It was the middle of summer. Long, hot and maybe just a little bit lonely. Laura Borrowdale, 33, an English and gender studies teacher and solo-mother of two young girls, was alone for three weeks in her Christchurch home.
The kids were with their father, from whom she'd split years earlier, and school was out. Adult responsibilities had — very briefly — fallen away.
Borrowdale, a reflective blonde who arranges her books by theme and colour, had always dabbled in writing and has been published by VUP Sport and Takahe. Born of South African parents, her earlier forays into fiction focused on "puzzling out" the transitions between childhood, adolescence and adulthood.
But as she sat at her kitchen table that summer — with no kids, no man and no work — she turned her pen, unexpectedly, to something quite new.
"I started writing more sexual things," says Borrowdale, the family labrador at her feet, a wall of books behind her.
"I'd just come out a relationship and I think exploring sex and intimacy in fiction was a safe and exhilarating way to work through some of the emotions I had about why the relationship had failed, and what I wanted. What I needed to feel connected to someone."
January ended and Borrowdale's daughters returned home. She looked for a place to publish her summer's efforts — a tasteful, literary journal for those with erotically inclined writing and reading tastes. But her research drew a blank.
"It was too explicit for the mainstream literary journals like VUP Sport. And it was not explicit enough for the smutty internet sites. There was nowhere to publish in New Zealand — so I decided to launch my own journal."
Aotearotica, available now, is New Zealand's first modern erotic, literary journal.
For the uninitiated, erotica is not porn. Its offerings range from graphic cartoons (sex from behind, sex on the kitchen table, sex with hips raised high, mouths gaping), to explicit poems and gentle, nostalgic short stories of a high school lesbian romance.
The journal — which has an initial print run of 300 — will be launched at the upcoming Christchurch Readers and Writers Festival. It costs $20 — a decision Borrowdale struggled with — but she thinks the work inside is good enough to merit a reasonable price tag — especially since none of its 26 contributors were paid. The profits will go towards paying contributors of the next edition.
"I planned for you to be my first kiss but I chickened out at the last second, trailing off," writes Isabelle McNeur in Drinking Games.
"You looked at me funny, and fair enough. I kept biting off the ends of the question. I told you about my first kiss later, awkward and furtive in an empty changing room next to the beach. You asked how it was. I told you: Good, but weird. The bell cut off your reply so I never found out what it was."
"first guy i f***ed
didn't know what a clit was
& in again
to the point
didn't f*** around", writes Ruby Porter in First Guy I F***ed.
The difference between modern porn and erotica, says Pantea Farvid, a senior lecturer in the Department of Psychology at Auckland University of Technology — is taste, and quality.
"Modern pornography can be viewed as the McDonald's version of a five-course degustation meal," she says. "Written erotica is the degustation meal, it is far subtler and more nuanced. People who are interested and attracted to erotica might be more in tune with their own sexuality, and comfortable delving into the complicated, complex sides of sex, rather than just the mechanics."
Borrowdale agrees. Since the age of 13, when she discovered an Anais Nin novel in a cupboard of her family home, she has been fascinated in the erotic scenes of literary novels — "the parts people skip to", she says.
"I, with a deeper instinct, choose a man who compels my strength, who makes enormous demands on me, who does not doubt my courage or my toughness, who does not believe me naive or innocent, who has the courage to treat me like a woman," wrote Nin, inspiring female readers the world over to take charge of their sexuality.
"And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom."
Having grown up on a farm, the daughter of a midwife, the mechanics of sex were not a revelation to Borrowdale — but the emotional charge and connection between two people that could be set alight by sex, was.
"I understood what sex was about, but I didn't understand what a powerful force it can be, and how it can change the course of people's relationships," recalls Borrowdale.
"I have never deliberately sought out erotica, but I have been attracted to novelists who deal with it explicitly. I went through a big D.H. Lawrence phase as a teenager," she laughs.
Borrowdale is clear that those attracted to the pink shelves of the public library — the Mills and Boon bodice-rippers or Fifty Shades of Grey — may not find what they're looking for in the pages of her new journal.
She's not interested in spinning the fairy-tale ending so reliably dished up in books with a pink cover — her goal is to capture the reality of everyday sex and love between New Zealanders — all New Zealanders.
"The journal is open to writing from everyone, from every community. We want LGBTQ sex, sex from different cultures and ethnicities. Sometimes these writings can be a bit hidden, so I am really encouraging writers to approach us for the second edition."
To fill the journal, Borrowdale called in favours from friends and advertised in university campuses and writing schools around the country.
Contributors include Christchurch poets Ciaran Fox and Doc Drumheller, graphic artists Ant Sang and Dylan Horrocks, and Sunday Star-Times short story winner Isabelle McNeur.
Borrowdale told the principal of her high school her plans for the journal before she began, wary of her personal and professional lives crossing over. His advice? "Go for it."
"I am not ashamed of this journal at all. I have two daughters. And I get worried that their future is full of a negative, toxic version of what sex and intimacy is," says Borrowdale.
"Increasingly, porn is getting more aggressive. It shows women being spanked or tied up or throttled and in the films the women are always showing pleasure in these activities. So young men get the impression that is what women want. If you don't like something, you don't have to keep doing it. I want women to have access to beautifully written erotica, in which the most powerful aspect is words and your imagination."
Farvid says any representation of sex which is closer to how everyday people do it can only be a step forwards — and a push back against the porn industry.
"Words can definitely turn people on," says Farvid. "Pornography grabs your attention faster because of the noise, colour and sexual explicitness of it. But pornographic sex is a stylised and curated version of sex, not what happens on the ground."
With a full-time job, two kids and a dog, Borrowdale has to carve out time for writing and editing the journal at night — after dinner, baths, and bed for her children.
"I am not a particularly restful person," says Borrowdale.
"The more effort I have put into this, the greater sense of purpose I am discovering. It has definitely become a passion."