Category Archives: Writer’s Kitchen

Who’s pleasing whom? In search of our own language

Simon_Penning Pleasure_2



When I ask myself the question: WHO IS PLEASING WHOM???

It’s the first part of a pair. What follows is:



This is the theme of my next non-fiction book. It’s a critical analysis of writing in the feminine and of the (still far too) male-dominated nature of academic discourse. Will we ever dare to speak our own language(s) and survive in today’s academic landscape?

I’ve got several bones to pick in this book. I look at what Nicole Brossard calls writing in the feminine and at just how far we may go in calling this style of writing a new language. I look critically at Brossard’s use of the term we, wondering how (and why) a white middle-class lesbian feminist can claim to be the mouthpiece of all women. I look at what language permits and what its gatekeepers will not allow. I also look at language’s gatekeepers and the extent to which even feminists bow to their demands. This leads me to question the situation of  feminist scholars who (must?) continue to speak the ‘old’ patriarchal language. I recall my own experience as a scholar, setting a new accent, being both creative and critical in my writing, only to be told by my feminist tutor and by my feminist examiners that: you don’t do it that way. Why not? Is there really only one way? One language, a single voice, in this day and age where diversity is self-explanatory? When will there ever be change if no one dares? The tension between feminist intentions and the real possibilities of expression within an academic arena become viciously apparent. In this book I also look at the merits of writing in the feminine as, perhaps, a first measure that leads us in a good (I’m not sure that I’m ready to say right) direction. Thought is a journey in language. There can never only be one way. This book is about daring to fly and assessing the risks. I hope you’ll read it when it’s out.


Just so that you know:

The contents of this book are part of my PhD in Creative & Critical Writing. Do you see the joke: if you can’t be creative and critical in a PhD in Creative & Critical Writing, then where? I’ve passed the exam and will receive my diploma by Christmas. Now I can beef up my critique and say it how I mean it.

One step behind

ebook layout options are fine, I guess, for standard texts. If you want to do anything fancy, tho, get ready for a headache.


I have a headache.


ebooks are not ready for what I do. Take a text like this:


and your ebook formatting process goes: wtf??? No way! Just who do you think you are, throwing me this fancy stuff?

You can’t explain to them: look, these are two protagonists, one per column, talking to each other. He’s on the left. She’s to the right. Smaller font is what she thinks but doesn’t say aloud. Underlining underlines where her thoughts overlap. Get it?


You can’t explain all that. You can only comply:


You’ve given your name as the author, but the minute you push that ‘publish’ button, you know it’s not your book. Not the one you really wrote. It’s theirs.


They say paperbacks could become a thing of the past. Not if I have my way.






when a little critique goes a long way



I got this review  of Verses Nature (In The Beginning Was The Heat) the other day and I’ve been grinning ever since:


What does this woman do when she’s happy? She kicks her heels and dances around the house but you won’t get the benefit of that. What I will also do is to give away the companion book, Verses Nature (The Making Of),  for a limited period. Yes, you heard right: for free. No, I’m not after your email address and you won’t need to give it to me. So if you want to know just how ‘200% delicious sin and literary genius’ gets written, click here. No strings attached. Promised.




doubt images

Daughter: Mum, your website’s crap.

Me: Really?

Daughter: Like, seriously. Way too much text.

Me: But I’m a writer…

Daughter: So what? People don’t want to read all of that. Don’t want to scroll all day long. Just get to the point.

My daughter’s been telling me this for ages. I won’t say how long because I feel embarrassed to admit how resistant I was to her critique. I thought every word on my website had its justification and I thought my website was better than many I had browsed. But she insisted: it was crap. She hated the colour of the background. ‘Keep it simple, mum!’ She found the texts too high-brow and long-winded. She hated my book covers. Somewhere in me a voice was saying, what do you care, she’s not your target audience anyway. Somewhere else another voice was saying: she may have a point. Step one, treat yourself to a professional cover designer. Step two, it’s a website, not a novel. To cut a long story short, my daughter won. And do you know what? I’m glad she did.

A question of degree

wu-dissertation-figure-8From the most beautiful scene-setting in academic writing I have ever read:

The bus threaded through layers of terraced lands. The field was so lush and green that the colour seemed to have condensed into liquid drops striving to press a permanent imprint on my body. Outside in the scorching sun, newly planted rice was growing long and strong. with occasional gusts of wind, the tall, thin sprouts were blown towards the roadside, as if gracious hosts craning their necks in anxious anticipation of guests. From time to time, an unwieldy eighteen-wheel truck would honk by in anxious haste, loaded with sands and gravels, churning up dust storms to blur my vision of the summer field. It was early July of 2009. The construction of two national highways was in full force that meandered through the villages of Qiandongan towards the coastline. Patches of exposed earth were visible at a distance: they used to be farmlands and were now expropriated for the road construction. As the bus wound up and down the mountain road, it was interlaced with passing clusters of wooden abodes, brick houses and thatched huts; bent figures dotted the summer field and blended into a distance of green.


(from Disenchantment and Participatory Limit: Schooling at a Crossroads in Rural Ethnic China, PhD dissertation, Jinting Wu, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2012. This award-winning thesis is now published and available for purchase.)








image by Nick Turner

There are two flies who seem in love with my keyboard. I think they are the same flies from yesterday. Sometimes they are motionless, as in sleep. Sometimes one is riding on the back of the other one and I’m not quite sure what to think about what they are doing… I think it is the vibration of the engine at work inside my keyboard that appeals to them. Small as they are, it must be like some mammoth vibrator. We have cat bars to soothe our stressed nerves. Flies have my keyboard. It’s bigger. And for free. 🙂

Research? Yes. Experiment? Better not!

Matilda_ Geoffrey (old school)


Had great fun running away with language when writing Verses Nature: The Making Of :

The challenge: write a book in the first person. Add: my pet concerns: sex, God, philosophy, family… using language to make statements about language (its functions/limits). Add: the (for me) central challenge of form(s). I do not believe in One. Everything, when analysed closely, will break down into a multiple of things. Like words and their echoes, genres mingle, necessarily. Slutty beasts. I love em. Add: prose, poetry, columns, biblical verse, diary…  How many more until the novel breaks? Says who??? Go beyond language. Go, even, occasionally, beyond reason. Gender, too, is not One. Add: calculated ambiguity (how much can we bear (not) to know?). Explore: the nature of our nature. Find: permanent struggle between its (our nature and its favourite offspring: language) various components.

Plain language (no broom-up-me-arse-ish).

Add: more prose passages? No. These would contradict the core statements I’m making via and about language and memory (and reading!) as something essentially knotty, fleeting, shifting; something fragmentary. The novel, my novel, is not simply to be read, it is to be ‘viewed’; the 1-liners, the spacing, invites this. I’ve made sure that none of the entries in Verses Nature exceed one page. That way, you can take them in any order, as though shuffling a bunch of playing cards. I propose notions, not mere sentences. Notions which are as much, if not more, visual than intellectual, thus making prose, by comparison, the dark, broody, overcrowded renaissance painting you wouldn’t necessarily want to have hanging in your living room.

When I was younger, I thought good prose had to be deeply philosophical. Not so. Good prose has to scorch you but not leave you wanting to throw yourself off the next bridge. I don’t need to show off about how many encyclopaedias I gobbled for breakfast. I want you to forget the world for an instant, dive into mine, and not want to leave. And when you do leave, then you should feel new in some way. See the world, your life new, in some way; our ridiculous, amazing life that we could do so much with. Why should I push you jump off a bloody bridge???

What’s novel in my novel, then, should not be limited to the message, or the content, but extend to matters of form as I resist the hegemonising forces of literary typologies.

Can also say: generic conservatism.

Can also say: phenotypical purism.

I speak of alchemy, of mutation, of dissolving membranes. Of smudging. I seek to re-place, displace, dishevel, deconstruct and, ultimately, democratise our beloved literary templates.

Can one speak of language in a single language, Derrida asks? The answer is no. Nothing is only ever one, but internally teeming. The novel, as genre or phenotype, is teeming with other literary forms. I want the forms I select to copulate like beasts – sex and cum everywhere. And I have created just the beast I need to bring this off. Tatar.

I now need to edit The Making Of to suit the academic palate so it will be accepted as part of my doctoral thesis. That will be less fun. I said it before and I’ll say it again: you can’t run away in research-speak. Why? It’s not your language to run away with (in?). Not even in a Ph.D. in Creative and Critical Writing. Pity.

Lessons to learn, if only the system is prepared to. I think I know which version will be read more, don’t you?


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Getting your foot in the door with WHISKEY, NOT WATER: Verses Nature

Simon_VERSES NATURE_IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE HEATVerses Nature Vol.1: In The Beginning Was The Heat


Now that my latest book is out and there’s a free sample to get you started, I have more time to check out the market. Just reading the opening passages of a few samples of erotic fiction. Let’s call this: homework.

Sample 1:

There’s screaming. There’s a gun. There are the obligatory expletives. She is tied to an over-sized table. Of course. I can anticipate the rape scene and all the rest, depicted by an author I assume (and I hope I’m right!) has never been raped. He did this. She did that. More screaming. More expletives. I give up after the opening paragraph, already cringing at both the female protagonist’s name and that of the author. If that were my real name, I’d consider treating myself to a pseudonym.

Sample 2:

Only two paragraphs on display and already one typo: should that be long blond hair?

Sample 3:

Six paragraphs for our delight. Ah, there’s literary merit for a change. No typos, though a number of grammatical issues (a self-published book?) and the direct speech is as stiff as hell. Nothing erotic has happened so far. It’ll come later. No pun intended.

Sample 4:

A bestseller this time and a huge chunk for us to enjoy, which I do, I must confess, for it is well written. Nothing new, plot-wize or stylistically, but at least it’s well written. Still wouldn’t buy it, though.

Sample 5:

No erotic scenes in this opening but I can smell one around the corner! The sample steers clear of kitsch and even has enough humour to draw a smile from me. The author, it seems, is not content to have the characters play cat and mouse, but she will play cat and mouse with us, the reader, too. I think I know how this will end, though I wouldn’t say no to reading a bit further.


All these samples are typical of the genre. I’m not sure I can find my place here. I’ve been saying it for a while: I don’t think what I do is erotica. The fit is too loose for my liking. Adult fiction? Or maybe erotic fiction after all. Intellectual erotica; what I’ve elsewhere described as high-brow rumpy-dumpy.


Many have confessed to me that although they love reading what I write, they don’t feel comfortable talking about it to others. Ah, so that’s why when I invite readers to share what I post on Facebook, very little happens.

fingerwhip (ripped jeans)

Turn it down a bit?

beyond her comfort zone

Still no one sharing. I can’t twist anyone’s arm, but maybe I can use this knowledge anyway:


9 out of 10




I like the one above as it makes clear that the book isn’t only for women and I like the one below for its international flair.


around the globe (III)



Doing my very best to steer clear of the word ‘erotic’, but noting that some people are left puzzled by the term ‘adult’ fiction. To say ‘romance’ would be to say too little. Would be to make it all too soft. I need to draw attention to the style as much as to the content. The novel, VERSES NATURE, is experimental:

‘cubist characterizations, full of violence and scorn’ (Purple Starsky)

‘Primal, deep, complex, secretive, honest, spacious. Grabs you.’ (Robert Hall)

Experimental romance? Experimental adult fiction? I can use these terms to describe my book, but it still makes sense to also refer to my work as erotic.  Doesn’t need to be the same type of erotic as everyone else, does it? So ok, I’ll join the club; bring in some fresh blood. Change the genre from the inside.