Eroticon 2012, a one-day conference held in Bristol on Saturday 3 March, was billed as the UK’s first conference for erotica writers and sex bloggers.
Sessions, panels and workshops ran from half past nine to five o’clock. Highlights for us were the first and last panel sessions, “Identity, ethics and sex blogging”, and “Sex and the media”. Zoe Margolis, founder of the personal sex blog “Girl With a One Track Mind” (2004) and author of the book of the same title (2006), stood out in both panels as a passionate and committed advocate of a concerted, coordinated effort to counter regressive – and sometimes oppressive – social attitudes and those institutions, such as mainstream media, that support and promote them.
Margolis, who began her blog under the name of Abbey Lee, used her own experience of being ‘exposed’ by the Sunday Times in 2006 to illustrate the urgency of the need to work towards reforming these regressive social attitudes. She told how she was “hounded by the press for weeks”, during which time she, her family, friends, neighbours, work colleagues and even casual acquaintances endured continual harassment and invasions of privacy and offers of payment to reveal information that could prove damaging to her reputation.
Margolis provided a stark insight into the mentality of those who persecuted her when she revealed to conference delegates that the hate mail she received as an anonymous blogger – “cunt, whore, slut” – became, after the exposé, “cunt, whore, slut – and I’m going to rape you, I’m going to kill you”. She lost her job, was driven to the verge of a breakdown, but endured and recovered her composure to the extent that she could continue blogging, now under her real name, with the same objective: to express a woman’s desire for sex without shame or embarrassment.
Her blogging, however, changed after the exposé – from a completely free and liberating form of writing to a more formal and inhibiting process of, for example, gaining permissions and allowing those who might feature in her writing to edit relevant texts. Margolis advised: go beyond not putting potentially identifying information on the internet by deliberately laying a trail of false information. She then made a point regarding blogging ethics: don’t expose other writers and bloggers.
A question from the floor by erotica author Scarlett French queried whether anonymous writing might be counterproductive by perpetuating negative stereotypes of sex. Co-panelists in the first session, sex bloggers Mina Lamieux and Molly Moore, stressed there could be many practical reasons why writers of such material might desire anonymity, including the possibility of losing custody of children. Lamieux also insisted that society will “put you in a box”, and Margolis presented evidence that women sex bloggers and erotica writers often choose anonymity because they fear damning judgment.
Panelists for “Sex and the Media” reached early agreement that mainstream media were the dominating force in the representation of distorted and clichéd images of women and sex in society. Margolis offered one explanation for this: journalists are lazy and will quickly resort to “the easiest stereotype”.
Session two saw author and editor Maxim Jakubowski take to the stage to present a writing workshop. Best known in the genre by his longstanding editorship of the Mammoth books of erotica, Jakubowski emphasised that erotica can and should be literary, but that ninety percent of all fiction writing is “crap”. He maintained that the explosion in e-books and self-publishing is driving down both the quality of fiction writing and the remuneration being paid to writers by publishers.
Jakubowski said erotica is the same as other genres of fiction: a story is required. Also required are character development, an emotional landscape, and the creation of atmosphere. He advised that gratuitous vulgarity should be avoided. He stressed the importance of show, don’t tell, “the classic axiom of fiction writing”, which, he said, makes the difference between surprise and predictability.
After outlining select recommended rules for quality fiction writing, Jakubowski then discussed some “don’ts”, which centred on “the four deadly sins” of underage sex, nonconsensual sex, bestiality, and incest. He recognised the very sensitive nature of these topics, but questioned their taboo status, which he asserted was determined by very subjective “artificial boundaries”. He proffered that “the four deadly sins” are aspects of human sexuality and are realities of life, so therefore should be accepted as subject matter for writing, concluding that “there should be no rules, you should be able to write what you want to write”.
The publishers’ panel in session four extended the discussion of taboos and ventured into the field of censorship. Several urgent mentions were made concerning mid-February ultimatums issued to e-publishers by the online cash payment company, PayPal, regarding erotica. E-publishers, including the world’s biggest e-book publishing and distribution platform for independent authors and publishers, US-based Smashwords, were given only a few days’ notice to purge their erotica categories of certain types of fiction or face closure of their PayPal accounts and forfeiture of all monies in their accounts.
Jakubowski said that such issues of censorship were prevalent in the Anglo-Saxon world, which appeared to have a more jaundiced and repressively moralistic view of erotica than many European countries. He asserted that the best erotica today is being written in France and Italy. In France, for example, Jakubowski said erotica is not a genre separate from creative fiction, and that erotic work of a very high literary quality that eclipses most of what appears in the English-speaking world is regularly produced by well-known mainstream writers. Elaborating, he said it is almost an honour in France for established writers to occasionally write an erotic work, and that when they do, such work is received well and is reviewed seriously.
Richard Eadie of erotica publisher Silver Moon concurred with Jakubowski, saying continental Europe does have a more “grown-up” approach to erotic writing; he added that the British tabloid press “has a lot to answer for”.
Hazel Cushion, founder of London-based Xcite Books, said that, despite her imprint’s strict guidelines to publish within the subject-matter boundaries set by the likes of Amazon and PayPal, she had one book “pulled”, and that since establishing Xcite in 2007, publishing erotica has been “getting harder and harder” due to corporate censorship. Cushion also said she had one of her female authors outed by mainstream media, resulting in the author declining to write a new book when invited.
Author Monique Roffey offered sound advice to the increasing numbers of aspiring writers who are now by-passing the traditional world of writers – dealing with publishers and editors, and having work professionally edited and/or peer reviewed – in favour of self-publishing, e-publishing and blogging. One particular nugget was this: editors with a good reputation are known in the world of serious writing, so seek one out to help you improve your work.
Award-winning erotic photographer John Tisbury, in his workshop on basic photography, added his own perspective to Jakubowski’s and Eadie’s views on how Anglo–Saxon attitudes to erotica can differ substantially from those in continental Europe: when doing outdoors erotic and nude photo shoots in the United Kingdom, he is likely to be confronted by offended members of the public or reported to the police. Outdoors UK shoots not only require the location to be private, he said, but specific permissions for land use need to be sought because if relevant parties recognise the location from published photographs, legal action against the photographer can ensue. For these reasons he conducts most of his outdoors nude–erotic shoots in Spain.
Other sessions were:
“Going indie, self-publishing”, by MK Elliott;
“Convincingly queer”, by Aisling Weaver and Josephine Myles;
“Taking your writing beyond the page”, by Scarlett French;
A technical workshop on establishing a blog using WordPress, by Michael Knight;
“Marketing your work”, by Victoria Bliss and Lucy Felthouse;
“Starting with podcasting”, by Michael Knight.
Sessions and workshops ran concurrently and wound up with “Sacred Kink”, a demonstration of sensual corporal punishment by London Faerie. This was followed by an accomplished burlesque performance and drinks party.
Delegates and presenters travelled to Bristol for the event from all over the United Kingdom and the United States. More than three-quarters of Eroticon delegates were women, and fourteen of the eighteen presenters – more than ninety-seven percent – were women.
Eroticon 2012 was sponsored by erotica publishers Total-E-Bound, Andrews UK, and Silver Moon, and by sex toy retailers Lovehoney and Coco de Mer.
The conference is the brainchild of erotic author Ruby Kiddell, who said she was extremely pleased with the conference and the positive reception it has received. Her inspiration for Eroticon “was born of seeing a need for bloggers and writers to have a safe, non-judgmental and inspiring event in which to discuss their writing, hone their skills, and network”. She said that another Eroticon in 2013 is assured.
by Daryl Champion for SomethingDark
This is an edited version of the full report, which can be found in the SomethingDark news section here –
SomethingDark is here – www.somethingdark.eu
Ruby Kiddell is here – www.eroticnotebook.co.uk