I‘ve finally finished unpacking. Propping a photograph on the window ledge by my bed, I glance round at my new flat. The plant that Nicki bought me as a moving in present sits next to an empty bottle of Cava and two ancient champagne flutes, remnants of our celebrations last night. A bed, two stacks of books and a bulging clothes rail make this half of the flat look overcrowded already. A second hand sofa acts as a divide between the ‘bedroom’ and the ‘kitchen’, consisting of a coffee table, three deep purple floor cushions (borrowed from the café where I work) and a 1970s kitchenette that I can’t wait to repaint.
This is my new studio flat containing everything that I own in the world. To a stranger, it might look pathetic, but to me it’s perfect.
After a relationship that should have ended a lot sooner, I finally broke up with my boyfriend of three years three months ago. I’ve been couch surfing ever since I moved out and it feels incredible to finally have my own space. I’ve craved this opportunity for so long that I don’t mind forking out the extra rent for a studio flat. Now that I’ve finally bagged a serious job, it’s time to have a place of my own as well.
Beatriz Vera / EyeEmGetty Images
The last year with my ex was unbearable. He’d always been jealous, but the further we grew apart, the more suffocating his possessiveness became. If I went out without him I’d have to ‘forget’ my phone to avoid getting fifty arsey texts and having to reassure him that no, I hadn’t danced with any guys, and yes, it was a crap night without him. It got so bad that I stopped wanting to see my closest friends – even a night with Nicki would result in a fight.
But the worst sacrifice I made was losing contact with Tom. Nicki’s my oldest friend, but Tom was my closest. I met him at my first Saturday job, waitressing at his Dad’s restaurant. He made me laugh on my very first shift and we were inseparable from that moment on, always slinking off on our breaks with bottles of half-finished wine and tasting each course, “just to make sure that it’s OK for the customers”. Little did I know that my weekend job would inspire my future career. But even then I guessed that my partner in crime would be a friend for life.
Tom is one of those drop dead gorgeous guys that every girl wants to go out with. Predictably, he’s had a string of pretty, dull girlfriends for as long as I’ve known him. There’s nothing between us, we’re just friends, but try telling my ex that. We had so many fights over Tom that I stopped seeing him and allowed us to drift apart completely.
“There’s nothing between us, we’re just friends, but try telling my ex that”
Alright, there was one time when I wondered whether anything would happen between us. We’d been on holiday together to stay with his aunty in Spain. We had so much fun spending long, lazy days on the beach, sipping cold beers with countless bocadillos. It was one of the only times in eight years of friendship that neither of us were in a relationship. In fact, I was only there to stand in for a girlfriend he’d broken up with days before.
The night before we went home he dared me to go skinny-dipping. We were sitting on the pier where one of the restaurants had placed a few tables up by the water’s edge. I knew he thought I’d never do it and I was more than a little tipsy so I pulled my strapless dress off there and then and jumped straight in. The water was freezing and I rushed to the surface, squealing.
Tom was bent over with laughter. Reaching down to pull me up out of the water, he gripped me in his tanned arms and a wave of electricity ran between us. I hadn’t been wearing a bra and, as I clambered up to him, I realised my tiny knickers were see-through from the water. Of course I felt self-conscious, but as his eyes flickered along my body, lingering on my hardened nipples, I almost forgot my embarrassment. I wanted him to look at me, I felt like it was the first time that he’d really seen me. A wave of energy rushed through me, tingling between my thighs. If I hadn’t seen the waiter walking over just then, well, I don’t know for certain, but I felt sure he’d have kissed me.
I pulled my dress on before I was seen and we sat back down to finish our drinks, but the atmosphere had changed completely. Every other night we’d been howling with laughter and taking the piss out of each other. Suddenly we were quiet, the air between us heavy with expectancy. I remember how excited I felt, but also how frustrated I was that this was only happening now, the night before we went home.
On our way back to his auntie’s apartment, he put his arm around me, a gesture that he’d repeated a hundred times, but this one it was different, more tentative, his fingers gently circling my sun-kissed shoulder. My heart was pounding, my senses felt heightened. The smell of salt water in my hair was mingling with the subtle scent of his skin. The humid night air felt like it was closing in on me with sound of music and people and chatting in the restaurants that we passed. Everything was intensified and unreal. My mind was already in his auntie’s flat, me sat on the edge of her dining table with him stood kissing my neck, pushing my dress up to my waist and slipping inside me. Tom, my best friend Tom, licking the salt water off my skin and biting down on my breasts.
But none of that was meant to be. His aunty was waiting for us with a room full of friends and neighbours. In front of this crowd of people, we slipped straight back into our familiar roles, Jess and Tom, totally platonic friends.
“Tom, my best friend Tom, licking the salt water off my skin and biting down on my breasts”
I wasn’t able to sleep that night though; it was infuriating knowing that he was lying there in the next room, tantalisingly close. I imagined him naked in bed, fighting with the blanket in the heat, as sleepless as me. I couldn’t stand it, the desire that he’d awakened in me had to be released. I slipped my fingers between my legs and imagined Tom’s strong hands running up my thighs, his hot, hard lips and soft, wet tongue inside me. I bit down on my lip and clenched the sheets. With the thought of him, hard and thick, pulsing inside of me, I reached a shuddering orgasm, before falling into a frustrated sleep.
I kiss goodbye to Andreas and Peter and bolt the door of the cafe behind them as they walk out into the dark night. It’s been a long, busy day and they’ve earned their tips, showing every customer the enthusiasm that we take pride in at Te Quiero. When the owner told me that he wanted to take a step back to start a new venture, I wouldn’t stop at the pay rise he offered me, I reeled off my ideas for a renovation and insisted on being made a shareholder. It’s a tiny amount, but it makes a massive difference. I no longer feel as though I’m throwing my energy into someone else’s project. I’m doing this for me and it’s given me the confidence to turn my life around.
“I’m doing this for me and it’s given me the confidence to turn my life around”
I walk through to the little back office, checking off the changes I’ve made with pride. The wall that I’ve dedicated for local artists to exhibit their work on is constantly changing. A portrait of a proud, moustachioed man with friendly eyes reminds me of Tom’s dad. I log in to Facebook at the office computer, welcoming the mindless distraction that will help me to switch off after a busy day. I click onto Tom’s profile page and have a flick through his pictures. This has become a habit lately, before I know it, I find I’ve wasted half an hour looking at pictures of Tom on a beach in Thailand surrounded by bikinied girls, Tom on the back of a motorbike straddling one of his mates, Tom’s familiar, magnetic grin, Tom at a food market bartering. Then, “Hi stranger” – a live message from the man himself – pops up in the corner of my screen.
I blush guiltily; does he know that I’ve been stalking him?
Me: Hi you, how’s Thailand / Laos / wherever the hell you are?
Him: Back at Cassa Davidson. But they were all great thanks.
Me: Oh my god! You’re home? I’ve forgotten my embarrassment; I’m so excited to be talking to my old friend again.
Him: Certainly am. Want to meet up soon?
Me: Yes, I’d love to. It’s been too long. As soon as you’ve recovered from your jet lag you have to come round. I’m living in Holloway now and working in a gorgeous little cafe, Te Quiero, you’ll love it!
Him: I’ve heard. I miss you Jess, it’s been over a year.
Me: I know, I miss you too. I’m so sorry that I never came to your leaving – things were messy back then. When can you visit? Wednesday?
Him: Might have to help out at the restaurant, I’m skint, but I’ll let you know.
Me: Amazing, can’t wait! XX
Him: Me neither. X
I walk to the bus stop with a spring in my step. I’ve missed Tom so much, the way he makes me laugh, his surprising shyness if I ever succeed in making him blush, the midnight feasts that we’d make after a night out. I’ve been kicking myself for sacrificing our friendship, all for my ex’s ego. I can finally see how futile it was. Nothing I did or didn’t do would have made him have faith in me. And Tom is the only guy that I’ve ever had a real, uncomplicated friendship with. Well, mostly uncomplicated.
I’ve got the next day off and spend the morning pottering around in Camden Market. In my mind, I plan what meal I’ll pick out for Tom when he comes to the café, deciding that halloumi with chorizo, apricot and a green bean salad will be the perfect combination. I try to see Te Quiero through his eyes. How will he see me now I’m finally realising my ambition to run my own restaurant?
After finding a 1930s mirror, a cashmere throw and a box of wine glasses for the flat, I cart my new purchases back on the bus. When I get to the door of my building there’s a tall, tanned man holding a massive bunch of sunflowers at my door. It’s Tom, grinning at me widely.
“House warming present,” he says as I carelessly drop my bags at my feet and wrap my arms around him.
Piotr Marcinski / EyeEmGetty Images
“Oh my god, thank you. How did you know where I lived? You look so well? These are so beautiful,” I cry, ecstatic and flustered and utterly surprised.
“I went to your café and you weren’t there, so I called Nicki and she gave me your address.”
By this point we’re climbing the stairs to my flat. I’m juggling the flowers and all of my bags. Tom looks awkward, as though he doesn’t know what to do with his hands.
I show him into my studio and feel suddenly self-conscious.
“I’ve only just moved in, there’s a lot of work to do on it yet,” I say, apologetically.
“It’s great, Jess,” he says. He’s not looking at the room at all but staring at me, really staring.
“You’re gorgeous.” I say. Not “You look well.” Or “How are you?” All I can come up with is the truth. He’s tanned, toned and bigger than I remember him being, he seems to fill the whole flat, towering above me.
He doesn’t say anything but cups my chin in his hand, stroking my cheek with his thumb. I freeze. I don’t know how to react, I don’t want to breeze over this gesture and spoil the moment. I want to press myself up against his hard, warm body. This is not the Tom that I remember. It’s disorientating that he can seem at once so familiar and so utterly new and exciting.
“I’ve missed you,” he says.
I can feel how much he means it and I rush towards him for a hug, but as I go to press my face into his chest he lifts it upwards gently and kisses me full on the mouth.
”As I go to press my face into his chest he lifts it upwards gently and kisses me on the mouth”
In that moment I’m undone. My desire floods to the surface and my hands run up to his face, kissing him fast and hard. He meets each of my kisses, pulling me closer, his hands up under my T-shirt, bringing every inch of skin to life with his touch. We pull each other’s tops off, hungrily, as he pushes me down to the floor, undressing and kissing me all at once. When I’m right down to my pants, opening my legs to him, he stops, kneeling above me, his chest rippling above the waistband of his jeans.
“I’ve waited so long for this moment, let’s not rush it,” he says, lifting my foot up to his mouth and kissing each of my toes. He moves up along the inside of my legs, licking and kissing and stroking my skin with his cheek. He is everything that I’ve ever fantasised about and more. As he kisses my stomach, he slides his hand inside of me and he must feel how aroused I am, because he groans.
“You’re beautiful, Jess,” he whispers in my ear, “so beautiful.”
And I feel it. More beautiful than I’ve ever felt in my life. My hips are raised off the floor, tense and expectant, willing him to go deeper and deeper inside of me. He answers each of my groans but then teases me, withdrawing his fingers with a stroke and entering again until I’m ready to explode.
Ashley Armitage / Refinery29 for Getty ImagesGetty Images
I reach into his jeans and tug at him, but he keeps whispering, “Not yet Jess, not yet.” He waits until I come, waves of pleasure surging through me, and with his hand still inside of me he turns me over onto all fours, pulling me up onto his lap so that I’m kneeling with my back to him. I expect him to take his hand away but he leaves it in there, slowly stroking me, reaching further and further with his fingertips whilst his other hand kneads my breast, kissing my back the whole time. Another orgasm shudders through me.
I’m still clenching and releasing in pleasure when he takes his hand away. I glance back over my shoulder and see that he’s pulled a condom out of his pocket. My mind reels, how did he know to bring a condom? Did he plan for this to happen? I expect myself to feel outraged but instead I’m even more turned on.
He slips inside of me, controlling my movements with his hands gripping my waist. It’s totally overwhelming, but at the same time, I never want it to stop. I swivel round and wrap my legs around his back, gripping onto the back of his neck and looking straight into his beautiful blue eyes. “Oh God,” he groans and speeds up, pushing me back onto my elbows so that he can lean forwards, and kiss my breasts.
“It’s totally overwhelming, but at the same time, I never want it to stop”
When I see that he’s about to orgasm I feel so aroused, so full of desire, that I climax again, clutching him closer as we shiver against each other.
We lie back on the carpet and Tom rests his head on my stomach, slowly stroking my legs. There’s so much to say but we’re both too exhausted to speak and I wouldn’t know where to begin.
After fifteen minutes of just lying there, he props his head up on one elbow and stares at me, his eyes twinkling with a smile.
“I can’t believe this is happening,” I laugh.
“I know, it’s crazy. I thought about you so much when I was away, and when I heard that you’d broken up with Sam…”
But while we’ve been lying there in silence, my mind has been running away with me. I’m not ready to dive into another relationship yet; I don’t know what Tom’s plan is or even where he’s going to live. I’ve just got my best friend back and I don’t want to loose him again. But the idea of slipping straight back into being just mates, of him getting another girlfriend, is enough to make me feel sick.
“Tom, what’s going to happen? I’ve missed you so much, I don’t want to spoil our friendship, but I can’t lose you again. And I need this time, this place, to myself for a bit. But you can’t just waltz in here and do this and expect nothing to change. I don’t know what this means to you but everything is going to change.”
“Jess, calm down,” he says softly, placing a finger on my lips. “I understand. I don’t know what I’m doing either. I’ve only just got back from travelling. All that I know is that I’ve wanted for this to happen for a long time.”
“Since Spain?” I ask, tentatively.
“Maybe even before that. And there’s a whole list of things that I want to do with you before we start questioning this,” he says, running his fingertips over my lips.
The knot of anxiety that’s built up in my stomach ebbs away immediately. I reach across and stroke his muscular arm.
“What else is on this list then?” I ask shyly.
He stands up and pulls me to my feet. Cupping my bottom in his hands he leans in for a long, slow kiss. I feel him harden against me and in one swift motion he’s pulled me up off the floor. Instinctively, I hook my legs around him. In between kisses and bites on my neck he starts to stream off his fantasies about us.
“I want to have you in the shower, on that coffee table, on every surface in your café, I want to kiss each inch of your body, I want to taste you, outside, in my car, on that beach in Spain, I want to watch you touch yourself.”
I groan as he drops me onto the bed.
Propping myself up on one elbow, I slip my hand in between my legs, not taking my eyes off him for a second.
“Let’s start there then,” I say, feeling more confident and sexual than I’ve ever felt in my life before, “and when we’ve crossed everything off your list…”
“Don’t worry about that,” he says, “it’s a very long list.”
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Erotic fiction stories are one of the most indulgent yet easy ways to get yourself in the mood for sex or masturbation. There’s just something so stirring about letting your mind wander with a bit of erotic escapism – sexual arousal begins in the brain, after all.
Yep, good old Mills & Boon-style saucy stories, updated for the modern day. Using your imagination, you can get swept up in a whole host of different scenarios, from bodice rippers to werewolf adventures to just plain old steamy shower sex. But where, we hear you ask, are you going to find this free and – actually hot – erotica online? Well…we know a place (or two, or three).
Keep reading for our round up of the best sites for finding erotica online.
Where to find the best erotica online
Best erotic fiction stories online – Cosmopolitan UK
Did you think we’d miss this opportunity for a bit of self-promotion? Of course not! On this very site we have some excellent (if we say so ourselves) sexy stories and even a whole load of lesbian erotica for those of the sapphic persuasion.
Some of our faves?
“Fresh Start”: a scintillating, summer-y story about passionate embraces on Spanish beaches and the sexual tension of fancying your BFF…
“Comings and Goings”: an impromptu lesbian hookup in an airport leads to some spontaneous bathroom fun.
“Find Me”: a historical and, yes, extremely saucy tale exploring love, lust and criminals on the run.
Best erotic fiction stories online – Bellesa
Bellesa might ring a bell as a new gen, woman-owned porn company. Starting in 2017, it now runs a monthly subscription service (like Netflix, but with porn) and it’s since branched out into loooads of different sex stuff: sex ed articles, a hilarious Instagram and sex toys beloved by celebs like Cardi B and Demi Lovato, who teamed up with Bellesa to release a gender neutral vibe. Naturally, Bellesa has also jumped into the erotica game with a huge range of stories which are also available in podcast form for any audio porn fans out there.
Some of our faves?
“Waking Up”: an *extremely* horny morning masturbation session leads to some shower fun and an unexpected bed fellow.
“The Upper Hand”: a sapphic fisting scene that puts consent, pleasure and communication at the forefront.
PM ImagesGetty Images
Best erotic fiction stories online – Sugarbutch Chronicles
Sugarbutch Chronicles has been running for the past 16 years and is full of queer-centred, erotic short stories courtesy of Mx Sinclair Sexsmith (they/them), a sex writer and author who Autostraddle referred to as: “the best-known butch erotica writer whose kinky, groundbreaking stories have turned on countless queer women.”
Alongside lots of amazing sex stories written by Sexsmith and a handful of trusted contributors, there are poems, strap-on reviews…everything you could want, really.
Some of our faves?
“Climax”: A guest post recounting a solo session and an orgasmic climax in delicious detail.
Best erotic fiction stories online – Libida
Libida is a female-focussed sex shop which has been in the vibrator business since all the way back in 1998. Their MO is to provide a sex-toy-shopping experience which is rich in education and will help you make a safe, informed and sexy choice. As such, they’ve also got plenty of free material to feed your fantasies: from sex ed and advice on sexual health to spicy erotica.
Some of our faves?
“Pottery Yarn”: A short story involving a clay dildo (don’t try this at home, folks) and a *hot* potter roomate, you can put the rest together, we’re sure.
“Incubus”: Yep, it’s some vampire porn…if you were into Twilight back in the day, this might be one for you…
Best erotic fiction stories online –Remittance Girl
Remittance Girl writes a lot of erotic stories and uploads them to her website for us to read for free. She handily describes what erotic content each story contains so you can seek out something that really turns you on (and avoid any potential triggers). Her stories cover all fetishes from straight male/female sex, to BDSM and masturbation.
Tara MooreGetty Images
The above are our fave erotica sites and while other sources for erotic fiction or erotica online might have a higher volume of content, they may not be as regulated or have as high moderation standards: so be warned. However, if you’re a dab-hand at thrifting and have a keen eye for erotica, check out the below: you may well be in your element…
Best erotic fiction stories online – Bookrix
You can download free erotic fiction from Bookrix, and as they’re ebooks, you don’t have the deal with the achey tired hand from holding a massive tome. From various adult story writers, you can choose from a short piece of fiction of a few thousand words, to a longer, more intense erotic read.
Best erotic fiction stories online – Literotica
This is essentially a huge catalogue of erotica, covering every erotic base from celebrity fiction to first time sexual encounters. Literotica will require you to create an account and log in, but it’s worth it for the endless stories. Beware, it can feel like finding a needle in a haystack because there is so much content. But choosing a category you’re into will narrow down your search.
Paisley Gilmour Sex & Relationships Editor Paisley is sex & relationships editor at Cosmopolitan UK, and covers everything from sex toys, how to masturbate and sex positions, to all things LGBTQ.
Megan Wallace Megan Wallace (they/them) is Cosmopolitan UK’s Sex and Relationships Editor covering sexual pleasure, sex toys, LGBTQIA+ identity, dating and romance.
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Samuel Te Kani is an artist, short story writer and sexpert whose debut fiction collection, Please, Call Me Jesus, is out now. Maggie Tweedie talked to him.
Erotic fiction has always made me wince. I associate it with a stalker at university who wrote very graphic yet very unrealistic stories about his sexual fantasies, which oddly always took place in Massey’s music studios. It also reminds me of being confronted by my grandmother’s sexual appetite when she was “watching me swim” but actually enthralled by the pages of Fifty Shades of Grey, poolside.
After many years of avoiding erotic fiction, I received an email about Sam Te Kani’s debut collection of stories, a book called Please, Call Me Jesus. Maybe it was a sign. After all, I was a fan ofTe Kani’s journalism about Aotearoa’s sex industry. I was further enticed by the provocative title. Before I knew it, I’d conceded and was sheepishly reading phrases like “Bradley felt Jimmy’s hot breath on his skin as he reached back and wrenched apart his own arse cheeks” amidst my busy Wellington flat.
I chatted to Te Kani (Ngāpuhi) about reshaping erotica through sci-fi and fantasy, growing up as a horny gay tween in Whangārei, and how lockdown put a handbrake on casual sex in Tāmaki Makaurau.
The Spinoff: What opened your eyes to the whips and chains of the business? How does one pioneer a career investigating sex?
My career in sex journalism … whatever that even is, began back when sex blogging was a thing around 2013 or 2014. Back then it was quite unique. The blogging went really well, and somebody approached me to do those miniseries for Vice.
As an out gay kid in a small town, I felt my reality rather unappealing. So, I guess my research for the book was a compounding of someone who’s really horny and has always liked writing and reading.
What small town did you grow up in?
Whangārei so I guess small-ish. Growing up I realised I wouldn’t have access to the same rites as my heteronormative counterparts, so I began reading as an escape. I ended up spending entire summers in the library and obviously I was a very repressed and horny little gay tween so naturally I found erotic fiction. I remember the first time I found gay sex in a book was in Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis. In hindsight it was probably not appropriate reading material for a 12 year-old but I definitely loved it at the time. Then I discovered there was a micro tradition of similar writing in New Zealand. Books like Witi Ihimaera’sNights in the Gardens of Spain were really formative for me and also Peter Wells. I feel like my first two loves were books and dick, that is what this whole collection is about.
Were you always comfortable talking about sex? How did you evolve from a kid burrowing away in the corner reading erotic fiction in the library to publishing your work and as a “sexpert”?
Ha! Personally, I do not identify with the title “sexpert”, but it’s stuck! I’ve never had any trouble talking about sex. One of my earliest memories is when I’m about nine and my parents are getting called into the school to have an emergency discussion with my teachers because I just can’t stop talking about sex. That was mortifying for them at the time, but I look back and think it was always there, it was always going to be a thing.
There have been a few moments where I’ve left your book lying around. One time a prudish friend opened it up curiously and was shocked by a graphic anal sex scene. I wonder who that person is for you? Who do you not want to read this book?
My mum, she did try though and sent me a message to say, “Look I’ve read the first four pages and I love it, but I just can’t finish this.” She told me she loved the writing and asked me, “Would you ever consider writing anything lighter?” I said not really because that would be dishonest, and it would go against my experience and definitely my temperament.
You build such compelling worlds for the reader – even if the kinds of sex you’re discussing don’t always align with your audience.
Yes, I hope that the dramaturgy is good enough that even if you’re not into anal intercourse you will be gripped anyway.
Can you explain some of the worlds you develop and where you conjure them up from?
Just from being a kid and using fiction as an escape. To me escapism is not a dirty word. I really like my media to be inherently world-building. I’m trying to take erotica which is too often deemed as a lowbrow genre and bolster it with more hefty elements like sci-fi and fantasy. Werewolves and the gameSecond Life feature in the collection. I want to create an alternative world you can step in and out of at your leisure.
Throughout the stories you develop a kind of futuristic terror. You use eco-terrorists, administrative drones and a fridge that sends dual alerts to husband and wife to let them know they’re nearly out of milk. Why sci-fi?
I love sci-fi categorically as a genre because it’s just a lab house for futures. It’s a space where we can project and reimagine where we are and where we are going.
Also, there’s an idea that sci-fi as a genre [can be] defined as being two parts technology and one part sex.
Do you think people are turning to erotica more now in Tāmaki Makaurau because they were starved of casual sex in the lockdown?
I have a really interesting relationship with this, things like Grindr were a very profound thing when I first began blogging at 22. The idea that I could find 10 guys just by scrolling (not swiping, I hate that swipe function on Tinder) really was profound. However, the sense of adventure in having a sexual encounter has been so reduced by apps. Now your sexual encounter is like ordering Uber Eats and that totally takes the fun out of it for me. Again, use Grindr and good god, when I’m out of that traffic light system I’m going to be on it 24/7! But ultimately, I’m up for critical engagement.
You became an internet sensation last lockdown when you opened up your writing to personalised erotic stories. How did that develop your writing?
I wasn’t working, and the wage subsidy was a drip feed so I asked people on social media if they would be interested in personal erotic fiction. It went kind of crazy. I charged $40 a pop and was writing two stories a day with a minimum of eight to 10 thousand words a day. Looking back now I probably should have had a template for some of this work.
So how did the personalised aspect work, did each customer explain their sexual preferences to you before you begin writing?
Yes so, they outlined a brief and I would craft the story. Honestly there was a lot of stuff about Britney Spears, I think the #FreeBritney movement was building momentum at the time, and she was flying around the zeitgeist, like some horny Victorian ghost. As a provocation I wanted to see if I could turn myself into a fiction-producing machine. Ultimately it went really well, and it changed my writing. The briefs were expansive for me because I had to change my perspective of what I found hot to what they found hot.
A fascinating concept, personalised erotic fiction.
It took a lot of coffee Maggie, a lot of coffee.
Can you give me an example of a brief that someone gave you?
I wrote 150-200 stories. People who wanted guy on guy action were pretty cut and dried because there’s a lot of given porn-idioms for that type of content; like jocks and first gay experiences and sport-related “no homo” locker-room incidents. That kind of thing.
It was straight girls who got weirder with it. Lots of more intimate things with idealised celebrity crushes. A few John Campbell pieces. They’re all a blur to be honest. There was a strong vibe with guys in their late 30s and early 40s wanting “mixed” stuff, like MMF, from which I’m gauging there’s some sort of bi-comfort with that demographic, as if they’ve exhausted their hetero options and are in the market for something they’ve always pretended they never wanted, but which maybe their statuses as married/fathers and thusly “hetero-confirmed” finally frees them up to explore. I’m being wildly speculative here obviously haha.
Was there a clear demographic within your audience?
As far as demographics go – so so broad. I just had it as an IG offering and purely through word of mouth the briefs started rolling in. Really mixed demographic, friends and family of friends and then the less I knew a person the more earnest their briefs were. Friends were maybe just being supportive so their requests weren’t nearly as invested as those coming from someone who was less concerned with lending me a buck and more concerned with the product itself haha. Also there was a really diverse range of tastes and predilections expressed in the briefs so it was rare I’d re-cover ground. That said, repeat offenders were requests for fiction featuring Britney Spears and Ashley Bloomfield (respectively) in painfully specific roles and poses.
What writers are you into at the moment, erotic or otherwise?
Theory theory theory, doing a bit of critical and journalistic writing right now so Kristeva stuff and dipping into classic Richard Dyer. Maybe trying to resuscitate a hyper-sexed gay antagonism a la Kenneth Anger for our depressingly vanilla times. I’m sick of looking at queers on screen in pretty little straight-configured coupledom and having to pretend like it’s some sort of win. It’s fucking boring. Gimme hell please – I feel like that’d be a more accurate reflection of our abject time, which remains abject despite woke posturing and obnoxious virtue signalling. I mean have your happily coupled queers, whatever, but show me desire running amok and wreaking the havoc we know it does, queer or otherwise. And Euphoria doesn’t count because it’s just Gen X cool-hunting repurposed for Gen Z’s. Soz.
What books kept you stimulated in lockdown?
Theory stuff mostly, I know it sounds super pretentious but I kind of only wanted to shovel in political philosophy, if only because it felt necessary when the world’s going through a big pandemic-fuelled re-jigger; and sleazy online forums of erotic fiction because those are so much fun perusing. Bordering on probbo/illegal depending where you look.
Please, Call Me Jesusby Samuel Te Kani (Dead Bird Books, $30) is available from Unity Books Auckland and Wellington.
In retrospect, the protagonist Sarah names her first unborn fetus Antonio. Sarah’s abortion is complicated by social pressure to keep an affair with her sister’s husband a secret. Choosing to name the fetus encapsulates her search for love and identity. She imagines herself as an “almost-mother” to a strong and loving boy with whom she can share the world. Antonio becomes an antidote for her loneliness.
But Sarah’s desire to be a writer marks her as an unusual woman, a monstrosity. The aborted fetus also personifies the fear she has of finding value in the world as an author rather than a mother. As literary scholar Cinda Gault suggests, Sarah is someone who imagines the domestic sphere as being prison-like and incarcerating women based on “assumptions about sexuality and reproduction.”
Sarah’s multiple abortions are literally related to her unease with gendered expectations. They also figuratively represent her self-sabotage as a writer. Only when she comes to understand her identity, seeking another abortion to sustain her independence, can she overcome her abortive tendencies as a writer.
Lee’s discussion demonstrates the complexity and charged nature of abortion as a cultural metaphor. He asks, when a particular fetus is seen as embodying our collective future: “Who would, after all, come out for abortion or stand against reproduction, against futurity, and so against life?”
In asking this question, Lee scrutinizes how “the queer,” seen as aligned with pro-choice advocacy, is positioned to embody “a relentlessly narcissistic, antisocial and future-negating drive.”
Abortion comes to stand in for monstrosity. Cells that have the ability to express as nerve, bone and organ tissue (read: brain and heart) get imaginatively conceived as a squirming, breathing baby, the hope for our future and survival.
The character Janine confesses to being traumatically “gang-raped at fourteen.” She testifies to having had an abortion, while the narrator, June, remembers her pro-choice mother coming back from “the abortion riots” bruised and bleeding.
Although not seeking an abortion, June still wants her right to choose not to be raped and to choose when, how and with whom she shares her reproductive abilities as they impact her future. In Atwood’s novel, Gilead terminates the freedom of individuals with viable uteruses — it “aborts” women’s futures.
Engel, Atwood and other writers aren’t simply interested in whether abortion is right or wrong. They want to know how abortion gets entwined with love, hate, despair and joy, with sexuality and desire, with abuse, violence and histories of colonialism and patriarchy.
They examine how abortion becomes a part of the analogies and metaphors through which we imagine the future. And, as women, they want to know whether they’ll have a choice in how their own futures unfold.
Fabula-Fremantle’s “Santa Maria,” Leticia Dolera’s “Puberty” and “Fata Morgana,” a Western thriller executive produced by Béla Tarr, all feature at this year’s vastly expanded Conecta Fiction & Entertainment.
In further news announced Monday, Conecta Fiction will also stage the European premiere of Star Plus’ “Santa Evita,” executive produced by Salma Hayek Pinault and José Tamez, starring Natalia Oreiro, Ernesto Alterio, Darío Grandinetti and one of Disney’s most anticipated titles Spanish-language titles.
“Santa Evita” tells the true events-based and extraordinary story of the odyssey of Argentine First Lady Eva Perón’s embalmed body over three decades, her elevation to near sainthood saying much about Argentina and Latin America at large.
A panel discussion will be lead by the key cast, directors Rodrigo García and Alejandro Maci and the executives who led its production – Mariana Pérez, VP, development and production, TWDC Latin America, and Leonardo Aranguibel, VP, production, TWDC Latin America.
A Europe-Latin America TV and networking forum, Conecta Fiction unspools this year over June 21-24 in Toledo, the capital of Spain’s Castilla-La Mancha just south of Madrid.
One sign of growth is its already announced drive into entertainment programming, as its new title implies.
“Series production is on the build, but not only series, also programming in general,” Conecta Fiction director Géraldine Gonard said Monday at a press conference in Toledo.
That sectorial expansion can now be seen in the presence of five entertainment formats at a Conecta Fiction pitching session, created by high-profile Spanish companies such as Spain’s iZen Group, Federation Spain and Mediacrest.
The project pitching, Conecta Fiction’s industry centrepiece, has, moreover, now expanded to a total 31 titles, taking in new sections, such as High-End Series, reserved for series with budget of more than €1 million ($1.05 million) for a first episode. The new category serves to highlight project with more muscle,” Gonard said.
Further new sections include Feel-Good Formats and Docudrama Series. Conecta Fiction’s conference strand features a massive Spain Focus, spread over three days, backed by Spain’s ICEX as part of hiked support for Spain’s film-TV sectors thanks to an ambitious government-led $1.6 billion Spain AVS Hub plan.
Companies hosting panels, sometimes paired in order to build a larger picture of sectorial trends, take in Netflix and iZen, Disney Latin America and Star Plus, VIS,, Starzplay and The Mediapro Studio, Movistar Plus, Banijay, Paramount Plus and Morena Films, Beta Film and HBO Max and Pokeepsie Films.
One of the biggest grows signs may well, however, be the caliber of projects presented.
A religious thriller, “Santa Maria” represents a new title from the highly successful first look deal between Fremantle and Fabula who has already yielded “La Jauría” and “Señorita 89,” the latter with Pantaya and Starzplay.
“Puberty” reps Leticia Dolera’s follow-up to Canneseries double winner “Perfect Life,” whose Season 2 was produced by Movistar Plus and HBO Max.
A feminist Western, “Fata Morgana” is exec produced by Tarr, directed by György Pálfi (“Taxidermia”) and backed by AMC Networks Central Europe.
Further titles hail from Iceland’s Glassriver, one of the fastest growing production outfits in Scandinavia, “Gomorrah” producer Fandango, Spanish powerhouse Vertice 360, burgeoning Portuguese outfit SPi, and Victor Santos, whose prior graphic novel was adapted by Constantin and Dark Horse into hit Netflix action movie “Polar,” starring Mads Mikkelsen.
Monday’s press conferenced was preceded by a tour of Toledo highlighting movies which have shot in the city, such as Roman Polanski’s “The Ninth Gate ” and Pedro Almodóvar’s “The Skin I Live In.”
A city packed with heritage sites just a 25-minute train ride from Madrid, Toledo has large potential as a shoot hub.
Toledo has the capacity to be a great location for shoots, without their makers traveling large distances,” Ana Isabel Fernández, of Castilla-La-Mancha’s director general of Tourism, Trade and Crafts, said at Monday’s press conference.
A further conference strand will focus on Castilla-La Mancha as a shoot locale and the larger picture of shooting in Spain.
Projects at the 2022 Conecta Fiction & Entertainment:
Set in the wastelands of early 20th century Central Europe, exec produced by Béla Tarr, directed by György Pálfi (“Taxidermia”) and backed by AMC Networks Central Europe. Victória disguises herself as ‘The Piperman’ and goes on a killing spree, systematically murdering the husbands of oppressed women. “A compelling thriller based on true legends from Central Europe, which also dares to tackle deeply touching issues,” says creator Harmi.
“Motorway,” (Víctor Santos, Vértice 360, Born Wild, Eccho Rights, Spain-U.K.)
A dark fairy tale set beside an apocalyptic highway created by Spanish writer-cartoonist Víctor Santos, whose graphic novel “Polar” was adapted by Constantin and Dark Horse for Netflix, starring Mads Mikkelsen. Set up at Spain’s highly ambitious indie production company Vértice, it is “a unique series, with its own tone of voice that will capture and thrill viewers around the world,” in the words of Nicola Söderlund, at sales house Eccho Rights.
“Puberty,” (“Pubertad,” Leticia Dolera, Almudena Monzú, Distinto Films, Corte y Confección de Películas, Spain)
One of the hottest packages at Conecta Fiction, Leticia Dolera’s next after Canneseries double winner “Perfect Life,” from Movistar Plus and HBO Max, “Puberty” turns on an alleged sexual attack by a 13-year-old boy, plumbing the sexual taboos of the adults in charge of him. “Picadero” creator Almudena Monzú co-writes. Distinto Films, behind 2021 Locarno winner “The Odd-Job Men,” produces with Dolera’s own label.
A Spanish priest, a nun sent by the Vatican and a Cuban detective attempt to solve the dreadful secrets that are taking place in a nursing home in Cuba in a series which looks to be positioned, as so much Fabula produces (think “Spencer” or “La Jauría”) in the sweet spot between premium and mainstream. Eduardo Sacheri, co-scribe on Juan José Campanella’s Academy Award-winning “The Secret in Their Eyes,” which adapted a Sacheri novel, is writing “Santa Maria,” one of the hottest properties to be brought onto the market at Conecta Fiction.
1899. André Morel, an ambitious Swiss hotelier, battles to launch a pioneering five-star hotel running throughout the Winter Season in the Alps. A potential big period drama from Shapero, with Paris-based production-distribution outfit Oble (“Outbreak,” “No Return”) already on board and “Red Joan” describe Shapero writing.
“Alchevsky’s Mystery,” (Olga Krzhechevska, Natalia Rybalko, LLC Ideas Bank, Ukraine)
Set in 1901, an ambitious portrait of Alexey Alchevsky, founder of Russia’s first mortgage bank and Ukrainian Donbas patriot, framed through a procedural narrative of a young policeman investigating his mysterious death. “This is a project that answers the question that is topical nowadays in the whole world: What is the Donbas region?,” says producer Nataliya Yakovleva. Taras Dron (“The Glass House,” “Blindfold”) directs.
“From 6 to 8 PM,” (“Dalle 18 a 20,” Francesco Piccolo, Ilaria Macchia, Fandango, Italy)
From “Gomorrah” and “My Brilliant Friend” producer Fandango and penned by the latter’s scribe Piccoli and “Petra” writer Macchia, an erotic dramedy billed by its makers as Italy’s hottest series. “The best sex is not always at home,” its logline maintains.
“The Invisible Ink” (“La tinta invisible,” Fernando Epstein, Mutante Cine, Uruguay)
The entry into TV fiction creation by Fernando Epstein, a celebrated Uruguayan producer of auteur films such as “Whisky” and “Gigante.” Set up at Mutante Cine, one of Latin America’s key arthouse outfits, the TV project adapts two novels by Uruguayan author Eduardo Mariani, exploring part of the recent history of South America, linked to Europe through the exile of some of its characters.
“Jongleurs,” (“Juglares,” Miguel Ibáñez Monroy, Eric G. Moral Marc Pastor, Coming Soon, Spain)
An eight-part scripted series updating real but little-known myths and folklore legends to bring them straight into the 21st century, says Coming Soon’s Marta Ramírez, as three friends discover their connection with a magical world. From creator-screenwriters Ibáñez Monroy, co-writer of Elena Trapé’s “Distances,” Eric G. Moral (TV3’s “Buga Buga”) and Marc Pastor, co-writer of “The Year of the Plague.” Denis Rovira, (“The Boarding School: Las Cumbres”) is attached to direct.
“The Last Wolf,” (“O Último Lobo,” Bruno Gascon, SPi, Caracol Protagonista, Portugal)
Co-produced by SPi and Cascais-based Caracol Protagonista, two of Portugal’s most international production houses, set in the late ’90s and telling the true story of Franklim Lobo, one of the greatest European drug lords. Planned as a Portugal-Spain-Brazil co-production, with Portuguese filmmaker Bruno Gascon (“Carga,” “Shadow”) attached to write and direct.
In 1979, a houndog Reykjavik D.J. becomes a Mallorca tour guide in a desperate attempt to win back his childhood sweetheart. Multi-prized Bragason (“The Night Shift,” “Prisoners”) writes the light romantic comedy with Ludviksdottir (“Stella Blomquist”), which is produced by “Black Sands” Glassriver – a powerful combination.
“Maybe in Mallorca,” (“Quizás en Mallorca,” Emilia Salde, Inma Films, Spain)
A young man in Mallorca seeks out his family past in Argentina, forming a love triangle knit by a shattering dark family secret. Showrun by Diego Moiso, director of Netflix’s “Boca Juniors Confidential,” and created by Agustina Navarro, director of Amazon’s “A La Cuenta de 3.” Writers are Emilia Salde, co-scribe of Disney Plus/BTF Media Mexican hit “No Fue Mi Culpa,” and Gabriel Ariel, a co-scribe on Manolo Cardona’s “Uno para morir.”
“Status Quo,” (Gilbert Karam, Estephan Khatter, Né a Beyrouth Films, Lebanon)
Conecta Fiction’s first Arab project, from first-time director Gilbert Karam, an action drama involving three young female classmates who mistakenly kidnap the son of a corrupt political bigwig. Written, says Karam, as “a tribute to the victims of Beirut Blast and to all the victims of injustice in the world.”
From Ruohonen, a scribe on Finland’s “Downshifters,” a popular TV host, now 60, gets laid off, learns personal growth, and has great sex. Tuffi Films (“Games People Play,” “Force of Habit”) produces.
“A Thousand Times No,” (“Mil Veces No,” Martin Romanella, Mondo TV Studios, Sphere Content)
A true-life political dramedy which sees Fidel Castro, David Bowie and Pope John Paul II rally to the cause of a small Madrid neighborhood. Set in Spain and Cuba, “a story of struggle and liberation that speaks of universal themes such as the right to a home and the search for happiness, in the name of dignity,” says producer Dimitri Papanikas at Tenerife-based Mondo TV Studios, part of Europe’s Mondo TV group.
“The Base,” (“La base,” Santiago Puerta, Spain)
1987. Pedro, 20, African-Spanish, gets a job at the Torrejón U.S. air force base, a world he idealises, embracing its American music. His path will cross, however, with his father, a former U.S. Air Force war pilot whom he’s never met. “In an increasingly global but polarized world, we need stories that help bridge the gap between cultures, races and generations. There’s nothing like music to help build that connection. That’s what ‘The Base’ is about,” said Puerta.
“The Executioners,” (“Verdugos,” Pedro Martin, Rodrigo Garcia Rios, Spain)
Navarre, 1996. Four kids in search of adventure find a kidnapped businessman held in an abandoned mine. He’ll be executed in three days unless his family pays the ransom. A coming-of-age suspense thriller mixing past and a present whose final sense is only revealed in the very last shot, says César Martínez at Dexiderius Producciones. Written by the rated Martín and García Rios, behind Conecta Fiction 2020 winner “Demokracy.”
“Panic!” (“Pánico,” Fernando Cámara, Spain)
A horror comedy from Cámara, a best new director Goya nominee for “Memorias del angel caído.” In it, a bucolic summer residence neighbourhood is thrown into panic by a masked assailant who sprays victims with anaesthetic gas. A crazed old man and his granddaughter set out to trap him down. “Fake news, the degradation of co-existence, terrified and unsupportive neighbors … That’s life!” Cámara ironizes.
“Podcastland,” (Pilar de Francisco, Spain)
A fiction comedy series with self-concluding episodes gently ribbing podcast genres and streaming channels – a radio morning show, a true crime doc, an in-depth interview, and so on – laced with humor, satire and absurdist moments.
“Villaverde,” (Rebeca Serrada, Diego Zúñiga, Spain)
A YA fantasy thriller as Villaverde, a village in Spain’s deep East, suddenly transforms into an American suburb packed with the clichés of Hollywood teen comedies. Only four local teens battle for it to return to its Spanish condition. Chosen for Filmarket Hub’s TV Pilot contest, a series that exploits the clichés of American movies and turns them upside down to highlight the idiosyncrasies of Spanish customs, say Serrada and Zúñiga.
“A Wicked Life in Madrid,” (“La Mala Vida,” Leire Albinarrate, Spain)
Madrid, 1901. To prove the social causes of criminal behaviour, Bernardo, a young anthropologist, embeds himself in the city’s most dangerous slums and begins a journey of self-discovery as he discovers its pleasures. “The series pushes the boundaries of period dramas, focusing on the untold perspectives of outcast, queer and disabled characters with a fresh take that juggles drama, crime and humor,” says writer Albinarrate.
“The Detour,” (“The Detour, la gira inesperada,” Eric Marodon, iZen Producciones Audiovisuales)
To what lengths would you go to get your favourite music star to detour and play a gig in your home town? From Marodon at Zebra Producciones. part of the Newen Studios-owned iZen, producer of Netflix reality show “Insiders.”
“A Laughing Murder,” (“Un crimen de risa,” Alejandro Torres, Spain)
On a stage, 10 comedians assume the characters of a whodunit mystery novel and a guest star takes on the role of the detective. “A fun game of ‘Cluedo’ live, on a real stage and with the most hilarious characters,” says Torres.
“Megacracks,” (Jordi Roca, Alex Miñana, Ferrán Cera, Visiona TV)
A quiz game where contestants have to guess what people on screen – witty megacracks – are talking about.
“Will You Fall For Me?” (“Lánzate al amor,” Isabel Durán, Spain)
From Federation Spain (“Las niñas de cristal”), a dating game with what sounds like a test of daring, if the brief synopsis is anything to go by: “What if you fell in love on a plane only to discover that literally, falling is the only way to continue that love affair?”
“Who is My Human,” (“¿Quién es mi humano?” Ignacio Matas, Hugo Tomás, Mediacrest, Spain)
From fast-expanding Mediacrest, a comedy quiz show starring dogs, in which contestants have to guess their owners, prompted by clues given by the voice-dubbed pets. A “perfect fusion between the narrative of entertainment and fiction,” comments creator Matas.
“Arran the Strong Man,” (Joao Tudella, Sabina Films, Portugal)
A doc series portrait of the life journey of professional surfer Arran Strong, born with a genetic Alpha-1 respiratory disorder. “An exhilarating series that aims to create awareness on mental health, rare diseases and, in this particular case, to reveal the importance of air quality,” says producer Liliana Lasprilla.
“Bad Sow,” (“Mala Siembra,” Vanessa Ciangherotti, Ángel Flores, Fernando Canek, Nidya Areli Diaz, El Cañonazo Multimedia, Minotauro Comunicacion, Gantha, Spain)
A true crime series: Sentenced to 393 years, a kidnapper tells his story in an impossible attempt at redemption.
“Flos Mariae: Fake or Not,” (“Flor Mariae: Tomo o Realidad,” Ghaleb Jaber Martínez, CTV, Spain)
Investigating the true story behind Christian pop group “Flor Mariae,” online phenom, the series asks what could be the dark secret behind this seven-sister band. From Jaber Martínez, writer-exec producer of “Bitter Daisies,” Netflix’s first Galician-language show.
“The Most Spectacular Robberies,” (“Atracos Espectaculares,” Jaime Silva, Zona Mixta, Spain)
A true crime series about the world’s most astonishing heists, with fictional reenactments and real testimonies, from Madrid’s Zona Mixta (“Into the Blue: The Wonders of the Coral Triangle”).
“Operation X,” (“Operación X,” Eulogio Romero, Juanma Gamazo, Koncept Company, ER Films, Spain)
Created by Romero, director-producer of HBO’s “Destino Rusia,” a true-life espionage thriller about key operations carried out by Spain’s Cesid-CNI intelligence services, told by the operatives themselves. “A never seen before series,” says Romero.
Tosca Musk, the sister of Tesla CEO and richest person on Earth Elon Musk, has found her entrepreneurial footing as the CEO of a company called Passionflix, The New York Times reports in a new profile — which traffics in romance novels and erotic fan fiction.
Good on her for noticing an underserved niche — not unlike commercial space travel or electric cars! — and making it her own.
Toe Curling Yumminess
The 47-year-old’s online service, which launched back in 2017, costs just $6 a month, allowing its customers to browse a variety of content that’s ranked on a “barometer of naughtiness.”
The, more stimulating material is also organized into creatively named categories including “Toe Curling Yumminess” and “Mildly Titillating,” according to the NYT‘s diligent reporting.
It doesn’t sound like it gets that spicy, though. The content itself “rarely if ever approaches the soft-core threshold,” according to the report.
The venture has raised a healthy $22 million in early funding. Subscriber numbers are under wraps, but the pandemic years have been a boon for the company, with subscriptions growing 73 percent in 2021 year over year, according to the NYT.
Elon Musk’s involvement is also unclear.
“If I say that he is an investor, then everybody says, ‘Oh, she just got her brother to pay for it,'” Tosca Musk told the NYT. “And if I say he didn’t invest, then you all say, ‘He doesn’t support her.'”
Despite the renewed interest in steamy romcom and erotic fan fiction, the streaming industry isn’t looking too healthy as of late, with Netflix having to lay off hundreds of staff after the number of subscribers fell for the first time in the company’s history.
But Passionflix’s operations run at a very different scale than other players like Netflix and HBO Max.
“We fully understand that we’re walking at the feet of elephants,” Michael Bloom, the CEO of First Look Media, Passionflix’s biggest investor, told the NYT. “But we’re not trying to be them.”
At the opening of this arresting debut, the narrator, an unnamed English literature professor in her late 50s, is gazing at a beautiful colleague, Vladimir. Almost two decades her junior, he is asleep in a chair. “The sight of his arm hair, ablaze in the sun, sends a sob down my spine,” she notes. The arm, it seems, is “the one that I have not shackled” – Vladimir is tied to the chair.
The narrator then goes back to explore how she got to this point, unpicking the complexities and generational tensions around assault in an American university, the power play between professor and student, the tangles of desire and envy, defiance and shame, ambition and failure. Above all, though, Vladimir is a novel about female appetite – for sex, food, power, success – and what the ageing process does to it.
The narrator’s husband, John, the chair of the English department, has been suspended while the authorities investigate his past misdemeanours – he had sex with his students before regulations outlawed such behaviour. Although the narrator is struggling to distance herself from this scandal, she considers the whole thing a bit ridiculous. Theirs has long been an open marriage, and his dalliances were all “consensual”; he didn’t “drug them or coerce them”. Young women today, she notes scathingly, seem to have “lost all agency”, believing themselves to be victims when they plainly aren’t. Despite her disdain, she courts her students’ approval, designing courses to “cow and delight” them (her motto: “Kill them with care”). But in the politicised environment of a campus, the “students rule the roost” and when they grow agitated, demanding to know why she hasn’t left John, she is forced to kowtow.
Julia May Jonas explores how sexual desire, rage and creativity can become destructively entangled. The narrator is furious with her husband on a visceral level: she shudders when he touches her, and as the hearings start to dismantle his career and reputation, she focuses, obsessively, on the gorgeous new junior professor, Vladimir. At 40, Vladimir is a talented debut novelist with a glamorous, unstable wife and young daughter. She notes his literary talents with envy. Early in her career she produced two novels, one well received, one not, and has written nothing since. In fact, she has funnelled considerable energy into minimising her literary ambitions, convincing herself that she must model for her now adult daughter, Sid, the notion that happiness lies in curtailing the desire for success. She presents her child as a triumph: stable, functional, a non-profit lawyer living in the city with her lovely girlfriend. However, when Sid appears late one night, fresh off a train, smashed on rum, it seems that this may not be the case.
Approaching 60, the narrator is acutely aware that she is no longer a sexual object. Now, though, it is her turn to look, not just with lust at Vladimir’s body, but with envy at the bodies of younger women – her students, Vladimir’s wife. She also turns this bitter gaze on herself. She has always been “vain”, but now she monitors every wrinkle and mark, dressing meticulously, fiercely controlling her weight. This self-scrutiny is brutal. When she invites Vladimir to swim in her pool, she prepares with an anti-cellulite massage and a spray tan, but even then cannot bear the idea of being looked at. Unable to express herself physically, her pent-up sexual desire erupts on the page, and she begins to write again, feverishly. She simultaneously channels her considerable intellectual and manipulative skills into trapping Vladimir. Having fallen instantly for his beauty, she seduces him with intellectual flattery, attention, food and alcohol – lots of it: martinis “dirty, and wet”, bottles of Sancerre, gin and tonics, Manhattans. It is slow, deliberate, decisive and, we know, will lead to the point where she has him shackled to that chair. The question is, how, and why – and will she hurt him?
The opening sentence of Vladimir raises a distinctly Nabokovian ghost (“When I was a child, I loved old men, and I could tell that they also loved me”). There are faint nods to Pnin in the campus setting, with Vladimir the academic, but also perhaps in the novel’s other themes: failure, humiliation, isolation, loss. These are the spooks that haunt the narrator’s chilly, bookish mind: the shame of growing irrelevant, invisible, unwanted and undesirable.
Vladimiris a quietly captivating novel. Jonas’s voice is so assured, in fact, that for most of the time it seems astonishing that this is a debut. The confidence wavers towards the end, though, with a heavy-handed denouement: an unsuccessful attempt to tame the complex themes, and pin down this slippery and uncomfortably compelling narrator. The wobbly ending is disappointing – the narrator is oddly neutered by it – but perhaps this is a price worth paying for what is otherwise an engrossing and clever debut.