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An Interview with Chris Unity Bowness Part 1

I had the pleasure of meeting Chris on FaceBook about six months ago, I think it was, and almost immediately we began a dialogue with the plan of getting him onto my site as a guest. After some long conversations and some planning and scheming, I’m very glad to welcome Chris to my site for a two-part interview that’s a true celebration of sexuality. Welcome, Chris, and thanks for joining me!

KD: Chris, we first met online in connection with some lovely discussions we had about my writing, which led to discussions of writing in general and a topic near and dear to both of our hearts, the celebration of sexuality. It’s always lovely when someone who has been merely an acquaintance on social media, through some strange quirk becomes a three dimensional person with an amazing story of their own. And that’s what I feel happened with us. Could you share a little bit about what led you to study sexuality.

Chris Bowness UnityChris: Firstly, I’d like to thank you for inviting me onto your blog, it is a great honour, especially from someone I have a lot of admiration for. Secondly, it’s wonderful when you make a connection with someone in these modern times who, before social media and the internet, may have never met…or was it destiny anyway…but that is a debate for another day.

I’ve always had a passion and thirst for knowledge when it comes relationships and sexuality even in my teens I was far more comfortable in the company of female friends discussing the latest articles in magazines like Cosmopolitan rather than in the stereotypical male domains. Also in those pre-internet times there were programmes like Sexcetera and The Good Sex Guide to name but two which just oozed not only sex positivity but also exploring pleasure within relationships.

After college, two of these friends started running Ann Summers parties and they not only kept telling me how I’d be good at them but also asking me how to give advice to customers. It was quickly after, though, I found out that men weren’t allowed to attend a party let alone run a party business I realised how I’d have to make my own way. Sure there are many jobs behind the scenes of places like this but I wanted a more frontline hands-on approach.

Since then there has been a long evolution to where I am today, happy not only with all the ups and downs that got me here but also how I now see myself fitting into this sector; what I want to provide, but also I have a clear idea going forward of how I want to deliver it

KD: From your own research, why do you think honest, truthful information about sex, especially in the information age, is so hard to come by?

Chris: When I started researching how I could fit into this area there were two main seeds that were planted in my mind. The first one came a number of years ago when I read an article that said that the main reason cited on divorce papers was lack of sex and intimacy and sex and the correlation between, not only the breakdown in communication within those relationships but also the breakdown in communication in society, not only about sex but the discussion of issues surrounding sex and intimacy.

This led me to the second seed being planted, I started researching how and where people could glean information and advice about solving problems of an intimate and sexual nature. This broke down into three areas ‘Googling’, websites, forums.

Firstly, searching the web I feel is bad enough when you’re ill and want to know if it’s serious enough to bother a doctor with. The ‘I’ll just Google’ approach can not only be quite contradictory but also sometimes prove dangerous for many reasons. I feel the same goes for relationship and sex issues. Searching a term like ‘Why has my partner gone off sex?’ can bring contradiction, confusion, and the whole range of results. But also, even in this information age, people still worry about searching for what would be deemed sexually explicit terms and the results that might bring.

Then came websites and blogs. There are very great informative websites out there – ones I have recommended articles from to people myself. However this is still very much a one-way form of communication with no accessible long term support.

This led me to forums. From mums forums, parenting forums, women’s forums and relationship and sex forums — all of them are flooded with people crying out for positive information about relationship and sexual subjects. I often found the responses to these from other forum users – often contradicting each other – frequently brought anxiety and stress to the original poster.

What I garnered from my research is that people wanted long term support and guidance through a range of relationship and sex subjects available to access whenever they wanted.

I know that there are many different types of relationships and I believe along with that everybody’s relationship is unique, like a fingerprint of intimacy. And while many places provide great advice templates to help introduce new things or solve issues, there seems to be a miscorrelation between that template and how people go about implementing it into their situation.

“Love never dies a natural death. It dies because we don’t know how to replenish its source. It dies of blindness and errors and  betrayals. It dies of illness and wounds;  it dies of weariness, of witherings, of tarnishings.”

~Anaïs Nin

Chris Bowness Newsletter logoUnity.1

KD: Could you explain to our readers what you see as the difference between a sex therapist and a mentor?

Chris: In searching for my place within the relationship and sex support area I realised just how many facets there were to it. There were not just therapists but also coaches and teachers who provided lessons in things like tantric sex or BDSM but also many more being areas being created. Only recently I read about learning intimacy through a sex surrogate. The counseling end of the spectrum felt like the last chance critical point of the relationship. As someone put it to me, ‘how could I go to a therapist and pay all that money just to find out how I can give my husband a good spanking!’

However, none of them really felt like they fitted for me. I generally have an issue over labels and stereotyping, anyway. I want to provide a more humanistic personal one-to-one approach almost a one stop shop for sex and relationship advice, providing on-going support or giving information that could be useful at the time or help prevent future problems — an MOT for relationships if you will. I wanted to provide a more humanistic personal one-to-one approach towards not just support and advice for problematic things but also the fun things people want to work on too.

It was then in an unrelated way I came across the definition of mentoring, and over time I have developed my own definition for relationship and sex mentoring:

“Mentoring is about a relationship approach to providing an ongoing and sustained level of knowledge and support in relation to improving the recipient’s personal, relationship or sexual development; through various forms of informal communication most usually – but not limited to – face-to-face; as well as providing answers to occasional questions and ad hoc help. It also goes deeper to providing a long-term relationship of learning, support, advice, dialogue and challenge.”

There is often an idea based around knowledge and development, about the planting of seeds. I also believe when it comes to relationship and sex development the ground you plant those seeds in has to be ready, prepared and happy to receive such seeds. I have often found that planting seeds by the positive promotion of sex and relationships messages is enough to make me available to those people who are quite often looking for help.

KD: What role did reviewing sex toys play in the journey you’ve made to mentoring?

Chris: We chanced upon a call in a now defunked  magazine asking for couples to review a range of adult products for a regular feature. When the opportunity fell through we started to email adult retailers looking for an opportunity to review items in return for free products. Not only did this bring a lot of fun into our lives but it also allowed us to provide clear concise knowledge to others not only on what’s best to spend their hard earned cash on in the bedroom but also advice on how to introduce and have fun with these products.

In these modern times, in these post 50 Shades times, there are still limited places you can go and actually get your hands on sex toys, see them for yourself, what they really look like and feel like and what they do – don’t you think that’s strange?  This helps bring a positivity to sex by adding things which help explore pleasure. That allows us to help others choose such products.

Finally somebody took a chance on allowing us to dip our toes into the review pool of pleasure devices. Now we are regular guinea pigs for a couple of websites and the developers of sex toys and other adult products. This gave me the motivation to begin looking at how I could be a part of this fabulous industry. Hopefully we can dispel that myth that suggests the use of sex toys is out of boredom or a failing relationship and get people thinking that this kind of exploration can help create a long term, healthy, passionate relationship.

 

The Grand Tour of A Very Full Room

writing image 2Every year I mention my fascination with the last week of the year, and 2012 is no exception. The last week isn’t like the rest. It’s almost like there are actually fifty-one weeks in the year, then there’s the crowded room at the end, a place not unlike my grandmother’s living room was, all crowded full of the bits and pieces and memorabilia of eighty-three years of living.

The last week of the year is a mini version of that living room, a mental version, a room that everyone has in their head, no matter how expansive the previous fifty-one weeks have been, this final week is the tiny space into which we crowd everything that’s happened in the past year. Then we settle in to the one comfy chair in that room that isn’t avalanching with memories and emotions, and we reflect.

It’s that time again, the last day in our overly crowded room of 2012. We have to enjoy it now while we can because we only have until midnight on 31st December, and then we’ll have to leave this room, lock the door behind us, never to return, and walk into the brand new huge empty room of 2013.

IMG00329-20120523-0945I’d like to take you on a very brief tour of my crowded room because I’m taking one last inventory of Room 2012, and what a crowded room it is! Careful there, don’t trip over all the gardening tools, and can you just step over that bag of compost. Yep, this was the year we got the allotment, weeds, rickety blue garden shed, asparagus patch and all. Hey, yoohoo! I’m over here, squished in the corner behind the four novels, one novella and three short stories. Yep, that’s me! I know, I know, I look a bit tired. Well it has been one of the most challenging years ever, so that’s not terribly surprising. There’s somewhere in the neighbourhood of 450,000 words in all those pages! Oh and then there was all the blog posts, and you know me. I’m noted for being pretty wordy.

That’s it, that’s it, careful there, just squeeze past the telly and around the stack of old Metro Holly 9 July 2012newspapers. 2012 was the year I made my first ever national television appearance on channel 5 news, thanks to the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey and the wild popularity of the eBook reader. I almost didn’t get there after being sent to the wrong studio, then being stuffed into a cab to get across London in twenty minutes before show time. What an adventure that was! I also got to be on the radio with Phil Rickman. I love radio. It’s still titillates the imagination for me. And then there were newspapers! Wow, I had mug shots and everything! The Daily Express even sent a photographer and a make-up artist so they could capture the smutter in her natural environment.

Careful there, don’t knock over the pile of used train tickets and hotel receipts. It took me ages to get them stacked that neatly. 2012 was packed with readings and launches and adventures in London. And then there were the talks in the libraries in the Midlands! That was definitely one of the highlights of my writing year. The Initiation of Ms Holly was chosen by the wonderful Between the Sheets Project, as one of the top 30 erotica books to be included on the shelves in public libraries in the UK. Between the Sheets was a month-long celebration of erotica including a website and blog and talks by erotica writers in libraries around the UK. I felt like I was a part of history being made. And when Kay Jaybee and I went to speak in the Dudley area libraries near Birmingham, we were bowled over by the excitement and the enthusiasm for erotica and by the wonderful hospitality of the people from the Black Country.

This was the year I became another person. Everyone knows K D Grace writes very naughty erotica. But this was the year when I decided romance should come to the forefront, and Xcite agreed with me. That being the case, Grace Marshall made her debut with romance served hot, and the first course was An Executive Decision, book one of the Executive Decisions Trilogy, which was released in September and very well received, so well in fact that Xcite asked me to hurry on with the rest of the trilogy. That’s what I’ve been up to since the middle of October. The second book, Identity Crisis, has just been finished and is due to make its appearance early in 2013, and book three, The Exhibition, won’t be far behind.

ExecDecisions Banner1

This was the year we got our allotment. Yes I know, I mentioned that, but since you keep tripping over garden tools and you noticed the freezer full of our over-abundant runner bean harvest, I thought I’d bring it up again. The plot we were allotted in April was about four, maybe five times our entire back garden and it was well-grown with weeds. We still managed a lovely crop of sweet corn, cabbage, French and runner beans and courgettes. And there was asparagus!

IMG00466-20121101-1054I can’t recall a year that I’ve ever worked so hard, and even with all of the excitement and the adventure I’ve never had a year that I’ve suffered so much from self-doubt, some of that, I’m sure, came from the stress of writing four novels as two different authors in one year, plus a 40 thousand word novella. This was a year that tested me and stretched me in ways I could have never imagined at the beginning, when I first walked into this room of 2012, back when it was the empty room. Now, as I reflect, I’m amazed that one year could contain so very, very much, and there’s so much more I could share with you, but really, I’m looking forward to the tour of YOUR crowded 2012!

For me, sales are good and the response to my work has been overwhelmingly positive, and I’m already excited about the projects that are ahead of me. As I look back at this very full room of 2012, I feel like the luckiest woman on the planet.

I spend my days doing what I love most, writing stories. I spend my evenings and nights with a man who loves me and is very supportive of my work. I’m surrounded by wonderful colleagues and friends, who encourage me and empathise with me and share the excitement, and I live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. I already know some of the fun I can expect in 2013, and it will include at least two more novels; the third of The Executive Decisions novels and, at long last, a sequel to The Initiation of Ms Holly. There are also some schemes and plans I’m not quite ready to share yet, but I will definitely be crowing about them when the time comes. Oh yes, I’m going to have great fun filling the empty room of 2013. The key is already twitching in my hand!

Ultimately though, it doesn’t matter if we’re sitting reflecting on all that fills our individual 2012 room, or if we’re frantically trying to fill it still  December Sunset after first hard frostfuller; at midnight tonight, we’ll all take a deep breath, open the door and walk out into the empty room waiting for us in 2013. All we’ll take with us is our memories of the room we left and our hopes for how we’ll fill this bright new room that stretches promisingly before us. Some of us make New Years resolutions, some of us just plow in without a plan of action, but one thing is for certain, this time next year, if we live that long, we’ll be sitting in the full room again reflecting on how the experiences of 2013 have shaped us, anticipating how we’ll take the experiences into the next empty room.

My wish for you is that your reflections in your full room be good ones, satisfying ones. And at the stroke of midnight, that you will enter that bright new empty room with hope and joy and anticipation of how wonderfully you’ll fill it up.

 

Imagination in the Flesh

This past year has been insanely busy for me, and it’s not likely to let up much until the middle of next year. This is not a complaint. At the moment I have more to write than I have time for, and the deadlines that are already tight, I push and pare down to make even tighter so I can write even more. A friend of mine would have called this situation a golden monkey wrench. It’s an amazing place to be, but also quite terrifying. By the end of the year I will have written four full-length novels and a novella, and all of what I’ve written, I’m very proud of. What’s already published is doing well. All in all it’s been a banner year and, possibly, the hardest year of my life.

I live in my head most of the time, like most fiction writers do, and the writing schedule has kept me in my head more this year than ever before. Coming off the successful launch of Riding the Ether and Grace Marshall’s successful launch of An Executive Decision, and with the demand for the second novel in the Executive Decisions Trilogy ASAP, I’ve had to rethink my situation and find a way back into my body.

That probably sounds insane for someone who writes erotic romance, but I would bet I’m not the only one who has to fight the huge disconnect between the mental and the physical. Fiction doesn’t demand physicality. Whole worlds can be created and peopled without a writer ever leaving the comfort of her writing space. The place of the imagination is outrageously fertile and none of us will ever live long enough to explore it to its full depth. In essence, we can go there and never leave.

I’ve started going to the gym twice a week, even working with a personal trainer from time to time to force the issue. A big part of the reason for that is just to maintain my health. But it’s also to help prepare for the Wainwright Memorial walk, which will be the most challenging walk we’ve ever done. We planned to do it last May, but writing happened far more intensely than I had anticipated, so we postponed it for a year.

Every time I head off to the gym, my mind rebels with an endless list of reasons why I should stay home and work. There are deadlines, there are mountains of PR, there are readings, talks. How the hell can I waste my time sweating it out at the gym? But I go, and I sweat and I push myself for an hour. And strangely, the world changes.

I walked home along the canal a few days ago after a particularly hard work out (I think my personal trainer might be a bit of a sadistJ) The water of the canal was like glass. Only the wake of two mallards sliced through the mirror image of a clear sky with a double V that seemed to go on forever behind them. I was struck by how brilliant everything was, how clear everything seemed all of a sudden. I was struck by how much more physical, how much more real the world around me felt.

That day I managed seven thousand words on the novel, seven thousand good words. That day I thought a lot about that boundless place of imagination that stretches out in all directions inside every writer. I realise the less time I spend in my body, the more I confine myself to the tourist routes in my imagination. The less time I spend in my body, the less I’m able to head off track into the wild places, into the deep places where story take shapes and textures and tones I couldn’t have imagined if I hadn’t spent that time in the flesh, as it were. This is not something I didn’t know. This is something that’s always been central to my work and who I am, and yet, it’s amazingly easy to forget, to neglect, to overlook.

That same weekend we worked in the allotment, clearing weeds, digging, making things ready for spring planting. The smell of damp earth, the bronze and gold of the trees against the exhibitionist blue of the sky, the stoop and bend and press and shove of my body kept me in the moment, kept me in the flesh, kept me present from one breath to the next.

It isn’t always sex, thought it can be at times. It’s just being there, at home, in the flesh. It’s just knowing, even if I don’t understand why, that there is a connection between the blood and bone and flesh of me, between the way the physical me moves and breathes and interacts with the rest of what’s concrete, and with the vast realm of the imagination spread before me always new, always wild, always inviting. And never completely safe. The wildest places, the most dangerous places are off the beaten path of the imagination, and at least for me, those areas, those untouched, primordial areas are most accessable when I’m most in my body.

 

Pyritic Ammonites and Dino-Poo

Pyritic ammonites – I found the first one by accident. We were at Charmouth on the Jurassic Coast. We’d just had lunch at the Heritage Centre Café and crossed the bridge heading up the beach toward Golden Cap. The mountain of mud rose up above us on our left and the sea on our right. Raymond, in his goggles, with hammer in hand was ready to find the pterodactyl we were sure we’d find.

Instead, I found a tiny pyritic ammonite. At first I thought someone had lost a charm off an earring or a bracelet. The ammonite was shiny and metallic, but it was a fossil, no bigger than a five pence piece, and perfectly formed. Pyritic ammonites, Raymond told me, were formed when the shells of the ammonites were gradually replaced in the fossilization process with iron pyrite.

A very helpful gentleman walking his dog on the beech told us that we needed to look for

the black places in the sand. That’s where the mud had washed down with the last tide or last night’s rain. Raymond put the hammer away, took off the goggles and the ammonite hunt was on.Lesson number one: Look for the black wash-outs in the sand. That’s where the mud has washed out from the Jurassic mud mountain.

Lesson number two: Look for the dino-poo. Okay, it’s probably really ichthyo-poo, but you get the picture. We discovered that once we found the mud wash-outs, then the best places to look for the pyritic ammonites were the places where we found coprolites. Yep, that’s right, fossilized poo – which was also pyritic.

Why on earth am I telling you about dino-poo, you may wonder. Well because of the way the pieces fit together. You know, the pieces of any puzzle, what has to happen in order to see the whole picture. First we looked for the dark spots in the sand, then we looked for the fossilized poo. Then we found those exquisite, pendant perfect pyritic ammonites.

Somehow our eyes got used to finding the mud then the poo then pulling back just enough to see the delicate curved edges sparkling in the sand. It was sort of like playing the slot machines in Vegas, just one win could keep you going for ages. Just one little ammonite could totally focus our attention for however long it took until we found the next one lying round and perfect and bright amid the coprolites. And then we were off to look for the next one until the tide came in and we had to retreat, always shaking our heads, always thinking about all those loveley ammonites washing out to sea.

They were all tiny – every pyritic ammonite we found. A low-tide beach combing would net us less than a palm full and yet they were exquisite, perfectly formed, looking like they’d come from a jewelry store rather than just washed out of the mud with the fossilized poo.

I can’t stop thinking about it, treasure in strange places. Not just treasure, but ancient treasure, and we carried them back to our cottage in the palm of our hand, feeling the weight of them pressed like coins in a child’s clenched fist. Our week in Lyme Regis was amazing. There were so many good things; laughter and friend and writing and fish pie and good ale in local pubs, but it’s the pyritic ammonites I’ll remember most, and the delightful treasure hunt of finding them.

 

Mud Mountains and Jurassic Treasures

It’s a mountain of mud, Black Ven, constantly flowing and collapsing and being washed into the sea. It’s the largest mud slide in Europe. On one end, at a place called Church Cliffs, Mary Anning found her famous ichthyosaur fossil in 1811. It’s impossible to stand on the beach looking up at its towering black mass and not be a little bit weak-kneed.

Black Ven far left

The cool thing about Black Ven is that it’s not JUST a mountain of mud. Black Ven is a mountain of prehistoric mud, a mountain of mud filled with fossils. Raymond and I walk along the beach with the other fossil hunters beneath this intimidating wall of mud hoping we’ll get lucky and find something positively Jurassic.

Bright yellow signs warn fossil hunters to keep off the unstable mud cliffs, and even from a safe distance, occasionally we can feel the mud shifting beneath the sand and rock. Just a reminder that this is a landscape in flux.

We’re on holiday in Lyme Regis. We have our official goggles to protect our eyes from flying rock fragments, and we have our official hammers and chisels to create said flying fragments in search of the surprise in the middle. I keep my focus on the litter and debris under my feet, not just looking for fossilised treasure, but also to keep from falling on my butt.

Raymond’s beautiful Crinoid

The best find of the day is an exquisitely detailed crinoid Raymond finds while standing a little bit closer to the threatening mud mountain that I’m particularly comfortable with. But then after he finds it, I’m willing to risk a closer walk. A bloke from Brazil is there with his wife. He

The day’s treasures

points us to a right smorgasbord of belemnites closer. It’s like picking up small bits of pointed rock bullets, and the more we pick up, the more we want to pick up – even while we’re wondering what we’re going to do with a pocketful of belemnite bits.

A lot of the bigger rocks, the boulders too big to stick in our pockets and bring home are covered in trace fossils of

Ammonite in a boulder. Not Titanitus giganteus, but still very impressive.

ammonites. We take snapshots to remember how amazing they are, and we stand for a long time admiring their beauty and their size. While we eat our sandwiches looking out to the changeable sea, Raymond reads to me from the fossil book that some ammonites got to be two meters across. I’m stunned. He reads the name from the book –Titanites giganteus, which we both agree is a good name. Most died out before the Cretaceous, he adds.

As the tide begins to come in, we work our way back toward Lyme Regis and end up in the Pilot Boat Pub for a pint and some chips – our reward for the successes of the day. It’s supposed to rain tomorrow, and we’re told the worse the weather the more fossils wash out of Black Ven.

Now back home in our cottage, as we look over our stash and sip coffee, we talk about

Ammonite in boulder

what a perfect day it’s been, eagerly looking at other fossil hunters’ treasures and sharing our own, sifting through the rock that’s been washed from Black Ven by the sea and the rains, and experiencing the rush of finding bits of the ancient past before they wash out to sea and are lost forever. It was a good day. It’s supposed to rain tonight. Who knows what treasures will wash free from the prehistoric mud? Someday the whole mountain will wash into the sea, along with all of its secrets of the past. But as for today, we took home a few of those fabulously ancient secrets tucked away in the pockets of our walking trousers.

Some experiences have nothing to do with writing, and everything to do with widening and deepening my inner world so that I have something to write about. Finding Jurassic treasures that Black Ven has given up to the sea is one of those experiences.

 
© 2018 K D Grace
The Romance Reviews

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