"Early Black Lace novels were an odd mix of wonderful and awful, often within the same book. As a reader, I favoured historicals, partly because the contemporaries were too bizarre and alienating. Sex in these books seemed to be a luxury item, something to aspire to along with the yacht, the health spa, the five million thread-count Egyptian cotton bedsheets and the handsome manservant (Italian, pref) with his imperious smile and perfectly manicured foreskin.
The first novel I wrote for BL, Darker Than Love, was set in the Victorian era. I'd had several short stories published in Forum, Desire and For Women but I knew my contemporary style was way too down and dirty for BL. Writers' guidelines at the time recommended authors use the words 'fuck' and 'cunt' only sparingly and preferably within dialogue. I couldn't see how a woman in the mid 1990s might own her sexuality but be a bit shy about swearing. A nineteenth century setting seemed more appropriate and I reckoned it would be easier, not to mention pleasanter and more interesting, to research the Victorians rather than the lifestyles of the rich and glamorous.
In 1998, when BL announced to authors they were relaxing their editorial guidelines, I was chomping at the bit to write a novel that was filthy, upfront and deeply unglamorous. Menage, Emma Holly's debut novel, had recently been released and I'd devoured it, thrilled to find such likeable, realistic characters leading ordinary but scorchingly sexy lives. I put a proposal together for Asking for Trouble in a whirl of excitement. In my covering letter to the then-editor, Kerri Sharp, I confessed I'd found most of BL's contemporary fiction 'all a bit Cinzano Bianco'. Kerri replied, 'I'm so glad I've chucked out the Cinzano!'
Asking for Trouble has been one of Black Lace's bestsellers – proof, if it were needed, women don't need rose petals and rubies to assuage any guilt about getting off.
BL was rarely complacent about its place in the market and I'm heartbroken to see it end, especially when it looked to be on the up. Single author collections were being introduced; new writers with fresh, original voices were being taken on; popular US authors were appearing in BL anthologies, a move sure to have helped blur the UK/US publishing division and raise the profile of the imprint Stateside; and, after a few years tussling, it seemed there was finally space for writers of erotica and erotic romance to co-exist within the imprint.
The internet, though it's often blamed for the demise of print porn, has proved a great marketing tool for genre authors who don't get much of a cut of their publisher's budget. These last few years, I've loved finding out more about familiar names and discovering new ones online; I've loved feeling myself part of an erotica community; I've loved challenging the industry's sexism and have been thrilled by the support we've received on Erotica Cover Watch. Thanks to everyone who's backed our campaign for man candy on covers!
Once, being a Black Lace author felt like being part of a job lot; the imprint had greater prominence than its individual authors. Readers had to buy blind and the impression was dirty books were all much of a muchness. Who cares who wrote it? So many BL authors have now surged beyond that to declare their distinct voices as writers and people. I hope we'll all manage to find hot new homes for our fiction – homes which will allow those voices to shine and suck cock! I hope readers will follow their favourite authors to their new homes. And I hope we'll all get to read and write a lot more quality filth in 2010 and beyond!"
Out with the old (especially the Cinzano) and in with the new (a good Scotch, maybe?). I'll drink to that. See you in 2010 xxx