Come Let Us Sing Anyway, by Leone Ross : a review

I read Leone RossDrag a few years ago, and I knew right then that I’d found someone special, an author with a unique voice. For me, the story is about our desire not to be restricted or categorized. It’s a battle-cry for individuality, for throwing off shackles.

The whole collection, of Come Let Us Sing Anyway, has this feel for me, that we’re seeing characters who are defiantly blazing, refusing to be constrained by others’ expectations.


Leone’s storytelling is fearless altogether, and radiant, which is especially apparent in her portrayal of erotic themes. Her prose is, by turns, refreshingly shocking and gorgeously sensual (often, both together!) Our desire for sexual connection is right where it should be in these stories, whether thrusting itself into the limelight, or gnawing away, silently.

Leone’s cast is diverse, eccentric, eye-poppingly theatrical. And yet their actions and words are strikingly familiar. Bizarre as they are, they show us the universal truths that bind us: that we all love, and grieve, and hope, and yearn; that we all struggle, and desire.

Few writers can deliver dialogue like Leone Ross – or achieve so much with so few words. Her stories sing in the small details, her characters built in the roll of their hips and the blossom of obscenities from their mouths, often delivered in Jamaican patwa.Leone Ross Drag quote

Her prose is dazzlingly beautiful and daringly original (as a woman masturbates in a restaurant WC, ‘…even the shining tiles on the bathroom floor seemed to ululate to help her’).

As readers, we each bring our own interpretation; it’s what makes reading exciting. Come Let Us Sing Anyway is, in many places, bravely, invitingly ambiguous. It’s a wonderful thing, because it obliges us to bring ourselves to the story, to find meaning in relation to our own experience.

You may like to read my interview with Leone, here, on her influences and intentions in storytelling.

Purchase Come Let Us Sing Anyway from Peepal Tree Press

or, if you’d like a copy for your Kindle, purchase from Amazon


About Leone Ross

Known for melding magic realism with erotic fiction, Leone Ross’ novels and short stories are original in approach, style and voice, defying literary niches and expectations of genre. Her work incorporates elements of speculative fiction, erotica and Caribbean fiction.

Leone’s first novel, All The Blood Is Red, was short-listed for the Orange Prize, in 1997. Her second, Orange Laughter, received critical acclaim in 2000, published in the UK, US and France.

Leone worked as a journalist and editor for fourteen years, holding the post of Arts Editor at The Voice newspaper, Women’s Editor at the New Nation newspaper, and  transitional Editor for Pride magazine, in the UK. She also held the position of Deputy Editor at Sibyl, a feminist magazine. Leone freelanced for The Independent on Sunday and The Guardian as well as London Weekend Television and the BBC.  She currently works as a senior lecturer in Creative Writing, at London’s Roehampton University.

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London Triptych, by Jonathan Kemp: a review


Jonathan KempJonathan Kemp explores hungers we cannot explain and paints images not only intensely erotic, but tender.  Here, in London Triptych, he shows us the unfolding of three men’s lives, each an unravelling ribbon, fluid, twisting, looking back upon itself. Their stories are confessionals, inviting us to enter the nocturnal, hidden recesses of the psyche. Meanwhile, London’s shadows and secrets echo those within our protagonists, and remind us that we readers, too, have our untold stories.

Each of the tales within the ‘triptych’ takes place, primarily, in London, though separated by five decades. We see the details of the setting change, while the themes remain eternal: our desire for what we cannot articulate; our struggle to express ourselves freely; our eagerness to navigate the ‘geography of possibilities’; our delight in love, glorious, overwhelming and unexpected; and the vulnerability of that state.

1890s rent boy Jack Rose falls into an almost unwilling passion for Oscar Wilde, leading towards a path of disappointment and betrayal.  1950s artist Colin tentatively explores his sexuality, against a backdrop of prudery and prejudice. In the 1990s, David awaits release from prison, telling of the lover who deceived him.

Jonathan Kemp

With each interchanging narrative, we learn more of each protagonist’s history and motivations, and we see the ways in which their stories resemble one other. They do not go in search of love. Rather, it surprises them, catching them off guard. They experience transcendence and then misery: a change in their worldview.

Sex is central to the story, an enduring, irresistible force, with or without love. It is the engine driving each of our narrators to discover a version of the ‘self’ yet out of reach.

Jack Rose tells us: ‘I became a whore in order, not to find myself, but to lose myself in the dense forest of that name.’

However, love is the transformative emotion. Love enervates and destroys, bringing ultimate joy and torture. We are shown its ability to shed light on our restricted, repetitive paths.

Kemp explores what it has meant to be homosexual in a world which views those desires as dangerously inverted, and shows us the tension between pleasure and danger, when there are ‘no laws but those of the body’:

‘When you can be free, free to pursue any desire, acquire any knowledge… it’s the most terrifying place to live. It’s dangerously beautiful…’

Jonathan-KempAs ever, Kemp’s storytelling goes beyond action and consequence, or the clever use of dialogue to reveal character, or the exploration of eternal themes. His talent lies in his use of language, probing words for their secrets, for their ‘blood-beat’, for their ability to reveal ‘meaning held within the contours of the skin’. He returns, again and again, to the inadequacy of language to express the erotic truths of the body, the ‘cannibal, animal hunger’ of desire.

And yet, he, as few authors can, animates the ‘universal language of lust written on the body and spoken by the eyes and fingers’.

He shows us that sex can take us to other destinations within the ‘self’, as if ‘opening doors that lead to other corridors, and other doors’: ‘I am here without knowing how. Suddenly, terrifyingly present. Here, now, lost and hot…

Meanwhile, London itself embodies the elusive, enchanting paradox of existence. It is a place of anonymity, and simultaneous intimacy; London is the unseen, legion-faced (and thus faceless) listener, inviting the narrators to share their secrets. It is a place of judgment (all three stories bring to bear the presence of the law and prospective punishment for homosexual transgression) and of liberation. It is a place of contradictions, just as we are contradictory.


Jonathan Kemp 26 Ghosting London TriptychJonathan Kemp teaches creative writing and comparative literature at Birkbeck College, London.

London Triptych, his first novel, won the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award in 2011 and was shortlisted for the Polari Prize and the Green Carnation Prize.

He is also the author of Ghosting (my review here) and 26, my review here.

Hear directly from Jonathan Kemp, on how the novel came to be, here, in an interview with Polari Magazine.

Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 11.20.45

Also, you may like to visit this article, featuring Jonathan Kemp: Men Writing Erotic Fiction





26, by Jonathan Kemp: a review

Jonathan Kemp‘s 26 is a series of bittersweet vignettes: perfect slices of agony and ecstasy, ‘visions of excess’ burning brightly beyond the civility of language and manners, taking us on a journey of tJonathan Kemp 26 literary eroticaranscendence, of sexual gratification and drug-induced otherness.

Explicit and, often, disturbing, his scenes lead us into dark places in search of meaning, exploring our isolation and our need for connection, our yearning for intense physical experience and our desire for oblivion. Kemp celebrates the raw, terrifying beauty of sexuality, showing its capacity to ‘make and unmake the world’ and to ‘speak a different tongue’.

He explores the hunger we cannot explain and draws with tenderness love unrequited, misplaced, and abandoned: ‘The difference between what we want and what we are able to do emerges with the slow, poisonous crawl of grief.’

He gives us poignant fragments of lost love and intense eroticism, underpinned by the repeated theme of the limits of language to convey human feeling, and the role of the body in remembering its past. It is the pulsing archivist, memories ‘rippling beneath the skin’.

Jonathan Kemp 26‘I wake to find your presence still alighting on my skin, a fragment of your warmth, the weight of you still pressing, and a blurred memory of the dream’s end.’

Kemp shows us physical sensation as another language, our desire to tear open and ‘release something monstrous and wild, from the other side of language’. He voices his longing for ‘a new tongue that licks closer to the contour of bodies’.

Yet, amidst this despair at the inadequacy of language is Kemp’s thread of richly satisfying poetic prose. His images and metaphors blaze.

‘This is for when the blood turns black and burns you from the inside, for when you get the hunger – feel it unravelling within its long, dark spine of want… This is for then, for those crystalline moments when your body molds to your desires, contoured by the red heat of longing…’

Kemp has created a masterpiece, Jonathan Kemp 26 erotic fictionmoving the reader emotionally, intellectually and viscerally, our hearts captured and broken alongside those of his anonymous protagonists.

’26’ is haunting, unsettling and erotically compelling.

Kemp gives us the night folding up like a sheet of paper, sliding itself into memory, ‘to be unfolded and relived, recounted and treasured’. In ’26’, Kemp has created a book of night dreams, vivid imaginings and shadows, half-remembrances and images seared on the skin. These pages close but the emotions he stirs remain close-caught.

‘There are places only the night knows, places only shadows can show us… I walk… looking for something, looking for something, looking for something… Forgive me for not having the words to describe it, this place in which I dwell. I have tried, I have tried. I have drenched myself in words and sensations, seeking a way to make them speak to one another. This is all I have to offer.’

How do you describe a book which has such power to manipulate the reader, to draw so deep from the well that you discover yourself anew?

Jonathan Kemp 26 Ghosting London TriptychJonathan Kemp teaches creative writing and comparative literature at Birkbeck College, London.

His first novel, London Triptych won the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award in 2011 and was shortlisted for the Polari Prize and the Green Carnation Prize (my review here).

He is also the author of Ghosting (my review here).

Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 11.20.45“There is a deceptively relaxed quality to Kemp’s writing that is disarming, bewitching and, to be honest, more than a little sexy… As a writer, Jonathan is somewhat akin to the Pied Piper if only because there is something magical you cannot help but follow.”
– Christopher Bryant, Polari Magazine.

You may like to visit this article, featuring Jonathan Kemp: Men Writing Erotic Fiction

Eroticism and Folktales

red-hands-for-ct-with-textThank you to Rose Caraway for first hosting this article on her wonderful website.

On the creation of Cautionary Tales: Writing the eerie, the bawdy, the horrific and the erotic

I was living in Eastern Europe, in one of the former Soviet states, just over a decade ago, and began studying rites and customs. Those that existed to warn us to tread carefully: we the envious, greedy, uninitiated, gullible, and boastful; we, who presume too far in believing that we know how the world works.

In ancient Slavonic folklore, demon-spirits live more closely alongside us, watching our behaviour, sniffing the air for the perfume of vice. It is they who punish (and did so long before a Christian God became the omnipresent watchful eye).

 Emmanuelle de Maupassant Cautionary Tales QuoteBeing ‘watched’ is a recurring motif in my Tales: not just by the mischievous or malevolent demon world but by the spirits of the restless departed, those having committed heinous crime or having been subject to it. Everywhere, eyes are watching, and judging, helpless to truly intervene, but eager to warn. They may exert their influence over natural elements, such as speaking through bird messengers, or sighing from the rising mist.

As Margaret Atwood said: ‘That’s where monsters live – at the edges, at the borders. Monsters also live at the edge of our consciousness.’

We feel the watchful presence of those demon monsters as the representation of our fears.

Ghostly Narrators

Working with my wonderful editor, Adrea Kore, I developed the narrator quote from cautionary tales Emmanuelle de Maupassant erotic fiction literaturevoice for the tales: each story is told through the eyes of the tormented spirits of the departed.

Whispered to you from the edges, from the haunted mouths of those who see more than you or I, the ghostly narrators unveil tales of lust, rivalry, envy and deceit.

The aim is bring a sense of unease and dread to the narrative, adding an edge of danger to the eroticism, and balancing some of the bawdiness.


‘We are the shiver on your uneasy flesh,

The creep of the unknown on your skin.’

We’re familiar with folk tales as vessels of wisdom, passing on advice. In their grisly unwholesomeness, they present life in all its darker glory.

The spectral narrators share their pain: secrets gouged from the dark depths of the human heart: our tremors of doubt, regret, anger and sorrow.

Emmanuelle de Maupassant quoteEroticism

Wherever there is a sense of danger, and of fear, we feel the stir of sexual arousal. There are some overtly erotic scenes. These work well with the atmosphere of dread and horror, and allow me to explore how sexual impulse can lead us ‘astray’. In following our lustful nature, against our better judgment, we can be led into hurting others, or into danger ourselves.

Folk tales offer warning against transgression, against crossing certain lines, against straying into unchartered territory, but they also invite you to transgress. They entice you to take the journey with the characters, to keep turning the pages, to hear what happens next. You desire to witness the flouting of the ‘rules’ and excitedly anticipate retribution and punishment.


In my tales, the lover at your window or in your bed may have the scent of your death already on their breath.

A common motif in folk tales is the forest. Dark and mysterious, it Faithlessness quote Emmanuelle de Maupassant Cautionary Talesrepresents the unknown, and is filled with dangers awaiting those who stray from the path. There are no hierarchies or rules. Anything can happen in the wilderness. The forest is an unchartered, liberated, wild space, a place of subversion and potential, of self-discovery and exploration. There, the imagination is free. It is a place of dreams and nightmares.

There are ‘magical places’ where everyday rules are set aside and otherworldly things can happen. They are enchanted places. It is there that truths can be learnt.

Cautionary gif 4The forest is one such: a place of sexual liberty, as we see on Kupalle Night, when couples disappear into the trees, in pursuit of pleasure. In entering the woods, you ignore usual codes of behaviour.

Transgressions from the ‘accepted path’ can take place not just in the forest, but elsewhere ‘beyond’: in the fields or marshes, or in the cemetery. In my tales, fearful creatures lurk at the edges, regularly drawn to the windows of houses, peeking in, eager to catch humans in their folly. They are rarely disappointed.

Emmanuelle de Maupassant Crook Your Finger Quote from Cautionary TalesOur Freedom as Writers, and as Readers

As a writer, no one controls your choices. You may be shaped by your own preoccupations, but only you decide what is placed upon the page. The same freedom is granted to the reader. So much of our behaviour can be controlled by social norms, but our opinions cannot. There is my intent in writing, and there is your interpretation, as the reader. If you like, there is a ‘space’ between us, and in that space, you bring yourself. There, in that margin beyond the words, there are no rules. You can respond however you like.

Folktales offer particular freedom in this respect, as you enter a supernatural otherworld. Where the boundaries between the everyday and the unearthly are snakeskin-thin, you can write anything. The trees can have eyes, restless spirits of the departed can whisper from the shadows, and demons can be drawn by the scent of wickedness.

twitter sized Emmanuelle de Maupassant quote from Cautionary Tales - the trees have eyes and the night has talons, where demons, drawn by the perfume of human vice and wickedness, lurk with intents malicious and capricious. copyMorality

Folk tale formats are familiar to us. We feel ‘safe’, knowing how characters are likely to behave and what the consequences are likely to be. We are invited both to feel ‘superior’ in this advantaged position, and to recognise ourselves and be humbled.

The tales follow a traditional moral pattern, in brutal punishment of murder, greed, miserliness, laziness and faithlessness. They also, sometimes, offer the protagonist the chance to change their course. The demons may gobble you up without warning, if they judge you beyond redemption, but they may also give you the chance to recognise your folly or deceit, and start anew.

This is the pagan world of action and consequence, so wrongdoing does Cautionary Tales Emmanuelle de Maupassant mantend to bring punishment. However, being ‘innocent’ is no guard against being caught in the crossfire. In this sense, there is no unequivocal moral justice. Life is more chaotic than that. There may be a happy ending for some, but don’t count on it…

Not every tale centres on an aspect of sexual behaviour but most of the tales carry an erotic charge. I explore the pursuit of sexual excitement at the cost of neglecting your duties; and acting upon desire without thought for others’ emotional (or physical) wellbeing. Sex is not the transgression in itself. Rather, we are punished for indulging (or withholding) sex where it brings detriment to others. Our transgression lies not in seeking sexual pleasure, but in crossing other lines of duty in doing so.

Emmanuelle de Maupassant Cautionary Tales snowy footprintsIn folktales, characters often lack individual identification. Each represents not a fully drawn character but a metaphor for a certain way of behaving or thinking. They are almost purely one dimensional, so that the reader can concentrate on the obvious nature of their folly. We aren’t required to feel too conflicted and, in their actions, are invited to see ourselves. I wanted to write the unsettling, in a world inhabited by characters twisted from the norm, yet recognizable. Humour is a useful device in helping us to open up to the stories, and to accept the possibility that they do have something to teach us. In laughing, we are more likely to recognise ourselves.

The characters may lack the rich interior life of their counterparts in novels but what does this matter when their motivations are so familiar. Whispers of malice and jealousy need little explanation. As they say, purged of excess wax, the flame burns brighter.

I’ve endeavoured to avoid being too predictable. Yes, there are plenty of grisly endings, but red-hands-for-ct-with-textalso some of hope, or alternative paths of happiness. In my final story, the two sisters decide to set up home independently, without husbands at all, despite having begun the story intent on finding them. Naturally, they have no intention of giving up on the pleasure of sex!

My Cautionary Tales are available from Amazon.

Sex and horror: dark pleasures of fear and desire

Horror is seductive.

It’s like the promise of sex, inviting us in.
It pulls at your guts and prickles your skin, and works icy fingers through your blood.
It demands a visceral reaction.

Carmilla1How delicious is the sensation of fear, an echo of carnal pleasure. Like sexual desire, it titillates not only the mind but the senses. As we know, a good ‘scare’ is a wonderful aphrodisiac.

‘Horror’, as a genre, has a great deal of the erotic about it. It crooks its finger to entice you.

Here is the most intimate of relations between author and reader. You bring yourself to the page not only mentally, but physically. ‘Come closer,’ whispers the writer, ‘let me crawl inside you.’ In reading erotica, you beg ‘seduce me’. With horror, it’s ‘frighten me’.

And anticipation is all. You lick your lips, waiting for the ‘forbidden’, or to be ‘devoured’. You keep running, but you know you want to be caught.

Reading tales of horror is a masochistic act. It’s hard to say where pain ends and pleasure begins in those dangerous undercurrents, on the razor edge between light and dark.

The pursuit of sex, on the page and screen, is regularly equated with danger: be careful of where you go, and who with: they could be a ‘monster’ in disguise. It’s a recurring theme in horror films: the werewolf teen in ‘Ginger Snaps’ (2000); the alien creature in ‘The Faculty’ (1998); and the hairy beast within, as seen in ‘The Company of Wolves’ (1984) and ‘Red Riding Hood’ (2011). Appearances aren’t to be trusted.

In reading erotic fiction, we accept the apple of sexual self-knowledge. In biting its flesh, we may discover that which we wish to refute: dark fantasies of pleasure and pain, of voluptuous abandon, of wild promiscuity, of being ‘taken’ against our will. Between the pages, there are no bounds on sexuality, all is rendered ‘permissible’ by the veil of fiction.

Harking back to 19th century Gothic fiction, ghosts, family curses, vampyres, demons and superstitions dominated. An atmosphere of brooding unease was vital: one of mystery, pushing the reader towards their own state of ‘madness’.

The most famous example is Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’: darkly malevolent and laced with eroticism. Think of Jonathan Harker’s non-consensual ‘blood rape’ at the hands of the three vampyre women in the Count’s prison-castle.

dracula-book-cover He recalls, with shame and fascination, his temptation to submit: ‘There was a deliberate voluptuousness which was both thrilling and repulsive, and as she arched her neck she actually licked her lips like an animal, till I could see in the moonlight the moisture shining on the scarlet lips and on the red tongue as it lapped the white sharp teeth. Lower and lower went her head as the lips went below the range of my mouth and chin and seemed to fasten on my throat. I could feel the soft, shivering touch of the lips on the supersensitive skin of my throat, and the hard dents of two sharp teeth, just touching and pausing there. I closed my eyes in a languorous ecstasy and waited – waited with beating heart.’

There is the sensual portrayal of Lucy, most acutely rendered in her ‘undead’ state, and the slow seduction of Mina by the Count: a domineering, unfathomable stranger. The story is filled with references (veiled or explicit) to eyes blazing with desire, to blood, to submission, to carmilladeath, to longing, to violence, to the devouring of flesh, and of course, to biting and sucking!

What other story, before or since, has so perfectly combined the luxurious pleasure of horror with eroticism?

For some, it is Sheridan le Fanu’s ‘Carmilla’ (written in 1872). It boasts similarly sensual passages, which hint at more than is explicitly written. Laura describes perturbing (rather orgasmic) sensations in the night, which we link to the presence of female vampyre Carmilla, coming to her room: ‘My heart beat faster and faster, my breathing rose and fell rapidly and… [it] turned into a dreadful convulsion, in which my senses left me, and I became unconscious.’

Carmilla opens a door to young Laura, awakening her to awareness of her sexuality. Once open, the door cannot be shut. Even when Carmilla has been staked and dispatched, Laura is haunted by memories.

In both stories, female sexuality is equated with ‘vampyric-bloodlust’: wanton, uncontrollable, and beyond civilised norms. It is as if, in succumbing to such a woman (or women in Harker’s case), we forfeit our very life-force.

In keeping with the age in which the tales were written, sexual pleasure is to be feared and resisted rather than welcomed. However, what danger can be more alluring than that of casting aside propriety and embracing abandoned, illicit sexual appetite? It’s little wonder that Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ and all its descendants have enjoyed so many decades of popularity. The stories can be viewed as more than horror. They explore awakening: awareness of self as a sexual being; and understanding of elements previously hidden. Within the velvet embrace of sexual arousal and heightened sensation, a cloak of ‘propriety’ is lifted, allowing us a glimpse of self-knowledge.

As Jonathan Harker admits, afraid of what awaits him at the hands of the trio of vampyre-seductresses: ‘I doubt; I fear; I think strange things, which I dare not confess to my own soul.’

The monsters and supernatural seducers of ‘horror’ cannot be resisted; weCarmilla cover are forced to succumb. Here, if nowhere else, we may embrace dual-edged fantasies.

As Stoker’s Dracula urges, inviting us further into the pages, and into the realm of the forbidden: ‘Enter freely and of your own free will!’


Sheridan Le Fanu: ‘Carmilla’ – a short story from ‘In a Glass Darkly’ (1872)
Bram Stoker: ‘Dracula’ (1897)

For a peek at my darkly erotic pen, visit my Amazon Page.


Thank you to the Brit Babes site for first hosting this article.

Do step over to take a browse of the Babes’ carnal delights…