Houghmagandie…and a rescue mission.

A blogging friend reckons you should never give your posts ambiguous or obscure titles. Make the heading simple, straightforward and easy to understand, he says, so that the reader knows just what he or she is about to be reading.

Good advice. Can’t fault it. But can’t always follow it. I confess as a reader I am more inclined to be drawn to the post called something like ‘Tangled thoughts for a tuesday…’ than ‘Ten tips for typists’. (No, those aren’t real examples – at least, I don’t think so…)

I like a little bit of intrigue, a wee bit of mystique, a tiny touch of ‘what on earth is that about then?’ So this post’s heading would definitely draw my blogging buddy’s ire – but it comes up trumps for me. Actually you can blame my mother for it.

‘I know you love learning Scottish words,’ she said in a recent phone call, ‘and this one’s a cracker.’  She paused to savour the moment and make sure she had my full attention. ‘It’s … houghmagandie.’  A non-Scot might have pronounced it as ‘hock-magandie’, but my Ma  is hewn from Aberdeenshire granite, so gave it the full treatment, affording the guttural ‘gh’  its right and proper throat-clearing prominence.

What does it mean? Sex. There – that’s as plain, simple and straightforward a translation as you could possibly desire. But it’s not enough. To me, houghmagandie means more than the plain, simple and straightforward act.  It conjures up romps in the hayshed, or tumbles in the sand-dunes, it nods more than a little towards the illicit, the unsanctioned, the kind of coupling that resulted in a trip or two to the sinners stool for Scotland’s lusty bard Robert Burns.

I think it’s a great word – far earthier and much more satisfying than other euphemisms like  ‘nookie’ or ‘rumpy-pumpy’ or, heaven help us, ‘making the beast with two backs.’  However – and again this is a personal interpretation – I don’t believe it delves into deep and murky territory. Illicit certainly, immoral quite possibly, illegal definitely not.

Sex has been on my mind a lot recently – because of this whole censorship issue with Smashwords and Paypal etc. Mark Coker seemed to be regarded by many as the devil incarnate because he agreed, albeit with great reluctance, to strip the Smashwords shelves of certain categories of erotica in accordance with Paypal’s instructions.

I mentioned in my last post that my book ‘Forbidden Love and Other Stories’ was keeping some very dodgy company in the Smashwords catalogue because I had foolishly ticked the box to say it contained adult content.  I hadn’t realised this would consign it to the realms of erotica, some of which would make Mordor look like a light-hearted playground. I wasn’t comfortable even browsing the titles and very definitely didn’t want my comparatively innocent little book to be languishing there! Well – Mark Coker himself came to the rescue to help retrieve my book – and I’m grateful, especially since he’s got plenty of other stuff to worry about right now.

Now it seems Paypal is backing off from its original demands and the debate is ongoing. No doubt it will rumble on – and on – and on. I’m happy to step back from it and indeed right out of it. However – should you ever wonder about the content of my books – there’s every likelihood you’ll find houghmagandie in them – but nothing to keep Paypal up at nights – and that’s a promise!

Smashwords, erotica and Paypal

Paypal has decreed that it won’t do business with the ebook distributor Smashwords (and presumably others) if it continues to stock erotica containing scenes of bestiality, incest and/or rape. Smashwords owner Mark Coker has agreed – albeit with some reluctance – to accept this.  In a letter sent to authors, he has written ‘it’s a slippery slope when we allow others to control what we think and write. Fiction is fantasy… A reader should have the right to feel moved however they desire to be moved.’

Many writers – and readers – have reacted with fury to what they regard as censorship on the part of Paypal.  Censorship is a massively tricky issue – to put it mildly. We all have our own boundaries – a topic which may be abhorrent to one person may be fascinating to another. Does anyone have the right to draw the line in the sand over which we should not cross?

I like to regard myself as open-minded with fairly liberal views. I appreciate the dangers if the power of censorship is given to the wrong people and allowed to be taken too far. How to choose the right censors however and indeed if there should even be such a thing as censorship – these questions will doubtless fill dozens of blog posts and newspaper columns following the Paypal decree.

I don’t really intend to get into the whole debate here – but I do have a personal point to make. When I uploaded my book ‘Forbidden Love and other stories’ to Smashwords – I had to tick a box saying whether it contained ‘adult content’. I spent quite a lot of time wondering about that – because the book does contain sexual scenes, but to be honest, they’re pretty lightweight stuff. There’s nothing graphic or violent or remotely deviant. In the end I did tick the box and I’ve regretted it ever since, because I suddenly found my relatively innocent little book in the company of some seriously dark and depraved shelf-mates.

I’m clearly far more naive than I’d realised, because I was genuinely horrified and sickened by some of the stuff that was there and freely available. I felt as though I’d abandoned my book in some lawless hell! I did try to launch a rescue mission by un-ticking the box, but failed miserably.

The title probably doesn’t help – someone seeing the name ‘Forbidden Love’ might well assume the book to hold all sorts of – well, forbidden love! Actually the title refers to a song in one of the stories – written by the rockstar hero for his childhood sweetheart who wasn’t allowed to go out with him because he was deemed a bad influence by her protective parents.  Not exactly rape, bestiality or incest!

So – I am actually delighted to see those other titles leave the Smashwords shelves. Maybe my book won’t feel quite so alone now!