Author Influences : Krissy Kneen

krissy kneen author uncertain grace  

Today, I welcome Krissy Kneen. Although now focusing on fiction writing, she has previously written for theatre, for film and for television, and has directed documentaries. Inventive and provocative, she’s written across a range of genres, including erotica, science fiction, horror, memoir, and poetry.

Interested early on in Theatre of the Absurd, she tells us that ‘the obsession morphed into my love of surrealist novels’.

An enduring theme in her work is ‘coming to terms with being an outsider, finding a voice, finding other outsiders, and forming community at the margins’. Krissy explains, “In everything I write, there’s a longing for family and community. People say we only ever have one story to tell and that we tell it over and over in different ways. I really believe this is true. My latest novel, An Uncertain Grace is no exception.”

Badlands remains her favourite film, delving our quest for connection, and alienation from family. She comments, “It does so in such a poetic, minimalist way. I used to watch that movie over and over, and look at it structurally, and try to replicate that structure in my early novels.”

Speaking of her intent, she asserts, “I want a conversation with readers. I want to pose questions and then I want readers to go away and think of answers. This is how I interact with books I read and I love to share that process with others. I don’t have any answers because there are no fixed truths. All I ask of a reader is that they actively participate in the process. I want my book to be a different book to every reader.”

Screen Shot 2017-03-10 at 11.49.23Krissy explains that her love of literature began when her grandmother would pay her 20c for reading and reviewing books. She adds, “I moved on from stories about mice to Moomintroll, and by the time I hit Ray Bradbury I no longer needed the money. The books themselves became the reward. I started to write because books like R is for Rocket and S is for Space by Bradbury left so much space for me as a reader that I needed to add to the dialogue.”

Speaking of other authors’ influence on her writing, Krissy explains, “There are certain books that feel like they’ve unlocked something in my brain and I can feel more space freeing up. This is the most exciting thing for me. I felt it when I read Ray Bradbury as a child and that set me on the path to becoming a writer. Bradbury made me pick up the pen for the first time in a serious way. Before reading The Golden Apples of the Sun, I was dabbling, drawing my own picture books and writing little adventures, but Bradbury challenged me to be serious about the work. I was young but I was ready to be challenged.”

The graphic novel Jimmy Corrigan, by Chris Ware, changed the way Krissy looked at the world, as did Here, by Richard McGuire. Most particularly, she is compelled by their use of nonlinear narrative. She asserts, “This was a revelation for me. I’ve felt the same thing reading Michael Ondaatje, who does amazing things with sentences. Anne Carson unlocked a new space in my brain with her poetry. Similarly, Maggie Nelson melted my brain with Bluets.”

Krissy is inspired by the way poets and graphic novelists play with form, ‘challenging what we think we’re doing as writers and making us want to engage with new forms of storytelling’.

Speaking of Lidia Yuknavitch, she tells us, “When I read The Small Backs of Children, things changed again. I felt her work physically, as if her words were pushing me, challenging me, encouraging me to fight back. She’s made me interested in writing my relationship to my family history, and has shown me new ways to approach the material. I feel challenged to start looking at genetics and family.”

krissy Kneen TriptychIt comes as no surprise that art has inspired Krissy’s work. Her family are visual artists and, as well as designing the sets for a couple of theatre shows in her youth, she enjoyed her own art exhibition. Her Triptych comprises three conjoined novellas, each named after, and referencing, well-known paintings: The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife, by Katsushika Hokusai; Susanna and the Elders, by Artemesia Gentileshi, and Romulus and Remus, by Peter Paul Rubens. Krissy stresses, “I can’t seem to write anything without the inspiration of the visual arts.” An Uncertain Grace is inspired by a photo created by Sebastio Salgado, which holds a central position in her narrative.

Krissy’s latest release, An Uncertain Grace, is a novel in five parts, about who we are—our krissy kneen author interview uncertain gracebest and worst selves, our innermost selves—and who we might become.

Some time in the near future, university lecturer Caspar receives a gift from a former student called Liv: a memory stick containing a virtual narrative. Hooked up to a virtual reality bodysuit, he becomes immersed in the experience of their past sexual relationship. But this time it is her experience. What was for him an erotic interlude, resonant with the thrill of seduction, was very different for her—and when he has lived it, he will understand how.

Later…

A convicted paedophile recruited to Liv’s experiment in collective consciousness discovers a way to escape from his own desolation.

A synthetic boy, designed by Liv’s team to ‘love’ men who desire adolescents, begins to question the terms of his existence.

L, in transition to a state beyond gender, befriends Liv, in transition to a state beyond age.

Liv herself has finally transcended the corporeal—but there is still the problem of love.

 

Purchase from

Amazon UK

Amazon Australia

Text Publishing

 

About Krissy Kneen

Krissy has six books in publication (with Text Publishing and UQP) and a number of short stories and personal essays published in anthologies, newspapers and journals. Three documentaries written and directed by Krissy have been screened on SBS and ABC TV.

She tells us, “I’ve always gravitated towards work in the arts although I often threaten to quit my job and retrain as an astro-physicist. I may only be partially joking. For relaxation, I paint and experiment with symbiotic cultures of bacteria and yeast in fermented food experiments, most of which are deliciously successful. I am owned and operated by Heathcliff, the neighbourhood cat, who has adopted me and puts me to work as an inconvenient lap and an open-all-hours cat-restaurant. Bi-sexual by nature, I’m lucky enough to have captured and held on to the nicest and most attractive man in the world.”

Screen Shot 2017-03-10 at 11.49.23

 

Find Krissy at 

https://www.textpublishing.com.au/authors/krissykneen

www.krissykneen.com

www.furiousvaginas.com 

 

Women Writing The Erotic: Part Three

erotic-fiction-women-writersIn this series (within the 130 authors survey), I’m sharing women’s views on exploring sexuality through fiction. If you haven’t already read Part One or Part Two,  it’s best to begin there.

Here, we look at what first inspired these women authors to tackle sexual themes, and the significance of gender to their work.

In writing erotic fiction, sex is the lens through which we explore our world and our identity. Our writing is a pathway to knowing ourselves: physically, mentally, and emotionally.

In expressing our understanding of our sexual self, looking at how erotic impulse shapes us, we recognize that we are more than intellect, and more than emotion. We are also ‘of the body’.

Ina Morata tells us, “Sex is the medium I use to investigate psychological boundaries: my personal insecurities and fears. I explore who I am and see how far I can push myself. Erotica, more than any other genre I’ve worked in, allows me to do this without feeling contained or isolated. Writing erotica has been the best move I’ve ever made; I’ve evolved so much since I began.”

Remittance Girl urges us to write with honesty, and without fear, embracing whatever understanding of pleasure and eroticism is true for us. She notes, “Society offers rigid ideals of the right and wrong way to experience, pursue and satisfy desire… It’s hard to conceive of new eroticisms, because we fear that people will judge us if we veer too far away from the accepted.”

RG asserts “As writers, we all write a little of ourselves into our stories, and we all have a tendency to protect ourselves. This is especially true, I think, with erotic fiction. Our understanding of what is erotic, how to be erotic, how to ‘see’ pleasure, use pleasure, give pleasure seems to reflect so strongly back on ourselves.” She warns us to be brave in how we write, avoiding self-censorship through fear of judgement.

Meanwhile, writing the erotic can help in eroding sexual stigma, encouraging women, and men, to voice their desire more honestly. As Rose Caraway asserts, “I want to break down notions of sex being ‘bad’. We mustn’t be afraid or ashamed.”

First Inspirations and Influences

A remarkable number of the women taking part in the 130 authors survey have a background in the visual and performing arts, which they universally acknowledge as an influence on their writing. Jane Gilbert studied art history, as did Nya Rawlyns. Meanwhile, Renee Rose, Malin James and Adrea Kore trained in dance. Jade A Waters has studied circus arts. Madeline Moore has worked as a screenwriter for television, while Krissy Kneen and Tobsha Learner have worked in playwriting, and Adrea in stage direction. Jade, Malin, Lee Savino, Elizabeth Black and Suzette Bohne’ Sommers have also worked in theatre. I could go on…

Adrea Kore describes her search for ‘new and evocative ways of writing about feminine desire and describing the desiring female body’, influenced by her time as a sculptor’s life model, her study of dance and theatre, and her many years in stage direction. She notes her fascination with stories ‘of growth, transformation and dislocation, felt through and mediated by the body’ and ‘translating the physical arts into words: my experiences of dancing and life-modelling’. She relates, ‘…more arduously, carving out narratives of sexual trauma. Death. Then, the sensual pleasures. Sex. Light, dark, light, dark. lidia-yuknavitch-author-quote-eroticAlways this dance, and writing has helped me embrace the totality in the supposed contradictions.’ – read more here

Tobsha Learner began exploring feminist/sexual themes while studying sculpture, before moving into playwriting. There she continued to delve sexuality and gender, and became inspired to write her first erotic short story collection, Quiver.

(find out more about Tobsha here, in my interview).

Krissy Kneen similarly began by writing for the theatre, alongside film, and comes from a family of painters and sculptors, which she cites as an influence. She notes, “There are so many facets of the erotic. I’m drawn to those which lead me to extend myself. I explore. The surrealists taught me to go beyond the knowable and I have followed that call.She stresses her ‘never ending quest to express sex as a growing changing thing’ and emphasizes her ‘desire to transgress’, saying, “I’ve been boundary pushing since I started writing about sex. I experience the world in a very physical way. It’s how I relate to the world in general.”

Malin James trained as a ballet dancer with the San Francisco Ballet before being accepted into NYU’s acting programme, noting that her acting training influences her writing in subtle ways. She states that her writing of erotic elements wasn’t a conscious decision but the result of feeling stifled by avoiding sexual themes. Malin says, “I write to explore and reflect experiences. I like digging beneath a constructed, social surface to get at an emotional reality.”

Donna George Storey describes her writing style as literary, feminist (focusing on the female experience) and realistic. She lived in Japan for three years, receiving a Ph.D. in Japanese literature, and her writing is influenced by Japanese poetics and the literature of the ‘pleasure quarters’. She states her desire to ‘report on the truth of the female experience’. Her storytelling ‘always turned to erotic themes’ and she believes that erotica can be intelligent, challenging and mind-expanding, exciting to the mind as well as to the libido’. She recalls being struck by Di Prima’s ‘brilliant description of several kissing styles’ [in ‘Memoirs of a Beatnik’], saying, “It still amazes and challenges me to capture the truth of the erotic experience in my own work.”

(more on first inspiration here)

The Compulsion To Write

Some women note a very early awareness of sexuality, and a desire to express this on the page. Cecilia Tan wrote on this topic in childhood notebooks and diaries, even from the age of six.

nya-rawlyns-erotic-fiction-quote-women-writersOthers discovered the liberation of writing much later.

Nya Rawlyns asserts, having spent ‘seven decades on this planet’, that writing is never passive. It is a ‘contact sport, dangerous, exhilarating, totally engaging’. She underlines, “I’ve worked at several different careers, and had an uncommon amount of tragedy and strife in my life. I have scars aplenty and I wear them with pride, along with the wrinkles of failure and the thinning skin of hope.” Nya notes her excitement at writers ‘peeling away the socially acceptable and revealing layer-by-layer the most intimate cravings of tortured souls’. She tells us, “I want to step far outside the boundaries of acceptable and explore the intersect of pain and pleasure, right and wrong, good and bad, need and desire.”

Elizabeth Safleur states,I can’t imagine writing anything that doesn’t involve sex on some level. Sex is part of the human experience. It’s one thing every human being has in common – either by avoiding it, being scared by it, recognizing its power (or not), having it, or trying to get it. How anyone can leave out such a powerful element in a story about love, I’ll never know.”

Cate Ellink recounts, “At a manuscript development week with other unpublished female writers, I realized that I was the only one comfortable writing fully depicted sex scenes. I began to see it as a strength, which gave me courage to move into the erotic genre and look at publication.”

Brantwijn Serrah recalls being ‘wildly curious’ about erotic novels. She tells us, “I read short stories first, as I imagine most do. Unfortunately, the first I read was incredibly disappointing. I felt so let down, I decided to write my own… and found compelling, emotive energy from the exercise.”lidia-yuknavitch-author-quote-women

KD Grace comments that it was never her intention that her stories be only erotic, but that she has ‘always found sex to be a fantastic catalyst’. She asserts, “Few actions can change a story more dramatically than sex properly placed. I can’t imagine trying to tell a story without sex included. Neither can I imagine writing sex that isn’t an integral part of a story.”

Kay Jaybee admits to feeling surprised by her impulse to write erotic themes. “I had no intention of writing erotica that first day, sat in a cafe in Scotland at the age of 33. I was daydreaming out of the window, having not written a thing since I left university, when an idea suddenly came that was so naughty it shocked me. It wouldn’t let me go, so I wrote it down on a napkin. The story was taken by Violet Blue three months later. That was nearly twelve years ago, and I’ve never looked back.” She adds that it’s now ‘an obsession’. “If I ‘m not writing, I’m not me.”

Lily Harlem echoes this sentiment, saying, “I ‘have’ to write; it’s very much part of my daily life. I simply write because I love to.”

Telling Women’s Stories

One of Madeline Moore’s first erotically themed tales (writing as Madeline de Chambray) was for an anthology entitled Amazons: tall tales of strong women, about a woman who loses her breast to cancer.

nya-rawlyns-women-writers

Alexis Alvarez asserts her desire to see ‘female-centric’ portrayals of BDSM and sexuality in fiction. She explains, “Most stories, for all of their modern settings and vocabulary, remain stuck in a patriarchal mind-set.”

Donna George Storey emphasizes, “I definitely identify as a woman writer. One of the main reasons I write is because I believe we need more female voices in the chorus of literary expression. I know we are supposed to respect the creative effort of every artist and applaud a writer’s attempt to write across gender. When someone does this well, it is a pleasure to read (plus I applaud every effort to empathize with people who are different from ourselves). However, often, I find that when men write female characters, they don’t connect with the deeper aspects of the female experience. Women (and other groups discriminated against) have not had enough of a chance to share their own experiences honestly. Those are the stories I feel are worth my time to read and write.”

Malin James comments ‘being a woman is the only gendered experience of which I have first hand experience’. She continues, “There are issues, such as sexual abuse, reproductive health and abuse in relationships, upon which I take an entirely gendered view. My perspective on these issues is reflexively female and, while I strive for a balanced perspective, I honor and acknowledge that bias.”

Zak Jane Keir tells us, “I write as a woman; I identify pretty much as a woman and a feminist (this is not making any claims to superiority over men, transpeople or the gender fluid, just a statement that I am content to be me). I like to write about women and women’s sexual autonomy and their independence.”

Within and Beyond Gender

Cate Ellink asserts that she prefers to write from a female perspective, since it is the one she knows and feels confident with, worrying that an attempt at male perspective would weaken her storytelling. Similarly, Christina Mandara is adamant that she writes with strong identification as a woman and believes that, in writing men, she is less skilled than a male author would be.

Madeline Moore states, “Even when writing from the point-of-view of a man, I’m a female writer.” She believes, ‘the discrepancy between what men think women want and what a woman actually wants is enormous’.cecilia-tan-erotic-fiction-quote

However, a number of women authors note their desire to write without a predominantly female voice, preferring to focus on character, regardless of gender. Cecilia Tan underlines, The gender of the character is irrelevant. I’ve written more male protagonists than female, as well as trans characters and characters who magically change gender partway through. I’m biologically female, and my social identification is female, but my self-identification has never been particularly female/feminine.”

Madeline Moore tells us, “I’ve always written from a male perspective as well as female, just as I’ve always written characters of colour and I’ve written sexual orientations and fetishes that differ from my own.”

KD Grace raises an interesting point in her belief that writing from a male perspective gives her ‘permission to explore erotic themes more directly’.

A growing number of women authors feel the same way, choosing to write M-M erotic fiction, stating the motivation that protagonists can be more easily presented as ‘equals’, without navigating social baggage of the roles/expectations of M-F power balance.

Writing Our Own Truths jeanette-winterson-author-quote

Tobsha Learner notes the struggle to find ‘a sexy word for vagina – something that purrs as well as has claws’. Her comment is playful but she touches upon an issue at the heart of women’s writing of the erotic.

Our sexuality is multi-layered, and the ways in which we express our desire are just as complex. We are fluid. We are changeable. We are the tiger and we are the pussy cat.

We, as writers, are exploring the many facets of desire.

We are liberating our voices.

As the reader, you can liberate yours too.

Further Reading 

Coming Soon…

Writing Craft

Authors’ Recommended Reads

Author Inspirations: film, theatre, dance, fiction, art, music

My thanks go to the following authors for giving their time and for their candid answers; my thanks also to authors who contributed their views anonymously.

Tobsha Learner, Laura Antoniou, Susan St. Aubin, Shanna Germain, Remittance Girl, Malin James, Janine Ashbless, Adrea KoreKristina LloydCecilia Tan, Donna George StoreyKathe Koja, Justine Elyot, Sorcha BlackCari Silverwood, Siri OusdahlZander VaneTamsin Flowers, Krissy KneenZak Jane Keir, Jade A WatersKD Grace, Kay Jaybee, Nya RawlynsSessha Batto, Rose CarawayTabitha RayneElizabeth Safleur, Devi AnseviK. L. Shandwick, I.G. Frederick, Jacqui Greaves, Ina MorataFinn MarloweElsa Holland, Elizabeth SchechterLucy Felthouse, Alexis AlvarezLily HarlemMadeline MooreRia Restrepo, Scarlet Darkwood, Victoria Bliss, Jane GilbertCharlie Powell, Cate Ellink, Lee SavinoElizabeth BlackFelicity Brandon, Nicolette HugoAmelia SmartsSue MacNicol, Cassandra ShawArdent RoseSylvia Storm, Renee Rose, Rachel de Vine, Cherry Wild, Patient Lee, Pandora Spocks, Suzette Bohne’ Sommers, Molly Synthia, Meg Amor, Lizzie Ashworth, Cara Bristol, Finn Marlowe, C.A. Bell, Brantwijn Serrah, Aubrey Cara, Kathleen Bradean, Stormchase, Lisa Fox, Allyson YoungEmma JayeDee Maselle, Christina MandaraSue LyndonRebecca Branch, Molly Moore, Vanessa WuJaye Peaches, Ashe Barker, Tilly Andrews and Catherine Mazur.

Women Writing The Erotic: Part Two

women-writing-erotic-fictionIn this series (within the 130 authors survey), I’m sharing women’s views on exploring sexuality through fiction. If you haven’t already read Part One, it’s the best place to begin.

Here, we look at recurring themes within erotic fiction. 

What do we find to challenge and empower us?

What motivates us to write within this diverse, often liberating, yet sometimes misunderstood genre?

Writing ‘sex’ is a pathway to understanding. We recognize that we are more than intellect, and more than emotion. We are also ‘of the body’.

In writing erotic fiction, we use sex as the lens through which we explore our world and our identity.

We, as writers, look at how sexual impulse shapes our motivations, and how it impacts our relationships.

We speak our desire and, in doing so, our voices only become more powerful.

At its best, erotica reaches far beyond formulaic parameters and the ‘comfort’ of perceived ideals.

At its best, there are no parameters.

Kristina Lloyd asserts, “The erotic disrupts, destabilizes and threatens order, both personal and social, and its power is widespread and pervasive.”

lidia-yuknavitch-author-quote-truth-of-bodyChristina Mandara voices the opinion that women’s reading material is being dictated to them: a view shared by Sorcha Black, who believes, “The policing of women’s sexuality includes censoring what we read.”

While being receptive to critique (as would be expected in any genre) we, as authors, need to stand resolute in our belief that sexuality is a valid theme for literary exploration, and that we have the power to write as we see fit.

I.G. Frederick notes, with frustration, “It’s perfectly acceptable to use sex to sell anything from cars to beer, but we’re discouraged from examining the impact of sex on relationships in works of fiction.”

Many of the women taking part in this survey note commercial ‘constraints’ within the genre — such as are difficult to ignore for any writer seeking to earn an income from their work. However, we can argue that responsibility lies with us, as authors, to become less commercially risk-averse. If we write from a place of truth, we’ll find our audience.

Brantwijn Serrah praises erotica’s ability to play with possibilities, assisting ‘readers and authors in exploring new ideas about sexuality’.

Fiction Mirrors and Identifying the ‘Self’

In exploring the psychology of desire, how we behave ‘in the raw’, erotic fiction invites us to open our minds to all possibilities. It has the power to delve not just our fantasies but our truths. It holds a mirror to versions of our ‘self’ rarely let out in polite company; within that mirror, we gain deeper understanding.

nya-rawlyns-author-quote-erotic-fiction-literature-21st-century-emmanuelle-de-maupassantRemittance Girl, in her article, On Writing Erotica, explains her desire ‘to articulate the conflict within ourselves, to make sense of it, and then to reach out to others via the page’. Nya Rawlyns believes the genre has the power to ‘redefine how we see ourselves and our society’.

Sessha Batto emphasizes that her goal is ‘to trace a character’s growth, as revealed through sex’ and to ‘dig deeply into a character’s personality and motivations’, as ‘catalysts for growth and personal discovery’.

Malin James states,Authorial intent comes down to one thing: I want to understand.” She underlines that fiction ‘can reflect the human condition in all its individual, specific forms. It can explore the cause and effects that drive our lives and form our emotional realities.” She adds, “I write to explore and reflect experiences. I like digging beneath a constructed, social surface to get at an emotional reality.” – read more from Malin on her intent here and hereremittance-girl-quote-fiction-reality-author-erotic-fiction

Fantasy v. Realism

Fantasy (all the ‘what ifs’ of our imagination) is a well-recognised aspect of erotic fiction. If not here, then where else, can we explore ‘the forbidden’. As Malin James stresses, “While a great deal of erotica falls into a realistic vein, much of what people actually want is that which they can’t (or don’t feel they can) have in real life. This is why rape fantasies, incest and other transgressive sexual acts continue to sell erotica and generate clicks.” – more on ‘fantasy’ here

 Janine Ashbless sees fiction as ‘a safe area in which to let our darker selves, our fears and our desires, out for a little exercise…’

It may seem contradictory to seek out greater realism within erotic fiction.siri-ousdahl-author-quote-erotic-fiction-21st-century-emmanuelle-de-maupassant-sex However, the majority of writers with the 130 authors survey assert a desire to write recognizable, diverse characters, and situations, with psychological depth, to better allow readers to empathize, and enter into alternate possibilities.

Siri Ousdahl declares, “I’d like there to be a larger place for high-quality, graphic sex writing: fiction that is not coy, does not romanticize or trivialize, and is psychologically realistic.”

Tobsha Learner comments,I like to make my characters normal people with fallible, normal bodies of all ages. The premise being that lust, sex and love is not just something that happens to gorgeous under thirty year olds, with ridiculously youthful and beautiful billionaires.” She asserts, “There is a certain joyful bawdy finger up to the Heavens when such coup de foudres fall upon our heads, whether we be 80, 50, 30 or 16.”

Similarly, CA Bell declares, “I’d like to see sexy, real, and honest writing: no billionaires who can shag for hours and come five times a night.” In her own words, Elizabeth Safleur writescontemporary billionaire erotic romance with a lot of fantasy’ but admits that she’d ‘like to read stories that involve real people, who aren’t great at being together (yet) and figure it out’. She adds, “Instead of the sex being amazing right off the bat, what did they do to make it great? I’d like to read something that allows for insecurities… vulnerabilities can be sexy.”

Diversity

Krissy Kneen tells us, “I’d like to see a broader range of people represented, fat people, old people, the disabled, all types of sexual orientations. I’d also like to see more gender fluidity. I think the masculine/feminine divide is boring and needs to be retired. Manly men and femme women is a cliché that really must go.”

Zak Jane Keir is keen to see more trans characters represented in stories remittance-girl-erotic-fiction-quote(where the plot extends beyond the surprise reveal of them actually being a §transperson). She laments the ‘generic’ in erotic fiction.

Sorcha Black also asserts her goal of challenging assumptions about gender roles and sexual attraction by avoiding ‘stereotypes’. She explains, “A lot of my characters are sexually fluid and are also into kink. I don’t have to limit myself to what’s expected. It’s far too easy to paint caricatures.”

On the theme of ‘perfection’, Madeline Moore states, ”We’re all looking for it and when we’re in love we believe, for a brief time, that we’ve found it.” However, she laments that women often feel that sexual encounters should be ‘perfect’, while men have ridiculous expectations of ‘perfection’.

Lily Harlem underlines her interest in exploring flawed characters, ‘because no one in real life is perfect or makes the right decisions all of the time’. Meanwhile, Donna George Storey notes that fantasy sex is ‘soothing’ but that she’s ‘now trying to capture something more real’. She explains, “I appreciate that erotic fiction often explores a world where characters are free of sexual repression. You meet a gorgeous partner, fall into bed immediately, and the physical tobsha-learner-erotic-fiction-quoteexperience is fantastic even though you don’t know his/her name. The female version usually has the gorgeous partner falling in love for the first time in his life after the aforementioned great sex.” Donna asserts, “I’d like to see more celebration of the magic of sex between people who know each other well. I’d like to acknowledge that time and trust are important in creating a situation where great sex can happen. Couples who’ve been together for a long time are not necessarily bored with each other. They can go deeper, they can play, they know each other well enough to trust it will be mutually enjoyable.”

Cecilia Tan notes her aim to write ‘power dynamics between lovers’ and the ‘ways they explore each other’s inner lives, imagination, and fantasies’.

In the realm of BDSM themed erotic fiction, Nicolette Hugo would like to see ‘alternate sexuality explored more positively’, stating her irritation with ‘sadism being relegated to villains.’. KD Grace explains, “I’m sick to death of weak, cardboard women being written as subs and mean, unlikable, men being written as Doms (or, even worse, as really creepy, stalker types). I want depth, I want a connection that has more to do with what drives the characters, and with the chemistry between them, and less to do with the trappings.”

Zak Jane Keir expresses her desire ‘to share a worldview that isn’t entirely mainstream’.

Meanwhile, Adrea Kore reminds us, “Human sexuality is vast, varied, and complex. The spectrum of people’s turn-ons and kinks is almost verging on infinite. And so is writing about it. As authors, we don’t all have to be covering the same ground… there is room for diversity.” – more here

Themes: Identity

Many authors view ‘identity’ as a prevalent theme, often expressed through understanding of the self (and what motivates our behaviour). Cate Ellink describes this as ‘finding your place in the world’. Malin James notes that she is drawn by the fluidity of the concept of self, and ‘sexuality as a window into deeper understanding of ourselves and each other’.

Cari Silverwood asserts that her stories aim to make us question our ‘relationship with the world and humanity’, to the point where we are ‘uncomfortable and, even, disturbed’. She embraces writing fiction with ‘an inherent moral challenge’.

Remittance Girl, in exploring darker elements of human nature — ‘guilt, emmanuelle-de-maupassant-erotic-fiction-writing-quotemistrust, fear and emotional wounding’ — shows characters obliged to ‘reconstruct their identity in the light of what they’ve done’ –more here. We watch her characters push through their inner-sanctions, and see how they deal with the consequences. In this way, her work exposes our uncertainty and our inconsistencies.

Elizabeth Safleur states her fascination with the theme ofbecoming more yourself’, telling us, “Most of my women are fiercely independent… [but] often find it difficult to reconcile that quality with their submissive and other kink/BDSM yearnings. I’ve noticed a new pattern lately, which is people believing they don’t deserve love, not deep down. Who said writing isn’t cathartic?”

Brantwijn Serrah also explores the theme of identity, of ‘who we are in our most naked moments’. She asserts, “It’s amazing to me how much can be understood through our sexual self.” Nicolette Hugo similarly refers to ‘acceptance of self’ as a theme in her work.

Themes: Truth and Deceit

So many authors, across the centuries, have sought ‘truth’ and, conversely, examined the deceits we perpetrate.

Erotic fiction well lends itself to exploring ‘grey areas of morality’, as Tobsha Learner calls them: to the small lies we tell ourselves, to our unspoken motivations, to the ways in which we manipulate or make use of others. Nicolette Hugo refers to this ‘moral duality’ in her own work, alongside ‘the marriage of sex and violence’.

Donna George Storey states her major theme as ‘the lies we tell, whether malevolent or benevolent… and especially lies involving sex’. Donna explains, %22we-must-kill-the-false-woman-who-is-preventing-the-live-one-from-breathing-%22-quote-helene-cixous“I love exploring the slippery relationship between truth and fiction. The stories I value convey truths that spring from careful thought and deep feeling, truths we often keep secret from others and ourselves. Exploring those truths is what I aim for when I write.”

Sessha Batto views sex as ‘a vehicle of revelation, a way to expose characters when they are most open and vulnerable’. She writes sex to ‘expose the parts we tend to keep hidden’.

Themes: Freedom and Constraint

Another common theme for exploration is that of the nature of freedom (as explored in Siri Ousdahl’s novel, ‘Constraint’). We speak of sexual liberation as a form of ‘freedom’: to make our own choices, without inhibition or shame.

The pursuit of freedom is a preoccupation of my own, although I little realized it when I began writing, exploring the myriad ways in which women are ‘pinned’, ‘exhibited’ and ‘dissected’ by society.

Cecilia Tan takes this idea further in linking sexual expression to creative expression. “Just last weekend I was in a workshop for writers where I discovered that one of my main underlying themes is equating sexuality with creativity at a metaphoric level. My characters tend to be not only on a search for love and sexual gratification; this is usually tied up with their need for creative or artistic expression.”

cecilia-tan-erotic-fiction-quoteShe adds that the public versus private face of a person can exist not only in terms of their sexuality (how they express it to the world versus how they are in private) but their art form (dance, painting, sculpture, music, songwriting, writing, and so on).

Themes: Connection, Yearning, Trust

Tobsha Learner asserts, “The erotica reader doesn’t just want to look; they want to be in the skin of the protagonists. They need to feel the aching frustration and longing and then the blissful release of orgasm, both in the emotional, physical and sometimes spiritual sense.”

Tobsha underlines the importance ofpsychological foreplay’ in erotic fiction (a factor that is largely irrelevant to pornography) – more here.

Lily Harlem asserts her exploration of the ‘many complications that arise from the emotions of love and lust’ – a theme mentioned by many who responded to the 130 authors survey. A significant number underlined, as we might expect, interest in delving the complexities of connection and, as Malin James calls them, ‘social and sexual power dynamics’.

Kay Jaybee, alongside quite a few of the respondent authors, is fascinated by the BDSM world. She tells us, “I don’t inhabit that world, but the psychology of it, the dynamic of total trust that it requires, is an endless source of inspiration.” Meanwhile, Madeline Moore tells us that she writes about people who are ‘in a state of yearning’ or ‘obsession’.

sign-my-death-with-your-teeth%22-author-quote-helene-cixousThemes: Mortality

Shanna Germain notes her desire to break open the relationship between sex and death, to ask her characters ‘How are you going to handle this? Will you grow and change? Will you show your true self? Or will you hide?’ Malin James, too, finds herself returning often to explorations of mortality and ‘the relationship between sex and death’, as does Christina Mandara. 

Cultural Relevance

Shanna Germain underlines that, of all genres, erotica (and horror) most reflect ‘the mores of our current culture’. She tells us, “Sci-fi looks ahead, fantasy looks back, literary fiction looks askance. But erotica looks right at the now and says, ‘This is happening, in the streets, in the bedrooms, in the bars.’ Where will erotica, as a genre go? It will go where the culture goes. I hope it goes somewhere open-minded, joyous, and hot as fuck.”

As Remittance Girl asserts, “I hope that I can play some small role in the evolution of erotic writing and help, if only in a tiny way, to push it into the light, and towards being recognized as a fertile and unconstrained form of critically recognized literature.” She urges us, “We are adventurers. We are explorers. Be brave. Dare to write what frightens and unsettles us, as well as what delights us. In doing so, we may write words worth remembrance.” – more here

It’s time for us to write our own rules.

We can be whoever we wish to be.

Own your sexuality, own your voice, own your words.

In Part Three: Inspirations, influences, and the relevance of gender

Further Reading 

Coming Soon…

Writing Craft

Authors’ Recommended Reads

Author Influences: music, theatre, dance, fiction, art

My thanks go to the following authors for giving their time and for their candid answers; my thanks also to authors who contributed their views anonymously.

Tobsha Learner, Laura Antoniou, Susan St. Aubin, Shanna Germain, Remittance Girl, Malin James, Janine Ashbless, Adrea KoreKristina LloydCecilia Tan, Donna George StoreyKathe Koja, Justine Elyot, Sorcha BlackCari Silverwood, Siri OusdahlZander VaneTamsin Flowers, Krissy KneenZak Jane Keir, Jade A WatersKD Grace, Kay Jaybee, Nya RawlynsSessha Batto, Rose CarawayTabitha RayneElizabeth Safleur, Devi AnseviK. L. Shandwick, I.G. Frederick, Jacqui Greaves, Ina MorataFinn MarloweElsa Holland, Elizabeth SchechterLucy Felthouse, Alexis AlvarezLily HarlemMadeline MooreRia Restrepo, Scarlet Darkwood, Victoria Bliss, Jane GilbertCharlie Powell, Cate Ellink, Lee SavinoElizabeth BlackFelicity Brandon, Nicolette HugoAmelia SmartsSue MacNicol, Cassandra ShawArdent RoseSylvia Storm, Renee Rose, Rachel de Vine, Cherry Wild, Patient Lee, Pandora Spocks, Suzette Bohne’ Sommers, Molly Synthia, Meg Amor, Lizzie Ashworth, Cara Bristol, Finn Marlowe, C.A. Bell, Brantwijn Serrah, Aubrey Cara, Kathleen Bradean, Stormchase, Lisa Fox, Allyson YoungEmma JayeDee Maselle, Christina MandaraSue LyndonRebecca Branch, Molly Moore, Vanessa WuJaye Peaches, Ashe Barker, Tilly Andrews and Catherine Mazur.

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.

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