Sunday, 9 October 2016

Celebrity for a day - Cheltenham Literature Festival 2016

Friday 7th October 2016. I have been invited to attend the Cheltenham Literature Festival as a speaker on a panel discussing a beautiful new anthology of sexy stories 'Desire' published by Head of Zeus and chosen by Mariella Frostrup and my agent Lisa Moylett who is also editor of the Erotic Review. An extract from The Silver Chain, the first in my erotic romance series, is published in the collection, so Lisa took me up on my offer to 'do anything to help publisise' my and other erotica writers' work.

My husband Ted comes with me, partly for moral support but mainly because for the pleasure of talking about erotica the festival offers me a hotel room for the night - my first taste of what it's like to be treated like someone important - and it would be a waste to stay there alone. The journey to Cheltenham is fraught with tension. Although I've done workshops before, it was three years ago at York Literary Festival and public speaking is nerve-wracking at the best of times.

We arrive at the Queens Hotel and are tickled to be greeted as Mr and Mrs Bond. It's a pseudonym, but for one night only it is my real identity. Later Ted is chuffed when the staff say to him, 'Good evening, Mr Bond!' We are upgraded to a suite, which makes us feel even more important. A stunning room, and Ted's eyes gleam, because he knows what a big sumptuous hotel bed does to me.

But for the moment I'm too tense to enjoy it. We check into what I was told would be the Writers' Room, but actually has a big VIP notice on the door. Finally, I am a celebrity! Free drinks, alcohol and food are on offer, but I'm still too nervous to eat. We are given wrist tags, and finally belong to the community of guest speakers!

I distract myself by going to a talk by Ian McEwan on his new book 'Nutshell'. What a seasoned speaker he is, confident, funny, but still with the slightly rumpled look of the solitary writer.
Then it's time to meet the gang. We are to meet in the VIP room and be escorted to The Times Garden Theatre for our event.  Funnily enough as soon as I see Lisa, who I already know, and Anna Maconochie, the fellow author speaking on the panel, my heart rate slows to something less frenetic. The actress Anna Chancellor is there. She's going to read extracts of the book and is an absolutely lovely woman. Despite being a rather haughty character on screen, she is warm and lovable in real life and I feel we are mates - alas, just for one night!

Mariella is similarly absolutely lovely. I guess being a TV and film addict makes me star struck, but she has no airs and graces at all and in fact admits to being just as nervous as the rest of us, despite years of presenting experience. We discuss whether or not a glass of wine is a good idea. Everyone shuffles their feet, but when I say I'm going to have a small one (after days of abstinence), the others rush to join me. Ted stops me having a second one, on a stomach empty of anything except half an apple.  Feeling better. Selfie time again! That's not a pimple on my face, by the way - it's the mike they've attached so we can all be heard in the pretty enormous scary space.

And so to the stage. It's 9pm. A late slot, presumably bearing in mind the content of our discussion, which will include 'f' and 'c' and 'w' words as it gets warmed up. The lights are bright in our eyes, curiously comforting because the audience of perhaps 600 odd becomes an invisible sea of heads - friendly heads, as Ted reminds me before he vanishes into their midst. They're here because they want to hear what we have to say, not to heckle or be hostile. I have some notes on the stories of the anthology I particularly liked, and a couple of quotes I want to use, but never look at them. Mariella is a pro interviewer. After a funny introduction she asks me and Anna in turn about how and why we started writing erotica.  I relate how I started my erotica career as a love-lorn secretary turning rejected sex scenes into short stories when bored at work. When I sold my first to a magazine for £150, my career of short stories, novellas and novels began.

We discuss erotica as a genre, and I emphasise my enthusiasm for turning the every day into the extraordinary, with the help of inspiration and experience. Imagination as travel agent.  Finding love and sex in the most unexpected places, all the more powerful for being suggestive rather than explicit. I kick myself later that I don't illustrate the power of the short, sweet and subtle by referencing one of the early mobile phone ads, when texts were just being introduced. The commercial shows a frazzled woman on an escalator going to work. She gets a text: Hello Sexy. She blushes, glances round to see if anyone has noticed (the precursor of the ebook, where of course no-one can see what you are reading). You wonder who it's from. Then the sender says: How about we send the kids to the grandparents and we go away for the weekend? So you know it's from her husband, it's loving, it takes her by surprise, and it's incredibly erotic.

We discuss the difference between erotica and porn which to me is very stark. Porn is brutal, immediate, visual, unemotional, belittling. Erotica is suggestive, imaginative, enhancing and takes you to another world.  In answer to a further question, which is why is erotica necessary/growing in a world saturated by porn and sex,  I reiterate that it's as meaningful as ever, designed to transport readers away from daily life, into fantasies and exotic locations , while hopefully embellishing what they will come back to in the bedroom. Actually I'm not sure I put it as eloquently as that on the night, which is annoying, but I'm sharing it with you now.

Then the floor was opened up to questions, the first being what did we all think of Fifty Shades of Grey. I leap to answer that, which is to say that while I don't rate the writing and lack of editing of the trilogy, the rest of us erotica writers have to thank the Fifty Shades phenomenon for reinvigorating the erotica market which by then was dying a death.

Anna reads one more sexy, naughty extract in her flowing, deep, humorous voice, and the session is over. Mikes are removed, high heels exchanged for trainers, and we are led across the now dark Imperial Square to the Waterstones tent, to sign our book. One of the lovely volunteers guiding us asks if he can get us anything to drink. Five heads snap round. Wine! we all whoop, in unison.

In Waterstones a small but enthusiastic queue forms, clutching the wonderful, if enormous, volume now on sale, and the four of us sign it, fortified by several glasses of wine. Some copies of The Silver Chain are also available, which I sign for anyone who wants to be introduced to the passionate love story between Gustav and Serena! By now it's nearly 11pm and Waterstones is closing, so Ted and I bid farewell to our new friends and wander back to the hotel, where we enjoy a couple more glasses before repairing to our very sexy room - perhaps to practice some of the activities that we discussed earlier...

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Living with Primula - by husband Ted

Living with Primula
by Ted Bond

By rights Primula Bond should have given me the first fee she ever earned, because she earned it writing her first erotic story in my time. She was my secretary, employed by me, and she was using the one word processor we possessed in the office back in 1995 to write Man in a Cage, which was subsequently accepted by the now defunct magazine For Women. She was paid the princessly sum of £150 and was chuffed to bits to be paid for something that she enjoyed so much.
She claims she composed, typed, edited and printed the story out in the space of her lunch hour, but I suspect that the truth is that the lure of writing about a naked man delivered in a cage as a birthday present to a lonely, Chardonnay drinking singleton far outweighted the joys of drafting leases, conveyances and wills.
Every time after that when I saw her nimble fingers tripping over the keyboard, I wondered what smut she was composing this time, and perhaps allowed myself the odd furtive question about what else they were capable of doing. More poignantly, though, I had to wait another eight years before was holding those slender fingers in mine as we walked down the aisle.
Our own story is itself the stuff of (almost) doomed romance. When I first arrived at a Hampshire practice of solicitors in 1991, Primula Bond came with the package as my secretary. She was a stunningly attractive, auburn-haired single mother. I was a battered and bruised, prematurely grey divorcee. We had a lot in common, and instantly struck up a very close, humourous friendship. We developed a habit of writing increasingly risque limericks on telephone memo pads and leaving under each other's noses when on the phone trying to be businesslike.
She claims she fancied me almost from the word go, and when she confided as much to one of her work mates, that mate agreed that I had that silver fox look of a guy who 'would rip off your knickers with his teeth.'
Poor Primula even had one or two suggestive dreams about me in those early days, apparently, which must have been disconcerting for her when she had to buckle down to my dreary dictation each morning. I say 'poor' because owing to a fairly chequered past love life she was too shy to rush into declaring her feelings for me. She was biding her time to pounce, in the best traditions of an erotic heroine. Meanwhile my confidence levels were also pretty low and I was totally blind to her blushing intentions. I thought I was her boss and friend, nothing more, and I assumed that at 29 and 13 years younger than me, she would never think of me in any sexual way.
So when I upped, dated, proposed to and married another woman in haste, a few months after we first met, Primula was devastated. She came to the wedding as a guest and put on a brave face, but developed a cracking migraine and says it was the worst day of her life. She could see me but not reach me, and felt marginalised in the sea of hats and frocks, unremarkable at the time to me and my family, and it is to my eterntal regret that I didn't know how she felt until it was far too late. We could have saved so much precious time. Anyway, having seen me fly off from that wedding reception in a white helicopter, going on honeymoon with the wrong woman, Primula was convinced that henceforth I would only ever be the one that got away.
Certainly she bravely continued working for me after that wedding, even though I was now living just down the road with my new wife, and something, life, frustration, longing, galvanised her into writing that first story under the harsh striplights of my office, with people nattering around the water cooler. In the calmer times of recent years Primula still finds inspiration all over the place. She'll find ideas in a tableau glimpsed from a rushing train, a snatched overheard conversation, an anecdote, memories of her own travels, relationships or bizarre temp jobs. Or she'll just pluck a random thought, an imagined scenario from her over-active imagination. Writing is a wonderful way of escaping the mundane, a free holiday, while enhancing our observations.
But what started it all off back was probably the trauma and frurstration of seeing me marry someone else (only then to witness my obvious unhappiness while she could only stand by and watch) combined with her own vain search for true love in her own life. And they do say that adversity and heartbreak are what drive the best writers.
What was the loss for those over-priced dating agencies she joined eventually became my gain.
Either way she remained working for me for a couple more years before abruptly uprooting herself and her little son and vamoosing back to London to get on with her life. When my marriage broke down after seven years I phoned her up in her little flat in Earls Court, as she had invited me to do. I expected her to be long gone by then, married to some dashing City tycoon, but as luck would have it she was free. I took her out to dinner, we talked until the small hours, and we've been inseparable ever since. Not wishing to waste any more time, we married just under two years later when she was six months' pregnant with the elder of our two boys, and thirteen years on the rest is a blissfully happy history.
Primula has an MA from Oxford University in English Literature and since she was about eight years old her ambition, through a varied career including teaching children in Cairo, temping in London and, of course, working for me, has been to write a best selling literary novel in her real name, but until that dream comes true she is making her way as a freelance features writer as well as proving to be pretty damn successful at writing erotica. Her editor has been hugely supportive of her and her work all through their journey together from Black Lace through Accent Press to the new 'Mischief' series at the Avon imprint at Harper Collins. And what could be more flattering than being periodically asked, begged sometimes, to give him another story, or another novel?
She also lends something of her more academic side as well as her experience to providing critiques for aspiring writers of erotica, feeling passionately about getting the basics of grammar and construction right alongside any creative flair before submitting work to a busy editor.
Now to the nitty gritty of life with an erotic writer. What everyone wants to know is, do we spend our weekends swinging from the chandeliers, swinging in other ways, exploring al fresco options, dressing as tarts and vicars, investigating fetish clubs, or working out how various Ann Summers-style contraptions work in order to be diligent in our research for her next novel? Well, put it this way. I still think she is super gorgeous and we are a normal, healthy, close and loving couple who laugh a lot and have busy lives and an energetic boyish family. Sometimes EastEnders and a takeaway is about as much fun as we get if we're too darned tired, but we do try to spend as much of our time as money will allow getting away from it all, eating, drinking and pampering ourselves in hotel rooms.
Aside from all that, however, my wife has an extremely vivid, nay graphic imagination which can transport her far away from the deep, deep calm of the marital bed right back to the hurly burly of the chaise-longue. And bearing in mind that as well as all the usual content you would expect ie overbearing bosses, lusty landladies and inexperienced lodgers, ingenue photographers, prowling cougars, nuns, even (in her latest work) vampires, quite a lot of her novels revolve around lesbian sex, I can honestly say that I have no direct experience of that, being a red blooded male and all.
Primula's love of food, clothes and perfume is always indulged in her stories, along with her love of exotic travel. So she takes great pride in transporting her readers from their semi in Staines to a slick penthouse suite in Manhattan or a back-street convent in Venice and so much the better. The imagination is a great, cheap alternative to travelling.
As for Primula's own experiences? Well, buy one of her books or e-books and you'll be as convinced as her legions of fans that she knows all there is to know about whip-lashing dominatrixes and threesomes!
One of the hilarious aspects of our life together is that outwardly we are ordinary, respectable, fun loving people. If you met me at work you'd think I was a typical country solicitor and because she is tall and slim Primula at the school gate has been known to be considered a little haughty - until people hear her dirty laugh. But then there's this other side, the cool looking wife who writes this explicit stuff on the side and the husband who supports her fully in her efforts, and this dichotomy is always a show stopper at dinner parties.
Thanks to 50 Shades I really think that erotica will become less and less shocking, especially if written intelligently and well as Primula does, and more and more just another successful genre of writing. Certainly at the last dinner party, with very good friends, they women all seemed to have read 50 Shades without batting an eyelid. So Primula, who before has forbidden her friends from reading her books in case they never speak to her or look her in the eye again, feels that perhaps now her books will reach more people, and therefore make a little more money.
Primula's parents have not and will not read her work, and would obviously prefer to see her name emblazoned in the window of Waterstones rather than available only on Amazon. But then so would she! As for our children, well, my grown up daughter and son-in-law who live abroad have read her books, in fact in the German edition (Primula is very big in Germany and Italy!), and thoroughly approve. Primula's sister is a firm promoter. Primula's eldest son used to be toe-curlingly embarrassed and would turn the books back to front in the shelves when his friends came over, and he still doesn't think it's cool, but now he sighs and says, 'Mother, when are you going to write something sensible so we can all retire and go and live on a tropical island somewhere?'
Hear, hear, I say.
I wish I could say we are constantly and vigorously researching each and every scene of her new book, but the truth is that I have barely seen her in the last two weeks because she has the bit between her teeth (take whatever inuendo you like from that) trying to emulate the current craze for erotica, kick-started by the phenomenal success of 50 Shades of Grey. She is either up half the night writing or leaping out of bed at 2am to rush downstairs to get something down before she forgets the idea. Understandably she's driven both by ambition and downright fury that someone has achieved overnight success doing something Primula and her co-writers have been doing for 20 years or more.
As for whether I ever remover her underwear with my teeth? Well, that's for me to know and you to find out!

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Me, me, me - answering random questions about myself

Do you put any of your own likes/dislikes into your characters? i.e.: Food, photography, voyeurism?

I love using my characters as an excuse to harp on about my own interests such as photography, food and travel. Serena is an enhanced version of what I was l like at that age, or how I would have liked to have been, and my other characters are usually much better photographers, cooks and travellers than I am! My more colourful, adventurous characters are also useful vehicles for experiencing some of the more outrageous practices that I may or may not have tried, or may or may not be good at! But I try to be accurate in my description of an activity or interest, because beady eyed readers can always spot inaccuraries. As for dislikes, those tend to be more character traits such as jealousy, manipulation, deception, and those are all heaped on the shoulders of the 'bad guys' in the stories.

You were asked by Harper Collins to write the Silver Train trilogy. Did you already have Gustav and Serena in your mind?

Only in shadowy outline. In fact Gustav started off as a vampire and Serena was going to be his earthly, red-blooded morsel. All similarities to Twilight characters were going to end there! So while that initial idea wasn't suitable it sowed the seed at least of the physical characteristics. Gustav's sinister dark looks were the basis for his complicated past. As for Serena, as I say, she's a kind of enhanced version of me, so she was always semi-formed in my head. Starting the story on Halloween night gave me all sorts of opportunity to paint a picture of the characters and play with the idea of masks, costumes and illusions. After all, we all hold something back when we first meet someone, especially if we think they could overpower us if we don't keep our mystique!

Did you travel to New York when you wrote The Golden Locket?

My dream is one day to be rich/famous enough to travel for research purposes, but actually I based their journey and experiences in New York on two great holidays I've had in the last four years, once alone with my husband at Valentine's, and once for New Year's with our kids, and I absolutely loved it. I am longing to go back in spring or summer, because it was DASHED cold when I was there!

Will you do any of their story in Gustav’s POV? I would love to know what he is thinking and feeling. 

I have wrestled with this idea for the third book because I can see why readers would welcome the occasional shift of viewpoint, but on balance I feel that having got this far without his innermost thoughts, it would be difficult structurally and I think jar with the flow of the narrative suddenly to interpose his thoughts. If you think about it, we are all to a certain extent inside ourselves, looking out. I am incredibly close to my husband, and all the world can see how much we love each other, but I will never look out through his eyes... and that's how it is with Serena. She's me, she's the reader, seeing, hearing, smelling, touching our lovers who are nevertheless separate beings. What I have done, and really hope it communicates to the reader, is try to make Gustav come alive physically and emotionally through Serena's eyes, especially as their relationship is tested to the limit in both Books 2 and 3, and ultimately reaches the heights of intensity and romance. I have also tried to show how he gives more and more of himself, becomes more relaxed and open, as the books progress.

Where did the original idea for the Unbreakable trilogy (now the Silver Chain series) come from?

The original idea started with Serena, who, like the Berocca adverts, is me, but on a really good day. Then I closed my eyes and envisaged, in glorious detail, my ideal man firstly in pure looks and then in character and background. Gustav actually started out as a vampire and I have retained the dark, mysterious, wolfish air he has about him. While her past is not remotely like mine, Gustav's bad marriage is based on real life stories I have been told and have wanted to portray in fictional terms, because there really are evil women like Margot out there... The rest followed quite naturally, once they had come to life. The challenge lay in bringing those two characters together in glorious locations, givin them fascinating occupations and plenty of adventure, while keeping it real, ie exploring how two such different people could meet, ignite, overcome threats and sabotage, and (hopefully) live happily ever after.

How much of a challenge is it writing a series? Is there an obligation to make each book better than the last?

A really interesting question.  I was pretty daunted at the idea of maintaining this story through three volumes, as I think some authors find they are spreading it pretty thin if they're not careful. At first I felt I'd given my all in The Silver Chain and just hoped that I could find enough to put into a second and third volume, let alone make them as good as the first. Also, at the time of writing The Golden Locket, I hadn't yet had the reaction of readers to The Silver Chain, so it was a bit like writing in the dark, or with ear muffs on – no idea how it would be received! But as the story progressed, and more characters and plot lines emerged, I found that, as with real life, there is always more to say. Obviously a writer's job is to condense that into a fictionalised world, so it will be stylised and manipulated to fit the parameters of your plan, but as an avid fan of mystery/thriller TV drama and film, I love the idea of cliffhangers, twists, and unexpected developments. If you leave each chapter/book on some kind of breathless moment, the next chapter/book becomes easier to start. If I'm honest I think that's why I enjoyed writing The Golden Locket and the third book more than writing The Silver Chain, because 'd already set up the main characters and situations, and now all I had to do was send them on their logical way. So, whisper it, but yes, I think The Golden Locket may be better! So what I'm hoping is that, while people really loved The Silver Chain, they will go wild about the sequels!

When writing your novels do you outline the plot first, or do you let the story go wherever it takes you?

A little bit of both. I do write a synopsis, broken down into chapters. I think a lot about it, and it helps me get over the dread of starting a new book, because I have given myself a framework to follow. Obviously then characters and plots will crop up which will deviate from the path, but at least I have some kind plan to keep me on the straight and narrow.

Location is obviously important to your story, how do you decide where in the world to take your characters?

After my first taste of travelling aged 18 (camping in Biarritz), I have loved it ever since. In fiction these locations add to the exoticism and luxury of the story, and is also relevant to the plot, but ultimately I weave that around places I have lived in myself, and/or travelled to. I have lived in London, Venice and Egypt (which I haven't written about this time, owing to current situation, but have shifted some of the action in Book 3 to Morocco instead), and I've visited all the other places such as New York, Paris etc more than once. It's a great excuse to revisit favourite areas, hotels, restaurants etc, pore over guidebooks, maps, etc, and go on the internet to check that I'm still up to date.

If The Silver Chain series was optioned for a TV drama/ movie, who would you like to play Serena, Gustav and Pierre?

We can but dream! My ultimate fantasy would be sitting in a cinema with a vast box of Maltesers watching those opening credits! My instinct if a film were made would be to swerve the Hollywood hype, be groundbreaking and original, and go for gorgeous unknowns. But to give an idea, I've always had Olivier Martinez, the French actor, in my mind for Gustav, Josh Holloway from 'Lost', or Dominic Zamprogna (from 'General Hospital'). They must have silky dark hair, haunted, Slavic cheek bones, black eyes, and the constant hint of unshavenness. Amanda Seyfried would make a great a red-haired Serena. Pierre would have to be a thicker set, younger version of Gustav, the Puerto Recan actor Sharlim Ortiz perhaps if he put on a little muscle. Polly could be the Swedish actress MyAnna Burring who was in 'Twilight' and also 'Downton Abbey'. Salma Hayek, Diane Lane, Rachel Weicz or Demi Moore could be Margot, the evil but charismatic ex-wife. Tilda Swinton could be Crystal, the enigmatic housekeeper, but she might steal the show! 

Do you read reviews of your novels? Do you take them seriously?

I read the first few reviews of The Silver Chain which just so happened to be a bit lukewarm. Although I took one or two comments to heart for the future, I found the sarcastic ones incredibly demoralising, almost physically a punch in the gut. I had to ask why people who came out and said they didn't like erotica were reviewing, well, erotica, and also why they also bother to post dodgy reviews on Twitter for all to see. Also I couldn't help noticing that the worse the review, the worse the grammar/spelling etc of the reviewer. Just saying. But yes, it's amazing how quickly you can lose confidence in what you thought was good work. After that I only read the good reviews which are sent to me by my editors and those I did take seriously because often they showed real knowledge of the story and characters and made valid points, and it warmed the cockles of me heart when they seemed to fall in love with them, too!

How long does it take to write a novel?

I've spent the best part of 2013 writing this trilogy. I'd say the first draft takes an average of two months to get down on paper/screen, and then you have to wait for the editor to come back with edits and re-writes which all in all can take another month or so. So roughly three months. I took the summer off because I wanted to clear my head between The Golden Locket and Book 3, and I had a writing conference to prepare for. I am very lucky because at the moment I only go out to work part time, so I do have whole days during school hours to write, and when deadlines are desperate my husband takes the boys out of the way so I can shut myself away at weekends, too. 
Do you have any writing rituals?
I write best when everyone is out of the house. I have a particular spot on a sofa where I write, and although I have to move around at weekends to find a peaceful place during the week that is my writing spot. I have loads of breaks, though, getting up to make coffee, watching Holly and Phil on TV, checking Twitter..
What was your favourite childhood book?
Anne of Green Gables, Little House on the Prairie, Little Women. Yep, I was that predictable!
Name one book that made you laugh?
Bizarrely I couldn't think of any fiction that made me laugh, but what makes me laugh out loud every time I pick it up, especially around Christmas time, is 'The Hamster That Loved Puccini' by Simon Hoggart, which is a collection of both nauseating and hilarious 'round robin' letters from smug families..
Name one book that made you cry?
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, by Jonathan Safron Foer. Written through the eccentric viewpoint of a little boy who has lost his dad in the 9/11 attacks.
Which book would you give to your best friend as a present?
What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn. Odd, strange, funny, sad. Unlikely setting behind the scenes in a shopping centre.
Are you inspired by any particular author or book?
I think I wanted to become a real writer whilst reading The Magus by John Fowles, lying on a beach on the island of Spetse where the book was set. It's mystical, scary, oblique, poetic – all the things I wanted to be when I was 19!
What is your guilty pleasure read?
Hello Magazine.
Who are your favourite authors?
Rose Tremain, Kate Atkinson, Julie Myerson, Penelope Lively, Ruth Rendell...
What book have you re-read?
Love Life by Ray Klum. An unfaithful husband's love for his dying wife. It's as close to fiction as a real life story can be, and hard hitting. The kind of non erotic fiction I would like to write one day.
What book have you given up on?
Whisper it. 50 Shades of Gray.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

We can but dream! My ultimate fantasy would be sitting in a cinema with a vast box of Maltesers watching those opening credits! My instinct if a film were made would be to swerve the Hollywood hype, be groundbreaking and original, and go for gorgeous unknowns. But to give an idea, I've always had Olivier Martinez, the French actor, in my mind for Gustav, Josh Holloway from 'Lost', or Dominic Zamprogna (from 'General Hospital'). They must have silky dark hair, haunted, Slavic cheek bones, black eyes, and the constant hint of unshavenness. Amanda Seyfried would make a great a red-haired Serena. Pierre would have to be a thicker set, younger version of Gustav, the Puerto Recan actor Sharlim Ortiz perhaps if he put on a little muscle. Polly could be the Swedish actress MyAnna Burring who was in 'Twilight' and also 'Downton Abbey'. Salma Hayek, Diane Lane, Rachel Weicz or Demi Moore could be Margot, the evil but charismatic ex-wife. Tilda Swinton could be Crystal, the enigmatic housekeeper, but she might steal the show!

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

About two months to get down on paper before being minutely examined and radically changed by my editor!

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I would compare these to Sylvia Day's and Nikki Gemmell's erotic series.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

These books are set not only in London and New York but Paris, Venice and Morocco, too. Oh, and Devon, and while it is pretty intense stuff, there are moment of levity, too.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Ask me another - a personal probe into Primula

Where do you hail from?

I'm the third of four daughters brought up in a very conventional Catholic household in the middle of nowhere with teacher parents who had high expectations. My sisters all dropped out and rebelled in various ways, but I ploughed the goody goody path, being head girl of my convent school before my own rebellion when I became pregnant 'out of wedlock' (as my mother put it). Unfortunately my now elderly parents do not approve of my erotic writing, let alone making money from it, so I never mention it to them. I'm secretly trying to write something 'mainstream' that they could actually read.

What do you love most about your hometown?

I was born in Winchester (UK) and although through the years I have lived in Oxford, Venice, London, Cairo, London again, I have settled here because it's near my husband's business and I was ready to leave the hustle and bustle of London when we got married. I never wanted to live in the countryside, either, so Winchester is the perfect compromise: small, historic, friendly, a safe place to bring up kids, bursting with great pubs and restaurants, countryside all around if you're a keen walker or cycler, yet within an hour both of London and the coast.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? 

I always wanted to be a writer. I was always day-dreaming and wrote a romantic novel in an exercise book when I was eight, complete with illustrations, but had the mickey taken mercilessly when my family read it out loud round the supper table one night. I guess I've got my own back on them now. I also wanted to be a jazz singer, but although I sang soprano solos in the choir at school and once sang 'Summertime' in a Venetian bar, I didn't have the nerve to go further and pursue it as a career. Having said that, if X Factor, Britain's Got Talent etc had existed when I was young free and single then I think I might have entered.

Apart from writing what are your hobbies?

Eating out, cinema and travelling. All of these feature in my novels, especially food, funnily enough. Before I married I lived on taramasalata and Chardonnay, but now I love cooking and would like to write a Primula Bond cook book one day, involving the food that Gustav makes for Serena and what they all eat in restaurants. Travelling is a passion, ever since I went to live in Egypt aged 23 and was blown away by the experience not only of a new language, culture and climate, but the idea that I was totally anonymous and could be whoever I want to be.

Anything you would want to improve/educate about yourself?

I would like to improve my French and Italian language skills.

Tell us about the Silver Chain trilogy.

I was on the point of hanging up my furry handcuffs after 20 years of writing erotica when in 2012 my editor who had worked with me at Black Lace and Mischief asked me to write an erotic romance in the wake, BUT NOT A COPY CAT, of Fifty Shades. Because I was free to write it in a more literary style than previous erotic novels I have indulged myself in the language, story line and characters. It started as a trilogy but owing to the fourth book about to be published (28th January!) it is really a series now. The Silver Chain actually started off as a vampire story but I was dissuaded from that format (maybe in another series?). It's about a young photographer, Serena, who arrives in London ready to start her career and meets an attractive older man, Gustav Levi, who offers to help launch her exhibition of voyeuristic portraits in return for her company. Their relationship flourishes in an atmosphere of sexual experimentation and takes place in locations as various as London, Manhattan, Venice, Paris and Morocco - indulging my love of travel - but is threatened by Gustav's scheming ex wife and his manipulative, dangerous younger brother, Pierre, who is the hero of book 4.

Do you have anything new in the works and can you tell us a bit about it?

I have just finished a thriller under my real name which I have just sent to my agent, so fingers crossed she likes it. I am now embarking on book 5 of my series, which will once again feature naughty Pierre Levi and the new heroine in his life.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging about writing?

Starting a new novel is a really scary prospect, especially when you have a deadline, but even worse is then having to go back and revise it with your editor's stern requirements ringing in your ears! And obviously the dreaded writer's block, which some people say doesn't exist, but believe me it does. (see below). Also, organising your life so that you can find decent chunks of time to get stuck in.

What advice would you give to writers just starting out?

Read, read, and read some more. See how published authors, especially of the genre in which you want to write, do it. Make sure your work is grammatically correct and neatly and the text and dialogue professionally presented (study house style such as spacing and font), otherwise a busy editor won't even pick it up off the slush pile. Be clear about what you're writing, and by all means keep hold of your ambition and vision, but don't rush off a 200,000 door stopper without getting some kind of opinion on the first three chapters (the first few lines are what will hook a commissioning editor). Try some exercises to hone your craft, even if it's just writing a pretend letter to or from one of your intended characters, or using a sample chapter as a short story. Save your work every few minutes, in case, like mine, your laptop crashes!

I used to be dubious about creative writing classes/talks but having been to a few, and given an erotica and short story writing workshop at the York Festival, they are invaluable in pointing up aspects of dialogue, character creation, conflict ,voice and pace which you might not have thought about. Also it is hugely rewarding from a writer's point of view, spending a day or a weekend with a community who's eyes don't glaze over when you tell them what you are trying to achieve and readers who seem really pleased to meet you. Finally, rather than showing it to friends or family who will be inhibited in their opinions, think about a critique service such as the one I contribute to, Writers Workshop. We will pull you up on any issues, advise how to polish, and suggest possible markets.

Do you ever suffer from writer's block? If so, what do you do about it?

For writers' block read PANIC! As I said, it usually strikes me right at the beginning of a novel, or halfway through when you can't think how to get your characters from one situation to the next. Step away from the laptop, and forbid yourself to touch it for say 24 hours. Allow your mind to hover and drift over your work, and the thoughts and words will start to trickle in. Keep a notebook by the bed or in your pocket to jot down those 'brainwaves' before you forget them. When you feel a little more confident, come back to the laptop and see if you can get down some kind of synopsis, so at least you have a series of steps, a framework, to follow chapter by chapter. Also, it helps to end a chapter with some kind of cliffhanger, because that will give you a leg-up to the next.

Who is your favourite author and why? 

Helen Dunmore, Rose Tremain and Rosie Thomas create absorbing characters and worlds. Kate Atkinson writes lively, compelling thrillers.

What books have most influenced your life?

The Magus by John Fowles, for its creepy, dreamy, Greek settig; Garden of Eden by Ernest Hemingway,a masterclass in pared down writing; Bridget Jones, who opened the way to all kinds of hilarious women's fiction. And not wanting to sound pretentious, Shakespeare's Tragedies and the Bible!

How did you deal with rejection letters?

Most rejection letters are in standard format so offer no constructive suggestions or reasons. In the early days they would really depress me make me give up the manuscript, not forever, but for a month or two. Then I would either rewrite the short story or book (and this is in the days before laptops and certainly emails so this was very laborious) or consign it to 'the bottom drawer' and start a new one. The exception to that, and one which kick-started my erotica career, was a rejection from Mills and Boon because my sex scenes were too explicit, which drove me to turn that explicitness into my first published short story!

What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?

A decent laptop that doesn't crash before you've saved a morning's work, a dictionary, The Writers and Artists' Yearbook, a place to write where inspiration most often strikes, a coffee pot that never stops boiling, an understanding family.

Where do you as an author draw the line on gory descriptions and/or erotic content?

Under age, non consensual or injury-causing sex is a no-no. In one or two of my earlier novels I tried to write about fairly transgressive sexual practices involving groups and bondage and toys and humiliation, but never felt entirely comfortable with some of the more hardcore content, which is why some reviewers have described my work as a tamer version of Fifty Shades. I will use a whip or a sex aid occasionally, but prefer to focus on natural, if energetic, sex between loving couples.
What's the weirdest thing you've ever done in the name of research?

I honestly haven't partaken in anything out of the ordinary myself, but a few years ago I had to go online to find out what a golden shower was.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Interview With the Vampire - We revisit Gustav Levi

Gustav Levi is the hero of my Unbreakable Trilogy, about to be re-named The Silver Chain series as his brother Pierre's story is released. In the first book, The Silver Chain, Gustav meets his heroine, the photographer Serena Folkes, and offers to finance and launch her debut exhibition in return for her company and sexual favours. As they get to know each other and overcome the damage wreaked on them by her wretched childhood and his abusive marriage, the arrangement swiftly moves past the professional, and they become passionate lovers. From being reserved and mistrustful, Gustav has been won over by Serena's naïve yet single minded passion and has asked her to live with him.
But just as they are celebrating the success of her sell-out exhibition and are making plans to travel to New York together, Gustav's estranged, manipulative younger brother, Pierre, appears out of the blue. With Serena’s encouragement Gustav longs to restore their old closeness, but in The Golden Locket Pierre's presence in their lives re-opens old wounds and threatens their hard-won security.

I won't reveal how their story ends for those who haven't yet read the series, but to whet your appetites we're going back in time to meet Gustav halfway through their tumultuous story.

He's torn himself away from Serena's side in their stunning new penthouse apartment on the Upper West Side, to have a chat with us tonight.

1. The dark night when Serena first met you she had you down as a Halloween vampire. What is your family background?

Did she? Cheeky minx. Well, she would make a very juicy Dracula’s victim, I must say. That beautiful pale skin of hers. I can just imagine piercing her long, swan-like throat with my teeth… but going back to your question, she wasn’t far off the mark. My family did originate in the mountains and forests of Transylvania but both sets of grandparents travelled and settled in Paris, which is where I was born and raised.

2. How did losing your parents at an early age and raising your little brother shape the way you are today?

I was 15 and Pierre was 3 when they died in a fire at our Paris apartment. I was a normal, rebellious teenager when it happened but I had to turn myself around to take care of Pierre. We became incredibly close as a result, which I guess is one of the few good things that came out of the tragedy. I wanted to prove to them and to him that I could do a good job, and that meant making a new life for us in London, working hard to make a home for us. But I became obsessive, I think. I wasn't with him as much as I should have been. Without the guidance of my parents I made some terrible choices when it came to women, too, which ultimately caused the rupture between Pierre and me.

  1. Which brings us to the awkward question of your first marriage. Can you tell us a bit about that?

As the song goes, where do I begin? With all the diasastrous couplings since the world began.Adam and Eve. Samson and Delilah. Antony and Cleopatra. I was lonely. I was a rich young man, living like a single father, and Margot was a heat seeking missile. But there are no excuses. I was like any other man in the end at that point. I was led by what's in my pants. I was blinded with lust, but I told myself a female around the house would be good for Pierre, too. But not long after we were married she became, there's no other way of putting it. Toxic. A couple should enhance each other, but we just consumed each other. She was a very strong personality, quite a bit older than me – oh God, this is turning into a bit of a therapy session, isn't it? Maybe I thought she would lead me? But I should have recognised before it was too late where we were going. I worked hard all day, and at night I'd come home and it had become her world. She wasn't just a hyper-sexual woman. She was a professional dominatrix. Punishment, obsession, addiction were her bread and butter – and strangers in my house were queuing up to be part of it. What on earth kind of menage was that?
My poor brother was left on the sidelines. I kept it from him as much as I could, and he never, until he was a grown man, actually witnessed anything, but of course he sensed things were deteriorating. I sent him off to boarding school and then university to get away from the situation, but the rot had set in by then. It was no longer our home, or his haven. It took me five years to recognise what was happening to us and when I found the strength to tell Margot the marriage was over her revenge was to carry out her threat, which started off as a joke in the early days but became deadly serious, of corrupting Pierre and taking him away from me, so I was left with – sorry, this chokes me still to remember it. I was left with nothing.

  1. Is that personal history the reason you refused to let Serena anywhere near you without a professional agreement?

I warned Serena from the beginning, or tried to, that my life experiences had killed my trust in people. Either I wasn't articulate enough, or she just wasn't paying any attention. Thank God. But I honesly thought I was no good for anyone. I was better alone. I had been battered emotionally, and physically, by the wrong woman, and then I'd lost the one person I loved most in the world, Pierre. Oh, I knew deep down that not all women would be like Margot – no-one could be as evil as her – but I couldn’t let my guard down until Serena wandered into my life. I am a red blooded male. I needed sex from time to time. But as soon as they started trying to get closer, burrowing into my life, my house, although I accept that it was natural for them, it was anathema to me. I couldn't risk letting any woman under my skin again.

  1. What about the silver chain you made Serena wear when you were together? Jewellery, or restraint? Symbol of permanence, or sign of insecurity?

All the above. I can't deny it. I wanted to give her something, but not reveal anything of myself. I wanted it to symbolise our agreement, and to make sure she wouldn't get away. She had never had any jewellery, so the bracelet I gave her to hook the silver chain on to was the first precious thing she'd ever owned. She was furious when I once left her chained in the house in Lugano, but the little wildcat chopped it off with an axe or something and got the chauffeur Dixon to disobey orders and drive her to the airport! Secretly I saluted her for that show of defiance, even though it was my fault for leaving her there. Anyway, it became part of our life. And a very kinky part of our lovemaking. It still is. But I'm planning to give her another special piece of jewellery for Christmas..

  1. Serena comes from a very different background from yours. What, apart from the obvious physical attraction, is it that draws you to her?

Maybe that’s exactly it. Her total individuality and.. difference. She’s unlike anyone I’ve ever met. And as for her background, that's an unknown. She was adopted by a pair of monsters. She was a little newborn foundling. I would love to know what her biological background is. No-one has ever come forward. I suspect she comes from someone beautiful, artistic and big hearted, because how else has she come through all that neglect still determined to find someone to love? I guess that’s your answer. She doesn’t even know it, but she has this fire, this determination, to see the beauty in life, not just through her camera lens. I’ve never thought of it before, but you could say she’s the polar opposite of my ex-wife, and that's why I'm so lucky to have found her. Serena turns her strength of spirit into something positive, and she’s pulled me into her orbit as well

7. You and Serena had a business arrangement which became personal. What was the moment when you fell for her?

Everything in my life has to be written down, a contract. Since my parents died. It’s my clumsy way of feeling safe, I suppose, and my arrangement with Serena, though it looks ridiculous now, had to be on the same terms. She doesn't know this but she was the missing piece of my jigsaw, and that lightbulb moment was when she was standing in my gallery after we'd signed that contract. We were just leaving, and she stopped beside my favourite photograph, entitled 'Rapunzel', which was part of an exhibition of sepia images of French prostitutes awaiting their turn in a bordello. I collect pre-Raphaelite studies and sketches, and she looked so like the beautiful, pre-Raphaelite girl in the photograph, that face that's so mournful when in repose, those rivers of golden treacle-coloured hair – it took my breath away. I reckoned she was the face I'd been searching for. My pet name for her, when we're alone, is Rapunzel'.

8. She's younger than you. What has she taught you?

She's brought a kind of fresh air into my life, light, sunshine, an incisive viewpoint. She surprises me every day with how beautiful she is and how much she loves me, even though she had to work so hard to win me round. She's actually like a magic camera. You see life differently when you're with her.

9. You have made your fortune now. Are you ready to retire?

I could retire tomorrow. Financially that's true. But I'm only just 40, so there's no way I'm going to sit around doing nothing, especially with such a young girlfriend to keep on my toes. And she would tell me I was an old git if I did, to use her charming turn of phrase! If the businesses are in good hands and Serena's photography is launched, I would like to extend my pre-Raphaelite collection and also to launch a trust fund related to the arts which could benefit abandoned children.

10. When you're not acquiring businesses and properties, what are your hobbies?

Travelling and cooking for pleasure, rather than necessity. My current project, when we have time, is teaching Serena to cook. She can just about boil an egg. And I love drawing and sketching.

  1. What's next now you're both ensconced in New York?

Well, most of that is under wraps for now. We have some tentative meetings with Pierre to negotiate, now that he's come back into my life. He's been living and working in New York all these years, and the most extraordinary coincidence is that he's been dating Serena's cousin Polly. So I'm determined to find a way to forgive each other for what's happened in the past. Serena's my othe priority, of course. She already has several prestigious commissions here from people who have seen her work in London, and I aim to stand back and let her make her own way.

  1. Tell us an unusual thing about you?

I play jazz trumpet. Pierre plays piano, and we used to jam in little clubs around London before I met Margot. Not even Serena knows that, and please don't tell her. I'll surprise her one day, but I haven't played since I met my first wife. She thought it sounded stupid.  

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Meet Rosa, the new heroine in 'Pierre'. Here she has a pep-skype with her sister

‘Flirt with him. Bustle about. Bend over a lot. Are you sure he’s not getting a hard-on every time you swish by in your tight little uniform?’
I think of the unmistakable reaction when I washed him that first morning. The soft shape warming up, firming up in my hand like a delicious pastry.
Any man with red blood in his veins would get hard, being handled like that. It was nothing special. I unzip my dress. As soon as the expensive, silky embrace falls away from me I stop being the poised, confident woman I was when I was wearing it.
‘I think he quite likes me, but it’s just a job, Fran. I’m just his carer, a servant really, just like I am to all the other spoiled, rich malades in that clinic.’
‘Don’t be so tough on yourself, cara. You’re coming down after your glittering performance tonight, that’s all. Anyway, if this Levi bloke won’t look at you twice, someone else will. You’re a catch for anyone.’
‘Maybe. It won’t be that long before he’s discharged or I’m sacked or I quit. I won’t see him again and then I can go properly hunting.’ I hang up the dress, aware that if the connection is working my sister can see me in my bra and knickers. ‘Look, Fran, I can’t chatter on. The signal’s hopeless tonight. You might all be chilling out over there in New York, but I’ve got to get some sleep. I’m absolutely done in.’
‘How did the gig go tonight? You look great, by the way. Although satin and silk isn’t normally your style?’
‘I was going to pick up something from the Kate Moss range at Top Shop but my employers insist on high-end cocktail dresses so they sent me to Bond Street. They give me a credit card and a personal shopper. The dress code at the club is very strict for everyone on the premises, staff and members alike. They’re all men.’
‘Who, staff or members?’
‘All the members are men. And most of the staff. They have to wear black tie. Or white tie, if they have military medals, no matter what time of day it is, because the idea is that the minute you walk through those doors you are in another zone. Day and night become meaningless.’
‘Classy! Or pretentious. Sounds like the Starship Enterprise!’ Francesca chortles. ‘All a bit antiquated, though, isn’t it? Black tie? What’s wrong with kilts, or some sharp tailoring? They sound like a bunch of pompous gits. So where is it again?’
I reach into the thin fitted wardrobe for my kimono. If I don’t cover up it won’t just be my sister who sees me semi-naked. If I don’t close the shutters on these portholes anyone motoring down the river or walking along the embankment at this time of night can see me, too.

‘I’m not supposed to say, but you know what? I don’t give a shit. It’s the London branch of the Club Crème.’

And here's a random pic of a cool Italian...

Monday, 18 January 2016

Wow! magazine interviews Pierre Levi as he recovers from his near-fatal accident

This is the first interview Pierre Levi has given since being badly injured in a hit and run in central London. We visited him at the exclusive Aura Clinic where he was transferred out of intensive care.         Thank you for seeing us, Pierre. Can you tell us how bad your injuries were and how you're doing now?
     Let me count the ways. Cracked pelvis. Two broken legs. One femur, one ankle. Nothing else broken. She saved the face,apart from the black eye.
     You mean the driver? We understand that Margot Levi was driving the car.
     Yes. My ex sister in law. My ex lover. She ran me down deliberately.
     And the police are looking for her in connection with the accident. Why do you think she did that?
     I think because she wanted my brother back and if she couldn't have Gustav she'd make sure no-one did. But then I came galloping to the rescue so hey, why not kill both birds with the one stone? Thank God it wasn't Gustav.
    But the injuries are healing now?
    Bones heal, don't they? But the real scars are inside. In my head.
    That's pretty intense. What do you mean?
    Nightmares. I make quite a spectacle of myself, apparently. I keep these poor nurses on their toes But it's not Margot causing the nightmares. It's me. What I've been like in the past. I made life hell for the people I should have been looking out for. Get this. I broke my brother's heart not once but twice.
    How did you do that? And why?
    I ran off with Margot, his first wife. Yep. The same woman who tried to run me over. How mad is that? Gustav and I were estranged for five years. Then I tried to break up him and his new girlfriend by seducing her.
    Margot Levi persuaded me. Both times. And I was bitter and twisted enough to go along with it.
    She sounds like a very powerful influence.
    I was very young the first time. Totally bewitched. But the second time? It was her idea, sure, but I took it and ran with it, no question. I knew exactly what I was doing. What started off as a sick joke became a genuine addiction. I was mad about her.
    Who? Margot Levi?
    No. Serena Folkes. Gustav's fiance.
    But you didn't succeed? I mean, they're still together?
    They're unbreakable. You'll never witness love like it. I think that's why I wanted to destroy it. I was jealous. Still am. But I'm paying for all that now.
    That sounds harsh. Maybe even a little self-pitying?
    I don't pity myself. I pity everyone who comes into contact with me. I deserve everything she's thrown at me.
   Who? Serena?
   Ha ha. No. Margot. By rights I should be dead. At the very least maimed for life. It's my punishment for everything I put them through. I'm rotten. People should stay away from me.
   Ah, looks like matron is cutting short our interview. Two more questions. You've had to pull out of the reality show pilot you were making in LA before this happened. What do you think the future holds? I mean, professionally?
    Haven't you heard? The waters close over your head if you're out of circulation creatively. What's your second question?
   You famously revelled in your playboy image. Are you looking for love again?
   You mean, a love I can call my own rather than trashing other people's?
   Simple, really. The love of a good woman. You won't be short of offers once you're on your feet again.
   Are you flirting with me?
   Oh, that came out wrong, I - well, maybe?
   Cute, but listen up, sweet pea. I'm not safe to be around. I should have a health warning slapped on. Women can steer well clear. I don't know what's in my future, but I'm not up for any involvement. Apart from the fact that my body is fucked. No. Celibacy is definitely the way forward.
You heard it hear first. Pierre Levi plans to join monastery.
    Funny. I'd laugh if it didn't hurt so much. Can I take your number?