22nd Mar 2011
For Books’ Sake Talks To: Kristina LLoyd
We natter to erotica author Kristina Lloyd about Kathy Acker, feminism and BDSM, plus all sorts of one-handed reading recommendations:
FBS: Tell us who you are and what you’re working on at the moment?
KL: I’m an author of erotic fiction. My work sometimes gets described as ‘literary erotica’ but I tend not to use the phrase myself, partly because I’m not sure what it means, partly because it sounds like you might not be able to get a wank out of it. And I hope you can!
I’m currently focusing on short stories, including a piece for a mini e-collection of my own which I’m hoping will be released in the next couple of months. On the backburner is a moody gothic novella and a novel whose plot I can barely recall.
FBS: How did you come (no pun intended!) to be an erotica writer?
KL: I’d always wanted to write but I wasn’t sure where to begin. I started to take writing more seriously after completing an MA in 20th century literature.
I’d been reading, among other things, Kathy Acker and her fascination with porn and SM prompted me to take a closer look at dirty mags and erotica.
I’ve always had a healthily warped sexual imagination, and when I read these stories, I thought, “Hey, I can do that, and I bet the money’s good.” I was correct on only one point! But I enjoyed writing smut and soon graduated from short stories to novels, developing my own style and voice as I did so.
FBS: How have you found people’s attitudes towards sex and genre fiction?
KL: The literary establishment, which holds more sway than it ought, frequently disparages genre fic and that, combined with our culture’s negative attitudes towards sex, means erotic fiction doesn’t garner much respect.
It can be frustrating. Having said that, the situation has improved radically in the last decade or so. I think erotica is increasingly recognised as a valid literary form where aspects of sexuality (both vanilla and kink) neglected in mainstream culture can be represented.
FBS: With the death of Black Lace books in 2009, what does the future hold for erotica publishers, readers and writers?
KL: Oh, my heart broke when Black Lace folded! The genre is still very healthy. Ebooks are everywhere and that’s great news for erotica since digital offers secrecy and speed in purchasing.
I hope the move away from the stranglehold the marketing guys have in print publishing will allow for greater variety in cover imagery. Erotica books almost invariably have an eroticised woman on the front, a sexism I’ve campaigned against and am keen to see change.
In terms of content, paranormal erotica and gay erotica (lots of cock – yay!) have remained popular over the last few years. My personal sense is that erotica is becoming smarter, wittier, more reflective of and relevant to contemporary lives.
Female writers dominate the field right now and it would be wonderful to see more male writers on board. Erotic romance appears to be encroaching on the erotica sphere which I have to confess, troubles me.
I want women to be able to read and write about sex without an obligatory love narrative framing the mucky stuff. It seems a regressive step when, culturally, we’re still shaking off the notion that women don’t or can’t enjoy sex in its own right. But at least romance these days doesn’t have to centre on heterosexual monogamy.
FBS: Do you think writers and publishers of erotica have a moral responsibility towards their readers (e.g. some publishers will only publish stories featuring protected sex, others are uncomfortable with rape and BDSM storylines)?
KL: No, I don’t think it’s the job of writers, publishers or indeed of legislators to be the arbitrators of sexual morality. I’m in favour of people using their powers for good and I don’t think anyone would argue promoting responsible condom-usage is a bad thing. But when it comes to judgements on the acceptability of depicting certain sexual scenarios, I’m very much in the liberal camp.
A lot of nervousness surrounds adult material, an almost superstitious belief that people lose their critical faculties when they engage with it.I think we have to credit readers with the intelligence to distinguish fantasy from reality.
FBS: Do people find it difficult to reconcile your feminist values with the extreme BDSM/rape themes in your books?
KL: Hell, yes! And when I was younger, so did I. I write about women who kink for sexual submission, who enjoy feeling as if they’re being violated and coerced. And I write primarily about straight women so it’s men doing this nasty, toppy stuff to them.
Superficially, it’s a sexual power dynamic that mirrors the gender inequalities in our society, and the easy response is to decry femsub for reinforcing gender norms. But I believe women asserting their right to sexual pleasure are undermining those traditional roles in which female desire is constructed as passive, as a function of and a response to his desire.
The old argument that sub women, or simply women who like a guy to be assertive in the sack, are suffering from false consciousness denies women their capacity to self-determine.
In my feminism, I can rail against injustice and inequality but I’m also a strong supporter of sexual freedoms. A repressive, restrictive feminism which insists I can only come in certain ways isn’t one I subscribe to. I want my jollies, damn it!
Asking for Trouble, my second novel, is contemporary thriller set in Brighton that follows a woman conflicted about her lust for submission and rape fantasy but determined to explore. Some readers get upset by the book while others love it.
The story gets quite dark in places but over the years I’ve had women thank me for writing so honestly and for helping them feel less alone in some of their murkier fantasies. I’m proud of that.
FBS: So much fiction that’s popular with women seems to centre around escapism. Does erotica fulfil the same function?
KL: I think it offers more than that (and I think that’s the case with a lot of escapist and fantasy fiction, but pursuits and pleasures popular with women are often dismissed as fluff).
I see erotica as part of a cultural shift in which women are evolving a new sexual identity. Our culture doesn’t offer many options for women to be sexual beings on their own terms.
We’re usually the sexualised ones, our desires are made performative, our bodies are for display. We’re conditioned to take pleasure in being desired rather than encouraged to explore our own real desires. Erotica can challenge the limitations.
I also think sexual fantasy, as a constituent of sexual pleasure, is greatly underestimated. Too many articles tell us good sex is about technique and tickling his frenulum just so. For me, the magic happens when people embrace their sexual imaginations, and fiction is a wonderful stimulant!
FBS: Recommend us some erotic fiction?
KL: Oh, so much joy to be had! If you like femsub and are happy to give spanking a miss, I’m worth a shot. If you like spanking, Alison Tyler‘s your author, and as an editor she puts out top-notch anthologies covering a range of kinks and desires.
One of my favourite books is Molly Weatherfield‘s Carrie’s Story, an arch, witty, postmodern spin on Story of O. Pat Califia‘s Macho Sluts is a queer, BDSM classic while Stephen Elliot‘s My Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me Up is a beautifully written, insightful look at sex and love from the perspective of a male submissive.
Try James Lear for Agatha Christie-esque gay romps. Justine Elyot and Charlotte Stein are newish writers worth checking out and I will always recommend Janine Ashbless‘s short story collections for their rich blend of high fantasy and filth.
But basically, I would just encourage people to get their hands dirty and give erotica a go!
Interview by Jane Bradley