Monday, 30 August 2010

Eyecandy Monday - bank holiday bonus!

It's August Bank Holiday here in Land of Mud. For those of you who don't live here, this is a public holiday steeped in tradition. The tradition being that you pile the kids in the car and drive toward the coast. Having sat for at least an hour in stationary traffic along with the other hundreds of thousands of other coast-seeking families, you eventually get to sit in the car in the car park and stare out at the drizzle, and utter the traditional words: "Call this bloody August?"

This may be, at your discretion, followed up by some remark - ironic or simply ignorant - upon the theme of Global Warming. 

Personally, I'm staying home and posting pictures of what I'd like to see on an August bank holiday. And I may indulge in another bank holiday tradition and go walk round a DIY store.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Evil Genius

I'm not going to try and excuse this comedy sketch. It's a malignant, vituperative attack on blue-collar mores and it made me cringe with embarassment. I was also trying so hard not to laugh that I nearly choked on my own fist.

If I was just 5% more evil I would be that guy.

Friday, 27 August 2010

The moment I realised I was middle-aged

Twice a day I walk the dogs, year round, rain or shine, summer or winter. One winter's evening, in the dark, I set off as usual. I came to the junction in the road where I could turn either left or right. Now I live in a pretty safe suburban area, but being female means having your risk-assessment software running, without cease, from the moment you set foot outside your door to the moment you get back inside.

Left, down the road, a group of young teenagers was loitering about chatting under a street light. To the right, a lone and slightly scruffy man was walking slowly down the road in my direction, hands in pockets.

I decided that the teenagers were more likely to present trouble, and turned right.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

In Appreciation of my New Editor

I've just finished the fourth and final round of edits for my first Ellora's Cave story, In Appreciation of their Cox. My head is spinning. New publisher = new house style, new vocabulary, new grammar. For a start, I'm going to have to learn to write in American. And curb my semicolon fetish. And banish hyphens. Though luckily for me, this first time, my lovely editor did the job of working through 10K of story and altering all the single quotes to double quotes!

In Appreciation of their Cox is e-published on October 14th.

To say that Ellora's Cave have exacting standards would be to understate matters. Every sentence comes under scrutiny. I have been given a slew of files to assimilate into my life, including the mighty tome of House Style Rules (93 pages!!) which covers everything from the correct dirty words ("cunt" but not "hole" - unless it's anal - and never use "squirt"), to collective nouns, to lists of registered trademarks, to which character names are overused in romance and should be avoided. It's awesome. I am bowled over by such attention to detail and accuracy, and their concern for the perfecting the final product.

And Oh. My. God. I've been asked, for the first time in my career, to fill in an official form suggesting what the cover illustration of my story should look like. My editor has sent the art department videos of competition rowing so that they get the detail right. And she has asked them for an interior line drawing to make it all look even better.

I may be about to cry.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Eyecandy Monday

August is, I hear, Anal Sex Month - established in 1927 with the slogan "Give in to haste and remain chaste," supposedly (!), so pretty venerable as these things go.

For all of us, it's a good excuse to ask nicely  :-)

Friday, 20 August 2010


I posted an obscure but kinky picture by Herbert Schmalz (1856-1935) a couple of months back, and I thought I'd post his most famous one too. This is Queen Zenobia's Last Look Upon Palmyra  and is a good example of respectable softcore Victorian bondage. Zenobia of Palmyra is shown in golden manacles. Having rebelled against the Roman Empire and conquered most of the Middle East including Egypt, Rome's breadbasket, she has finally been defeated in battle. She is to be led off and marched through Rome in chains as the highlight of their official triumph. Stories as to her eventual fate vary after that...

Anyway, this painting would bring a little thrill to the loins of any educated Victorian man, who would know the story: proud uppity woman brought low and publicly humiliated in bondage, etc etc.

You can learn the whole story about Zenobia here. She's pretty cool.

And this is a picture I took a few years ago, on my Syrian holiday, showing all there is left of beautiful Palmyra:

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

In memory of Michel Strogoff

I want to share my earliest experience of erotic romance. Specifically the television programme that first jumped out at me and said: THIS IS ROMANCE! THIS IS SEXY! YOU ARE MY SLAVE FOREVER, ASHBLESS!  I don't expect it to ring any bells with most of you, because the programme in question was Michel Strogoff, a series dubbed into English from the French, and it aired in about 1978, at a guess.

I can make no claims to accuracy for the following description of the story, given that this is my memory as filtered through my 12-year-old perceptions and several decades of decaying braincells.

Okay: Michel Strogoff is a Cossack and the Tsar's top agent. He is huge and manly and omni-competent and just a tad irritating, and everyone thinks he is awesome. He has a beard. He is sent off on a long journey across Russia on the Tsar's business. On the way he falls in with a simpering blonde girly, whose name I do not remember. She is the Lurv Interest, but it takes till the end of the story for them to get off together.

Opposed to Michel is Ivan Ogereff, who used to be an officer in the Imperial Army but has now betrayed the Tsar because he is half-Tartar, and is now formenting some sort of Tartar invasion. The Tartars are all barbarians with big moustaches. Ivan looks like a mean version of Legolas and has floppy hair. He is Bad but has some code of honour. He has a girlfriend, Sangarre, who is simply the hottest thing in all the Russias: she has wild curly red hair and is Fiery. She likes to knife-fight. When all the Tartars tell her to shut up because she is Just a Woman, Ivan tells them to can it because he Respects Her Opinion. Ivan and Red are all over each other, in contrast to Michel's chaste affair.

I thought Ivan and Red were soooooo hot.

Michael and Ivan fight, and Ivan gets scarred across the face, thus rising by several million points up the Hot Scale. My twelve-year-old brain was going into meltdown by this point.

Michael gets captured by the Tartars, tied up and threatened, and then they blind him by holding a red-hot sword in front of his eyes. He is then released or escapes somehow, and Simpering Blonde leads him across the Russian wastes. At one point she undresses (very coyly) to bathe in a river while Michael sits on the bank, but that's okay because he can't see her.

Except he's not blind at all, ho ho. He's been lying, or maybe just got better.

Stuff happens. Michael fights and kills Ivan. Red goes crazy over his deathbed and runs to the fortress of Kiev where she smashes her fists against the closed gates, screaming in anguish. Probably Michael and Simpering Blonde live HEA, but I don't care by that point. I am devastated by the death of Ivan Ogereff.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I discovered Romance, with all its suffering, torture, racial tension and violence. The number of tropes from that TV series that have turned up in my own work since ... Honestly, my entire erotic romance career could be viewed as an attempt to rewrite a naff  seventies teatime drama with a catchy theme tune.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Oh Get a Grip!

Heh. Want to get a grip on a slut?

Today I am guest-posting over at the Oh Get A Grip! blog, and as part of their "Inspirational Erotica" theme I'm trying to explain why I found Macho Sluts by Pat Califia (now Patrick Califia) so incredibly influential, and why I still think it's such an important erotica collection.

Friday, 13 August 2010

The Trees of San Francisco

I have a passion for trees - if you've read Wildwood you'll know that. In fact I spent three years doing forestry at college.  So when I went to California I took a bunch of tree photos ... But since these are US species, I could do with help identifying them. Anyone?

This species is used as a street tree all over downtown San Francisco. I love the pale bark and simple bifurcating branches and the dense Dr Seuss canopies- but what the heck are they?

Now this is Angel's Trumpet - powerfully hallucinogenic but, as they say, "it's called that because if you take the wrong dose, that's the next thing you'll be hearing."

And I adore this- it's a Pacific Madrone, which is a type of Strawberry Tree. I don't think they'd grow in the UK, 'cos it's too cold. The bark is a wonderful blushing red.

Talking of which, here are some of the wonderful Coastal Redwoods at Muir Woods. It's one of the last remnant stands of old-growth redwood forest in California.

For the conspiracy buffs among you, here I am in the original Bohemian Grove (or one of the originals,anyway) which is located in Muir Woods. Alas, I am not part of some creepy all-powerful all-male cabal that runs the world.

If I was, there would be a lot more trees and more sex about.
I like wood ;-)

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Cave Woman

This is me! Wheeee! I'm a Cavewoman! Dig my mammoth-hide bikini!

Ahem. Got a bit over-excited there, though for good reason. I have now signed my first contract with Ellora's Cave! YES!!

It's only for a 10K short story, so it's not quite time to gold-plate my bathtaps, but I certainly will be writing more for them in future. What can I say about Ellora's Cave? Well, I can tell you that their editors work weekends: I sent in the story on a Friday at 5pm, and had an offer to publish by Sunday teatime. They appear to be named after an amazing archaeological site. They already publish fellow smutwriters Sommer Marsden, Portia Da Costa and Charlotte Stein.

They are primarily an e-publisher, selling through Kindle, Sony and their own website - though most of their books go to print eventually. A big e-publisher: they shift 50,000 e-books a month, all in erotica and erotic romance. (My rowing story, In Appreciation of their Cox, is appearing in the non-romance section.)

Oh yeah: and they let you write fantasy and supernatural and science fiction to your heart's content.

I fall on my knees before the Sacred Mammoth of Good Luck and give thanks.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Eyecandy Monday

British construction workers do not look like this. If they did, my life would be one long Diet-Coke Break.

Instead, I have just spent half an hour setting up a new e-mail account and transferring my contacts by hand (Yes, I know there should be a better way. I couldn't find it.) because my Orange account appears not to be talking to other people.
From now on my contact e-mail is 
janine [dot] ashbless [at] yahoo [ dot] com
(remove brackets and spaces). Let's see if this one works any better, eh? And apologies to anyone who has been mailing me over the last month and getting no reply!

Sunday, 8 August 2010

This is what happens when your in-laws get on T' Internet...

... They start sending you pictures of weird shit. Actually these pictures of rice paddy art from Japan are pretty cool, I think.

It started in Inkadate, where 15,000 square metres is now under artistic cultivation, but is spreading to other areas. No dye is involved.

 It's achieved by precision planting of yellow, purple and green varieties of rice.

They're plotted from temporary towers because they're hard to see from ground-level.

And some of them are pretty big! After all this of course, they get harvested and eaten.

Talking of rice ... try out the vocabulary quiz on Free Rice. It costs you nothing (but watch out, it's addictive!) and it donates rice to the World Food Programme. What's your score?

Friday, 6 August 2010

Tough Love

I want to riff off a post of Danielle's today - not just because he paid me a huge compliment, but because it really got me thinking. Danielle was talking about his fear of romance (fictional and otherwise) and one of the things he said - Danielle's blogging style always makes me feel like I've walked into a cloud of butterflies! - was:

i recognise the things what others think is romantic..but i m not always sure what people conect to the word...for me romantic is going and hunt a huge animal and lay it in front of my sweethearts door..there..look..i killed it just for you..its still warm!

And anyway, my personal reaction to that thing that epitomises romance for him is that it's something that I wouldn't find remotely romantic. (Not just because I'm a vegetarian!) I've never really got the gift-giving and receiving part of romance, which I know most people do get. I mean, I like gifts as much as the next person, but even a hugely expensive pressie like a diamond doesn't strike me as more romantic than a kiss. Hey, I'm a cheap date.

Nor am I impressed by carefully arranged surprise trysts in perfect locations with violinists hiding around the corner ready to spring out as he suddenly drops to his knees to propose. (Public marriage proposals on TV actually strike me as uber-manipulative and creepy.) The Big Gesture does not touch my heart.

Yet I do write erotic romance. And what defines that romance for me?


It's a theme that runs through practically every erotic romance story I write: true love is characterised by a willingness to suffer and die for the beloved. Blame my Christian upbringing, I guess. If you're someone in one of my straight erotica stories, it might be a bit scary but you can be usually be guaranteed to have a fine old time. But, oh boy, you don't want to be a lead in my romantic fiction, because there you will be in for a whole world of pain.

My very first romantic story, White as any Milk: Black as any Silk features a wizard who falls for a hostile witch, and she puts him through hell:
Then the wave recedes at last, with a terrible hissing undertow that threatens to drag me into utter blackness. I am left broken in its wake. I can't see. My eyes are full of blood.

In Divine Torment Veraine gets captured, tied up, kicked in the nuts, bitten, threatened with castration and torture, left to die of thirst on a clifftop. Oh, and he loses his job ...
In Burning Bright Veraine is smashed over the head so hard it induces months of hallucinations, put through a horrible fever, starved, assaulted by ghosts, captured and tied up, raped (but only in the first draft before it got censored...) then made to fight for his life against a superhuman opponent. Myrna is enslaved, pierced, tattooed all over, nearly drowned, and lives in constant danger of being slaughtered out of hand.
In Wildwood Ash surrenders to his worst enemy and has his blood drained for a magical ritual.
In The House of Dust the broken-hearted Ishara has to open a gate into the Land of the Dead to retrieve her lover: she's there subjected to all sorts of rough sex and humiliation.
In Bear Skin Hazel is punished for betraying Arailt by being exiled, then having to run a gauntlet of sexual challenges to get him back.
In Bound in Skin Cassandra is left penniless in central Europe, has to beg for shelter and a job from a shit-scary nobleman, then gets shot in the stomach and finally transformed into a werewolf.
In Heart of Flame the two romantic leads get variously drowned, fatally wounded (yep), tied up and threatened, nearly eaten by ghouls, betrayed, beaten up and buried in an avalanche.

Life is tough for a romantic hero or heroine of mine. And what's more none of them gets the person they really want till the HEA right at the end of the book!

Oh yeah ... did I mention the sexual frustration theme too? Very romantic.
Okay, I might be a bit worried now.

Which is all to say that at the moment I'm currently writing an erotic romance novella. I'm having a wonderful time: it is safe to say that my characters are not. Starvation, exhaustion, a shipwreck, icy rivers, torn feet, attempted rape, imprisonment, torture, massive sexual self-denial and heartbreak - See how they suffer for my pleasure!

Now that's love.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

I left my brain in San Francisco

Sleep patterns still shot I'm afraid. It turned out this morning that builders don't work in the rain, so I went back to bed for several hours! But I'm here at last with some of our pics of San Francisco, the City By the Bay. It's a lovely and fascinating place, with some truly weird weather even by British standards. Just look at that fogbank on the Golden Gate Bridge!

We did explore across the bridge to find out what the countryside north of the city was like. And the answer is, "Scotland" - only without the sheep and the nasty pebbledashed bungalows. I mean, seriously, it could not look any more Scottish if there was a bagpiper in a kilt stood on a rock. I was quite taken aback!

The extensive touristic heart of central San Francisco itself is a mixture of modern skyscrapers and really pretty Victorian buildings (the ones that survived the earthquake and fire of 1906). This is the classic shot of downtown from The Haight. The row of houses at front is called the Painted Ladies. The spire is the Transamerica Pyramid, and the dark tower is the Bank of America Building - the exterior used for The Towering Inferno. Heh.

This is the Palace of Fine Arts, left over from the Exposition in 1915. I loved this building. We were on this city tour, btw, which was a really good introduction to the city highlights.

The grid layout of streets takes little account of the natural hills of the area. Which means lots of the streets are steep. Walking about is hard work - but there are great views everywhere.

This is Lombard Street -the "twistiest street in the world."

One of the real highlights for us was Cruisin' the Castro ... a guided walking tour of the gay district. Thoroughly recommended: I learned a lot.

We also really enjoyed the California Academy of Sciences (a modern natural history museam with a fabulous aquarium), the Japanese Tea Garden, the Botanical Garden, the Coit Tower (built as a memorial to a highly eccentric woman with a serious thing for firemen) with its fab primitivist-socialist murals and, um ... the Cheesecake Factory in Macy's.

Plus we went for a walk in a redwood forest, but more of that in a later post.

And we called in at Good Vibrations - one of the original female-friendly sex shops. Here's their terrifying collection of antique vibrators!

But we never braved the queues to ride a cable car :-(

Monday, 2 August 2010

Eyecandy Monday

Uh .... coffee?

In a year of flux some of the surprises, I'm glad to say, have turned out to be very good ones. The day after I got back form California I found myself, surprised and slightly jetlagged, at the Sonisphere rock festival, where I thoroughly enjoyed the performances of popular beat combos Papa Roach, Apocalyptica and, of course, the incomparable Rammstein. So today's fully-clothed eyecandy comes in the shape of Apocalyptica (or, "How to get 50,000 metalheads to listen to a cello recital"). Picture thanks to Roland, whose camera I lust after....

But the jetlag has had its revenge: I was up till 4am last night unable to sleep. And then the builders turned up at 8:00!

Hit Play and pass the coffee...