Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Shiny Happy People

I am starting to get both nervous and excited about airing my thoughts and ideas to an eager classroom of shiny, happy, galvanised (and fee paying) peeps at the York Writing Festival on 13-15th September. I've written down my notes, some shamelessly egotistical stuff about how I started writing, and some fun exercises. But I need a pretend audience.
  And who better to practice on than a guy I met at a gathering the other day. Overhearing someone talking about my book,  and realising I was someone who had moved from talking about writing to being published, he leaned conspiratorially towards me and asked, 'Primula, can I ask, how did you get into writing? How can I get into it?'
  Somehow there was something in his eyes, his shiny, happy yet blank eyes, the expectant, already slightly knowing face, that made me suspect that he might be one of those people who, once they'd politely let me rant on for a while, would interrupt to tell me either a) that they had a story in them but never had time to read, let alone write it, or b) would I mind looking at this 900,000 word tome on the spiritual life of the bumble bee/imaginary planet they'd been writing for the last 10 years. A bit like a doctor at a party being asked to diagnose some symptoms?
  Well, I had a good glass or two of Pimms inside me, all the time in the world, so I leaned confidently towards him and I started talking. Not wanting to bore him, I skimmed over the exercise books full of heroes and heroines littering my bedroom when I was a kid, the solitary walks dreaming of becoming a princess, the teenage poetry competitions (one won), the years at uni studying literature which killed any creativity, later the adult adventures, the return to writing, the endless rejection slips, the late nights of single motherhood spent writing out, later typing out, my fantasies, the drawers full of half chewed manuscripts, finally the fateful lunch hour at work spent bashing out one last desperate submission for a magazine I had just bought. The one last short story, in fact, and the first that got accepted.
   After my own potted history I wanted to know about his. Did he have the fire in his belly, the itch, to write if not all his life, then certainly now? Did he find himself watching and listening to everything and everyone around him, then writing down scenarios, conversations, news clips, abstract ideas on the back of envelopes, menus, napkins, keeping notebooks by the bath, by the bed, in the car? The eyes started to look a little startled. I had already heard that he was about to take a job abroad, an exciting prospect for anyone but which seemed to leave him curiously apathetic (surely indifference to life, travel, adventure has to be a killer for any writer?), so I said why not keep a diary, right from the moment you arrive at Heathrow until you disembark at New York/Cairo/Sydney airport, everything you see, hear smell, taste, talk to?
   Maybe I'd had too much Pimms, had ranted more than I meant to, but sure enough the eyes were glazing over. Have you written anything, I asked? No. Do you keep a diary? No. Do you have any particularly genre you would like to write? Not really. Historical fiction maybe. What do you like reading, because that's a good place to start? Bring Up The Bodies? Georgette Heyer? No. Kingsley. Alice in Wonderland. Tales of a River Bank.  Right.(Primula floundering a little here.) A tough one, you might think, until he revealed that he was a teacher, and the job he was going to take was in Egypt, where I also lived, as a young teacher, for 2 years. Oh! Have you learned any Arabic? No. Will you? No. No need.
    So whether or not he wanted my advice, I gave it to him anyway. Keep that diary. Think about a genre totally different from any other (says the erotica writer) that might make people sit up and take note. Children's fiction, perhaps. Young adult. Science fiction. Historical. Looping your various interests and expertise together.
   Another Pimms, and I'd have written the damn thing for him. Because there was no fire in that man's belly. None ignited by anything I'd said. That blank look in his eyes never, really, went away. If anything, it faded, slowly, into defeat and disinterest.
   Hey ho. Probably a good thing he won't be in my classroom in York. And one less competitor in the writing market, eh?
  Before I go, here's a link to the picture of my writing space, and a playlist of the music that inspires me:

Saturday, 17 August 2013

I have arrived in Tesco! And Morrisons. And Smiths!

As Rene said in 'Allo 'Allo - I will say zis only once... I don't mean to show off, but I am SO DAMN THRILLED to walk into my local Tesco this morning and see my new paperback copy of The Silver Chain up there on the book shelf with the other new releases! Together with the photos some of my lovely Twitter friends have posted of the copies they've seen either in other Tescos (as far afield as Glasgow!) or even sitting on their tables waiting to be read, this really is my moment. As Martine McCutcheon said/sung. My perfect moment. And I will make sure I never become complacent or smug about any of this. How could I, when it's taken such a long time to get here?
    I just need to dance another little jig. There. That's better. But what I really hope is that this gives inspiration to other writers who slog away year after year and feel as if no-one will ever notice them. I know how it feels to have this urge to write, no matter what, how or when (backs of envelopes, napkins, soggy notebooks by the bath), to have this dream that maybe someone some day will like it enough to want to publish it, and to be slightly apologetic when you mention writing as one of your occupations (along with legal secretary, host mother, mother, wife, chauffeuse, cook, bottle washer - you get the picture) and people's eyes either roll or glaze over, or you are metaphorically patted on the head and told to enjoy your little hobby. I didn't even mention writing until I started to get paid, but still. It was never taken seriously.
   I have been writing erotic short stories and novels, as well as my 'secret life' writing literary fiction, for more than 20 years. Well, if I'm honest, for more than 40 if I count the romantic novel I wrote in an exercise book when I was a little girl. And I can honestly say the only other writing moment that equates to today's jig-dancing excitement is when the erotica magazine For Women bought my first ever short story 'Man in a Cage', for £150, back in 1994. That started the whole ball rolling, and then Forum started buying them, and then Black Lace, Xcite and Mischief, where I met the brilliant editor who has accepted pretty much anything I've written since then. I was on the point of giving up, in fact, as erotica was becoming more and more pornographic and payment was getting less and less, but after 50 Shades spawned the more accessible 'erotic romance' genre last year, my editor suggested I have a go at writing something along these lines, less hardcore, more intensely romantic (going back to my childish romantic efforts!) and when this latest Unbreakable Trilogy was born he handed me over to the Avon Ladies. So you could say that my little hobby became a hobby that paid, and then at long last was taken on by Harper Collins, one of the giants of publishing. And that's when finally, finally, I felt it could be taken seriously and I could say 'I'm a writer' when asked about my occupation.
   So thanks to all of you, family, friends, editors, designers, retailers - and buyers! You've made my day!

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Serena speaks

My childhood down here in Devon, while surrounded by spectacular scenery, was spectacularly desolate. I was found on the steps of the church as a newborn baby and taken in by the man who found me and his wife, a couple whose names I can never bring myself to mention, other than the surname they gave me: Folkes. The older I grew, the more they detested me. Why they didn't give me to the authorities I will never know, but until I was 16 I had no idea that that was an option. The house on the cliffs where I was brought up was the only home I knew, and misery and neglect at home at least was the only life I knew.
  There were basic meals, no birthday presents, one mirror by the front door, and endless weekends spent in my bedroom. If there were outings, for example one to Hay Tor, I was frequently left behind on walks. If there was a thunderstorm, I wasn't comforted. And whenever my red hair grew too long and curly, they hacked it off.
   I refuse to dwell on it too much because there were three outlets from the house on the cliffs which took me away increasingly, and kept me sane, other than school and art college, which I loved.  There was the local stables where I used to groom and muck out the horses and ended up exercising them, taking classes, and even sleeping there most of the holidays. Then there was my cousin Polly, whose parents were pretty much estranged from the people I lived with. They never came to visit, and I rarely if ever met them, but she was often packed down to Devon and when she arrived the behaviour in the house was marginally less distant but we were let loose from the house and allowed, once we were about 11 or 12, to sleep on the beach and roam like wild animals. She told me about her life in London, about money, clothes, make up and sex. Which leads to my third outlet. Jake. My hunky local lover. When I was 16 we lost our virginity to each other in his old caravan in a field, and I went and lived with him there. If the people I lived with put up a fight, I don't remember it. I probably shouted louder than them by then, and the old man was getting ill. Jake was my world for two years, but when I went travelling my horizons expanded. I met people and saw things things through my camera lens which meant when I came back to Devon I felt differently about everything. The people in the house on the cliffs both died. The best thing they ever did. That and leaving me tons of money. And I was ready to spread my wings.
   I'm sorry if I sound hard, but the funny thing is that, partly thanks to Jake and Polly and now to Gustav, the man I met as soon as I hit London, I'm still soft as butter inside. Though I keep it as well hidden as I can.
   I did return to Devon after the people in the house on the cliffs died. Once to attend the funeral and to split up with Jake. And once when I thought me and Gustav were finished. I went and stayed at the Burgh Island, a luxury art deco hotel off the coast of South Devon to allow Jake to interview me for a local rag when my first photographic exhibition in London. One of the happiest sights in my short life, though I didn't admit it at the time, was seeing Gustav, wrapped against the cold in his red scarf, standing on the sea tractor bringing him across the high tide to the island to claim me once again.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Returning to Serena's roots

All I can see out of my window after our three hour drive west from Hampshire is a green-gold field sweeping ahead of me up to the sky, criss crossed with neat green hedges. The narrow road we drove up to get here leads on another mile or so to an adorable sandy cove with a cobb a little like Lyme Regis where Merryl Streep stood moodily waiting for her French Lieutenant. There's a shop, cream teas, and a pub. There's a beach to dig or walk on or sit on, and fresh air. So much fresh air.
   A couple of pin men are walking heartily across the horizon where that field meets the sky, all tooled up with rucksacks, sturdy boots and those special hikers' walking sticks which are nothing like the standard walking sticks disabled people use. I often wonder why hikers brandish them - perhaps someone could enlighten me? As someone with a dodgy leg who uses her walking stick very sparingly (except in Rome, where it got us waved through all sorts of secret doors and passages in the Vatican to short-circurt the endless queues) it seems odd that people who positively shove their rude health under our  noses as they conquer the Pennines, the Lake District or these kindly cliffs in South Devon, should have need of these sticks. Are they to enable them to make that last weary mile before the pub comes into sight? Is it to help negotiate the boulders and muddy tracks they will encounter in these undulating hills? Is it to show how committed they are to the art of rambling, and they've been to the shop and bought up the catalogue of equipment every serious minded hiker needs?  I THINK WE SHOULD BE TOLD.
    This place represents to me holidays and getting away from what my grandmother used to call 'the stern realities' of real life. My latest erotic novel The Silver Chain is about to come out in paperback and should be sold in Tesco, Morrisons and Smiths. It's incredibly exciting to have the potential of recognition within m grasp. But I'm knackered, in need of rejuvenation, and I always get that when I find myself near the sea. There isn't even a mobile signal here, although wi-fi, which if I was to have a complete break would also be banished.
Anyway, those hikers' maps will tell them and I already to know, because I've been to this part of the South Hams in Devon, England, once or twice a year for the last 20 years (since the very same year I started writing erotica, in fact)  that on the other side of that field is actually a cliff path, some rocks and boulders and then, picturesque as it might be, the sheer, fenceless, unprotected drop of the cliffs into the choppy English channel. Or is the Atlantic?
   And that is where my heroine, Serena Folkes, from my novel The Silver Chain, was brought up. She is a country girl, brought up in a cold, mean house on the cliffs which although contemporary in time and setting could come from a Bronte novel or a Daphne du Maurier.  All very well me loving the peace and quiet and the crash of the waves when I come here on holiday, which always give me inspiration, but I know it's only temporary and soon I will be driving back to the city. In my heroine's case her upbringing until she was able to escape by travelling and then inheriting her adoptive parents' money was utterly miserable. The dark side of living in the back of beyond. The reality of living permanently in a holiday destination which other people consider an aspirational beauty spot.
   In fact when we first meet her she is fidgeting with impatience on a train, waiting for it to carry her out of Devon and up to the bright lights of London where she will meet the love of her life.
   Serena is a red haired, pale skinned, pre-Raphaelite hued girl of wild beauty and spirit but nobody knows where that beauty came from. In romantic fairy tale tradition she was a foundling, left in a basket on the steps of a church, tripped over and taken in by a couple who turned out to be like something out of the worst of Dickens in that they were Christian and proper but had not one loving bone in their body. And so my heroine grows up starved of family life and love apart from her passion for horseriding and the visits by her adopted cousin Polly, until she discovers sex with her first boyfriend, Jake, who also provides a haven in his caravn for Serena to escape from the hideous house where her adopted parents are so disconcerted by her they even chop her red hair off whenever it gets too long and lustrous.
   We'll talk about how sex, once tasted, becomes pivotal in her life, but I think my next post will be as from Serena herself as she walks over the fields, down the lanes, across the cliffs, and into the pubs of her childhood. And plans her escape, her travels, and her career as a young photographer about to be discovered.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

We're All Alleycats Now!

So the country bumpkin Miss Bond comes up to London for the 'In the Flesh' erotica reading organised by the fab Suzanne Portnoy and held on the last Wednesday of every month. It was so steamy in London - they still haven't got the air conditioning sorted in the tube. I'm not really a country bumpkin - I lived in London on and off for nearly 20 years, in the mean streets of Notting Hill, Shepherds Bush and latterly Earls Court. I remember well scrambling to get my then eight year old (no 1 son, now a strapping, gorgeous 25 year old) to school and then the face-in-armpit journey on the District Line to Blackfriars.
    I was trying to look reasonably hot (as in sexy, not as in sweaty, which I was as well) in a grey satin shift dress. Even so I nearly ended up in Regent Street thanks to some idiot who pointed me in the wrong direction when I came out at Tottenham Court Road, which is unrecognisable with all the cross-rail thingy work going on there.
   Anyhoo, the Alleycat Club. What a perfect venue for some dirty reading! Denmark Street was new to me, a colourful row of varied shops and bars, and there it is, blue fairy lights directing you down steps to the depths, into a cosy bar with little tables and chairs and of course a stage with mike and instruments waiting for the jazz band coming after. Suzanne was there already - what a dame! Anyone who's read her sex memoir The Butcher, The Baker etc about a New Yorker's sex odyssey when living in London will have an idea of how sexy and feisty she might be, and with her throaty voice and big laugh she ticks all the boxes!
   So some smiley girls and one or two boys came wandering in, including Sophie Hart of Cafe Crumb fame (Naughty Girls Book Club), my fellow readers KD Grace, Rupert Smith and Zac. Also two of my sisters, my cousin, my best mate from uni, and another girl who was at school with my sister. So the fan club was complete.
   I asked Suzanne if I could read first as I was so nervous - ridiculously as it turned out, as everyone was so supportive. So she introduced me and up I went to read the scene from The Silver Chain where Serena and Gustav make love in the true sense of the word, for the first time in his house in London. I'm not a natural performer, unless I'm singing, so I hope my voice was husky in the right places, emphasis etc. Serena sees Gustav totally naked for the first time. They make love in a normal, straight way, the silver chain draped around her wrist but no other toys, no props. Just their bodies.
  The applause was warm and welcome, and then I was done. The other readers were fantastic. Quick, witty, dead sexy. And all too soon I'd drained my glass of wine and it was all over. I said goodbye to Suzanne, KD, Rupert and Zac, and my 'gang' dragged me round the corner for yet more sauvignon blanc and something, can't remember what, to eat. How on earth I got to Waterloo, let alone an hour down the railway line to Winchester, I'm afraid I can't recall!