THE LEEDS EROTICA FESTIVAL 31st OCTOBER –2cd NOVEMBER 2008
The 1st Leeds Erotica Festival http://www.leedserotica.org.uk/leeds/index.asp Primarily attracted me for its many writing workshops and the chance of meeting other authors dabbling in the genre. It wasn’t all about creative writing. Burlesque, cabaret, film, advises on fetish accessories, bondage classes, and much more besides, were on offer.
Telling friends that I was going to this sexy weekend jamboree evoked strange reactions, ranging from a sense that I was going to an orgy, to just going slightly cross eyed and wanting to quickly change the subject for something less taboo.
The festival was an ambitious and well organized series of separate events scattered across venues over a wide area of the host city. It was the brainchild of Amy Minns, who worked tirelessly to achieve a fantastic and memorable weekend.
There were many activities, screenings and participation workshops to choose from - too many to allow for going to all, and a few were obviously more specialist – I had no need to learn the art of tassel twirling for example, though I have no doubt that it takes a lot of daring, and practice to achieve as perfectly as done by many of the burlesque dancers I would see in the course of the weekend.
FRIDAY 31st OCTOBER 2008 – HALLOWEEN
GETTING THERE –TRAIN JOURNEY NIGHTMARES
I chose the events I would like to attend gradually over the months leading to the weekend, and even paid to attend one workshop a few days before setting off to Leeds. I looked forward to the weekend with increasing excitement, and booked the time off work ready.
Travelling from Manchester to Leeds by train should be easy and take only about an hour by train. My journey proved to be a nightmare and took almost four hours.
The problems started with my local train to Victoria station, Manchester. I had hoped to get a return ticket on board this service (from the unmanned platform Dean Lane Station). Unfortunately, there was no ticket inspection or sale on the train at all, which created big problems for me at Victoria. At the mainline station, understaffing had put ticket sale and inspection into the hands of clearly inexperienced railway porters. That my journey involved more than a simple local return ticket backs to whence I had already arrived confused them deeply. Eventually, I was given a ticket, and while I wanted to get to a notice board to see the timetable information for trains to Leeds from Victoria, and back again, they wouldn’t let me through the barrier. I was eventually told to board a train right behind me as it was setting off in a matter of seconds.
As the train set off, before I had even sat down, the driver announced the destinations – the list ended with Halifax. I asked passengers if I had misheard it and they assure me that the train was not going to Leeds. One lady advised me to jump out at Rochdale and get the next Leeds train from there. Knowing that Leeds trains go through Rochdale, I did just that. I quickly discovered my mistake. There were no trains going to Leeds that day. The stationmaster informed me that Leeds train station was closed for engineering works. The trains were stopping at Halifax and a replacement bus was going from there to Leeds, via Bradford and Pudsey. I’d just got off the Halifax service. I had been on the right train in the first place. I ended up waiting thirty minutes in the bitter cold for the next train to Halifax.
The new train ride was now pleasant enough, with a glimpse of the lovely Yorkshire mill towns along the way. The final nightmare episode only kicked in at Halifax. The replacement bus was not at the station, but parked waiting quarter of a mile away, down long cobbled streets, and across two dangerous dual carriageways. Customers at a local hotel had apparently protested at buses pulling up noisily outside the railway station, so the council had shifted the buses a great distance into the town. The elderly or disabled would have found the walk nigh on impossible. For me, dragging a heavy suitcase on casters over the cobbles and having to carry it over large stretches of busy road, was bad enough.
The bus journey was slow but not unpleasant. I was just quietly fuming that had my journey gone well, I would have been in my hotel room by this stage.
Once I arrived at Leeds, getting to the hotel proved easier than expected. I had printed out a lot of maps and direction sheets from online working out routes to and from various the various places I’d be visiting. I found the hotel and check in was quick and efficient. My room was fine, though a little cold. I unpacked and went for a quick walkabout round Leeds, locating places of interest and use for me. I had been amused when asking on Google maps for directions from my hotel to the nearby Mook club, to be sent directions to such a venue in Maidstone, Kent, travelling on foot. In actuality I spotted the bar within minutes, considerably closer to the hotel. I am extremely good at getting lost on such expeditions. Unusually however, my print outs proved useless, and I found most places I would be going by chance from just looking around.
I got my evening meal at a local café, The Hellenic, which proved to be quite ghastly The waitresses seemed indifferent to the existence of customers and I had to go to the till to order – I asked for the home made lasagne, and eventually received a lump of lukewarm quiche with some lasagne bits and minced beef mixed in, along with very shrivelled up chips. The can of coke was nice though.
Back to the hotel then and it was time to prepare for the first festival event I’d booked in for – the Halloween Masquerade Ball, at Loft http://www.loftleeds.com/
The theme of the ball was Halloween fetish wear. I am no stranger to costuming though few of my outfits can make me look erotically desirable. I settled on a pure horror concept and went in my now eight year old Cthulhu mask and claws. (Photographs of him are online at http://arthurchappell.me.uk/arthur12.jpg J. Alfred Cthulhu was created from an occasionally published and now online story of mine, BLIND DATE and he has been with me to costuming events at science fiction conventions around the World and various Halloween and fancy dress parties. He has won prizes, including a Toronto Worldcon newcomers to costuming award presented to me by Discworld author Terry Pratchett. He has been to battle-re-enactments and biker rallies too.
The Loft offered a long, narrow room, with few seats and few places to rest drinks, which was a little impractical for people wearing elaborate costumes from 8pm until 3 am in the morning. My claws made holding a glass for long periods quite difficult. Drinks seemed limited in choice – some beers promoted on the pumps were off. I settled for draught Grolsh.
As people arrived the lengths people had gone to for costuming became apparent – there were many fabulous and highly memorable outfits, ranging from monster masks to bondage wear and daring corsets. The Mad Hatter led Alice In Wonderland around on a cord. Two young ladies dared to go round virtually topless. I told them that I envied them given my own heavy latex gear chafed like Hell. They agreed, having worn such cold clammy material in the past themselves. An artist body painted a young lady over the course of the party too, creating some amazing work on the living canvas.
A slide show presentation projected onto one of the walls showed of the various art works on display at festival supporting bars around Leeds. I would see the originals of some of the work over the weekend too. We were promised a cabaret entertainment too.
Having exchanged messages with them on an online forum I met up with some of the readers of Scarlet Magazine http://www.scarletmagazine.co.uk/, a women’s erotica publication who have generously put me in print three times now, and it was delightful to meet them and many other terrific friends over the weekend.
The music seemed strangely subdued for the first half of the night, and the Edinburgh Fringe style cabaret initially suffered from a poor sound system. The entertainment was rather eclectic in mix – with some operatic renditions of Queen songs, a fire-eater, a dom-and two subs performing a well choreographed dance routine, and two ladies dressed as Mikado style geishas, using lots of squirty fake blood. The stage was set quite low, and as virtually everyone was standing, only people right at the front had a clear view of the action.
The best act of the night was that of ANNA FUR LAXIS, as Pony Girl, and as I got a better view of this at the Saturday Night BURLESQUE I’ll review her performance in more detail there.
The cabaret over, the music became more rocking and the party atmosphere kicked in with some force – few were not dancing now, and the mood was maintained right through to the end of the night. They had promised the show would go on until 3 AM and it seemed to end at 3AM on the dot, with some abruptness. It was certainly a very happy and worthwhile event.
SATURDAY 1st NOVEMBER 2008
I got up and discovered a real first – a hotel shower that actually works easily and doesn’t initially burn you or freeze you to death until you figure out how to adjust it. (See SHOWERS for some of my views on hotel shower provision)
I didn’t want much for breakfast, so I just got some food at a local Subway, and headed to MOOK for the first activity for the day – a workshop for erotica authors. I briefly stopped at the Hogshead bar near to Mook where I drank coke and made some notes on events so far.
Leeds has some lovely city centre bars, and many are tucked away down side ginnels and courtyards, which can make them difficult to spot. Mook was relatively set back, but I spotted it easily enough.
The workshop was run by author Becky Cherriman, www.beckycheriman.com and about five writers took part – I was a little daunted by being the only male writer present, but I needn’t have worried. Festival organizer Amy Minns was also on hand making sure we had everything we needed.
After initially being locked out, we got to a nicely subdued lighting and heavy wooden chair provisioned room upstairs in the bar, and introduced ourselves to one another. We started by offering our hopes and fears as writers and discussed what we hoped to gain from the workshop. E were nervous of drying up, writing material that seemed unrealistic. Most of us had some writing experience and even some modest degree of success with work achieved. Standards were high. One lady already had a novel provisionally accepted, though she felt it needed more work as yet.
Becky gave us some writing exercises. She presented us with a selection of photos of men and women, cut from magazines and other sources. We could choose a picture each for the exercises to follow. Many were not overtly erotic. One was a picture of the current Pope. I settled on a picture of a lady holding a pint of beer in a pub. I decided right away that she’d stolen it off another drinker.
We now had to pick three things about our chosen image, though these selected biographical details needn’t be specifically erotic. I made my lady a powerful charismatic woman, powerful without having to power dress, and captain of a lady’s darts team. We now got twenty minutes to create a story around the pictures and our three chosen character traits. It wouldn’t be fair of me to write of the other contributors and their ongoing projects here though I can comment on my own work as it was seen there.
I came up with a predatory lady who takes a man (a thinly disguised version of me I expect), without offering him any favours and sexual gratification of his own, leaving him slightly amazed and even a little frightened by what should be an erotic fantasy come true.
I hated it even as I wrote it, feeling even in mid flow that the third-person point of view was wrong (in rewriting I have changed it to first person (from his POV). On reading back our exercises, the ladies had created very good work, and I thought mine would be crushed mercilessly but the quirky humour was well received and the others were impressed by the unusual approach of having a negative reaction of the main male protagonist, as well as the unusual angle of the sexual activity being conducted initially on a pub dart board mat.
In some ways I was more concerned in the actual writing with the build up and aftermath of the piece so the actual sex scene as I presented it there seemed rushed though and severely abbreviated – I had actually left several gaps for developing that later – I often do write in a non-linear way, setting instructions to myself to flesh bits out in rewrites. It was interesting to find that the central act of fellatio that carries my story was its weakest element – the readers found simply referring to the event, as the blow-job was too blunt and unimaginative.
We did other exercises, including one in which we explored specific fetishes or settings for sex – I chose ice and candles from the options we set each other on post-it notes then randomly selected from a hat. I had suggested beach-ocean sex. One of the other writers took that as an option. We didn’t have time to read the work that this exercise generated, though mine may well be developed further once the story outlined above is completed to the best of my abilities for now.
We discussed lots of aspects of erotic writing from the need for pseudonyms, how autobiographical work might be seen by people who know us, to the balance between pornography and erotica. We felt on the latter that erotica is often a more fully developed story, with a beginning, middle and end, while porn tends to be a less subtle quick fix sprawling sex scene, with story and context elements minimal zed. None of us were offended by porn or by erotica.
A major aspect of the festival is the writing completion, supported and judged by XCITE BOOKS The initial deadline of Halloween had been pushed back to mid November to allow for people attending this and other workshops to make use of the knowledge gained in creating stories to send in. My own competition entry was already submitted, though I have no doubt that the feedback from this session will be invaluable to my work in the near and long term future.
Becky was lovely and considerate to us, running the workshop well beyond its scheduled closing time. We had to stop in the end, as other events were booked into the room for the afternoon. While a couple of the authors had to leave for other commitments, some of us went to a local bar and carried on chatting for over an hour or more.
As we went our separate ways, I had a few hours to kill before my next planned festival event, so I decided to visit FAB Café in Leeds. I’m a regular customer at their Manchester Branch, and I had been to the Leeds branch opening night. One of the ladies from the workshop kindly showed me where FAB was, but unfortunately, they were closed for the afternoon. I returned to the centre of town, and after a little window shopping, I headed to a bar called Lounge Bar & Grill http://www.loungebarandgrill.com/ which was a venue for some of the festival events, though none were taking place there during my visit. Some of the brilliant art work presented for the weekend was displayed there. The service and food here were tremendous. The naïve, but rather sweet waitress who was perplexed when I asked her what bitters they served. She actually asked me ‘is lager a bitter?’ ‘Er, no’, I replied. She got me a pint of John Smiths, and, as ordered from the menu, a colossal burger.
The next festival event I was attending was a free book-launch promotion of some importance. Burlesque Against Breast Cancer at the Sela Bar. This was a lovely café bar, with a great choice of imported ales and a very relaxed seating plan. www.burlesqueabc.com have done a great deal to promote breast cancer research and awareness, mainly in supporting Macmillan Cancer Research. As part of the campaign, Xcite Books www.xcitebooks.com have produced a 30 story short story collection called ULTIMATE BURLESQUE edited by Scarlet magazine staff writers Alyson Fixter & Emily Dubberley with all of the writers generously submitting work for free and the profits going to breast cancer research. Extracts from the book were read out by Xcite’s chief editor, Miranda Forbes and several burlesque teams presented their acts in between. Some of the dancers would be on again later at various venues during the Burlesque Strip events. Dancers included The Bone Shakers, who provided a tribal belly dance routine, The Dagger Dames, a trio of lovely ladies who did a tightly choreographed routine that ended with them covering their charms with vinyl records. Miss Mimi Couture did an army recruitment strip to the theme from Dad’s Army. Anna Fur Laxis fid the second of three shows I saw her in over the weekend. She would reappear at the Burlesque Strip a few hours later.
It was to the Burlesque Strip that I was now heading, after a brief and quick change of clothes rest stop at the Travelodge. The Burlesque Strip doesn’t refer to the taking off of the clothes that was imminent, but to the events simultaiously taking place at four venues, Santiago, Verve, Lounge Bar (visited by myself earlier) and Subculture.
My ticket entitled me to go to any of the four shows or to move between them, which was extremely good value for money. I settled on sticking with the show at Subculture as I have been to the events run by Bella Besame and The Slippery Belle team before, in Manchester. As I have reviewed those events on a web page dedicated to that purpose, the review of events at Subculture that night can be read here BURLESQUE 9 (LEEDS)
I walked back to my hotel after a great night out, and went to bed about 3.30 AM, having had to prove my identity to the hotel clerks to get in. They hadn’t bothered questioning me the night before when I’d arrived back about the same time.
SUNDAY NOVEMBER 2CD 2008.
I had a long lie in, as I wasn’t going to any festival events until mid-afternoon. I got up about 10 am, and had breakfast at the hotel, choosing their £7.50 buffet breakfast option. This was frankly attrocious. Though there was no queue, I had to wait until a ticket was produced for me, and the waiters handed me a plate and food bowl to take to the table with me. They hadn’t bothered setting tables but waited until people arrived and handed them the means to set the table for themselves on a need to basis. To me this was just plain laziness.
I asked the waiter if I should get my own knife and fork too, but he looked at me as if I was stupid and walked off. I eventually spotted them on the buffet table to one side of the food.
Drinks machines offered apple and orange juice. A coffee machine was next to it. The cups and glasses required were right down the other end of the room. The food itself was fine, but nothing special.
Hotel check out had to be completed by noon, s I read through the freshly acquired Xcite books until five to twelve and then checked out, which was done quickly. I took my wheelie-suitcase to a local pub, The Ship, another lively ginnel-bar, and drank Hobgoblin Ale until it got close to time for the last festival event I was attending as due to start. This was back at The Sela Bar visited the evening before. EROTIC LITERATURE DAY was an informal panel and public discussion with a group of erotic authors, Becky Cherriman (ho had run the workshop I had been to), Victoria Blisse, www.victoriablisse.co.uk who has her book cover for and Scarlett Anderson www.scarlettanderson.com and Xcite publishing group editor, Miranda Forbes, who had read at the www.burlesqueabc.com event on the Saturday.
In addition there was a tremendous poetry performance by Alison Brumfitt, www.alisonbrumfitt.co.uk who had run workshops, and performed her very funny material over the weekend – she even presented a freshly penned poem directly inspired by the Festival’s many highlights.
I was surprised how few people came out initially to the readings, and discussion, which were invaluable to readers and writers of erotica. Attendees were also given a goodie bag of Xcite books and leaflets and material from the festival.
Miranda Forbes talked about the dos and don’ts of how to approach publishers. The main advise being to market as professionally as possible. She often receives manuscripts from people who haven’t researched her publishing house to see what they do and don’t look for. An erotica titles publisher is hardly going to produce children’s books, but people send them all the time. Miranda was also surprisingly unimpressed by agents, preferring to deal directly with authors, and acknowledging how difficult it is for new writers to get agents anyhow. Xcite are very good at offering encouragement to new writers.
The authors read their work, and showed why they are successful. Most of them use pseudonyms, given the nature of their erotica, especially as they have other careers as well as being writers.
As the afternoon spilled over into early evening, more people came to se the discussion, including some people who had not known of the events taking place and just wanted to use the Sela Bar. They were clearly fascinated by the discussion and contributed their own views on erotica too in an intelligent and friendly open forum of discussion.
With the event over when the last poem was read, it was time for me to head for home. The walk to the railway station was uneventful, though the journey to Manchester was almost as painful and frustrating as the journey to Leeds. The engineering work had fortunately ended and it was possible to get a train right home. However, a Liverpool service had broken down, so its passengers were transferred onto the Leeds –Manchester one, cramming the carriages to way beyond capacity. Only the near empty first class section had free seats. Most of us second-class travellers had to stand through the entire journey, which detoured to Huddersfield to pick up extra carriages, though these would not be used until the train reached Manchester, leaving the passengers compressed into the aisles. The train seemed to move as slowly as it would if being hand-pushed rather than driven. I got to Manchester and jumped in a taxi to head for home, getting in around about 9.30 pm. It was the end of a fantastic weekend, and it looks as if it’ll all be on again in 2009 – hopefully with better train services provided by the railway folk.
A huge thanks to everyone concerned and especially the main organizer, Amy Minns for making the weekend go so well. .
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