Eats, Shoots and Leaves

Though I’ve spent over a year writing a non-fiction book -slaving away in Costa Coffee documenting the ups and downs of a 3 1/2 month journey around India – when browsing the shelves of Waterstones or, dare-I-say-it, downloading books onto my kindle, my literary tipple always seems to be fiction.

Despite thinking that my own book it a roflcopter (roll on floor laughing – copter) fest, the genre non-fiction is, for my grey matter, synonymous with heavy-duty, dense, factual and intensely cerebral. Not that I don’t love learning, in fact recently I decided that if I won the lottery I would – along with all the holiday homes, spa days, Michelin star restaurant outings – go back into education. I’d like to do a degree in History, a degree in Creative Writing and learn some more Law.

I digress, though I love learning when browsing bookshelves I am not often drawn to books that impart actual knowledge. No, I am seduced by the allure of fantasy, of escape and dream. Of fiction.

That was, until the grammatical grating of my father, grated one step too far. ‘Alice, that apostrophe is in the wrong place,’ ‘Alice, why have you put a semi-colon there?’ Alice, it should be ‘father,’ not ‘Father.’

He was right of course, though they were small mistakes they were making a big difference.  First of all I got defensive, ‘we weren’t taught punctuation properly at school,’ ‘it’s not my fault,’ ‘stop being such a pedant.’ This, I still stand by, the education system does not teach grammar well. We are the lost grammatical generation. I didn’t want to traipse through a gigantic volume and decipher where exactly my comma should go.

I shared my concerns with said father and he introduced me to Lynne Truss’s book Eats, Shoots and Leaves. I haven’t looked back since.

ES&L

Funny, informative and easy-to-follow, Eats, Shoots and Leaves is a must for all aspiring grammarians. The older we get the more embarrassing it is to be told that we’ve used a colon where a semi-colon was needed, or a comma where a colon was needed. What is even more worrying though, is that people don’t seem to care enough to do something about it. With a full-time job, you can’t expect me to enroll in an evening ‘grammar’ class?

No, you don’t have to. Lynne Truss has given us an alternative. A book that you can read in the secrecy of your own home. A book that isn’t called ‘Grammar for Grown-ups.’ A book that can finally teach you what your teachers failed to teach you.

I can’t recommend Eats, Shoots and Leaves more.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Eats-Shoots-Leaves-Lynne-Truss/dp/0007329067

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The Erotic Book Club

“Reversing out of the park, I struck an unmarked tree. Catherine vomited over my seat. This pool of vomit with its clots of blood like liquid rubies, as viscous and discreet as everything produced by Catherine, still contains for me the essence of the erotic delirium of the car-crash, more exciting than her own rectal and vaginal mucus, as refined as the excrement of a fairy queen, or the minuscule globes of liquid that formed beside the bubbles of her contact lenses. 

In this magical pool, lifting from her throat like a rare discharge of fluid from the mouth of a remote and mysterious shrine, I saw my reflection, a mirror of blood, semen and vomit, distilled from a mouth whose contours only a few minutes before had drawn steadily against my penis.”

– An extract from J.G Ballard’s novel ‘Crash.’

A little synopsis (of my own):

Written in 1973, Ballard’s novel explores a deeply disturbing and sinister relationship between car crashes and sexual gratification. Sex, collisions, blood, sliced flesh, vaginal excretions, fractured bodies, ejaculations and death merge together in this controversial, explicit and sordid take on human sexuality.

Narrated by James Ballard (named after the author) we follow central character Dr Robert Vaughan on his mission to construct the most stimulating, sexually rewarding and sensually heightened suicide – the ultimate arousal, the ultimate crash.

Not the average erotic novel and probably not the easiest book to be initiated into a new book club with, but it was. Yes, last night my good friend Jamie and I head to the Wellcome Collection Museum on the Euston Road and met, for the first time, the self-professed ‘pervs’ of ‘The Erotic Book Club.’

Advertised on Time Out under ‘Alternative London,’ we were rather uncertain what to expect. Indeed, when I told my Father where I was going he was convinced that I had signed myself up to some sort of illicit dogging society.

Fortunately, this was not the case. In fact, the whole thing was rather tame – only a few mentions of ‘fucking,’ (it was normally referred to as sex) one of the smell of a ripened vagina (the disco box) and a brief tale of flying phallace.

The evening started with a tour of museum. Named after Henry Wellcome – a philanthropist and patron of science – the collection displays a small segment of some of the 2,000,000 artifacts he gathered during his life.

Ranging from Japanese sex aids to chastity belts and vagina-shaped trinkets to erotically charged art – the tour was both fascinating and informative. A delightful guide emphatically described sexual traditions, beliefs and rituals and had us all absorbed in his vivid tales.

It was a copy of Bosch’s ‘Painting of Hell,’ however, that held us captive for the longest. With its vast amount of detail, you could spend a day unraveling the mysteries that rest in each delicate brush stroke. The sexual tension layered up and up in the painting was utterly absorbing – it was as if, the constant teasing, the touching, the bodies writhing over each-other, the almost moments were what was Bosch was depicting as hell. So close, yet so far from sexual fulfillment.

Back to the museum’s lobby and back to ‘Crash’. Bottles of wine were ordered, glasses handed out and then began the sharing of literary thoughts.

“I kept getting erotic whiplash,” one member shared, “I’d start to get aroused and think oh yes this is good and then suddenly I’d hit the wall and think, no, no this is sick.”

Another shared, “It was his attention to detail, the description that I found amazing. Writing-wise it was great but aroused, no.”

There were also a few: ‘I couldn’t finish it. I got to chapter … and then watched the film.”

The clubs founder, a particularly attractive scarlet-haired woman, then asked: “Did anyone get really turned on by it?”

A resounding no.

Crash definitely has an erotic nature, but to find it erotic I think that you would need a rather more alternative group of Londoners – a group, perhaps, like the hypothetical illicit doggers that had caused my Father so much grief.

In terms of a new club to join, I would highly recommend The Erotic Book Club – covering works from Jilly Cooper, EL James to J.G Ballard, to even putting pen to paper and creating their own steamy fiction – the team are warm, friendly, intelligent and most reassuringly – don’t have taking you down a dark backstreet and giving you a good seeing to on their agenda.

To join the club’s newsletter go to:  http://www.theeroticbookclub.org/

Synopsis

Alice’s Adventures in…India

This is my first Travelogue and documents my journey through India.

Though many books have been written about India, there are not many that are written from the perspective of a young traveller.

This is where Alice’s Adventures comes into play – a backpacker’s experiences (good & bad) of a country that is becoming more and more of a popular destination with the younger generation of traveller. It relays tales, it captures meetings & moments and it tells readers things that I wish I’d known…

From the Golden Temple of Amritsar, to Paragliding in Manali…

From a fly-by groping in Pondicherry, to trekking in Kerala…

From being blessed by an Elephant in Hampi, to being chased up Monkey Temple in Jaipur…

From the Palaces of Udaipur to the Red Light District of Kolkata…

The book is really filled with adventures.

69,000 words at last count – I hope to finish it by Christmas. Watch this space…

Fifty Shades of Grey

Fifty Shades of Grey

Banned from libraries, hidden under mothers’ pillows; yet straining the shelves of WHSmith and the most sought after read of the moment, EL James’s book ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ sold its 10 millionth copy last week.

A tale of an unorthodox love affair between a college student and a wealthy CEO, James started writing her novel on the internet, as a breed of fan-fiction similar to Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Trilogy.

The characters are pretty much the same – a cold, emotionally disturbed, over-protective male besotted with a boring girl – but James’s get to have sex. Indeed, really what James has done; is given us a fornicating version of Meyer’s vampire Edward Cullen and girlfriend Bella Swan.

Cullen becomes Christian Grey; a 27-year-old billionaire, who though doesn’t drink blood, has the equally exciting secret that he’s into BDSM. Swan becomes Anastasia Steele, who, like Bella, is awkward, dull and somehow manages to bewitch the gorgeous man of her dreams. How she does this, is never satisfactorily explained – she just does.

This is the main problem with the book; being fed information that is completely and utterly unrealistic. What makes erotica erotic is realism, the feeling that it could happen – which stems from a belief in the characters and the sense that they could exist. Anastasia Steele, the 21-year-old college student, is both our heroine and our narrator, and she could not exist.

I was 21 last year, and I can tell you that a 21-year-old girl does not refer to her sub-conscious as her ‘inner-goddess,’ she would not have a ‘quicky’ in the boat-shed when trying to make a good impression with parents and she is as likely to use the expression ‘Holy cow’ as a Hindu is to eat one.

I decided to check this, just in case I was an anomaly, and I asked twenty contemporaries their views – not one of them would do any of the above.

The second problem with the book, was with its main driving power, what has led it to be dubbed ‘mummyporn’ – yes, I had a problem with its sex scenes. So really, I had a problem with 2/3rds of the book.

Christian is into BDSM, Ana is a naïve virgin – the perfect combination for some saucy, kinky and volatile liaisons. Unfortunately, even if you believed the liaisons would happen, the sheer amount of copulation between the two, makes even the most erotic encounters dull. It’s just so predictable.

In fact, the whole book could really be broken down into the following cycle: Christian’s angry with Ana, Christian’s happy with Ana, Christian and Ana have kinky sex, Christian and Ana have sex again, Ana has an ‘earth shattering’ orgasm, Christian’s angry with Ana…

There’s absolutely no suspense – no sooner has Ana  entered the room, than Christian has already bent her over and given her a good seeing to. There’s no Jilly Cooper build up, let down, build up, that yoyo’s our emotions before we get the climatic (and climax filled) consummation. Take, for instance, The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous, think of Flora and Ranaldini in the maze – now that’s how you should write a sex scene.

The final issue, which really links back to realism (or lack thereof), is with the contract. Christian wants Ana to sign a contract that entitles him to have complete control over her – what she wears, what car she drives, what she eats, how much exercise she does and of course, their sex life. The problem is 1) the amount of time spent deliberating the contract – which isn’t even legally binding and 2) Ana’s (a virgin don’t forget) apparent blasé reaction to the sexual terms within it, which include genital clamping, vaginal fisting and flogging.

Ana has read the terms and conditions of the contract, spends the whole book deliberating them but only realises that Christian is a ‘sick bastard’ when he spanks her a bit too hard. I mean really? I’d have thought that his fetish for ‘vaginal fisting’ might have given that away?

It took me a day to read James’s absurd erotic novel and it was the first time that I’ve ever finished the first book in a Trilogy and had not even the slightest interest in reading the sequels. It was not only trashy but it was truly terrible – or in Ana’s words, a load of ‘Holy, double, triple crap.’

Hats off to James though – I may be able to criticise her prose, cringe at her metaphors and despair at the ridiculousness of her heroine – but I haven’t produced a best-selling Trilogy and made millions…yet.