temples. I made this mistake. First we went to a jewellery shop. Then we went to a suit shop. Then we went to a travel agent who told me I absolutely had to book every night's accommodation and tour with them because everything was full. Everything. Having spoken to many other people who've been taken on one of these tuk tuk magical mystery tours, I should probably think myself lucky. I got dropped off at the same point as I started and I paid what we arranged. Many others were dropped off miles away, not having a clue where they were, and were charged a lot more money.
I never did actually see any temples in Bangkok.
Stay in a guesthouse with mirrors on the ceiling
The first time I went to Thailand, I'd heard about the debauchery of Koh San road – the aforementioned backpacker area - and decided against it. In hindsight, sometimes it's better to be around other travellers when you're travelling alone in Asia for the first time. But I was feeling very brave after a year in Australia so I took a recommendation from a friend (cheers Dave…not) and stayed in a place which I thought might be a bit quieter. There were other foreigners staying but they were mainly expats - older men with Thai girlfriends who were screaming at them most of the time. I don't like the cliché of the screaming Thai wife, but that’s all I heard, though the men seemed to have little respect for them so that was probably why. They’d watch sport together most evenings and didn’t seem too pleased that I was hanging around trying to make conversation. It was one of those special boys clubs where they have to prove their masculinity to each other by being overly aggressive watching guys kick a ball around a field.
The room was huge and was quite lovely, though the mirror on the ceiling and the round bed were a little disconcerting. I'd emailed and arranged a rate to pay in advance, but of course I got talked into paying a lot more in the end. It was my first time in Thailand, I was terrified but pretending I wasn't. Other travellers always told me I had to barter more, but I didn't feel I could sometimes. I'd certainly be more keen to stand my ground now, but it's good to keep in mind that what you're haggling over is often very little to us - they need that money a lot more than we do.
There was one nice guy staying there, he was British and I think he felt bad for me and took me out to get pizza. It felt pathetic to go for pizza when there was so much amazing Thai food to try, but sometimes you need a few home comforts just to cope. At least I was there. It did get easier.
I didn't like Bangkok at all. I only stayed a couple of days, then made a 17 hour journey to the southern islands. I’d purchased a train/bus/boat combination ticket (not from the dodgy travel agents) which in fact meant motorbike/tuk tuk/bus/train/bus/boat/truck or something along those lines. I just got ferried on and off stuff and hoped that at some point I’d arrive near some kind of beach. When I finally got to Koh Phangan, it looked like paradise. I stayed on one of the most beautiful beaches I've ever seen (I can’t even remember what it was called now) in a gorgeous little blue bungalow. I made friends with a couple of cool British girls and we went to the Half Moon Party together (a rave in the jungle), which of course involved too many buckets of concoctions.
After, I went to Koh Phi Phi and met a friend of a friend - Bruce - who I'd met once before and we spent a few days together. We went to THE beach - the one with Leonardo Di Caprio (he wasn't there, but he was in The Beach) - and I ran into a huge lizard which was pretty much a dinosaur. I thought I was going to die but then I didn't. I didn't even have my camera on me so have no photographic evidence so you'll have to take my word for it.
Despite only having a short time together, I felt like Bruce and I got rather close. I wanted to travel for longer with him but I was going to Australia and had only left about 2 days in which to get down to Singapore, overland. Bruce passed away earlier this year sadly, but I'll always have fond memories of our time together. It's amazing how you can have such a connection with somebody even if you only know them for a short time. Travelling offers so many of these beautiful little connections.
Everything is an adventure and an opportunity to learn more about yourself and the world, and that be at ANY age.
In January 2018, I'll be going back to the south of Thailand to focus on yoga and writing. I want to read a lot and chill out a bit – having two jobs and a constant niggle of ‘you should be writing’ has been getting tiring. But let's face it, I'm probably just going to sit on beaches take pictures and post them on Instagram to piss off everyone back in England.
I'm excited to be going to a place called The Content Castle. It's a house specifically designed for writers on Koh Samui. I'm going to be writing for them and staying for a month in what looks like a beautiful, colourful house. I've got just under three months away, 12 weeks off work. I'm excited but nervous, which is strange because I’m meant to be older, wiser, more sensible and experienced. However, sometimes I look back at my 25-year-old self and admire the resilience I had. I was stupid but resilient.
I’m mainly hoping to finish off some projects – my screenplays and novel – but I’ll be writing a few blog posts of course. I’ll probably overshare massively so if you want to hear about my bowel movements then you’ll love it. Also, if you want to be jealous of my pictures (why wouldn’t you?) I'll be posting most of them on Instagram so follow me here: @melciavucco
Thanks for reading.
I’ve never really seen myself as a performer... but last week I threw chocolate buttons, wine and glitter in my face at the Bristol Festival of Literature Flash Slam.
The thought of doing any kind of improv class scares the crap out of me. I hated drama classes at school, though of course I preferred them to the pure evil that was PE classes. For someone who so desperately wished I could be somebody else when I was growing up, I was too scared to pretend. I hated anything which meant being loud, or in fact having to speak at all. I never thought I would ever want to speak in front of an audience.
I first read a story aloud at Let Me Tell You a Story, Jack. It’s a friendly mixture of an open mic/comedy/storytelling night and the audience is warm and friendly. I read my story Poked by an Alien which had come 3rd place in the Henshaw Press writing competition so I had reasonable faith that the story wasn’t shit. I’d practiced it over and over so I was as confident as I could be, yet still not confident at all. I didn’t want to read it but I knew I had to, after all, how could I ever be a famous author if I can’t even read my work aloud in public? Plus all the rest of my writing group had started reading at storytelling nights and I couldn’t be left behind. So I read the story, managed not to fuck it up, and got a prestigious Let Me Tell You a Story, Jack medal. Then the adrenaline kicked in and I got very drunk. Hurrah.
Shortly after that, my writing group - Stokes Croft Writers - set up our own storytelling night called Talking Tales. Reading at that and other storytelling nights more regularly meant it became marginally less terrifying, but still scary. I’ve always tried to force myself into doing things if they scare me. It’s confidence building. Though in all honesty, reading/performing is a rollercoaster and I’m still not sure how much I really enjoy it. I’m super anxious beforehand. A minute before I get on stage I feel like I’m about to piss and/or crap myself. When I’m on stage I try not to think that it’s really me there or else I might just freeze under the strain of knowing all of those eyes are on me. After is the good part, the relief that it’s over. Sometimes people come and compliment me which I try to take graciously but I’m still not great at that. Then comes my worry. Was it actually good? Did people actually laugh, or was that laughing in fact at me? It’s hard to continually have faith in your own creativity, especially if, like me, you’ve struggled with low confidence and self-esteem all your life.
I stepped it up to Show and Tell, which is less storytelling more comedy and a bigger audience (Wardrobe Theatre in Bristol). At least there you can put something up on a screen so they don’t all stare at you. I recommend a badly drawn picture of a penis with 3 pieces of jizz, it’s a good distraction.
Last week at the Flash Slam, I read my most performance-based story yet. It’s called Proper Chill (you can read it HERE – it’s very short) and it involves a list of all the stuff I – meaning the protagonist - want to do. It is of course fiction and not at all based on anything I’ve done or would want to do. Not at all. Ahem. So I threw chocolate over myself (such a waste of chocolate, I’m sorry), downed half a bottle of Chardonnay and threw glitter over my head, which took two days to wash out. It was a lot of fun, but I was terrified beforehand. There was the extra pressure of not letting my writing group down as we’d won the Flash Slam the previous year and we were not going to let one of those other pesky writing groups win. No way.
I didn’t intend to swear so much in the story, but I told myself to really go for it and I think the extra ‘fucks’ just automatically slipped in. Angie Belcher, who did a wonderful job of hosting the evening, called me ‘the Liam Gallagher of flash’ which I can only presume is because I’m so rock n roll… either that or I’m a massive northern knobhead. Hmmmm.
But we won! Our team was called Cillit Bang Slam and was made up of myself and the wonderful Christie Cluett, Mark Rutterford and Chris Fielden. In the final round, we all had to write a story together in just ten minutes. I don’t have a copy to share with you as I’ve no doubt Christie has probably burnt or eaten it out of either secrecy or shame, I’m not sure which. I can tell you that it involved the line ‘Ere, put this smelly coat on. Where we’re going it’s gonna get wet.’ Pure genius.
So this is the bit where I conclude this post and say what lessons I’ve learnt or something like that. I guess it’s that I like performing occasionally if it involves wine and glitter. I think I’ll save the chocolate for eating only next time. Maybe one day I’ll make it up to Jarvis Cocker status instead of Liam Gallagher. Either way, I think I’ll always be nervous as hell but I’ll do it anyway.
Check out the Bristol Festival of Literature events – there’s over a week of stuff going on and many of them are free!
In other news, I’ll be going to Thailand for three months as of Mid-January 2018! I’m planning on writing a separate blog post along the lines of ‘shit Mel did in Thailand 9 years ago that she won’t be doing this time now she’s supposedly all grown up and what-not’. I hope you like smug beach pictures because my social media is going to FULL of them.
Thanks for reading!
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!