Tag Archives: art and life

Shakespeare and senses – the Five Senses Blog Tour

Thanks to RJ Scott for inviting me to be part of her “The Five Senses Blog Tour” for autism – go have a look at the master post here. Today I’m talking about Shakespeare and senses! Why, you ask? More on that below – and a chance to win one of my books (your choice of an eBook or a signed paperback).  First check out the fascinating fact below about autism:

Autism Fact: A Singapore scientist, Dr James Teh, has invented the T-jacket, a vest that provides deep pressure that simulates the feeling of a hug. “Deep pressure is a form of calming agent,” said Dr Teh. “So it basically helps to provide a sensation which an individual with autism, for example, can focus on. It helps to shut out all the other sensory inputs from the environment.” A smartphone app controls the intensity of the hug that the T-jacket gives, with the maximum being akin to a bear hug.

http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/world/how-technology-that/1998210.html

So why Shakespeare? Because it’s only the dude’s freaking birthday! Yes April 23rd, as well as being St. George’s Day, is William Shakespeare’s birthday *throws rainbow confetti*.

This man, this writer above all writers, who invented new words and coined phrases that have become part of our everyday language and wrote exquisite beautiful lines – he above all writers endlessly revisits the idea of the senses being our gateway to the world and to understanding ourselves and everything around us – such as in this well-known speech..

I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, heal’d by the same means, warm’d and cool’d by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, do we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that…

Shylock, The Merchant of Venice

He uses this idea – of all the senses together – again and again when he writes of what it is love, whether because everything about the beloved is delightful…

Had I no eyes but ears, my ears would love. That inward beauty and invisible;
Or were I deaf, thy outward parts would move each part in me that were but sensible: Though neither eyes nor ears, to hear nor see, yet should I be in love by touching thee.
Say, that the sense of feeling were bereft me, and that I could not see, nor hear, nor touch, and nothing but the very smell were left me, yet would my love to thee be still as much; for from the stillitory of thy face excelling comes breath perfum’d that breedeth love by smelling.

Venus and Adonis

…or, because nothing is, yet still he loves.

In faith, I do not love thee with mine eyes,
For they in thee a thousand errors note;
But ’tis my heart that loves what they despise,
Who in despite of view is pleased to dote;
Nor are mine ears with thy tongue’s tune delighted,
Nor tender feeling, to base touches prone,
Nor taste, nor smell, desire to be invited
To any sensual feast with thee alone:
But my five wits nor my five senses can
Dissuade one foolish heart from serving thee…

Sonnet 141

Even his comic characters muse on the senses, though in Bottom’s case, in a rather muddled way:

The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report, what my dream was…

Bottom, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

And actually, this last, comic quote is the one I’m thinking of today as I muse on the purpose of this blog hop. Because what are our senses, really? They are like a shared language – blue is this colour, sour is that taste – and through this shared comprehension, of the world, we connect to others. But sometimes – as with language – our experiences are not the same. Sometimes our sensory language diverges. That doesn’t mean I can’t connect with you – it just means I need to take the time to understand what your experience is. And that’s what RJ’s blog hop is all about really.

Leave a comment for a chance to win a book – the winner can select either any eBook from my backlist or a signed paperback (paperbacks only available for Provoked, Beguiled, Enlightened, Unnatural, The Dream Alchemist or Unforgivable).

autism

 

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My 2014 in review: the writey stuff

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2014 has been a pretty good writing and publishing year for me. I published two novels, two novellas and a (very short) short this year which is a pretty good output for me given my work and family commitments.

The stories were:

  • Enlightened, the final novel in my Enlightenment trilogy (my most ambitious writing project to date)
  • Introducing Mr Winterbourne, a novella in the Another Place in Time charity anthology organised by Susan Lee
  • The Dream Alchemist, my first, um, paranormal-y novel (I struggle to label this story – it doesn’t *feel* like paranormal or fantasy to me, but something else)
  • Rest and Be Thankful, a contemporary set novella in the Comfort & Joy Christmas anthology organised by Josh Lanyon
  • Seasons Pass, a very short story in the Enlightenment series. Although this is only 5k, it’s one of my favourite things I wrote this year

In terms of next year’s output, I have notebooks full of ideas for future projects – some of those are stories I’m desperate to write and others are stories I’m interested in more for the challenge they pose.

When I think about it, pretty much everything I’ve published has had something in it that’s been some kind of challenge. My first book featured a woman masquerading as a man – I began writing that book after reading a few blogs that talked about this being a trope readers struggled with because they found it difficult to believe a woman could successfully pass as a man. My second book featured that most loathed of romance characters, the philandering husband (I genuinely love the hero of that book but he’s been roundly despised by many readers). With the first book of the Enlightenment series, I wrote a romance with no HEA or even an HFN and that really bothered some readers (but I genuinely felt it had to be that way) and across the broader arc of all three Enlightenment books, I set myself the challenge of creating an ultimate HEA for two Regency men that readers could really believe in and have the same sense of pay off as from a het historical. With my more recent stories – The Dream Alchemist and Rest and Be Thankful – the challenge has been in the change of genre. I’ve discovered that paranormal and contemporary genres present vastly different challenges than historical… and that no genre is easy…

In terms of what I’m writing right now, I’m in the luxurious (I think) position of writing something that is both a real book of my heart and a new challenge. This is Captain Iain Sinclair’s book. Readers of Seasons Pass will have briefly met Iain and his love interest, James Hart. James and Iain have known each a long time so I’m trying to tell their story in two interwoven narrative strands – the ‘present’ strand (1824) and a second strand which shows how their relationship has developed between 1808 and 1824. This is not an easy way to write a story, but it gives me lots of opportunities to set up satisfying emotional pay offs – if I can get the tension and the pace if it right (I’m a firm believer that so much in romance is about pace and timing). That novel will come out late 2015.

Enough of 2015 though, what else happened in 2014?

Well, I was nominated in Dabwaha which was very cool, though I went out after round 2 (albeit respectably, to the eventual winner, Captive Prince 2). Oh, and I attended my first conference, the UK GLBT Fiction Meet in Bristol where I met some fabulous people, such as Susan Lee, K J Charles,  Sam Higson, Liz Whinder, Helena Justina,  Rachel Maybury, Clare London, Jo Myles, Elin Gregory, Johanna Ollila, Jordan Castillo Price, LA Witt, Aleksander Voinov, Charlie Cochrane, Calathea, Jay Northcote – the list goes on! It was a great meet and I hope to be at the next one in September next year, all going well.

I loved doing my two anthologies. It was a thrill to see my stories published with other writers I highly rate. In both cases, I felt very much like the ‘junior partner’ in the line up (which felt quite a luxurious place to be in all honesty). Hopefully, these anthologies have introduced my stories to a few new readers.

Another new-to-me for 2014 has been self publishing, which I dipped a toe into the water of with the Comfort & Joy anthology. Having had my hand comprehensively (and generously) held through that process, I plan at least one self pubbing venture in 2015. I have to say, I love working with my publishers, Samhain, but I would like to put something out before the Iain and James book, hopefully around summer time and self pubbing is the best way to achieve that, given the timetable I’m working with.

Is there anything you’d particularly like to see from me? Genre? Characters? Tropes?

 

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Don’t be a stranger

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Next weekend, I’m doing something new and different for me: I’m going to the UK GLBT fiction meet in Bristol.

I’ve been to conferences before, but not writing-related conferences. And not, crucially, as me, only than as a representative of someone or something else.

Never, never with the expectation (or at least, hope) of enjoying myself.

I’m going to this conference as an author, but I’m going as a reader too. There are some writers I really adore going: Jordan Castillo Price, Harper Fox, K J Charles, J L Merrow – loads of others too. People I just want to say ‘thanks’ too. And ‘how did you get that idea?’ And quiz them about their process.

I also want to talk to readers, as fellow readers. I want to talk about the stuff I like to read and what drives me insane and what just *gets* me right in the gut. Why I read what I read. The compulsion of it, and the pleasure. The ‘money shots’ of romance and why they are powerful. The best reading moments I’ve experienced. What reading means to me. Actually, more than anything, I think it’s this that I look forward to.

I’ve been experiencing that back and forth through the online romance community for the last 7 or 8 years. More than anything else, it was that that got me (and kept me) writing, so to have these conversations face to face will be the greatest of all treats.

I’ve never met any of the other attendees of this conference in real life and that’s a wee bit daunting but I’m packing two pairs of big girl pants to be safe. Two pairs of big girl pants and 150 swag bag thingys and a handful (literally an handful) of copies of Provoked in print.

I’ll see you there, maybe.

Don’t be a stranger, ok?

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It’s all about me, babe (or, Revelation of Self)

I’ve been pondering a lot lately what it is I write about. This is intimately related to what I like to read about, given that part of my reason for writing is to create something that Reader-Me craves.

I’ve realised that my major abiding obsession is about the revelation of self.

When I first started thinking about this question, I initially decided that my books were all about discovery of self – essentially, “Who am I?”. But whilst that is certainly true of the characters in my latest three books, the Enlightenment trilogy, it is not true of my first two books, in which I wrote about women whose true selves were concealed. These were not characters who didn’t know themselves, but rather characters who struggled with revealing themselves.

I’m not suggesting at all that all romance is about revelation of self, but for me, this is something I crave and greatly love. This theme speaks to me so very deeply – it is, for me, a golden thing and when I think of many of my favourite romances I see it there: from Pride & Prejudice to this year’s Dabwaha winner, Captive Prince.

Which brings me to the purpose of this post, namely, the beautiful film I watched last night, Romeos. This gorgeous German movie, directed by Sabine Bernardi, is the story of Lukas, a young pre-op female-to-male transexual and his struggle to find a place for himself in the world. Within the wider story is a romance between Lukas (who is not only transsexual, but gay, two things that he angrily tells his best friend are “completely separate”) and a physically beautiful man called Fabio.

The movie is very sparse on dialogue but the acting is powerful. Rick Okon is wonderful as Lukas. His depiction of Lukas’ feelings through facial expression and body language is beautifully observed and heart wrenching.

There were many many rich and wonderful things about this movie but I’m going to restrict my comments to this stuff about revelation of self and how that was explored.

Lukas is a man in a transitioning body. He has female sexual organs but thanks to the drugs he’s been taking, he looks male. His sense of his own masculinity is both robust and fragile and this is shown beautifully in his angry insistence on being treated like a male, his heartbreaking loathing of his female body and in a number of scenes in which other characters’ actions and reactions make him feel bad or humiliated or less than in some way. That none of these scenes feature violence or anything egregiously traumatic is a testament to the power of the acting and storytelling because these scenes just wrenched at me. And this was merely the ordinary, everyday stuff of life: people teasing each other, showing prurient curiosity, showing disapproval and barely concealed disgust.

I’ve been thinking about trans people a fair bit recently – for various reasons – and this film came along at an apt time for me. I can’t tell you how much it moved me – beyond anything. It took me somewhere I’d tried to imagine and made it vividly real to me.

Art is the greatest teacher because it can make us understand things beyond our experience. Because it shows rather than tells. If you’re willing to open yourself up to it, you can live another life in a small way, for a little time.

It can change you, and I love that.

Whilst Lukas is the main focus of the film, he is not its only subject. Fabio also has a hidden self that is slowly revealed. I adored the way the film both contrasted and aligned Lukas and Fabio. They are both men, attracted to one another, wanting the same thing. But whilst Lukas is gauche and lacking in confidence, Fabio is all unselfconscious beauty, male arrogance, sexual confidence. Early on, he is dismissed (by a seemingly more sensitive character) as a man slut who is only good for one thing. But it is Fabio – brash and thoughtless as he is at times – who comes to ultimately see, and love, Lukas’s true self in one of the most beautiful love scenes I think I’ve ever seen on film. One of the reasons this love scene is so good is that it follows a prior sex scene between Lukas and another gay man. Whilst that character is willing to have sex with Lukas despite his female body, his ‘acceptance’ takes the form of mingled shock, amusement and a sort of prurient arousal over Lukas’s exoticism. In other words, this not acceptance at all.

I didn’t think about this character’s reaction in anything like that detail when I was actually watching that scene. It only occurred to me later, after the subsequent love scene in which Fabio and Lukas come together. They do so, not as a man and a man, or as a man and a woman – how they should be classified, scientifically or otherwise, just doesn’t come into it. They come together as themselves, as Fabio and Lukas. What you see, in that final scene, is very lovely. Revelation and discovery. Deeply personal and individual.

It’s difficult to find a scene on You Tube that gives a good sense of the film. The scene I’ve embedded here is an odd dreamlike sequence from the middle of the film – but it is thematically representative. The blue lighting, and choice of song, are very deliberate. There is a running metaphor of a watery voyage of discovery – dangerous and elemental – to a new land, a rebirth, that runs through the film. The drag queen in this scene is a sort of kindly siren. Beckoning Lukas, acknowledging how hard the journey is. Telling him it’s worth the fight.

 

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May 1, 2014 · 8:49 pm

On muses and musings

I have decided what to write about for my next project and am super excited about it. It’s an old project I set aside when I decided to start writing David and Murdo and very different from my historicals – a UF I suppose.

I was in two minds about even looking at the project again. I’d done a lot of work on it pre “Murvid”, but my lingering memory of it was that the characters felt kind of… dead. So, my first job was to re-cast. Step one was to change it from a M/F to a M/M, which wasn’t too taxing. The trickier bit came next though – creating personalities, goals, obstacles, dreams – stuff I realised my original characters didn’t have very much of (I’ve been learning by doing, people…)

For reasons that aren’t easy to put into words, this song was part of that process. This is The Killers’ annual Christmas song (although I don’t think it’s a Christmas song at all). It has a particular tone and feel that I find very beautiful and very poignant.

My book isn’t about Christmas or LA and doesn’t feature a character that looks anything like Owen Wilson. It doesn’t do anything, really, that in any way relates to this video or song except this: this song is how my guy feels.

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January 11, 2014 · 5:24 pm

Profoundly good reading

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I know. I only just blogged about a Josh Lanyon book a couple of weeks ago. What can I say? It takes something to move me to blog these days. It takes this.

The Parting Glass is a sequel to In A Dark Wood, a suspense story Lanyon wrote a few years ago which SPOILER ALERT ended on a fairly blue (if hopeful) note, with the MCs agreeing to part while one of them sought to tackle his alcoholism. END OF SPOILER.

The Parting Glass takes place two years later. Tim, now sober, lives in California and Luke is still in New York. In short, things haven’t worked out as the reader might have hoped at the end of In A Dark Wood, and over the course of the next 70 pages, we discover why.

It’s the way Lanyon tells that story: what happened, and why, that is so very satisfying.

I couldn’t believe what Lanyon managed to pack into just 70 pages. This story was so poignant, so incredibly emotional, right from page one, when Tim and Luke run into one another unexpectedly. The immediate, instinctive joy they both exhibit during this reunion lulled me into a false sense of security. I saw that these two had drifted apart, somehow, but the instinctive happiness they felt on seeing one another reassured me that everything would come right very soon.

And that was when their history slowly began to emerge – patiently, painfully – the profoundly sad story of what went before, how two people who loved each other came apart. The facts of that story aren’t particularly startling – it’s a pretty everyday one really – but Lanyon paints it with such rich humanity, such profound understanding and sympathy, that it wrenches at you.

And here’s something kind of interesting: close to the end, I realised I didn’t know what was going to happen. I thought – well, never mind what I thought. The point is that Lanyon really made me feel – no, he made me believe – in Tim’s vision of the impossibility of happiness with Luke.

Oh yes, I believed. And that’s the biggest compliment I can give to any book.

I believed, and I hoped, and I cried. I really, really did cry! And when it was over, I sat there (in bed, for that is where I was) and I turned to my husband and I said,

“That was a really fucking good book.”

And then I sighed, heartfelt like, because I was sad that it was over, and I was happy, and I was satisfied and so – enriched.

This is what reading does, at its very best. It enriches you, in ways that I find – still, after years and years of trying to pin this down – impossible to put into words.

After all, why should it matter to me that these fictional characters went through the mill and came out, older, wiser, better? Why should I care about lessons learned? About redemption and change, the fumbling reach to understanding? What does any of it matter?

It matters because this stuff – this is the stuff of life.

How can close can you take me to it?

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