Ashley Lister

Meeting Readers

by Ashley Lister

Last month I went to a horror convention. As some of you may have noticed, my focus recently has been on the genre of horror rather than erotica. (Admittedly, there are some people who argue that there’s little difference between horror and erotica with my interpretation of a sex scene – but that’s an argument for a different day). I went to the horror convention with the sole purpose of selling horror books.

But, instead of simply selling books, I ended up doing more than that. I was with a colleague who taught me how to sell things. I managed to sell more than a month’s worth of product in a single day. And I had the pleasure of meeting readers.

In our market-focused world of selling through Amazon, we’re told to make sure that we’re pitching to an online audience so they can click and collect without moving from away their desktop PC. And, whilst this is good for some sales, the sheer pleasure of meeting readers, and then exchanging books for cash, is undeniable.

Early in the day someone approached my stall and asked me about one of the books I was displaying. “What’s this about?” they asked.

And, because that’s not something I’ve ever heard anyone ask about one of my books before, I was stumped for an answer. I fell back into writer mode (hiding behind the keyboard and ready to be defensive) and thought of telling them to read the blurb. Then I thought of reading the blurb to them. I was genuinely a rabbit in the headlights.

My colleague stepped in and had the charm of a natural salesman.

“What’s this one about?” he asked, grinning, and holding up a copy of my novel Conversations with Dead Serial Killers. “I see you’re wearing a Dahmer shirt,” he observed. “That means you’re going to love this one. The research that’s gone into this title, and the way it’s presented is outstanding. It’s the story of two brothers, one of whom is obsessed with serial killers, whilst the other makes his living by being a fake psychic. When the fake psychic meets a genuine ghost, the ghost of someone who’s been killed by a serial killer, the story really starts to develop…”

He went on but, by this point, even though I’d written the fucking thing, I was wanting to buy a copy of this book because he’d made it sound good. His sales pitch led to the first sale of the day and, whilst I’m not particularly bright or gifted, I could see how his approach to selling, by using the skills of a storyteller, were going to help.

As I say, it turned into a successful day with lots of sales and lots of new readers. A further upside to this has been a plethora of fresh reviews, an increase in subscribers to my newsletter, and some very nice messages from people on FaceBook who have now found my writing and wanted to thank me for the story I told.

All of which is my way of saying, if you get a chance to sell your work in a face-to-face environment, snatch that opportunity with both hands.


5 Lessons I wish I’d Learnt Earlier in my Writing Career

by Ashley Lister

1 A story is all about the reader experience.
We’re often told that we should write the story that we want to tell, and I agree with this. But we should also be writing the story that our readers want to read. We should be conscious of the reader experience throughout the process and ensure the reader is taken on a journey where we regulate the pace, the description, the action and the exposition. If the finished product doesn’t work as a satisfying reader experience, then it just doesn’t work.

2 Genre snobs are lowlife scum
Anyone who dismisses a genre of fiction as being inferior is a person whose opinion is not to be heeded. Whether a story is a Booker Prize winner, or the latest indie package of dinosaur erotica: if it’s meeting the needs of its intended audience, it is a valuable contribution to the canon of literature. And anyone who says otherwise clearly lacks the impartial judgement to be trusted.

3 A typo doesn’t make a person stupid
We all know the difference between ‘their, there and they’re’. We all know the difference between ‘to’, ‘too’ and ‘two’. But mistakes occasionally happen. When we’re sending text messages or updating social media statuses, a combination of fat thumbs, small keypads and the urgency to share a message can result in human errors, or autocorrected mistakes. This doesn’t make the writer stupid: it makes them human. Recognising that a person’s intellect is not defined by the occasional errors they put on the page allows us to accept the failings in others, just as they can except our occasional failings.

4 Authors don’t have to be skilled at every aspect of writing, from typesetting to performing poetry live on stage.
Contemporary media has made it look as though a writer should be able to produce publishable copy with the first draft, do book readings, promote, market and generally stay on top of merchandising opportunities and negotiate film rights and screenplay amendments.

We’re all writers with different strengths and different weaknesses. I’ve spoken with authors I revere who turn to jelly at the thought of reading work to an audience. I’ve worked with authors who think marketing begins and ends with an update about a book’s release on Twitter or FaceBook.

Personally, I’m confident in a lot of these roles but I’m now learning to admit that there are some areas where I need professional help, and some areas where I just need to outsource the work to a more competent individual with specialist skills.

5 Don’t hit publish on anything less than your best.
Every story you write is going to stay out there a lot longer than you. The good ones will be pointed at for years to come by people who will support you and praise your work. And the thin stories with shallow characters and a lack of narrative credibility will continue to bite you in the arse for a long time. Before you set the gears of publishing in motion, before you press that final button: take some time to have a final read through the completed work, make sure the story is doing everything you wanted and try to decide if you will still be proud of this piece in a year’s time.


by Ashley Lister

My father was a music hall comedian. I’m not saying his material was bad but, on the night variety died, his act was held for questioning.

Actually, that’s unfair.

He was very good at making people laugh. I remember his last words to me. “Don’t turn the machine off. Please. Please, for the love of God. I’m sure I’ll recover. I don’t want to die.” How we all chuckled.

But I’m not sure if it’s because of father’s influence that I’ve developed my lifelong passion for humour.

In poetry, the form most commonly associated with humour is the limerick. This is a format with which we’re all familiar. The limerick manages to combine vulgar humour with something that’s often sexual in nature. To illustrate:

There was a young fellow named Dave
Who took a dead whore from her grave.
He said, “It’s disgusting,
But she only needs dusting
And think of the money I’ll save.


There once was a man from Madras
Whose balls were both made out of brass
In stormy weather
They’d both clang together
And sparks would fly out of his ass!

The limerick, as I’ve probably mentioned before, has a rhyme scheme of aabba. It’s supposed to consist of anapaestic feet (that is, with two short beats followed by a third, longer beat) and the ‘a’ rhymes have three feet, whilst the ‘b’ rhymes have only two. However, to put it in more simplified terms that allow for the lack of formality in this form, the ‘a’ rhymes should have roughly eight or nine syllables and the ‘b’ rhymes should have five or six. Below is a final example.

There was a young woman from Leeds
Who swallowed a packet of seeds
With half an hour
Her arse grew a flower
And her clunge was a bundle of weeds

Now it’s your turn. Please share a limerick in the comments box below.

Five Essentials Every Writer Needs

by Ashley Lister

This is a list of the five things that I think every writer needs to have in order to start working as a creator of fiction.

1. Post Cards
I use post cards for every project. Most typically these are for brief character descriptions, so I’m not skimming backwards and forwards through a MS to recall eye colour, hair colour or other important body details. It’s only a small thing but, without them, I’d lose hours to searching for this information and there’s a strong chance I’d lose the thread of what I was saying.

2. A Things-To-Do List
A list of all those things you need to do is essential for everyone (not just writers). Start the morning by deciding what you’d like to accomplish by the end of the day, write all of those things down, and then tick each one off after it’s achieved. These lists can be expanded to include weekly goals, monthly goals, or even annual goals. My current TTD List includes the directive to write a chapter on the current WIP, record a chapter of a forthcoming audiobook, and update information for a newsletter.

3. An Online Presence
Admittedly, FaceBook is a time vampire. Twitter is a seething pit of potential depression that can drag a low mood into the pits of hell. And no one knows what the fuck is happening on Tik-Tok. But an online presence is useful for every writer for two reasons.
Primarily, it gives a writer access to readers: an opportunity to tell them about new ventures and other ways for readers to experience the writer’s work.
Secondly, it allows a writer to meet colleagues, share ideas, learn about new markets, find consolation and support and generally feel like a professional in a professional environment.

4. An Exercise Regime
Writing is not the most physical of occupations. My FitBit is programmed to remind me if I’ve not walked 250 steps in an hour so, when the alarm sounds, I get off my backside and make some movement. Because writing is a sedentary occupation I try to get to the gym each morning before the start of the day and (weather permitting) I’ll take the dogs for a walk at some point during the day so my muscles don’t get a chance to atrophy. This isn’t my way of bragging about my physical condition: it’s my way of saying it’s important for writers to take care of their physical well-being as well as their mental well-being.

5. A Notebook
Paper notebooks are very useful. I’ve got dozens of the things scattered around my house filled with observations, ideas, notes and other important details. I also use the notebook apps on my phone to make reminders about things such as plot points, ideas for poems, details I need to include in a story etc.

Have I missed anything? If you think I need to add something to this list, I’d love to see it in the comments below.

How you doin’?

by Ashley Lister

It’s that time of year when my students are graduating and receiving their degrees. It’s a time of mixed emotions for me as I’ve known some of these folk for more than three years and, as they move onto bigger and better things, it might be the last time I see them. I’m particularly proud of the current cohort as these brave educational adventurers managed to achieve their success during the restrictions of Covid – and that can’t have been easy.

But, instead of viewing this as a sad time, we rightly choose to see it as a cause for celebration. It’s a time to celebrate the accumulated results from all the hard work and study and it’s a chance to look forward to the bright future that’s awaiting each graduate.

Which is what I’d like to do on this post. I’m not going to spend the remainder of this post bragging about my personal achievements (other than to mention I’ve published a book of my incredibly rude poetry and recorded an audiobook version of that title).

What I’m more interested in is: what have YOU been doing over the past couple of years that is worthy of celebration? And yes, dear reader, I’m talking directly to YOU.

Please shout about your reasons to celebrate in the comments box below, share links to your work if that’s possible, and give us all a chance to congratulate you for your success.

Things That Get My Back-Up

On the third of June I was sat in front of my PC, wrestling with edits from a recently completed chapter. The document itself was roughly 23,000 words of a developing idea: a WIP I’m currently calling Seagulls from Hell.

The seagulls in my story had just been getting frisky. They’d done something that only the naughtiest seagulls in the world would be likely to do. And I felt as though the story was progressing in exactly the right direction.


The screen died, as did every other electronic device in the house. The silence was sudden, eerie and inescapable. “Powercut,” I muttered. I smiled because I didn’t know those were still a thing. Deciding I was probably wrong I checked the fuse box to see if the safety switch had been activated.

A neighbour came to tell me his daughter had been on the phone to the electricity company and they expected to have the power back up by 9.00pm. I glanced at my PC monitor to see what the time was then, and realised the PC monitor wasn’t working because of the powercut.

It transpired I had two hours so I elected to use that time wisely. My desk had been buried under a mountain of paperwork whilst I went through the process of marking dissertations and exam scripts. I figured it was time to give the office a little TLC. I finished the desk swiftly, cleaned a couple of windows, put away some laundry that had been waiting on me and then read a paperback.
The lights came back on without any ceremony and I sighed with a little relief, switched my PC on and tried to remember where I’d been up to with my Seagulls from Hell.

An error box appeared claiming I was trying access unreadable content. I thought, if this is a criticism of my writing style, Microsoft Word have suddenly become brutal and more than a little hurtful. The error box gave me options to try and, like the well-trained Pavlovian rat that I am, I installed devices that were guaranteed to open my unreadable file and patiently tried each one.
I’m exaggerating a little when I use the word ‘patiently’. The truth is there was a lead weight in my stomach and the idea that I’d lost 23,000 words was making me sweat like a priest in a playground. None of the software downloads worked and, with rising desperation I tried one new fresh alternative after another. When I finally managed to get the corrupted document open the contents were nothing but hieroglyphics and gibberish.

It’s no exaggeration to say I was on the verge of tears.

By a strange coincidence, a pop-up box on my laptop asked me for feedback, wanting to know how likely I would be to recommend Word for Windows. My response was: “Since Word for Windows has just crashed and lost 23,000 words of a story I was writing, I think it’s highly unlikely that I’d recommend this product to someone unless I hate their f***ing guts.”

Then my wife came to the rescue. She was calm, patient and just what I needed. I had no backups of Seagulls from Hell. With it being stored on a cloud, I wasn’t even sure I had a copy of the damned file. But she went to the corrupt file and managed to go through the version history. By the time she’d finished her magical computer shenanigans, I was looking at all 23,000 words of my original story. I was still on the verge of tears, but this time they were tears of relief.

And I mention this as a cautionary tale for any writers who are reading this. To be safe, and not have to worry that you’re going to lose a huge chunk of valuable data, you’ve got two options: either regularly back up, or marry someone f***ing awesome like my wife, Tracy.

A Cup of Tea and A Slice of Cake

by Ashley Lister

“I’d rather have a cup of tea and a slice of cake than do all of that sweaty stuff.”

It was a comment that really pissed me off. And you can tell that I’m really pissed off because I don’t usually end sentences with prepositions.

I don’t mind constructive criticism. For example, being told that characters in a novel I’ve created are unlikeable is often justified: sometimes I write about people who are unlikeable. When someone told me they didn’t like an abrupt ending to one of my stories, I fully agreed. A longer ending would have been more satisfying. Admittedly, it would have involved padding and made the pacing drag, but it would have kept the characters alive for a little longer and that would have been a good thing.

But this comment, the comment about someone preferring a cup of tea and a slice of cake to ‘all of that sweaty stuff’ was fired at me as a direct challenge.
It happened because a colleague had been looking at Amazon and they’d seen my back catalogue (that’s not a euphemism). The colleague had mentioned it to someone else who cast a disdainful eye over the titles and then fixed me with their comment: “I’d rather have a cup of tea and a slice of cake than do all of that sweaty stuff.”

Fine. If you prefer anodyne beverages and pastries to physical intimacy, then you’re perfectly free to make those choices. This is what free will means. Also, if you’re psyche is so severely fucking damaged that you refer to physical intimacy as ‘all of that sweaty stuff’ then, may I suggest, you have that slice of cake and cup of tea at a psychiatrist’s office whilst he discusses your innumerable problems and (hopefully) prescribes euthanasia?

The reason why it annoyed me was because there was so much unnecessary judgement in the comment. It was almost as though, because I’d written extensively on the subject, this person thought I was challenging their opinion on sex and sexuality.

The truth is, I’m a relatively private person. I’ve written several erotic titles and, if you enjoy reading erotica, I think you’ll like my work. However, for those who don’t enjoy erotica, I’m fairly sure they won’t enjoy my back catalogue and I won’t try to force my work on those individuals.

But, whilst I’m not going to push my work on people who don’t want to read it, I don’t have to listen to asinine quips from people who describe sex as ‘all of that sweaty stuff’. And, if someone genuinely prefers tea and cake to physical intimacy, I don’t think their opinion on erotica is worthy of note.

A Writing Exercise

The following writing exercise is taken from my book: How to Write Short Stories and Get Them Published.


One way to create new and unusual ideas is to write a sentence where each subsequent word begins with the next letter of the alphabet. For instance:

“All big children,” Donald explains, “find great happiness in jumpsuits. Kids like making new outfits popular.”

Quentin recoiled, surprised this uncommon view was…

Admittedly, this makes little sense. But it’s already inspiring me to think about the importance of clothes within the fiction I create. My mind is currently torn between ideas of researching sumptuary laws, and a discussion I had with a student who claimed he was the victim of ‘tracksuit racism’. Perhaps my thoughts might find a way of combining these two ideas.

For those who find it too easy to compile a sentence in alphabetical order, try to continue the sentence (or sentences) by returning to the start of the alphabet and continuing.

A boy child, Derek, encountered fossilised golden Hadrosauruses in Jane’s kitchen. Like many nerds, only practising quantitative rational study, to unequivocally verify wild xenolithic (yellowing) zoological anomalies, brainy clever-clogs Derek expected fame…

Again, I have no idea where this might be going, or where it came from. However, the idea of writing something about palaeontology and the excavation (or reanimation, or revisitation) of dinosaurs is now exciting me. Also, the idea of excavating a dinosaur’s fossilised remains from a kitchen strikes me as something whimsical and potentially workable in a piece of fiction.

A variation on this exercise is to take any single letter of the alphabet and see how long you can continue to write a sentence that makes some level of sense.

The Austrian-American author Walter Abish used this form of constrained-writing exercise to produce the novel Alphabetical Africa. The conceit behind Abish’s novel is that the first chapter contains only words beginning with the letter ‘a’. The second chapter contains only words beginning with ‘a’ or ‘b’ and this trend continues through the first twenty-six chapters of the novel. In the second half of the novel (there are fifty-two chapters in total) words beginning with the letter ‘z’ disappear in Chapter 27, and there are no words beginning with the letter ‘y’ in Chapter 28, etc.

To illustrate this with my own writing, below is an alliterative sentence which I’ve begun with the letter ‘m’.

Mondays make most men (mainly manly, muscular, macho-men) miserable. Maybe Monday-morning mating might make more men merry? Mayhap midday martinis might make Mondays more manageable? Meh! Most Mondays might maintain misery, making millions melancholic.

I’ll be honest and admit I have no idea where this is going (or where it came from). However, on a level of inspiration, I’m already thinking that I need to produce a piece of poetry that uses excessive alliteration for comic effect. The repetition of that ‘m’ sound is so obvious when this is read aloud it comes close to making the whole piece unintelligible.

I also think there’s something very relatable about miserable Monday mornings. Perhaps, as a way of introducing a character in a piece of fiction, I might introduce him or her trying to put on a brave face and cope with the Monday morning blues. Conversely, I might write a story where the villain is someone who smiles and acts obscenely cheerful on Monday morning.

Write an alphabetical sentence. Go on for as long as possible (keeping in mind that the letters X,Y and Z don’t make this exercise easy). If the challenge is not too demanding, work backwards once you’ve completed a sentence.

Alternatively, select a letter of the alphabet at random and see how long you can continue a sentence (or string of sentences) using only words that begin with that letter.

Exercises such as these can sometimes yield fresh and surprising concepts or descriptions. Whatever ideas they inspire, make sure you record them in your notebook so that they can be utilised later.

How to Write Short Stories and Get Them Published is available through all major suppliers.

Writing Companion

By Ashley Lister

 Because of my job, I often end up talking about the benefits of being a writer. I can wax lyrical for days about the joys of making my own hours, sharing my stories with those who want to be entertained, or simply losing myself in my own imagination. But one of the main blessings to my mind is that I get to spend time with this furry bastard.

 This is Oswald. Oswald is a mix-breed, half chihuahua and half Yorkshire terrier. We refer to him as a Chorkie. He’s also disturbingly intelligent. We taught him to swap things he finds for treats. The reasoning was, rather than him picking up potentially dangerous detritus and consuming it, he would give his findings to us, and we can then exchange whatever he’s got for a harmless piece of kibble.

 Oswald took advantage of this quite swiftly. He went scouting around the house for anything that looked like it might be worth exchanging. Socks, receipts found in pockets, envelopes that had been left on desks, general household litter. Once he’d asset-stripped the house he then went outside and swapped half the gravel from the rear of the building for kibble. After that he moved onto leaves, twigs and dead-headed rose hips. He retrieved them from outside, took them to the treat station in the kitchen, and insisted on being paid for his findings at the current kibble exchange-rate.

 But his genius didn’t stop there.

 Whilst my son was visiting we had closed the lounge door so Oswald wasn’t able to get into the room unsupervised. (My son had left a bag in there and Oswald would have been through it like a villain in a heist movie). Oswald kicked and kicked at the door but we ignored him and told him that he wasn’t going into the lounge.

 Oswald went and found a twig. Instead of taking it to the treat station, where he had performed his previous transactions, he dropped the twig at the lounge door and stared up at my son as if to tell him that he would trade this piece of contraband for access to the forbidden room.

 To most people this will sound like the ramblings of a dog-owner anthropomorphising a pet and imbuing causation and correlation where there is only coincidence. But for me, as someone who gets to spend so much time at home, seeing this remarkable behaviour is one of the added benefits of being a writer.

The Bleeding Keyboard

By Ashley Lister

Hemingway is reported to have said, “Writing is easy. All you do is sit down in front of a typewriter and bleed.” It’s because of this quote that I’ve called my current project ‘The Bleeding Keyboard’.

As some of you already know: I lecture in creative writing. One of the things I want to give to my students is the full experience of hearing from a range of writers. I believe I can impart a substantial amount of wisdom, but I also know that I’m limited to the writing experience of one person. If I can expose my students to the voices of other writers, they might find familiarity, comfort or confirmation from a voice or style that I was unable to convey.

Which is why I’m currently interviewing a range of writers, from a wide selection of genres, to get their views on certain aspects of fiction – an action which follows on from Tim Smith’s excellent piece last month.

If there are any writers reading this, and you wouldn’t mind chatting with me for half an hour, then please get in touch and we’ll organise an interview. I’m asking a range of questions but one that I think is important to ask of every writer is the following:

What piece of writing advice would you give to anyone just starting out?

I’m looking forward to hearing the answers on this one. I’ve already spoken with writers who advocate perseverance and self-belief, but I’ve also spoken with those who insist a sound knowledge of story, genre and the craft of writing are essential. Admittedly, there was Dorothy Parker’s advice whish said, “If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favour you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”

My own response to this would be similar to the idea of self-belief, but I think it needs to be shaped into something more specific. It’s not enough to believe in ourselves as writers: we also need to have a firm conviction that the story we’re telling is worthy of being told. Don’t waste time writing fiction that doesn’t excite or interest you. Write stories that inspire, arouse or thrill. Write stories you’re proud to have associated with your name.

But that’s just my response to this question. Asking all the writers who read this blog post, I’d love to know: what piece of writing advice would you give to anyone just starting out?

Answers in the comments box below, please.


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Hot Chilli Erotica


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