The Ninja Blog

Get Dirty with Cate Ellink and her new rugby league romance

Get Dirty!.png

Want to win a bunch of books? Simply tweet or post the link to this page and tag @CateEllink. She'll pick a random winner on August 5.

Your prize will include five rugby union/league romance e-books:

  1. Team Player by Cate Ellink
  2. Deep Diving by Cate Ellink
  3. Playing by Her Rules by Amy Andrews
  4. Playing It Cool by Amy Andrews
  5. Caitlin's Hero by Donna Gallagher.

And several similarly saucy romances:

  1. Unrestrained by Rhyll Biest
  2. Bought by Nicolette Hugo
  3. The Duke’s Gamble by Elyse Huntington
  4. Diving In by Andra Ashe
  5. Doubled by Charlotte Stein
  6. Crosstown Crush by Cara McKenna
  7. Flesh by Kylie Scott.

Narratives: Do you want to try something different?

By Sarah Belle 

Part One

Most stories we read and write follow a lineal temporality, that is the time-frame starts at the beginning (a Monday) and concludes at the end (a Friday). The story has progressed over a chronological time period. However, if trying something different with the temporal order of your writing appeals to you, why not try some of the following literary devices?

Analepsis (also known as a flash back). This device is commonly used to reveal characterisation, motivation, previous interactions between characters or events that have taken place prior to the time period of the narrative. Most writers have used analepsis in the form of memories, nightmares or recall during dialogue or prologues.

Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is told entirely in flashback with Marlow sharing the story of his Belgian Congo trip with his shipmates. The Girl on the Train also uses analepsis as a device to piece together the puzzle-style plot where reversal and recognition occur simultaneously. Reversal is where the plot opposes both the protagonists’ and audiences’ expectations (the twist when we discover her bastard ex-husband’s dubious past) and recognition is when the protagonist and audience become aware of this reversal (in this story reversal and recognition are simultaneous for both audience and protagonist. However, this device can be used to create dramatic irony in which the reader’s recognition occurs prior to the protagonists and is a wonderful mechanism to drive tension and suspense.)  Shutter Island is another brilliant use of analepsis as powerful a literary device to reflect the protagonists mental condition and to subvert traditional chronological linearity in order to create a specific narrative effect, tone or mood. In the case of Shutter Island it was easy, as a viewer, to feel as disoriented as Frank in the dislocated temporal order. Crafting this response from an audience is brilliant work on behalf of Scorcese.

Prolepsis is a flash forward, such as Charles Dicken’s Christmas Carol in which Scrooge is shown his future. Scrooge then has the opportunity to change his future by his actions in the present. Another example is Stephen King’s The Dead Zone in which Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken in the movie version) awakes from a coma to discover he has the gift-curse of seeing visions of the future. Writers use prolepsis for multiple reasons; to disrupt temporality, as a metaphor, to reflect a characters’ state of mind, as a hook to grab the readers’ attention or tell a story using a more sophisticated or complex narrative structure. Prolepsis reveals elements of plot that are yet to occur and is designed to pique the reader's interest and enhance suspense and tension (Yikes! Does that event really happen or can it be stopped in time?). The Minority Report or Déjà Vu with Denzel Washington are excellent examples of prolepsis in film and demonstrate its effectiveness in creating dramatic irony and suspense when executed properly.

Some authors use both analepsis and prolepsis concurrently, such as Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughter House 5 which also traversed real and fantasy settings (I recommend this book as it's amazing). The effect is a completely disjointed temporal order leaving most readers questioning whether the story is set in the past, present or future and (therefore) whether the analepsis is really prolepsis or a current narrative. However, Vonnegut’s story was an anti-war message and he stated that the fractured linearity of his story was meant to reflect the absurdity and dysfunctionality of the act of war. Few writers can pull this off properly. Vonnegut was an exceptional writer and made this narrative structure work perfectly for this particular story. Films that have utilized this concept well include Inception (love, love, love) and Memento (Christopher Nolan you cinematic time-lord).

In Media Res is when the story starts in the middle of what would be the linear chronological order of events and then works forwards in time until it is temporally lineal again. I did this in my first novel Hindsight because after writing it in a lineal format, I found it was rather boring! I needed a hook to entice the reader and relocating what was originally the middle of the book (Juliette waking up in 1961 instead of modern day) in the prologue was the right way to start that story. 

In Media Res is used to disjoint time, to pose the question ‘how did we get here?’ which the narrative will answer. It was first used by Horace and is Latin for ‘in the middle of things’ (rough translation seeing as my Latin is very basic). It is one of storytelling’s original tropes, having been identified in Poetics by Aristotle.  So, with such a heritage, In Media Res is a cultural winner for storytelling.

Wuthering Heights (how I worship your talent Miss Bronte!) is a wonderful example of In Media Res in which we are introduced to the strange Wuthering Heights estate and instinctively know that it has a dark history (even if Lockwood is too stupid to realise it).

Nellie Dean commences the story of Cathy and Heathcliffe by telling Lockwood of their doomed love for each other and how that doomed love escalated into the tragic events of the present where Catherine is held prisoner at the Heights. The narrative then reveals the events leading up to present time and then follows with a lineal temporality until the conclusion of the story.

So, there you have three literary devices which can be used to vary the temporality of stories. Each has a specific effect and is worth considering as a mechanism by which we can enhance and differentiate our narratives. Join us for Part 2 which will cover narrative style, including epistolaries and frametales.


Andra Ashe on the Real Romance Writers of Melbourne

Hearts are a flutter and creative juices are simmering for a small group of Melbourne romance writers this weekend. No, we haven't just found out the Hemsworth brothers are looking for a group of willing women to fine tune their seduction techniques (that's at our next monthly meeting).

But it's the next best thing. Our annual retreat. Fifteen women, in one house, for one weekend. Different personalities. Differing opinions. A recipe for a potential 'real housewives' scenario? Absolutely. But instead of big bucks, designer clothes and big egos we have a common passion and empathy for what that brings and the only raised voices will be those raised in laughter. For all out different backgrounds and situations an stages in our writing careers, we have genuine respect and support for each other. Makes me wonder whether to receive the trappings of wealth you have to sell your 'just be a nice person' gene to the devil. 

The Melbourne Romance Writers at their annual retreat.

The Melbourne Romance Writers at their annual retreat.

If we do feel the urge to channel a 'housewife' we will be in a fancy-shmancy house for the weekend, but we're writers so it goes back to the owner on Sunday. Instead of ripping each other apart we'll dissect each other's writing, listen to workshops and discuss our craft – without expletives or tears, or cleavage or botox. No French bubbles, but lots of home cooked food and talking and chocolate. 

But you know we want more. Karaoke and Academy Award winning charades performances are added bonuses, like steak knives, but more fun (although our resident romantic suspense author, who loves a good serial killerwould probably prefer the knives). After flexing writing muscles all day artistic energy is still buzzing and hidden singing and acting abilities are lured into the open. Maybe some would be better kept hidden but just like we don't discriminate between novice and established writers, the nightingale is as welcome as the budgerigar.

Melbourne romance writers keep it real. The dress code is 'whatever works for you', not 'designer'. In my case, it's daggy. Comfy tracky pants and woolly socks are pretty much de riguer. No make-up. No fuss. No judgement. 

However at the Saturday night themed dress-up parties, alter-egos do make an appearance. Sometimes it's easy to guess who might don a dinosaur onesie or low cut corset, sometimes we're surprised. It's all about learning more about each other. I'm dusting off my ten year old black sequined number for this weekend's 'You're Fabulous' diva theme (Gina Liano eat your heart out).  As much as I love my comfort clothes, it doesn't take much to entice me into something glam and a pair of stilletos.

It will, however, take nipple clamps, or the promise of that visit from the Hemsworths, to get me to karaoke.

Cate Ellink's Improper Use of Social Media

This is Cate, perving on you while you're on social media.

This is Cate, perving on you while you're on social media.

I’ve always struggled with social media. I kind of ‘get’ that it’s a way of connecting everyone…but I’m happy not connecting, especially with strangers. This means that I don’t quite understand the reasons why people are so attracted to the medium, but it also means I’ve got no real clue how/why to use it.

But…I’m beginning to find a place for it in my life. I’m just not using it ‘properly’.

I see authors doing it ‘right’. They have funny, witty, clever, interesting posts all the time. They connect with people and chat away, and in doing this they find a following. Some of them link all their social media accounts so you get their news on every platform. Time efficient and caters for everyone. But geepers, seeing the same stuff everywhere drives me bonkers, so I follow them on one thing no matter how many times they try to tempt me to more connections.

I have no hope of doing what they do. For a start, I’m one of the most boring people on earth. I have no cute kids/pets photos or anecdotes. I work alone, so I have no workmate tales. Mr E disdains social media, so I can’t put much up about him because (a) he doesn’t ‘get’ why I would, and (b) someone might tell him what I say!

Talking about my writing isn’t something I’m comfortable with. My process is one where I have to write the story before I know what the story is, or who the characters are. If I share too early (i.e. before I finish) then it’s too easy for me to run off on someone else’s idea and lose my way.

Talking about my completed stories…well, that’s old! Once they’ve left my place, then the characters become quiet because their story is done. They leave me. I often struggle to remember who they were, and what their story was about.

God, I’m so weird. I feel like a neurotic fruitcake.

Before I get caught up in my eccentricities and concern about myself, let me tell you how I’ve managed to enjoy social media.

Briefly, I’m a voyeur.

Facebook seems to be the place where writers hang out. I belong to writing groups there were information is passed and things are discussed. I chat, keep up to date, find new releases, and try to join in. Sometimes I’ll post something myself.

Twitter is more me. I can drop a short tweet and walk away. I can read a lot of stuff quickly. I follow the footy (NRL brand mostly) on here and love that quick insight into players and teams. I especially love the (sometimes) witty exchanges between groups of NRL players tweeting each other, or bagging each other out. It makes me remember that they’re people too.

Instagram is for photos, or so my head says. Sometimes I take a photo and pop it up there but mostly I follow people with awesome photos—divers, beach photographers, drone users, artists and astronauts. At the moment, I’m hooked on the International Space Station and their astronauts, with their incredible photos of earth (@ISS). I refill my well with Instagram.

Pinterest is for when I’m stuck with my writing. I can hunt for photos to help with descriptions or to spark an idea. It’s fun and completely time consuming if I’m in a procrastinating mood.

Tumblr is sexy stuff, although it took me a while to find the sexy stuff (I had to follow another Ninja who knew this so much better than me!). This platform doesn’t seem to have the ‘controls’ that other platforms do, so there’s some amazing content. It’s brilliant for ideas, or helping with descriptions of all things sex. Sometimes I come across something that reminds me that I do have limits. And they have little hearts to like a post, and when you unlike it, the heart breaks—that’s so damn cute!

Blogging is something I’ve done for years and I like it. But I blog for myself. I’m not doing it to have people read it, or argue with me, or even agree with me. I just like to ramble on as I try to work out my thoughts. In the beginning, I was very regimented about the days I blogged, now I’m slacker. But blogging is still fun.

So that’s my improper use of social media. I don’t use it as a tool to connect with others, except in a voyeuristic capacity. When people follow/like me, I’m shocked. I’m constantly amazed how people find my profile and why they would follow/like me, but so far it hasn’t led to terrible things, so I’ll just keep doing my thing and enjoying it my way.

How do you use social media?

Holding out for a Hero: Or, who would you invite to your place for vodka?

By Lily Malone (AKA the Beanie Queen)

The other day I got asked this question: “If you could sit down with three characters or authors for morning tea, who would they be?”

It’s the same version of a question I’ve been asked a few times since I started writing. The setting changes, as does the number of people I’m allowed to invite.

For some reason, (and I blame fellow ninja, Rhyll Biest) when I answered the question for a blog post the other day, I opted for two of Rhyll’s fictional heroes to join me for morning tea. I asked for Stein (from the book Unrestrained) and Belovuk (from Shelter). I had just finished reading Shelter at the time (brilliant book) which put this pair front and centre in my mind.

I opted to serve vodka for morning tea, just to see what might eventuate with these two Eastern European man-mountains, and for my third character I opted for a fictional fireman to hose us all down. Let’s face it, there would be a fair amount of hot flushing going on, were I to have Stein and Belovuk at my place for morning tea vodka.

Having discovered I now definitely have a ‘type’... and being that I’m now very much in the mood, and it *is* a large bottle of vodka, I thought I’d invite a few more to join me and make it a party, Stein, Belovuk, a broad-shouldered man-mountain fireman... plus???


Jason Bourne and Lucas Davenport.

Bourne will need no introduction. But Lucas might.

Both Bourne and Davenport I’d put in the ‘brooding’ hero category. Of course, they are also highly dangerous and pretty much in any list of lethal weapons.

Lucas Davenport is the central character, a cop, in the ‘Prey’ series by my favourite author, John Sandford. In every ‘Prey’ book I’ve read (and I think they’re up to about 25 of them), Lucas is given a paragraph or two of description first time we meet him. It will pretty much always go something like this: ‘A tall, slender, wide-shouldered man with blue eyes and a smile that he’s always been told “scares people.” There’s a fine scar from his hairline to the right corner of his mouth (caused by a fishing hook accident) and another on his throat, courtesy of his wife Weather (a surgeon) who performed a tracheotomy when Lucas was knifed by a girl in the woods and Weather saved his life. Dark-complexioned, with straight black hair going grey at the temples and a long nose over a crooked smile. One of his central upper incisors had been chipped in an ice hockey match in his youth and he never had it capped.”

Over the years I’ve been reading the Prey novels, Lucas has got older. He’s pushing 45 now, and there’s more grey than black at those temples. He’s got a bit slower, although he runs every day to keep fit. He’s still very likely to hurl himself into any fray with his fists... but smart enough to know that these days some of the blokes might be likely to belt him one back, so he always carries a gun.

Lucas hits all my buttons, like Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne, but even though I adore the scenes in the Bourne movies or the Prey books which are all out action, it is always the softer side of these big tough heroes that makes me melt.

In the first Bourne movie, it’s the moment in the hotel room after that crazy car chase in Paris when Jason cuts Marie’s hair... oh, le sigh.

In the Prey series, while I love the character of Weather (Lucas’s wife comes along a few books into the series) I miss those early books when Lucas is loutish, roguish and naughty, and tends toward dalliances with female cops or his lady characters... and he’s great in the sack.

Stein and Belovuk, oh but they are gorgeous slabs of mancake granite. Stein makes up vegetable poetry in a supermarket; and Belovuk rescues kittens!!

And both are great in the sack.

So I doubt very much if I’m alone in this one ladies... I’m holding out for a hero to drink vodka with who is big, broad-shouldered, not afraid of leaping into any kind of fight; yet gentle enough to drink his vodka from a coffee cup with a picture of a unicorn pooping glitter.

He’s my fictional hero and he is VERY welcome at morning tea.

So, come on. Spill! Who is yours?


Georgina "Glitterpants" Penney gives Facebook the Flick

It was one post in late 2016 that did it. A friend tagged me in a funny video of a sleepy cat in a bunny costume trying to wake up enough to drink from his water bowl. Cutest. Thing. Ever. But then again, I’m a sucker for cats. I might even qualify proudly as a cat lady as long as that involves receiving a cape from some mysterious catty organisation that monitors things like that kind of thing.  

So, the video was playing for the twentieth time (because of the cuteness) and while watching kitty falling asleep next to his little bowl, I made the mistake of looking at the comments section. I know, right? I can sense that head slap you just did. I know that reading the comments on anything online is never a great thing. But this wasn’t Youtube. This was Facebook, on a post of a cute kitty too tired to drink water. 

And unsurprisingly, instead of being all lurved up, there was yelling lecturing, and ridiculousness to the point where the person running the page apologised for putting the video up because they had reposted the video from someone else’s page. In doing so, they’d inadvertently introduced the clip with the word ‘milk’ in the same sentence as ‘cat.’ Needless to say, it was readily apparent there was no milk in kitty’s bowl and people are idiots. 

I won’t go into further details and you can check the original post from instagram out yourself while turning to mush like I did at the cute kitty cat. 

So, I got to thinking… or more to the point, brooding. And I realised that Facebook and I have had a thing for a while. Essentially, for the past couple of years it’s felt like I’ve gotten out of bed, made myself a cup of tea and then walked into a room where a bunch of people are milling around—some of them goose-stepping around—screaming their thoughts and opinions so loudly they can’t actually hear what anyone else is saying. And because I’m a bit of a people pleaser and had brought into the whole ‘you have to be on every single social media platform in existence to succeed as a writer’ thing, I was spending waaaaay to much time there.

Now don’t get me wrong. My little metaphorical Facebook room isn’t all bad. There are cool people hanging out in the corners—The people I actually enjoy spending my real and virtual time with who post things I want to see. (Including pictures of cats, dogs, unicorns Guinea pigs and moles, because they are all awesome.) But after looking at my wall the morning after kitty-milk-gate, I realised I was looking at the awesome people’s post with an air of grumpiness because I’d just been shouted at by everyone else.

Looking at the comments on a cat video brought everything into focus and I realised that I actually dreaded visiting my Facebook wall every day. And with this realisation came the question “Why bother?”

Sure, FB has some great aspects that I don’t have to give up. It’s not like I’m entering into some kind of all-or-nothing vow or anything. I’m still using messenger, I still keep up with my local and writing communities by scanning their public pages once a week. And I I adore catching up with my Naughty Ninja broads on our secret Ninja dojo page for some private, non-shouty, ultra-dodgy conversation. 

I’m also keeping my author page to share news with the wonderful people that read my books but instead of hanging around there, I’m posting and then going back to writing more books because, presumably, that’s what my readers would prefer than to see my latest opinions about what I had for dinner.

In short, I’m just making an effort not to look at my wall at all and so far I’m feeling pretty good about it. It’s been a while now, and after spending the last few weeks not being subjected to shoutiness in the mornings, I have discovered the following:

  • When people haven’t been able to just check in with my posts and to then assume how I am, they’ve called, emailed or we’ve visited each other. The resulting conversations have been so much more enjoyable and meaningful, even if they’re only thirty seconds or for hours on end. 
  • I’ve enjoyed not knowing what’s going on in people’s lives. It’s meant that I’ve actually had to make an effort to ask my friends and colleagues how they are, which has frequently revealed that most of the things I’ve seen on their FB pages over the past couple of years has been much less interesting than their real lives at large.
  • I like people more. Having travelled the world as I have and making friends from all over the place, it’s really nice to be back to asking what they think about religious and political things, rather than assuming what they think based on some of the crazy propaganda they’ve posted on Facebook at two in the morning after eating far too much midnight-cake. (Or maybe that was just me that did that...)
  • I’ve got way more time on my hands to write long posts like this one. Waaaay more time on my hands. So much so that I’m back to reading that huge to-read pile of novels in my book case. So far I’ve got four more books read this month than I would have otherwise, I’ve written more and I’m weirdly had way more time to catch up with friends without losing working time.  

So, that’s where it’s at. I don’t know if my little Facebook wall embargo will go on forever. But if it does, it’s not like I don’t have Instagram, Twitter, my blog, skype, whattsapp and every other app under the sun to feel connected…






Where the research takes you: M99 and Harambe

One of the best things about writing fiction is the research. Sometimes one’s research leads to dark, strange places (which is, admittedly, the most fun of all). For example, when researching how a veterinarian might sedate an animal, I discovered the crazy powerful sedative etorphine (used to sedate large mammals such as rhinos and elephants) which is fatal to humans in veterinary-strength doses. 

My passing fascination with etorphine was mostly due to its potency. Etorphine is a semi-synthetic opioid which laughs at its weak-ass, namby-pamby cousins aspirin, paracetamol and ibuprofen. Etorphine rests smug in the knowledge that it has an analgesic potency one to three thousand times that of morphine. Morphine can kiss etorphine’s ass.

Etorphine is also somewhat sinisterly also known as M99, which makes it sound like MI5’s analgesic of choice (note: never offer Bond paracetamol when etorphine is handy). 

M99’s mystique and allure are only enhanced by its strict regulation as a controlled Class A substance. In addition, instructions for M99’s veterinary use come with the rather thrilling requirement that the human antidote, naloxone, always be prepared prior to the preparation of the etorphine, just in case of ‘accident’ (i.e. an accidental needle stick of M99) because the injected human only has seconds to live without the antidote.

Happily, my flirtation with M99 led to another discovery, about the internet meme “dicks out for Harambe”. A brief search online will confirm that you can buy clothing, mugs and other goodies emblazoned with the slogan ‘Dicks out for Harambe’.

So who is Harambe, and why should one get one’s dick out for him? For those of you don’t remember, Harambe was a 17-year-old silver-back gorilla shot dead at Cincinnati Zoo after a four-year-old child fell into his enclosure. His shooting provoked furious internet debate about whether lethal force was necessary (and whether the child’s life should have been value over that of the gorilla’s). Even veterinarians waded into the internet mud wrestling pit of Harambe debate, some arguing that M99 should have been used rather than ammunition.

So the link between Harambe and M99 is clear, but some readers are probably still wondering where the dicks come into Harambe’s death. The answer? We live in a patriarchal society which means everything is about dicks.

Just kidding.

The answer is that "dicks" is a hiphop phrase used to reference the length of a clip on a gun. If you are "dicks out" it means you have an extended clip. The phrase loosely means "boys, grab your guns and let's go to battle for Harambe”. Why go do battle for Harambe? Because (according to meme jokesters) his death was a conspiracy and/or another unjust shooting.

Plus, the denizens of the internet love a good battle cry, and what better battle cry than “dicks out for Harambe”? However, Cincinnati Zoo was not amused by the endless memes parodying grief and support for Harambe and shut down its social media pages until the silliness went away.

Despite the censure of Cincinnati Zoo, you can still buy a wide range of ‘Dicks out for Harambe’ t-shirts on Redbubble. Go crazy with that credit card, kids.



Dear Amazon, why?

Ever purchased something on Amazon, looked at their recommendations for further purchases and thought “Jeebus, I’ve been stereotyped by Amazon. Those fluckers!”

You are not alone!

Damn you, Amazon, and your shitty reading recommendations.

Damn you, Amazon, and your shitty reading recommendations.

The Naughty Ninjas are going to share with you the best/worst of our Awful Amazon Recommendations (and why Amazon can stick their recs up their clacker).

Ninja 1

I purchased a bunch of books: Caitlin Moran's entire works in paperback because she's awesome, Lena Dunham's stuff because I want to understand the hype and work out if I'm cool with it all and finally a book called Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed which I am super excited about because it's all essays from women who have chosen not to have kids. I added the latter and then Amazon came up with the following recommendation: Customers who brought this book also brought...

Spinster by Kate Bolick

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

And... Feliway. Cat spray to stop cats pissing in your house.

Now either someone at Amazon has a fucking evil sense of humor, an abundance of vindictiveness about broads interested in books on not having kids, or there is some faint truth to the stereotype of the crazy cat lady.

Ninja 2

I like me a book on feminism, something fierce and incisive. Imagine my surprise, however, when I bought Men Explain Things to Me: And Other Essays by Rebecca Solnit (historian, writer and activist) and Amazon suggested that I also grab a copy of Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible's View of Women written by a pair of evangelical christians.

Um, no thanks, as an atheist I’d sooner read a book on vajazzling. Perhaps the book I bought called God is Not Great might have tipped you off to that, Amazon?

Then there was the recommendation to buy Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling. Mindy Kaling (in case, like me, you had no idea who she was) is the creator and star of the ‘critically acclaimed series’ The Mindy Project. That’s right, I should receive Mindy’s words of wisdom about how to live life because she’s a CELEBRITY. Ooooh-aah. And no thanks. I fail to see how a female celebrity equals 'feminist'.

For some reason I should also buy Gratitude by Oliver Sacks (whut?) and So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Ron Johnson. I’m sure the latter is a good book but I’m a bit mystified about what it has in common with a collection of feminist essays (unless it addresses slut shaming at some length).

Ninja 3

I got this one emailed to me today for 'Thriller' but I thought it was a bit funny given it was all about sexual deviance... (should that be sexual deviants??)

Former anti-gang police unit star Loïc Le Goënec has had a chip on his shoulder ever since he was mysteriously kicked off the force. But when detectives uncover a vile ring of sexual deviance with ties to a city official, the commissioner calls his brilliant but rough-edged protégé back into action. With help from an assortment of petty criminals, romantic interests, and colorful misfits, the Anti-Crime Brigade must work outside the department to bring down the corrupt official and the despicable company he keeps. Can Le Goënec play both sides of the law to deliver vigilante justice to an exploited city?

Hmmm, one wonders whether this author is being paid by the Umlaut.

What awful reading recommendations has Amazon made to you?

Sarah 'Sizzling-yoga-pants' Belle explains marketing for lady products

I took delivery of my new menstrual cup last week. I went for the Juju cup- simply because I liked the name.  Juju! It’s fun to say. It’s also locally made, so I am supporting the economy.

The box was decorated in gorgeous flowers and swirls, and opened like the petals of a flower revealing a silky purple drawstring padded bag inside.

I inspected the new cup, and once it had my approval, put it back in said glorious silky bag and reassembled the floral box. Then I saw it ... the sticker Juju had put on the box.


Way to make a woman feel special, Juju! My enormous vagina was so happy to know that size 2 is the largest cup you make.

Are they serious?

I understand that because the cup is more specialised than a generic tampon that anatomical factors should be taken into account when purchasing. However, I really think they could come up with better names than Size 1 and Size 2.

Look at the plethora of size names for other feminine hygiene products:

Regular: A little bland and non-descript but highly relatable because are times of the month when we just want to ‘blend in’ and perhaps be invisible while we deal with the monthly that can leave us either a homicidal maniac, a blithering mess or three kilos heavier from chocolate cravings.  (Or a mixture of all three).

Slim/slender: Who wouldn’t like to use this size? It’s very flattering.

Mini: I’m not sure if this is in reference to a mouse, or a female the size of a mouse? It’s a little too rodent for my liking.

Maxi: My dog’s name is Maxi, and yes, I have occasionally slipped and called him ‘Maxi pad’ instead of ‘Maxi pup’.  I think this was the size of the first pad my mother gave me and it was like wearing a brick between my legs. They didn’t call pads ‘surfboards’ for nothing back in the 70s and 80s. It does, however, imply safety; a menstrual prison- no leaks or escapes here.

Overnight: Sounds exciting! Who doesn’t love a sleep over? Can we toast marshmallows, shine torches on our faces and tell scary ghost stories until we are all too scared to go to the toilet on our own?

Junior: Sounds quite masculine. I get visuals of the under-nines soccer team. No thanks.

Super: Yeah baby! Super! I’m diggin’ it.  Who wouldn’t like a super twat? Does it come with its own cape?

Super-plus: Sounds like a superannuation fund. Far too sensible and bureaucratic. Where’s the spontaneity in this one?

Maternity: Pure hell. Purchasers of these puppies know that they are in for a relentless six-week period that never ends. Been there, done that. Never again.

And the Grand Mammy of them all...

ULTRA: It’s thrilling, action-packed and dangerous; the Avengers of sanitary protection. It wears a shiny cape, can fly and fears nothing. It’s the duck’s guts of feminine hygiene. 

Imagine a Naughty Ninja marketing department. Our sizes would be so freaking awesome:

Glitter: For the days when you need a little extra sparkle.

Unicorn: When you wish your period was a mythical creature.

Celebration: For when you’re on the last day and tomorrow will signal hormonal freedom!

Couch Potato: When you have no intention of getting off the couch, unless it’s to refill the M&M bowl or devour another tub of ice cream.

Fuck Off and Leave Me Alone or I Will Kill You: No explanation needed.

So, clearly Juju’s marketing department is run by men because women wouldn’t assign a number to indicate vaginal size. A woman-led marketing team would understand that if there’s one thing we don’t want to be classified by size, it’s our vagina!

We are already judged on the number of lovers who have gained access to our vagina as well as the number of babies that have exited our vagina.  Why whack a size on it as well?

Trump erotica broke grasshopper Roz Groves

A little warning: if you are offended by sweariness, overt sexytimes, Donald Trump or interspecies action, this probably is not a piece for you to read. However if, like me, you have no shame or filter, read along with the epic level craziness that these books emit!

I have read some seriously crazy shit in my time reviewing books – unicorn sheikhs, cuttlefish gangbangs, men rooting extra-wide toasters – and as a result, I thought I had a pretty high threshold for when the shit gets weird. But thanks to the Internet, and the inexplicable fascination that some people have with the bewigged one, I think I may just have found my breaking point.

That breaking point is Donald Trump-inspired erotica. The book that pushed me to the edge, and ran me off the cliff with a bulldozer, was the rather brilliantly titled “President Trump’s Gay Hairpiece and the Revenge of the Were-Water Buffalo” by Phoenix Debray. The cover itself should probably have been a red flag.

Yes, that IS a water buffalo dry-humping a toupee in front of the White House.

I really cannot explain how freaking bonkers this was. With lines like “Fuck me like you want to repossess my house” and a scene where the Donald gets surprise buttsex from one half of a rogue hairpiece called Maurice, it is hard to imagine this could get crazier. However...... Phoenix Debray took the WTFery and said "Challenge accepted". Another quick warning: if you wish to maintain a pleasant image of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, best to discontinue reading this one. 

Once you've had the image burned into your brain of Donald Trump beating off to The Rock fighting a Chinese were-water buffalo shifter with punches and blowjobs for the right to be transformed into one of them.......well, you may just need some industrial-strength brain bleach.

But HEY! I'm probably going to end up reading past my breaking point. You know why? Because swimming in the ocean of WTFery is a crapload of fun!

Elyse 'I heart dukes' Huntington turns puck bunny overnight

Elyse's new underpants.

Elyse's new underpants.

Something surprising happened to me over the Christmas holidays. And when I say surprising, I mean surprising in a good way.

I discovered sports romances.

I suppose technically speaking (and I like to be precise because I’m a lawyer and we heart precision) I did read a sports romance an eon ago. I was only reminded recently that my first ever sports romance was ‘It Had to be You’ by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. It was about a heroine who inherits a pro football team, when she knows nothing about football. She immediately clashes with the team trainer hero, whom she sees as nothing more than a jock. The hero, of course, thinks she is nothing but a bimbo, and from that premise, laughter, hilarity and angst ensues. That was a great book. Mental note: I should reread this.

Thinking back, I didn’t really get into the sports romance subgenre because I then embarked on my historical romance phase which lasted for many years, during which time the only contemporary romances I read were crime thrillers and later on, new adult romances featuring billionaires along the lines of Christian Grey (although I personally prefer Gideon Cross). Out-of-this-world sexiness. But let’s not get side-tracked.

So over Christmas, I unexpectedly had three days to myself. Three blissful days in which I went to bed super late, woke up super late, ate leftover Christmas ham and Heston Blumenthal’s hidden orange Christmas pudding. It was during this time that I first read ‘The Deal’ by Elle Kennedy. Smart, sweet and spunky heroine is asked by ice hockey player to tutor him. Yes! One-clicked. Love this trope.

I devoured 'The Deal' in less than four hours. It was great fun. One of my favourite lines in the book?

“You met Dean in the hall, and that’s Tucker,” Garrett adds, pointing to the auburn-haired guy on the couch, who--surprise, surprise--is as good-looking as the rest of them. I wonder if “sexy as fuck” is a requirement for living in this house.” 


I think I might have cheered, because obviously this was going to be a series. More sexy ice hockey players to read about! My new addiction to sports romance--although really, it’s more like ice hockey romances--was further cemented when I read ‘Him’ by Elle Kennedy and Sarina Bowen. 'Him' is a M/M best friends to lovers romance featuring not one but two hot ice hockey players. I was in heaven. It also turned out to be one of the best M/M new adult romances I have ever read.

I was on a roll. After 'Him', I read a couple of romances featuring American football to change things up just a little. These were ‘Sweet Home’ by Tillie Cole and ‘The Hookup’ by Kristen Callihan. Both were very good, too, but have a fair bit more heartache and angst than my ice hockey novels. Over January, I read the Ivy Years series by Sarina Bowen, which is based on college ice hockey but it is not ice hockey-centric. I really enjoyed this series, so much so that I’ve gone back and re-read three of the books in the series.

And, as a bonus, I’ve learnt about a new sport which I’m finding absolutely fascinating and super cool (no pun intended). Last week, I watched my first ever ice hockey training session of the CBR Brave, Canberra’s very own Australian Ice Hockey League team, and I will definitely be attending their opening game in April. If that’s not enough, I’m currently attempting my first ever new adult romance featuring an Asian-American ice hockey player!

I now know so many new words I never knew before; like checking and hat tricks and centres and defenseman and deke and blue line and face off. I love that being a writer – and reader – means you can learn about so many new things.

Huh. Maybe the heroine in my next book can be a thermonuclear physicist who plays ice hockey in her spare time. I’ll keep you posted.



Ebooks versus print books, the grudge match

Why cats hate ebooks.

Why cats hate ebooks.

Coke versus Pepsi, crumping versus twerking, these are the great questions of our time...along with ebooks versus print books. 

Really there’s no reason to choose between the two (unless you enjoy watching Luddites mud wrestle tech nerds) but for romance and erotica readers there’s really no question as to which is the better option, and the reasons boil down to availability, anonymity and access. 

Availability: Can readers buy a copy of Gay Dinosaur Billionaire Adventures with Bigfoot and Friends in print? Nope. What about Taken by the Toaster? No. And Taken for Ice Cream: My Billionaire Unicorn T-Rex Shifter 1? Again, no. All of these literary gems are only available as ebooks. 

Anonymity: In addition, like gingers, Huguenots and fans of the movie Fifty Shades of Grey, romance readers are a persecuted group. With their reading tastes ridiculed by all and sundry, is it any wonder then that when travelling by plane or train romance readers (Roz Groves, I’m looking at you) prefer the anonymity provided by a Kindle cover rather than outing themselves by flaunting a paperback with a bronzed Fabio clutching a woman to his nether regions? Ebooks can also provide privacy at home, too, particularly for mothers who don’t want to be asked by their five-year-old at the dinner table what ‘suspension bondage’ means. 

Access: Just as the internet provided billions with easy access to porn, ebooks provided romance readers with shame-free access to their chosen genre. No longer do they have to sidle up to the library counter with a copy of Ravished by the Rutabaga wedged between two classics, or risk the sneers of uppity sales clerks at bookstores. Instead, all they have to do is hit the One Click button on the Amazon website and the Kindle copy of Punished by the Potato is theirs. 

In fact, the only disadvantage of ebooks from the point of view of erotica and romance readers is that if you hurl your e-reader at a wall to express your dissatisfaction with a story, it’s going to cost you a lot more than the price of the ebook you purchased. But canny readers know that e-reader hurling is not worth the effort—if Pregnesia proves to be a disappointment, there’s always the sequel to Pet to the Tentacle Monsters! to be had for just ninety-nine cents. Because ebooks are usually way cheaper than paper books.

rhylls signoff button.png

A very smexy Christmas

No matter how brave she’d told herself to be, Priscilla (Prissy) Lockett couldn’t hide her shudder as the pink and white paint of No. 277 Thunder Road neared. Could she do it? Could she actually stop outside that shop and enter between those candy-stripe columns?

It was all Granville Hardy’s fault she was here. The wanker.

Last night as Prissy had shrugged into her Elmo pyjamas, shattered after a hard day at the office, all she’d really wanted was a cuddle and a good spooning.

Then Granville heaved out this huge sigh and said: “Elmo. I guess that means no rumpy tonight?”

And Prissy could have said all sorts of things, but what she said was: “What’s wrong with Elmo?”

“It’s either Elmo or your souvenir Australian Cricket Team World Cup nightie, Pris. Only one of them gets me laid, and we both know why that is.”

Prissy had sputtered a bit, but Granville flicked Elmo’s nose in that I-rest-my-case-way.

That got interesting for half a second because Elmo’s nose happened to be situated right on top of her left nipple, and Prissy had always been a sucker for a bit of nipple flicking. Not that Granville noticed her indrawn breath. Oh no, he was still resting his case.

“Just once, don’t you think it might be nice if you came to bed in something see-through and lacy? Something with belts or ties or clamps or bows. Something pink or black or leather, instead of Australian cricket team yellow? Don’t I deserve more?”

“Of course, Granville,” Prissy said, wondering whether it was too soon to go for the spoon.

“Prove it. It’s Christmas… why don’t you buy a little present for yourself that I’d like too.”

Prissy’s step slowed, and slowed again. At this rate she’d soon be mincing up the sidewalk and that was plain ridiculous. She was a grown woman and just because she was nearly twenty-eight and she’d never been in a sex shop before—

Sex Shop. Oh God.

I’m here.

Sucking in a deep breath, Prissy glanced over the top of her sunglasses.

The window wasn’t so bad. Cheery with tinsel and holly; little smiling elves; and what were those furry triangular bikini things hanging up? Some new kind of Christmas wreath?

She couldn’t stand staring all day, someone would see her. Ogling a sex shop window wasn’t something she wanted to explain. To anyone. Once inside, she’d be right. No one would see her.

Sucking in a deep breath for courage, Prissy felt her big girls pants crimp around her stomach as she closed her hand on the door handle of the shop and pushed. Nothing happened. She looked at the door, saw the word “Pull” and pushed again. Still nothing.

“It’s shut. Bloody hell.” How could she have worked up the courage to come only to have the stupid shop shut? What kind of hours did they keep? She scanned looking for a sign with the hours and then she saw movement inside.

She stepped backwards as a great towering giant with a bright shock of blonde hair opened the door towards her. He grinned and all she could see were teeth. White, glorious teeth surrounded by plump pink flesh looking as soft as a baby’s bottom.

“You need to pull, not push. It’s a trick for the unsuspecting.” His voice made Prissy’s thighs clench, her stomach drop and moisture pool.

“I have to pull?” Prissy felt her lips move but the voice that came out was throaty sex siren.

“The door, sweetheart. You have to pull the door towards you. But if there’s something else you’d like to pull, I’m open to offers from beautiful women like you.” That should have sounded sleazy, but it didn’t. Prissy didn’t recognized her own laughter, she was like a bird trilling.

This blonde giant was flirting with her, Prissy Lockett.

It had been a very long time since a man flirted with her. Okay, well, a man under the age of eighty. All the old men in the retirement home flirted with her, but that was just because that’s what old men did. This man had no reason to flirt with her – except for the fact that she was entering a sex shop, and maybe that gave him a license to flirt.

Prissy wasn’t sure what to do or what to say. She just knew she couldn’t look at the giant any more. He was so gorgeous he was hurting her eyes, and battering her hopeful heart with his meaningless flirting. She walked through the doorway with a tiny, “Thank you,” then lifted her gaze to take in the shop.

Her gaze bounced off the rubber vaginas, slid off the lubricants and landed upon things she had no name for. They looked a little like prosthetic unicorn horns. Who knew that unicorns frequented sex shops?

She scurried away from the blonde giant, wanting nothing to do with the precipitation he incited in her knickers. That sort of thing was so very unlike her. What would Granville say if he ever found out? Though it was his fault in the first place that she was skulking in a sex shop like a member of parliament between sittings. Like it was her fault he didn’t consider Tickle Me Elmo pajamas a sexual invitation. Truly, what red-blooded man didn’t?

She fled to the safety of the bookshelves lining one wall. There she scanned the titles, eyes widening. Understanding Your Submissive Garden Gnome. Debrief Me: A Guide to Talking Dirty to Your Public Servant Lover. How to Reach Orgasm Through Ikebana.

With a shudder she moved away, almost left—whore couture be damned—when another title caught her eye.

The Joy of Elf Sex. That seemed an odd title, even for a sex shop. Though it was Christmas, maybe it was a naughty story about Santa’s elves.

Elf gang-bang. She almost snickered. Blinked. Sweet baby Jesus, where were these crazy thoughts coming from?

She smothered a shriek as a hand rested on her shoulder. An upward glance and she met the giant’s deep blue eyes.


“Did you know that elves are wonderful lovers and that we don’t carry any sexually transmitted diseases? Well, not ones that affect humans, anyway.”

We? Her body flushed hot and cold.

His smile was faintly lopsided, the left corner of his lip rising a fraction higher than the right. Not that she was focusing on those delectable lips or anything – that would be creepy- but it was a smile loaded with charm and sexual confidence, and Prissy knew instinctively that the blonde giant was a sex god.

“We? “she whispered. Her eyes darted about the shop, expecting to see pointy-eared customers wearing ornate headbands and earthly coloured robes. To her surprise, there were a lot of blonde-haired people, but their ears were obscured by their long hair. Maybe it’s a favourite sex-shop for hippy Norwegians?

“Yes, Prissy. We. I’ve been waiting for you.”

If his lips didn’t set Prissy’s panties on fire, the infinitesimal twitch in his eyebrow did. Almost imperceptible, it screamed of mind-blowing pleasures, most of which Prissy had only ever imagined, or witnessed on late night SBS. Bless those laissez-faire Scandinavians.

She tried to speak, but was overwhelmed by the desire to strip her clothes off and mount this blonde giant. Her inner-Scandinavian was revealing itself.

“Come with me,” he said, taking her trembling hand in his bear-sized paw. “I believe there’s something in this shop that will interest you. Something that will …” he did he eyebrow thing again … “bring us both everlasting pleasure.”

Everlasting pleasure. Every girl’s dream! Prissy had experienced many orgasms, but never with Granville in the room. His name was misleading- there was nothing Hardy about Granville. That man wouldn’t know endurance if it beat him on the ass for nine hours.

“Tonight. You and I. Here,” he said, placing an address into her hand.

“Yesss, yesss.” Under a spell, she couldn’t stop herself from agreeing to meet him.

“A star shall shine on the hour of our meeting,” he said as his lips caressed the palm of her hand. His moist breath made her panties disintegrate in a pouf of magical stardust. In her hands he placed a set of red, furry handcuffs and matching baby-doll. It looked like Elmo, dissected, and made the precipitation in her panties turn into a torrential downpour.

By the time she could drag her eyes from the red, marabou trimmed bedroom mules which he'd also added to her instant sex-goddess outfit, he was no where to be seen. What the? Could an overdose of candy canes bring on hallucinations? 

She looked down at the profusion of red in her hands. Not what she'd choose for herself, but then she doubted they stocked a crotchless Elmo onesie. Prissy looked around once more, but no sexy blond giant. Her damn imagination had about as much staying power as Granville.

She pushed aside the black velvet changeroom curtain, but no joy there either. Oh well, she was no stranger to fuelling her libido with imaginary lovers, but doing it in public was new. Kinda freaky. Kinda kinky. She smiled and caught sight of her reflection in the changeroom mirror, face slightly flushed, a profusion of red silk and marabou clutched to her chest. The colour looked good against her skin. The silk would probably feel good against it.

Stepping into the small room, Prissy pulled the curtain shut behind her and in moments the liquid softness of red silk was sliding over her body. The babydoll fell to just below her butt and clung to her breasts, leaving nothing to the imagination. Her breasts looked amazing. She slid her feet into the marabou mules and twirled. Damn, her arse looked amazing too. Her imaginary elf knew how to sex up a woman. As she surveyed her gorgeousness a scrap of white on the floor caught her attention.

The paper shook in her hand as she picked it up and saw an address written in what could only be described as elfish script. 'Geezus Miss Prissy, I think you've fallen down a rabbit hole,' she told her reflection. 'Or,' - she looked down at the sparkly-heeled red mules – 'landed in Oz.'

What he hell. Today was already weird. What could it hurt. Prissy closed her eyes and clicked her spangled heels together.

Prissy’s mouth fell open. She had been expecting some sort of mansion woven from magical tree branches and the wishes of fairies. Where she had materialised, however, was on some sort of balcony overlooking…what in the name of all that is holy was that? It looked liked she was looking into Santa’s factory – lines and lines of elves making toys. She did a double take. Not just toys. Sex toys.

“Good evening.”

At the sound of the familiar voice, she whirled around, almost losing her balance before a large male hand caught her upper arm. Prissy landed against a chest that felt like it had been carved out of a boulder, measuring just as wide. She couldn’t help herself. Her nipples tightened and she gasped.

His blue eyes twinkled in the dim light of the walkway. “I was hoping you would come.”

Me too, thought Prissy. Multiple times. One always lived in hope.

“I have not introduced myself. I am Galaeron. And this is my domain.” He waved his arm about like a king indicating his realm.

Prissy blinked. “Your domain is a sex toy factory?” Maybe she shouldn’t have had the entire wheel of brie with all those candy canes. She hadn’t even had such crazy hallucinations when she did weed with her best friend in Year 11. This was weird. Weird, but kinda awesome.

Galaeron chuckled. “This is one of many factories. We are at full capacity, you see, with Christmas only weeks away.”

“I see,” she said faintly. “And are you…um, one of Santa’s elves?”

The blond giant’s laughter sounded like rolling thunder. “I don’t wish to disappoint you, but Santa does not exist. We are the gifting elves, giving rewards those who deserve them.”

O…kay. Prissy’s eyelids fluttered. “I-Is that why I am here?”

There was that eyebrow twitch again, and if she had been wearing undies, they would have been drenched. “But of course, my Priscilla. You, above all, deserve a reward.”

My Priscilla. Her heart jumped in her chest like a startled rabbit. “B-But why?”

He took her hand gently and began leading her down the walkway. “I see everything. I have seen what a faithful and generous friend you are, what a loving daughter you are, and most of all, how much kindness and love you have shown the elderly residents at the retirement home. They adore you, you know.”

Prissy was so shocked by all of this that she barely noticed that they had entered an elevator. A moment later, they emerged into a dark hallway, but Galaeron didn’t seem to notice, making his way through the corridor without hesitation, his hand fastened firmly around hers.

“Where are you taking me?” she asked.

He stopped before a large wooden door and pushed it open. “Welcome to my quarters.”

She hesitated. Courage, Pris. She stepped inside, her eyes widening as she walked to the middle of the room. It was like she had stepped back in time. Either that or she had wandered onto the set of Game of Thrones. The walls and floor of the room were made of stone and there were tapestries on the walls. The furniture was made from a dark wood, and in the middle of the room was the largest bed she had ever seen. Surely it was even larger than Brad and Angie’s custom-built family bed.

The door closed behind her and she started. Her breathing quickened when Galaeron padded towards her like a lion hunting its prey, his long fingers undoing the fastening of his sapphire velvet overcoat thingy. He shrugged out of it, and in one smooth action, the pale blue satin robes underneath flew away.

Prissy froze, her eyes transfixed midway down his perfect form. “Is that a…loincloth?”

“Mm… I highly recommend them. Even more comfortable than Bonds,” he murmured, as he slid the straps of her babydoll down her shoulders. It fell around her feet, and then she was naked before him.

“You are exquisite,” he declared in a low voice.

Whoa there. Did his loincloth just move? But Prissy didn’t have any time to look. Or touch. One moment she was upright and the next she was horizontal. She gave a startled exclamation when she felt soft handcuffs fasten around her wrists. Then there was another click, and lo and behold, she was chained to the bed.

But instead of being afraid, she felt moisture gather between her thighs. Her face heated in embarrassment and arousal. Galaeron’s eyes narrowed, and his lips – those sculpted, luscious lips – curved the faintest amount, and then they were upon her. Neck, breasts, nipples, thighs, feet. Toes. Who knew her toes were that sensitive. And then those lips landed where she was river-wet. She screamed.

The bad news was that there were no multiple orgasms.

The good news? Prissy had the hugest, longest, and most incredible orgasm in the history of both humankind and elves. It went on and on and on until she begged him to stop. He did, but merely to replace his tongue with another part of him. A very large, mind-bogglingly skilful part of him. The pleasure became too much. She fainted.

When Prissy came to, she found herself lying on her side, an arm around her waist, a body pressed up against her back.

Oh no. Her mind scrambled madly.

“Granville?” she ventured tentatively, her heart pounding. In fear. In hope.

“Granville the wanker?” replied that deep, melodious voice that she thought only existed in her fantasy.

Prissy stopped breathing. “Galaeron?”


She slowly shifted until she was facing him. It was a struggle, because her muscles felt like KY jelly. His beauty was so dazzling her eyes hurt. She sighed happily. “I thought this was all a dream.”

He smiled. “Well, I am here to make your dreams come true.”

Hmm. So very cheesy, and yet… “Can I stay with you?”

Galaeron’s eyes were warm. “For as long as you wish.”

Prissy grinned. “Well, Merry Christmas to me.”


Sarah Belle's Creative Nuggets

This is what creative nuggets look like...

This is what creative nuggets look like...

I’m on the motorway, with my kids in the backseat squabbling because one is breathing in a way that offends the others, or encroaches on their space, or some other crap excuse to argue, when a creative nugget hits me. Creativity is sometimes inconvenient in its arrival, but hey I’m just glad it’s arriving.

I repeat the creative nugget over and over again, mantra-style and hope that the escalating argument in the back seat doesn’t require intervention, because my brain has the retention capability of a toddler and I know that my nugget will slip through the door of creativity into the desert wasteland of writer’s drought before I can pull over safely and write it down.    

In desperation, I involve the son next to me –the eldest, M12.  He’s switched on enough to follow my instructions and transcribe my words onto the scribble app on my phone – my cache of awkwardly timed creative inspirations. My creative nugget will then be recorded with all the others in the app, and need never wander into the desert wasteland of writer’s drought.

Me: ‘I’ve just had a great idea and I need you write it down for me. Can you find my phone in my bag?’

M12:  ‘What?’ He stares at me with pre-teen blankness.

I repeat myself, watching my epiphany strolling towards the desert wasteland. He rummages around in my bag and pulls out the tin of mints.

M12:  ‘Oh, cool. Mentos. Can I have some?’

Me:  ‘Yes, just get the phone out first, please.’

He rummages around a bit more.

M12: ‘Hey, look at this photo in your wallet. Is that me? I must be about six. Damn, I was cute. No wonder I’m your favourite.’

Me: ‘Yes, that’s you, now please, please, get to the scribble pad on my phone.’ Clearly, he’s not picking up on the urgency in my voice.

He rummages around for a very long time. The nugget-mantra is still in a holding pattern, but I can feel it slipping away.

M12: ‘Mum, I’ll take your silence as agreement that I am your favourite. I knew it!’

Me:  ‘I don’t have a favourite. Where’s the phone?’

The distance between me and my nugget is increasing as it edges towards the desert wasteland. Meanwhile, M12 continues to rummage.

M12:  ‘Have you and dad talked about my new surfboard for Christmas yet?’

Me:  ‘No, not yet. Where’s my phone?’

By this stage I am antsy. The door of creativity is cracking open and I can see the desert wasteland from where I’m sitting in this bloody car on the motorway, with no hope of pulling over any time soon.

M12: ’Cos, you know, I love surfing. I’d use it all the time. I could even pay for some of it.’

Me:  ‘Yes, yes, where’s the phone?’

M12:  ‘So that’s a yes! Whoo-hoo!’

Me:  ‘No, that’s not a yes.  Where’s the phone?’

The nugget is fading ... fading ... fading...

M12:  ‘Are you sure that wasn’t a yes?’ he says, with far too much confidence. ‘I think someone wants to say yes to her favourite son.’

From the backseat: ‘He’s your favourite? I thought I was!’

Me:  ‘None of you are my favourite. I don’t have a favourite.  Is there an ETA on that phone yet?’

M12 finally pulls the phone from the bag and turns it on. The nugget is leaving me; it’s going ... going...

Me:  ‘Okay, write this down, word for word ...’

M12:  ‘Righto, I’m ready. Hey Mum, what’s a schlong?’

Oh shit! I’d forgotten about the last nugget of I’d scribbled on that app.

Me:  ‘Ahhh, nothing. It’s... (brain paralysis) nothing ...’

M12:  ‘Kinda sounds German, s-c-h-l-o-n-g.’

Me:  ‘Yeah, maybe. Now, write this down ...’

M12:  ‘Hey boys,’ he calls to his brothers in the backseat, ‘what do you reckon a schlong is? I think it’s German.’

Oh sweet Jesus! I can’t wait for this to be discussed at the dinner table tonight.

M8:  ‘Yeah, maybe it’s like a schnitzel.’

M6: ‘I like schnitzels.’

Me:  ‘Yes, I think it is a kind of schnitzel. Now, write this down-‘

M10:  ‘What’s the sentence? ‘M10 asks M12. ‘We might be able to work out what it is from the words around it.’

Context! What an insightful academic response, but this conversation has to stop. Immediately.

M12:  ‘Good idea. It says, ‘While she was appreciative of his manscaping effort, she wasn’t convinced his schlong warranted such devotion –‘

Me:  ‘No! No! No! Stop. Forget it, turn off the phone.’

M10:  ’What’s manscaping?’

M12:  ‘I think it’s when men do gardening.’

M8: ‘So we’ve got a schnitzel in a garden? Mum, that is one strange book you’re writing.’

M6: ‘I like gardens and schnitzels. He he he.’

Oh for gawd’s sake! I can only imagine the conversations they’ll have at school tomorrow. My preppiewill ask his teacher what a schlong is, and M10 will attempt to discuss manscaping during his class excursion to the volunteer coastal erosion group. M8 will write a story about a woman’s devotion to a schlong schnitzel. Wonderful. Here comes another nomination for Mother of the Year. My brain is overcrowded with the possible repercussions of this seemingly innocent conversation. My husband’s stunned silence when they ask him what a schlong is at dinner time. The phone call I will get from the school tomorrow querying my children’s vocabulary. The glares from other parents as they ask me why the hell I thought it was acceptable to use such language in front of my impressionable children- who have now taught their impressionable children the words ‘schlong’ and ‘manscaping’.

M12: ‘Okay mum, so what was it you wanted me to write down for you?’

Mental blank.  Nothing. My creative nugget is gone. It’s followed the schlong schnitzel into the manscaped world of the desert wasteland of writer’s drought. The moral of this story – write your nuggets down with old fashioned pen and paper.  It worked for Shakespeare and Bronte, so it should be good enough for me.

Sarah Belle tells us why romance & women's fiction should be included in academic lists for study

Tom, the perfect example of a male feminist

Tom, the perfect example of a male feminist

I have returned to university to complete a BA in English Lit and Creative Writing this year. Therefore, you can imagine I have analysed/deconstructed a small truckload of books in the last ten months. Not surprisingly, none of the books I studied were from the romance or commercial women’s fiction genres. In fact, there was only one novel that was genre fiction, and while I was challenged on every level by the literary fiction, I wondered (silently) why more genre fiction was not studied.

We focused on feminist readings of the texts. This interested me, being a reader and writer of women’s fiction and single titles, and I was surprised that only two texts gave agency to the female protagonist and saw her in a light other than an obedient wife or something marginally above a chattel. Yes, I know that in many texts women were oppressed by the society of that era. And in some texts, the whole point of the chattel-woman character is to make us question a woman’s role. I get that.

However, it did prompt me to reconsider why I enjoy reading women’s fiction and single titles. After all, genre fiction, especially romance or women’s fiction, couldn’t possibly offer any insight into society or the constructs we create, could they? There’s no way that novels written by women for women could be thought provoking, right?

There is a huge misconception of feminism – the stigma attached to the word conjures imagery of bra burning and man-hating lesbians with penis envy. This is not the case. According to the Oxford Dictionary, feminism is ‘the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.’ No need to burn bras or hate men.  Men can also be feminists, because it is the ideology of equality and has nothing to do with vaginas or penises. Just look at my lust-object, Tom – he’s a perfect example of a male feminist. Tom’s a perfect example of everything. Mmmmmmm, Tom. (Or that Cumberbatch fellow if you prefer him).

So, here’s my reasons why romance/single title and women’s fiction should be included in the study of literature (yes, I know it’s not strictly ‘literature’ in an academic sense, but rules were made to be broken).

  • Female protagonist – the leading characters, and usually the majority of secondary characters, in romance/women’s fiction are females. Whether written in first or third person, the perspective is focalised through the female lead. It is through her eyes that we experience the social constructs that bind her to conventionality. For example, her expected role within a traditional family –mother and wife – her inability to rise above the glass ceiling, and especially the exhibition of what is considered to be appropriate female behaviour -the double standard of a male stud compared to a female slut. What I like about our genre is that our protagonists are free to challenge these constructs. Our girls are not necessarily bound by traditional expectations, they are making their way in a modern world, or in a different era (past , present or future) where women are edging closer to equality, or are, at least, capable of having an educated opinion.
  • Our genre is usually written by women for women – could you imagine Pride and Prejudice written by a man? All females would be portrayed as overly emotional, flippant damsels in need of an afternoon nap so as not to endanger their already fragile constitution. Generally, just as your other writer friends understand the hurdles you face as a writer better than your non-writer friends, no one understands a woman like another woman.
  • Our genre allows women to explore what they really want, and to give a voice to women’s issues. I read my first women’s fiction novel only ten years ago. The long nights spent with my second baby were an opportunity for that itty bitty book light to illuminate a female lead that was remarkably similar to me. She was having an identity crisis after motherhood , the ‘who the hell am I now that I’m not a career woman, now that I’m dependent on my husband’s wage?’ confusion that is common to many women. It was such a relief to know that someone else – even a fictional character- was sharing my experience, that I was not alone in the world. Those books helped me through a physically and emotionally exhausting time in my life, and made me realise how important women’s fiction is to women. They allowed me to challenge the societal construct of Brady Bunch style motherhood and to find my own place and balance within my new existence.
  • Our genre allows a woman to experience sexual pleasure, it illustrates her as a desirable, sensual human being who knows what, and who, she wants, even when she’s over 40! The woman is allowed to not only instigate sex, but take control and teach her lover how to please her. Yee-fucking-har! Our genre has empowered women to either accept or decline the man on her own terms.
  • What I really love is the evolution of our male characters, from overbearing alphas to men sensitive to a woman’s needs. Our male heroes are more feminist in their outlook, and share in the journey of the protagonist, rather than dictating it.

There are so many other reasons why at least one women’s fiction/romance should be included on academic text lists. Our genre is a mimetic representation of the evolution of feminism as experienced not only by women, but by men as well. It empowers women, it is thought provoking, and it inspires women and men to challenge the societal constructs that bind them to conventionality. I know that universities have a tradition of literature to uphold, but to ignore genre fiction that empowers, challenges constructs and provokes thought is, in my humble opinion, only telling half the story of the written word.