Welcome – I confused the rainbow wrist bands – for the buffet lunch, with the Coo-ee wrist bands - which represent the personal qualities associated with Australian service people and were donated by friend and contributor Lou Faulkner. And so began my expert chairing skills...
Session 1: Clichés and how to avoid them
I chaired the panel with KJ Charles, Morgan Cheshire and Heloise Mezen.
We discussed the different things that can be cliches in stories: cliched phrases and descriptions like people getting on like a house on fire or something being as hot as the sun, or as cold as ice. We talked about how though these can be a useful shorthand for something and shouldn't be avoided when they felt natural as the conspicuous avoidance could result in much more awkward phrases instead, including one involving a grotto, which I won't repeat here as I'm trying to delete it from my memory and I don't have a content warning on my blog.
We discussed how it's good to use well known cliches and mix them up a bit, Terry Pratchett described two characters as getting on like a house on fire, there's flames, things burning. Just because I love this film and this clip this seems like a good point for the Mrs White/ Madeline Kahn 'flames, burning on the side of my face' clip from the fabulously camp film, Clue.
We talked about cliched characters, where an author uses a stereotype as the whole of a character rather than making him/her rounded and nuanced as real people are. A stereotype is a shorthand for a type of person, but that isn't the whole person, and neither should it be the whole character. A person is rarely all good or all bad, and neither should characters be, to avoid cliches. The interesting thing about writing is to explore what makes that evil person like that, so you can help readers sympathise with him, or show his good side too.
Book Launch: A Pride of Poppies
Charlie Cochrane talked about how proud she was to be part of such a wonderful book, and how its proceeds will be donated to The Royal British Legion. She read a part of a poem by Wilfred Owen, who died just days before the armistice, to remind everyone how grateful we should be for those who gave up their tomorrows for our freedom today.
Session 2: Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray: The First Gay Novel?
Our guest speaker Iarla Manny talked about this including reading some wonderful passages from the book. He was so knowledgeable about Wilde and this time in history it was a treat to hear him talking about it as if it was only last week, really bringing history to life.
I think I may go Bunberrying next weekend!
Some phrases I noted during his talk included: 'somehow I have never loved a women.' Having 'metaphors as monstrous as orchids' that the novel had been described as a 'medico legal novel' that the 1890s were known as the 'naughty nineties' and the character saying he wanted to 'pursue a life of pleasure.' As to that last comment, I don't see anything wrong with that at all.
The Picture of Dorian Gray, as with so much of Wilde's work, is a cultural reference point even for those who have never read the book or seen his plays. I've a friend who said there's a portrait in his attic rapidly ageing while he enjoys still being in the first flush of youth despite being well into his forties.
A lovely chat about all things writing, plotting or not, productivity with writing, what we were working on at the moment. For me, in case you're interested, it's a novel called Love U More, set in the nineties in the world of clubbing in London and Ibiza, but any more of that's not for here.
Q&A: A Pride of Poppies
Morgan Cheshire chaired this quick Q&A, with Poppies authors Julie Bozza, Charlie Cochrane, Wendy C Fries, and Eleanor Musgrove in the hot seats.
They talked about the quality and variety of submissions received for this anthology and how the editor helped iron out any anachronisms which had crept in. The authors explained where their inspiration had come from, which although none of them were alive during the first world war, they, as authors were able to write authentically about the time.
Session 3: Sex scenes – how necessary are they?
Julie Bozza chaired this panel, with panellists Bruin Fisher, Wendy C Fries, Fiona Pickles. It built in passion and embarrassment as the hour went on. It was a great debate.
Fiona, just to be controversial I think, said sex scenes were unnecessary. Wendy said they were necessary if the story needed them rather than just for the sake of having another sex scene. I admitted to once getting a bit drunk when I needed to write a sex scene I'd not been able to write. We agreed sex scenes should be physically possible, and to ensure that using action men, or the internet were wonderfully useful places to start. There was a discussion about how there's nothing wrong with sex, writing it, reading it, enjoying all of it really.
I was a bit controversial (surely not I hear you all say) talking about a mm romance I read where the gay male characters were talking about sex in an Ikea way, insert tab a into slot b, giving the more inexperienced gay man a lesson in gay sex. And in my experience gay men do not talk about sex like that. Gay men do talk about sex, oh yes of course we do, but not like that. Not my friends anyway. Maybe other gay men who aren't friends talk like they're running a training course in man love 101, maybe they do, but not in my experience.
Feeling I was on a bit of a roll and getting further up my soap box, I explained I had a problem with reading mm romance sex without safe sex as this had been drummed into me since coming out. There was a discussion about how some mm romance authors and readers aren't necessarily as bothered about these things as the focus can often be about fantasy and not reflecting reality. I disappointed many women in the room by explaining, contrary to what I'd read in some mm romances, a man having sex to a conclusion, and then rolling over and starting all over again is really not physically possible, even if you're eighteen. Feeling I may as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb, I went on to say my least favourite phrase I'd read a few times related to this topic was the use of 'clean' to describe a man who doesn't have HIV or other STIs; the implied opposite of clean as a term used to describe a gay man living with HIV is distasteful and unnecessary, and explaining that used to be an accepted term also doesn't help. We used to have lots of terms for black people which are no longer acceptable, times move on and so should people's language around HIV etc, please. Gets off soap box – sorry, but this really upsets me, as a gay man who has friends who are living with HIV, this is just not acceptable. It also doesn't seem to fit with the general support of gay men and GLBTQ rights generally found in the MM romance community, which is why it strikes me as odd.
Session 4: A Duty of Care to our Characters
The keynote speaker Charlie Cochrane concluded the day on a lovely note with this thoughtful topic. She talked about the importance of writing about the reality, not what you assume is the reality – the importance of doing research to get this right, even with contemporary stories. She explained if you distort the facts to fit the story you're not giving your characters that duty of care they deserve. The film, The Imitation game changes, omits and places different emphasis on the facts of Turin's life, and it would be a shame if this film version, though good in itself, were to become the canon of accepted truth about Turin's life for future generations.
'Is he gay or does he live in Maidenhead' was phrase I noted for future use. I've been to Maidenhead and can testify it is only populated by gay men. That is all.
I read a wonderfully moving Wilfred Owen poem about affection between men.
We talked about how everyone felt the event had gone, and what sort of things they'd want if an event were to be put on in 2016. I left feeling inspired about writing, pleased I have such wonderful friends through writing, and educated about lots of historical things I knew nothing about before.
Liam Livings xx