It’s a good time to be a woman

the-binding-coverWhen I published The Binding, I wrote this on Amazon:

Women in the Western world are living now through the best time they have ever known. I realise that there will be some who argue with me and accuse me of not being a Feminist, but I stand by the statement. It’s true. What I set out to do in this book was to show the changes in the way women are treated now and how they were treated a century or so ago. I started with two female characters, both of whom Society might see as somewhat dissolute though I hope their underlying humanity shines through; my intention was to compare the way one was dealt with at the end of the nineteenth century with how the other fared in the twenty-first. Then I added two men, one a model of Victorian manliness and one with some pretensions to being a “New Man”.

The story always comes first with me. My characters will make love, because that’s what people do in real life, and I don’t hesitate to show the love-making in graphic detail, but what most interests me is: How are they feeling while they’re doing it? And WHY are they doing it? People in real life have sex for all sorts of reasons, and so do my characters. In another of my books, Lovers in Their Fashion, the time is today, but still we have a man and a woman struggling to find their way to each other. There’s probably a little less sex in that one. The Unquiet House, coming later in the year, goes back to the Victorian/modern day split and is probably the most sexually explicit of all my books to be published this year.

I got a nice review from Manic Reviews:

The Binding by S F Hopkins is an enjoyable read. In the beginning I felt just Rodney and Melissa’s story. It had more substance. However, as the story went on I came around to Caroline and James. Still Rodney and Melissa were my favorites in this book. I like how the past and present intertwined with each other. There was good balance between the past and present. Readers who like historical romance stories with a happy ending and don’t mind some spice should check out this book.

But the review I got today on Amazon really made me feel I’d hit the mark and said what I’d wanted to say in the way I’d wanted to say it:

***** Five Stars Excellent Historical Erotica

I loved this book. There is an interweaving between present and past as Caroline and James are introduced, by way of handwritten letters (they used to do that), from Captain Rodney McKenna, of the Indian Army, and the diary of Melissa Blaze, the great great grandmother of James. Of what significance are these letters and this diary? Captain McKenna states “…because I desire that one, at least, of those that know me shall know the truth behind the calumnious statements of me… with instructions that they be opened one hundred and twenty years from today.”

These letters and diary are of an erotic nature that Caroline and James feel compelled to act upon. It is a brilliant premise to base a story on, similar to the 2004 movie, The Notebook. I found this to be an excellent read. I couldn’t wait to find out what was going to happen next, and why.

Gotta Find a Home by Dennis Cardiff

Gotta Find a Home Cover

I’ve been subscribed to the Gotta Find a Home blog for a long time, so I was a shoo-in to buy the book when it was published. I can’t fault it. Dennis Cardiff has taken the trouble to spend a little time with, and get to know, a bunch of people most of us hurry past with head averted. He’s no bleeding-heart, liberal do-gooder—Dennis tells it how it is; and how it is is that those people who haven’t made it in Society’s competitive rough and tumble are—surprise!—human beings just like you and me. They have the ambitions, the disappointments, the loves and hates that we all have. As Dennis Cardiff teases out the life stories of his subjects, he lays bare before us a group of people who deserve his attention. And mine. And yours.

You can find the book here.

If I give you half a crown

The man in the apartment next to mine is an Englishman, a retired engineer in his seventies who has lived in the Gulf for forty years and will probably stay here till the day he dies. He likes the people, likes the climate, likes the food. Just as I do. As he goes about his daily business he often sings; it’s nice to hear him because the impression I have is that he sings when he’s happy and happy people are nice to be around.

Some of his songs were popular hits when he was young in England—the Stones, Lonnie Donegan, Elvis (I’ve never heard him sing a Beatles number; I must ask him some day why that is). (And if you’ve never heard of Lonnie Donegan, neither had I—I found about him here when I Googled a song wafted from my neighbor’s balcony: My Old Man’s a Dustman. Sometimes on balmy evenings (which in the Gulf means in winter) he takes his glass of Scotch and an iPhone plugged into his portable radio onto the balcony and I hear old Deanna Durbin and Al Bowlly tracks, which must surely be from before even his time. He has to play them quite loud because he’s a little deaf.

My neighbour was a rugby player in the days of long ago; he flies home every February and stays for about six weeks because he has tickets for every one of England’s Six Nations games. Someone who knows him better than I do tells me that the tickets come from the Rugby Football Union and an England cap rests on the sideboard in my neighbor’s sitting room, so I assume he could play a bit when he was young. And some of his songs have more in common with rugby clubs than with the broadcast media.

The first time I heard him sing this was quite a shock:
I’ll be up your flu in a minute or two
I know just where to find it
It’s called a c**t and it’s round the front
And your arse is right behind it.

This isn’t Saudi Arabia but the law on profanity here is quite strict and I wouldn’t want to see him taken in by the police. I coughed, loudly, to let him know someone could hear him and he stopped singing with a snort. It was back to Lonnie and Elvis and Ruby Tuesday for a few weeks after that.

But yesterday afternoon, at a time (to be fair) when he probably thought I was at work, I heard another ditty:
If I give you half a crown
Will you take your knickers down?

Half a crown was something else I had to Google; it turns out it was a British coin until the country decimalized more than forty years ago. There were eight half crowns in a pound so in today’s British money it would equate to 12½ pence—three quarters of a dirham where I (and he) live and not much to pay for a striptease.

He has friends but he lives alone and sometimes he’s probably a little lonely. I have friends and I live alone and sometimes I’m a little lonely. There are plenty of men here who’d be very happy to spend time with me but they’re not looking for conversation or companionship—they’d want someone to go to bed with them until they’re ready for the time when their parents arrange their marriage with a young virgin of the correct family and religious background. They’d probably want the bed time to continue after their marriage, too. I’m not that kind of girl.

I’ve talked enough to my neighbor to know that conversation with him is rewarding. Perhaps I’ll go round there one of these evenings, put a pair of panties in his hand and say, “That’s 75 fils you owe me” and see where it leads.

I don’t suppose I will. Probably I won’t. But probably isn’t certainly. A couple glasses of wine might do the trick.

Equality in Saudi Arabia

I’m in Saudi again. In case you think stories about the place of women in the Kingdom are exaggerated, here are three items culled from the local newspapers in only two days.

Women no longer need identifiers at Saudi courts
The Supreme Judicial Council has decided that Saudi women no longer need to have males identify them at court hearings and would only require their identity cards. This isn’t primarily about cases involving sexual assault; the most significant aspect has to do with inheritance. It was not enough for a woman to turn up at court, present her ID card and say, “I’m Fatima X”—a man had to say, “Yes, she is Fatima X” and, not infrequently, he would say “No, she is not Fatima X” even though she was. The man in question would be her brother, he would have brought along his wife and he would point at her and say, “This is Fatima X” and the court was bound to accept that because he was a man and his evidence was therefore worth hearing while hers was not. The brother’s wife would then say that she felt her late father had been far too generous in dividing his estate equally between his two children and she would only feel comfortable if the court overruled the will and gave her “brother” the lion’s share of the inheritance while giving her the minimum the law permitted—“10% sounds about right”. The woman was in this way cheated out of her money. Now the SJC has decided that this behaviour is unfair. The decision is being hailed as a demonstration of the fairness with which the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia treats half its population.

On death row for sorcery, maid spared by king
Do you believe in witchcraft? Me neither. But Ali binti Abeh Inan, an Indonesian woman from an impoverished region of Sukabumi in West Java who worked in KSA as a housemaid, was sentenced to death for using black magic against the Saudi family that employed her. How did the court know she had used sorcery? Well, her employer said so—and he is both a man and a Saudi while she is a woman and a foreigner, so obviously we believe him. Don’t we? Now the king has pardoned her, she has gone home to Indonesia and a spokesman for the Indonesian Embassy in Riyadh has expressed “its gratitude to King Abdullah and to authorities in Saudi Arabia for their cooperation in releasing Ali.”

Women’s visits to hospitals without male guardians banned
The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (Haia, but generally known as the Religious Police) has officially prevented women from visiting medical clinics without male guardians. A guardian can only be the next of kin—son, grandson, husband, brother, father or uncle. The ruling came after Qais Al-Mubarak, a member of the Council of Senior Scholars, said “Unaccompanied visits by women to male doctors can have negative implications. Islamic law does not permit women to visit their doctors without male guardians. Women are prohibited from exposing body parts to male doctors, especially during childbirth.”  But the fatwa extends way beyond gynae wards—a nutrition centre has been forbidden to see women unless a guardian is with them. What’s that you say, lady? You’re ill and your husband is on a business trip outside the Kingdom? Die, baby, die. Seems to me that’s a negative implication right there—but I’m a foreigner and a woman, too, so wtf do I know?

Keeping It Real

The Binding Cover

Visiting an old friend in South Africa a while ago, I was convulsed by TV commercials with the theme: Keep It Real. Some man (it was always a man) would be making a complete idiot of himself when Louis Gossett Jr stepped out of the shadows to correct his behaviour, hand him a bottle of Windhoek Lager and tell him to “Keep it real”. I’m not a beer drinker, ever, so the fact that I remember the name of the product more than a year later says how good the ads were (although, because I’m not a beer drinker, it hasn’t done Windhoek any good).

“Keep It Real” had vanished from my mind until, in the last two days, I was drawn to a post called 10 Things I Hate About Sex (Scenes) on the wonderful smartbitchestrashybooks.com blog. If you haven’t read it, you’re missing a treat.

Katie Carlton and I talk all the time about sex and how to portray it in fiction. Well, okay, not all the time—we live 3,500 miles apart for a start—but we do talk about it. We talk about it to John Lynch, too, although—as his blog has repeated a number of times—he (unlike us) doesn’t write about sex. We’re all Mandrill Press writers, though, and we try to meet Mandrill Press expectations which—in a nutshell—are: that the characters come first, that the characters and their motivations should be believable, and that sex scenes should be there for a purpose. They must carry the story forward.

Keeping it real means removing the fantastical, “all-is-perfection” style that marks so much erotic fiction. Katie and I don’t do Adonis-like male heroes with washboard stomachs and huge wangs because (a) we’ve met very few Adonises; (b) the few we did meet were too self-absorbed ever to make good fictional heroes (read: “We didn’t like them”); and (c) neither of us has any wish to be penetrated by anything in the sort of size range we so often read about. Nor would our heroines meet teenage male fantasy standards: their stomachs could often be flatter, they’re sometimes tired and irritable, they’ve been known to have spots and they prefer comfortable underwear to the sort of stuff that appears on too many book covers.

What all three of us agree on is that any relationship we’ve ever had that was in any way satisfactory included humour. If you can’t laugh with a man, even when you’re in bed together, you have no future as a couple. I can think of a few episodes in my own life where the hilarity could only be described as scatological and I’d use those incidents if they served a purpose in the book but there needs to be humour somewhere in the book. The two examples I want to give here come from The Binding. In the first, Melissa Blaze, a sexually experienced young English woman in Victorian India, is pretending innocence in order to snare a husband. Her target has other ideas:

‘Sir,’ I said, as with great apparent reluctance I returned my hands to where he had instructed. ‘You are cruel.’

‘Cruel,’ he agreed, the laces in his hands. ‘And determined.’ He pulled the drawers down so that my mound of Venus, now quivering with desire, was uncovered. ‘And stronger than you.’ And with that he pulled hard at my drawers, tugging them down—and off.

‘Take off that foolish hat,’ he ordered. I did so. Apparently he did not regard my stockings or riding boots as “foolish.”

Well, my dear, what happened next was what you will by now be expecting and it proved to be my undoing. When he removed his breeches in order to have at me, I was shocked by the paltriness of his equipment as to both girth and length. I had but little time to hope that he could perform multum with parvo when, after the most cursory fingering of my aching sex, he lay on me and inserted himself.

Three strokes and it was over. I had scarcely felt him enter me and he was withdrawing. Standing up. Wiping himself.

‘Is that all?’ I asked in incredulity.

I should not have said it.

‘What?’ said he.

‘Are you finished?’

‘You expected more?’

Fury took possession of me. Oh, my dear coz, the number of times when, as a young girl, my governess and my mother told me that temper would be the ruin of me. They could not have dreamed how right they would prove to be. ‘Yes,’ I spat. ‘I expected more. Have I gone through the humiliation of pretending to resist rape, only to be disappointed by…by’ and I pointed to his shrivelled cock, now even less impressive than it had been, ‘by that?’

If my governess and my mother thought that I had a temper, they should have seen Mountbank’s! He bent down and slapped me hard across the cheek. ‘You are experienced in men, I suppose.’

‘Enough to know when I have been left unsatisfied,’ shouted I.

‘Are you, bedamm? And you are unsatisfied, are you? We must see how we can assist you with that.’ And he turned and beckoned to his groom.

The man was beside me in a moment. He wore the native costume, which is much quicker to remove than a European’s. In two seconds he was naked. His shaft stood rigid. I looked at Mountbank from where I lay.

‘At least he has the organ of a man,’ I sneered.

Mountbank spoke to him. He fell upon me. We need not dwell on the rude mechanics of the thing. I was rogered. Well. By someone who knew what he was doing and did it with efficiency.

When finally he withdrew I lay still for several moments, catching my breath. ‘Are you satisfied now?’ scowled Mountbank.

‘Yes, thank you,’ I said, mustering as much calmness as I could. ‘That will do very nicely.’ I sat up and began to dress.

Mountbank and his man moved away. Mountbank said something and the other laughed before replying. Mountbank lit a cigar.

When I was fully dressed, Mountbank came towards me. His man was hoisting the unused picnic hamper back on to his horse.

‘Where is he going with that?’ I asked. ‘We have not eaten and he has given me a hunger.’

‘I asked him whether we were the first with you,’ Mountbank said. ‘He says there is no possibility of that. My dear, I do not eat with harlots.’

We rode back in silence. Anger was dissipating, to be replaced by fear. What had I done? I was to find out soon enough.

In the second example an army officer, once again in India, writes to an old fellow-soldier to tell him about his latest adventures:

To my story. Once I had her naked, I began an assault on her arse—first with kisses and caresses and then with the full weight of my open palm. By God, old man, I spanked the woman! Do you remember that young’un who so provoked you and me with her airs? Or what we thought were her airs? As we discovered some little too late, she was the daughter of a Rural Dean and not the streetwalker we had taken her for. I do believe we’d both have been cashiered had not that trouble broken out in Rajput, and every man needed for the fray. I still would not go within twenty mile of Gloucester, even today, for fear of the Dean’s wrathful countenance. I don’t think, old chap, you should have offered to marry her off to your Company Quartermaster as a ruined girl. That only made matters worse, if you want my frank opinion.

I said at the beginning of this post that Mandrill Press requires that sex scenes be there for a purpose—that they carry the story forward. You may by now be wondering what purpose these extracts serve, so let me show you how that second one continues:

Be that as it may, I spanked the widow Marjoram with the same vigour we used on that poor victim of mistaken identity, but in this case to more gratifying effect. If I told you she had loved my ministrations beyond all imagining, I should be understating the impact I had upon her.

(Impact! I do not know how I maintain the levity of heart to make these puns. Perhaps it is the recollection of that day, or even of what was to come later with Halanda. But I think, do you know, that I have always been a fellow who saw the rosy side of life, whatever my predicament. Even being whacked at school by old Thwaites. Remember him? Even then I could still raise a laugh. And now I come to think of it, wasn’t he the chappie who said puns were the lowest possible form of wit? The man knew nothing worth knowing about humour).

Devilish good spirits were also what I was in as I beat the widow’s arse into a state of radiant scarlet. The more I beat, the more excitedly she moved in her bonds, the more scarlet became her backside, the greater my good mood waxed.

And then, of a sudden, it was over. I delivered one especially stinging slap right on the crack between those two splendid bottom cheeks and she raised herself violently from the bed as far as the cords would permit before collapsing. There could be no doubt. The woman was sated. I had brought her to a conclusion by the force of my hand.

I untied her. I stripped off the rest of my clothes and lay beside her, taking her tightly in my arms. I smothered her sweet, warm face in kisses. For a moment I regretted that we were to part, and so soon. What is love, my dear old fellow? I am not sure that I know, but I think it must be something like what I felt for my Evelyn at that moment. A combination of desire, and affection, and the wish to protect someone and keep her safe—is this love? You and I may never know; and perhaps that will be the price we pay for serving the Crown.

A warmth emanated from her. In a sort of half-swoon, she let her body press against mine and I felt that she, too, was taking refuge in the moment—that, if I could have offered my protection in the rest of her journey through life, she would have accepted it. But I was a serving officer in the British Army and that could not be. I knew it, and so did she.

She began to stir. She looked down the narrow space between us—a space she had to pull slightly back to create—and smiled. I smiled, too. Importunate, demanding, obstinate, persistent—what name would you give to a man’s tool when it needs release? Like a Ghurka’s knife, which he calls his kukri (brave fighting man, your Ghurka), once drawn it cannot be sheathed until it has been used.

The widow saw my situation clearly. She kissed me on the lips. Then she moved back as far as the tight confines of the bunk would permit, drawing me after her until I was in the centre of the mattress. At this point, she rolled on top of me. Lifting her hips, she reached down between us, took my hard and swollen weapon in her hand and drew it into herself. When she lay down again, I thought I should be unable to move–but that turned out not to matter. It was the widow on top of me who moved, or rather those muscles inside her that needed to move. Have you experienced this, old man? My darling Evelyn milked me, long and slow.

When we awoke it was six in the morning and the stewards were bringing tea. I requested an extra cup for Evelyn, which was served without demur. Stewards on the Peninsular and Oriental are known for their discretion. Having drunk it she rose, kissed me, dressed hurriedly and departed for her own cabin where she would wash before dressing again for breakfast. I felt an obscure regret that she could not do those things in my cabin—our cabin—I mean a shared cabin. Something had come into my heart that had never been there before. I was not sure I wanted it, but I know now that I should have hated to go through life without knowing it at least that once.

It’s sex, it’s humour—but most importantly it is part of the telling of the story.

Missing Canadian Winters

Mostly, I like living in the Gulf. If I didn’t, I’d move. Okay, it gets a bit warm in the summer—let’s face it, it gets hot­­–but I like the sun, the warmth, the politeness that goes with being in the UAE. I like the salads, the seafood and the reasonable prices charged by good restaurants. I like knowing that I’m not going to be accosted by drunks (Hey, I have an apartment in London—okay?)

But I’m still a Canadian. I was brought up in Ontario. And right now, in early January, I miss the snow, the clear blue skies and bright sun. I even miss the biting cold that means you have to dress like an Inuit just to walk to the front gate.

I miss it so much that one day I’m going to have to go back there.

But probably not this year.

All women expect to change their men and all women fail

All women expect to change their men and all women fail.

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