You've got a book on sale at Smashwords. What's it all about?
(Note: the bit about the book being on sale here will come true in a couple of days. Please bear with me.)
It's about a man who is going to Rome, to meet a woman he's already in love with. He's a dom, and she's submissive. She mentioned, casually, that she's never had anal sex. So it's an agreed agenda item between them that he is going to Rome to take her anal virginity.
She also mentioned that a long time ago, when she was very young and at school, a schoolteacher had used a tawse on her. A tawse is a longish, stiff, split leather strap, that was used for corporal punishment on children, before beating children in schools was banned in the UK. When that teacher had hit her with a tawse, it had split her skin, leaving a lasting scar. It was a significant injury, and a gross act of cruelty.
So the man had the quixotic idea that he would get a tawse while he was in Scotland, and bring it to Rome. There, he would find a way to apply it that led only to her pleasure, and did no harm. So the bad memory would be overlaid with a good memory instead. This book is set in Scotland, and tells the first part of the story, though it's also a complete story in itself.
What's your book, "Between the Lines: A biography of BDSM", about?
“Between the Lines” is a history of bdsm, from erotic sculptures made 23,000 years ago to the internet age. It covers bdsm in arts and literature, and the development of bdsm communities, with mutual support, a code of ethics and a sexual politics.
It’s also a personal history, from Jerusalem Mortimer’s earliest discovery that his sexual tastes were not the same as his friends, his encounters with stigma and isolation, and his slow discovery that, with perseverance and the kindness of others, bdsm can be fitted into a good life, decent, happy, and occasionally joyous.
Why's your book called "Between the Lines"?
The “Between the Lines” name means two things:
(1) People who are into bdsm are sort of between the lines, sexually. We can pass as normal, but if we get outed the consequences can be severe.
For example, I had to abandon my chosen profession, which was politics. But others have lost custody of children, their personal safety, and so on. We’re in a place that can be safe and can be dangerous.
(2) When I write about bdsm I’m interested in the micro-decisions and negotiations and consents: the almost subliminal parts of what actually happens between a dominant (this dominant, anyway) and submissives. So at an interpersonal level it’s reading between the lines.
This book won't be on Smashwords, at least in the near future. Look out for it in book form!
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
The greatest joy for me is in getting the details right, the feelings, fears, joys, vanities and generosities of my characters across in a compact way. And then concealing what I've done so that the final product reads easily and naturally.
That's when I think something is finished. I do think that books and stories get finished, and not just abandoned.
The other joy, at least from the blog, is hearing from people who've liked something I wrote. Or who want to argue with me. Either way, that contact is great.
A third joy, if it happens, is making enough from my writing to be able to travel with my girl a couple of times a year.
Who do you most admire, as writers?
My favourite poet is Percy Bysshe Shelley. My favourite prose writer is probably PG Wodehouse, at the moment.
Wodehouse can't really do people: it's not just women he can't do. But he can do language like nobody else has ever managed. He could outwrite anyone in English in the 20th century. It's not just that I'd rather read him than Woolf or Joyce: I think he was a better writer. The man was a genius. A limited one, but there he is.
I don't write remotely like either of them. I try to write pellucidly, vividly, and as undistorted by style as I can manage. Well, sometimes I find myself writing in a sort of poetical High Style, though only for a phrase or two, and though it's incongruous I'll sometimes leave it in.
Beyond that I admire Angela Carter, Janet Frame, the Amises, Catullus, Ovid, Ariosto, George MacDonald Frazer, and an enormous cast of philosophers and poets.
Since I've written a book on BDSM, I might mention that I have no admiration at all for Sade, Sacher-Masoch, or "The Story of O".
Tell us about your blog
The Jerusalem Mortimer blog features the adventures of a dom who once knew shame but lost it a while ago. I’m interested in what really happens in bdsm, which is much more about minds, sensations, negotiations and thoughts than it is about beatings, tying up or the giving and obeying of orders.
There are more women submissives, women doms, and perhaps male subs, who write blogs than there are heterosexual male doms blogging. So as a representative of a notoriously tongue-tied group I try to blog honestly about what really happens in bdsm from our perspective.
I write more about self-doubts we feel but hide, and about hesitations, and issues around ethics, than I write about the swing and impact of instruments or tying of knots.
I think it’s a blog about love, really: the love that a dominant feels for the woman who submits to him, even if the submission is lent rather than given, and it’s only in the moment. And the love that underlies a submissive's gift of trust to her or his dom is intensely emotionally powerful and moving. That’s worth exploring.
Also, I think it’s a good, sexy, read, most of the time.
Are you going to publish more here?
Yes. I've written a lot of erotica, though I'm very interested in the mainstream novel values of psychological insight and plausibility. I think it's odd that erotica, as a genre, doesn't get as much respect, or reviews, as genres like detective stories or science fiction.
My stories are mostly why things happen and how they affect the people involved. What bodies do is sexy, and writing that describes what bodies do can be sexy. But writing about the personal and interpersonal things that happen in people's minds and bodies when they're somewhere near sex, when they in the neighbourhood: that's what I like writing, and reading, most.
So I'll be publishing more stories here shortly.
I need "Between the Lines: A Biography of BDSM" to have the imprimatur of a major publisher, since it's a serious book on a topic that's usually covered in erotica. Not that there's anything wrong with erotica, not at all, but the audience for "Between the Lines" is different. I hope to sell it to doctors, psychologists and counsellors, and to university libraries, as well as a mainstream audience.
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