Eroticon 2013, alas without pictures
Eroticon 2013 has been and gone! I had a blast and am almost recovered. This weekend conference for sex bloggers and erotica writers was fabulous. Superbly organised by Ruby Kiddell, Eroticon offered a variety of workshops, seminars and presentations. I got to hang out with so many wonderful people. I met familiar friends, made new ones, put faces to names, got plenty of industry gossip, and left wishing I’d had time to talk to more people. But that’s part of the haphazard joy of these things: you spend too long chatting to the woman promoting organic lube, and not enough time talking to people you’ve been interacting with online for years, on and off.
I ran a writing workshop during the first session on Saturday morning which was, for me, exciting, rewarding and scary! The room was packed with delegates buzzing with early-conference energy and among my ‘students’ were writers and editors I have huge respect for. Yikes! But everything went smoothly and I’ve since received so much positive feedback (45 minutes of the best creative writing teaching & learning I’ve ever attended, said Remittance Girl; probably my favourite session of Eroticon, said Innocent Loverboy) that I’m all aglow.
Much of the success of the session was down to the willingness of attendees to be playful and imaginative, to trust in uncertainty and illogicality, and to build their individual sex machines from the Ikea flat-pack I gave them. I intend to do a post soon summarising the workshop and drawing together some of the ‘results’ because we didn’t have time to properly share, and I think many participants made gold! In the meantime, check out RG’s sex machine and her write-up of the class
My personal highlights of Eroticon were:
- Remittance Girl’s presentation on Eroticism and Romance, a theoretically-framed but highly accessible exploration of, among other things, the difficulties of writing about sex, socio-politically and linguistically. This talk developed and contextualised some of the points I’d touched on in my own workshop and for me, and I hope for others who attended both sessions, was nicely validating. RG delivered her talk with wit, intelligence and passion and, in our FSoG culture, offered a timely reminder of the need to write with integrity or our genre dies under the boot heels of the money men.
- Ashley Lister‘s poetry workshop on the Sunday: this was huge amounts of fun and provided a great opportunity in a packed weekend to focus on the words. Ashley concentrated on short, formal verse: Clerihew, haiku and limerick, and had us penning poems against the clock. Some of the offerings were top-notch, and many were brilliantly funny. One of my favourites was Kay Jaybee’s contribution about her friend, Grace (and yes, she was sat next to KD Grace in class). Ashley, a prolific author and a creative-writing tutor, has a book out: How to Write Erotic Fiction. If you’re interested in developing your craft in this genre, buy it!
- ‘Tools of the BDSM Trade’ from D/S duo, Molly Moore and Michael Knight: Molly and Michael are the Posh and Becks of sex-blogging (well, at any rate, they’re famous in that world!), and they brought along half their bedroom for us to inspect. They had some seriously great kit. My favourite parts of the session were probably the brief anecdotes explaining the origins of the pervertables among their collection: a long-handled, ceramic spoon ‘liberated’ from a pub restaurant (it even bore the table number, 32); the grooved, garlic-baguette bread board (complete with cute little garlic pic) picked up for 50p and turned into a spanky bat. It’s always nice to see the more prosaic, ‘human’ side of kink which can, in the wrong hands, tend toward the performative and consumerist
- Aural Sex ie Saturday evening readings. This was a fun, well-attended event in a tatty pub in Kennington offering a mix of comedy, fiction, verse and autobiographical vignettes. I read the opening from my story in Smart Ass, and people laughed in the right places which is always nice! Credit to Harper Eliot for organising the gig. Her write up is here.
Overall, it was a superb weekend, enormously enjoyable, supportive and informative. I would have liked to see more writing workshops in the schedule but I think the relative lack wasn’t strategy on the part of the organisers but a result of a shortage of willing authors. (We are very shy and awkward.)
There was also, for me, what I can only rather clunkily describe as an uncomfortable tension between fact and fiction. The framing of some of the sessions left me feeling as if people from ‘outside’ fiction-writing – the educators, activists, entrepreneurs – were there to offer information and situate fiction in more realistic contexts. The question of what erotic fiction is, does and might want to be was, I felt, sometimes overlooked. Are we making marital aids or art? Sex bloggers kinda complicate the issue here in that many are blogging solely in an autobiographical fashion while others are also writing fiction. The two types of writing are different in interesting ways, and yet, because the medium is consistent, this is ‘blogging’. And we are all writers, in that we are writing.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I was kinda confused as to what Eroticon was. I don’t think it has quite found its identity – which isn’t at all a criticism. It’s fantastically exciting to be involved in a project in its early stages. The best creative ventures don’t start out knowing who they are or what they want. They find their way towards a place by exploring freely, and I know this is very much Ruby’s ethos.
I’m slightly thinking aloud here, and would be interested in other people’s thoughts. The strapline for Eroticon is ‘Write sex right’. Some of the sessions felt as if they’d been developed with this as their goal but of course there isn’t a ‘right’ way, and ‘writing sex’ is such a broad category that you can’t address those writers as if they were a single entity.
I know others have observed that the opening Sexual Health plenary from Brooks wasn’t the best way to begin a con focused on sex-positivity and writing, and I totally agree. Ditto, Ruby’s closing plenary on day 1 with its focus on some weird specifics of making money from your blog which kinda went over my head. I missed the opening plenary on day 2 but I’m told this had more of a fic focus. And Cindy Gallop’s closing session, while inspiring in many ways, left me with an unpleasant taste in my mouth. I don’t recall Cindy’s wording and I took no notes, but a key part of the message was: your work is proving its worth if you are able to make money out of it.
Ah, if only capitalism were that sweet, simple and transparent!
In short, I’m left asking: is Eroticon a conference for writers engaged with sex and eroticism? If so, what do we mean by ‘writing’ and, um, why are there workshops from photographers? Or is Eroticon a conference for people interested in representations of sex and/or in writing? If so, that diversity of pick ‘n’ mix sessions is perfectly appropriate but maybe the conference needs to be marketed with less of an emphasis on writing.
My thoughts are meant as constructive criticism (and half-baked ramblings!), not grumbles. I’m really interested in how we, as speakers, attendees and organisers, shape this conference in defiance of those who would regard us as freaks! I think it’s vitally important that Eroticon exists, that we have a space to explore sex and writing in contemporary culture. I think Eroticon is going to go from strength to strength, and I’m already hungry for 2014!
And next time, I will take more photos and not leave my fucking phone charger in the fucking hotel room!