In the second instalment of this brand new series, author Tobsha Learner explores the inspirations behind her short story collection, Tremble:
After a traumatic break-up Dorothy Owen inherits an heirloom from her spinster witch aunt that both empowers and pleasures her sexually. But when she finally lands a boyfriend the heirloom causes all kind of erotic supernatural mischief.
This collection is all based on traditional fairy-stories or fables. This particular one is inspired by the magical object that is given or inherited then causes all kinds of mischief in the village. I’d spent some time in Shropshire (near the Welsh border) and had been inspired by Shrewsbury castle but also the bloody border skirmishes that occurred between the Welsh and the English. As many of my readers would know I’ve always been fasciated by witches and matriarchies but I also wanted to write a story that looked at class and was also very bawdy in a kind of folklore way.
SUBTITLE: Arousing the Clouds
When a very sexy stranger arrives in drought-ridden small American town and offers to make rain he has only one very taboo and outrageously lusty condition. In order to help the town, the womenfolk flock to his caravan while the men steam in anger.
This very haunting story is deliberately timeless. It could be set in the 1950’s or the 1970’s, I made it. Again, the actual landscape reflects the sexuality of the people living upon it. The town and the surrounding countryside is in a state of drought, of frigidity, Jacob – who has to be the sexiest rainmaker in history – think Michael Fassbinder meets the young Harrison Ford – is about to change all of that. The structure is the classic stranger comes to town – almost the plot line of a perverse Western. The funniest experience I had with this story was at a writers festival in Albany (small town in Western Australia) which had been suffering from drought but at the time of the reading (read by a sexy male actor) it was pouring down with rain. At the point when Jacob’s demands on the town was read out, the audience howled with laughter!
SUBTITLE: The Activist and the Sexy Entrepreneur
Gavin, a married property developer, haunted by the ghost of a rainforest on a vacant lot he is developing, has a spiritual awakening that leads to a sexual awakening and an illicit affair with the last woman he expected to provide erotic fulfilment.
Brisbane went through development in the 80’s and 90’s – I was fascinated by the idea of Nature revenging herself on a morally bankrupted property developer. I also got interested in the way computers had generate three-dimensional models of primordial forests and landscapes. Actually I frightened myself a little in the writing of this – the haunting scared even me! But I had great fun with the sex scene and unlikely coupling of Gavin and his nemesis the gloriously hirsute environmentalist Saturday Honeywell.
SUBTITLE: Immaculate Orgasm
A disillusioned young nun goes to a Greek island to renew her faith. In a parade she touches a holy relic: the withered nipple of a saint. This propels her into a supernatural and erotic odyssey of emotional and sexual fulfilment.
I was inspired by the power of belief (and loss of belief) in the writing of this story, but I guess also the idea of higher beings manifesting through the body. But also the way people imbue holy relics with incredible meaning. It really is a marriage of sacred sex and a reworking of the concept of the immaculate conception. I am particularly happy with the way my young nun truly becomes a miracle worker at the end.
SUBTITLE: Taboo Desires
Aaron and Miriam have a great sex life, but after Aaron dies during lovemaking, she finds herself haunted by the snores of her dead husband. Nothing budges the ghost and Miriam is forced to investigate Aaron’s past activities beyond the religious community she lives in.
I had heard of several men dying of heart attacks during love making, and perversely the idea of a wife being trapped under her husband’s body was the starting point for this story. But I also wanted to explore the traditional dybbuk – a spirit that features in traditional Yiddish fables and folklore (see Isaac Bashevis Singer’s writing). In this case the dybbuk is the dead man’s snore. I had much fun researching this one!
SUBTITLE: The Lover, the Mistress and the Wife
Madeleine, the young lover of Robert, a married record producer, collects strands of his long hair every time he has sex with her. When she has this woven into a hairshirt by a strange Russian woman strange things start to happen to Robert’s wife …
I had a lover who had long grey hair for a while, the idea of fetish grew from this – Madeleine collects evidence of her affair almost to convince herself Robert is really visiting her, is really being unfaithful to his wife. The obsessive mistress is always a juicy theme.
SUBTITLE: The Succubus and the Student
1844: Alistair is a twenty-year-old virgin working at the British Museum. A beautiful older aristocrat comes in wanting to hire someone to record her collection of erotic artefacts from Pompeii that were used in an explicit ritual that promised eternal youth. But the ritual requires a sacrificial virgin …
The starting point for this short story was BBC radio program I heard about how Victorian archaeologists used to paint clouds over the genitals of the artefacts they were copying for collections and books, this lead to me thinking about the personality of a young archaeologist given this strange and in some ways titillating task. I then wove in another favourite theme – that of the succubus – the dream woman who visits sleeping men to drain away their sexual juices and eventually their life. Lady Whistle is really the older woman vampire. This is one of my favourites.
SUBTITLE: Lust across the lines
A mysterious albino bat, the mascot on a British ship in the Falklands War, escapes and bites one English soldier then flies across no-man’s land and bites an Argentine soldier. Each has erotic fantasies about the other – only to have a deadly encounter in the morning.
There is actually (or used to be) a HMS Vampire – a battle ship in the Australian navy. Forbidden sex and death are the themes, but I was also intrigued by the idea of a mascot that had lived for centuries unnoticed within the lineage of the navy. The albino bat – a purveyor of erotic fatal dreams – that sleeps contently on its perch during the day only to cause chaos at night.
SUBTITLE: Nipple and Fin
Seamus, a recently divorced diver, has a mysterious encounter on an oil rig in the North Sea. He is haunted by dark fantasies that taunt and stimulate; later he finds himself tempted into the ocean to be dominated and trapped by an erotic fantasy made real.
This is really a re-working of the fairy-tale of prince who is dragged under the sea by a mermaid – I chose the rugged and hyper-real backdrop of an oilrig to set this erotic fairy-story. And I had to really use my imagination to describe the genitalia of a mermaid!!! One could say she is a femme fatale aquatic.