Aotearotica: New journal explores Kiwi erotica

Borrowdale laughs a lot. She's got the self-awareness and intelligence to see the humour and awkwardness in her erotica work.
Iain McGregor

Borrowdale laughs a lot. She's got the self-awareness and intelligence to see the humour and awkwardness in her erotica work.

This is Laura Borrowdale's outing so to speak. From today, she's the Kiwi erotica woman. Google her and you'll see she's teacher and writer, and from today, greatly interested in sex.

Borrowdale is OK with this. She founded the journal Aotearotica​ – great name – to be the dedicated venue for mostly New Zealand erotic writing and art. She's worked day and night for no money to get the first volume published towards the end of August.

She's prepared to see her real name and photo spread throughout the land, the woman who publishes and celebrates literary sex. 

The first volume  –  a proper printed journal and not really a website – will have 80 pages of explicitness from 26 contributors. Eight are visual artists, including graphic novelists, and the rest fiction writers. The works are R18, not suitable for teens, and include much of the spectrum of human sexuality.   

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"I worry that we're not diverse enough ... I would like to have more ethnicities represented, more sexualities represented," she says. Perhaps those voices will come out for the second and subsequent volumes.

"Erotica is art," she says. "It's literature or art ... that's about sex but more about the sensual side of sex. It's perfect if it's exciting, but it's designed to appeal to the imagination."

"Erotica celebrates sex. Porn exploits it for the end result," she says.

"Erotica relies on readers to be part of the process, to use their imagination and to engage," she says. "With pornography, the reader or viewer is more passive. Everything is so explicit and laid out for them, they don't have to do any work. With erotica, the reader has to be an active part of it."

There's an old joke that "porn is what you like and erotica is what I like", says Borrowdale. "That worries me sometimes because this whole journal is what I like. As the editor, everything is selected because I liked it. What if I'm seeing it as erotica and everybody else is seeing it as pornography?" She laughs hard saying this. 

Borrowdale is a "staunch feminist" on a "moral crusade" to make sex a happy part of the world.
Iain McGregor/Fairfax NZ

Borrowdale is a "staunch feminist" on a "moral crusade" to make sex a happy part of the world.

She laughs a lot. She's got the self-awareness and intelligence to see the humour and awkwardness in this work. "I decided to make a place for people to write this stuff. It's been weirdly … empowering. I didn't think you could just do this. But it turns out you can," she says with delight. 

She got "$2887" in public money for Aotearotica, an amount so small and exact that you join her giggle at the ridiculousness of it. 

She's 33 years old, a Christchurch high school English and gender studies teacher. Born in England to South African parents, she was moved to Christchurch as a child and educated here. 

She's a parent of two young girls and has a male partner. It's not really the profile expected of an erotica editor, but the role is so rare that expectations are unformed.

There's a bigger, political point to Borrowdale and Aotearotica. She's a "staunch feminist" on a "moral crusade". Her main collaborator is Oliver Rabbett, a transgender graphic artist. 

"There are politics behind it, it's not just titillation. It contributes to something bigger," she says. 

"We see so many negative representations of sex, which is really a fundamental part of the human experience. It's really important. If sex, sexuality and gender go wrong, it can make you really unhappy. If it's going right, it makes you feel on top of the world."

"Porn has traditionally catered to a male audience [by] exploiting or fetishising women, minorities and ethnicities," she says. But there are other people who have sex, legitimately, and it's OK and proper to talk about and celebrate them and their choices, she says. 

She's after a "shift in culture". 

The Aotearotica logo.
Aotearotica

The Aotearotica logo.

"I've got two little girls," she says. "I want them to grow up where sex is a happy part of their world. It's not something that's confusing or distressing. It's something they can celebrate in their lives." 

Based on the first contributions, the search for uniquely Kiwi sex got a mixed result. A handful came from overseas writers and artists. The rest were New Zealanders but their "content is not uniquely Kiwi".

"Their voice is quite Kiwi," she says. "New Zealanders have quite a distinctive style, particularly in writing. There's a dry humour, kind of sardonic way of presenting things and that comes through."

"Erotica celebrates sex. Porn exploits it for the end result," says Borrowdale.
Iain McGregor

"Erotica celebrates sex. Porn exploits it for the end result," says Borrowdale.

But a "bedroom is a bedroom and a body a body," she says. She hopes the first volume will inspire more literature and art that has a uniquely New Zealand flavour, including Maori.

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Among the contributors are Lyttelton poets and Catalyst literary journal editors Doc Drumheller​ and Ciaran Fox. He's perhaps best known for the All Right mental health campaign.

Two graphic novelists are probably the best known contributors: Ant Sang has won awards for his graphic novels, The Dharma Punks and Shaolin Burning. He also did design work on the television show bro'Town. Dylan Horrocks' graphic novel, Hicksville​ received an Eisner Award, an off-shoot of the San Diego Comic-Con.

Cover art of Aotearotica, Volume 1.
Aotearotica

Cover art of Aotearotica, Volume 1.

And yes, one of the stories is by Borrowdale herself. Last summer, she schemed to make money writing about sex. "But it turns out I was terrible at it. I was constructing these pieces that were about sex and sexuality ... but it wasn't explicit enough".

She realised it was erotica and could find no NZ journal or outlet that would publish it. Aotearotica was born in that moment. She debated if including her own work was self indulgent, but decided it was the yarn that "kicked off Aotearotica, so it's included".

That story isn't autobiographical, however. Nor is it her fantasy in print. "The thing about erotica, as with any writing, is that you can't ever assume something is about the writer," she says. It's fiction, or largely so.

But as she says, "If you are writing erotica and it doesn't turn you on, why are you writing it? If it doesn't work for you, how can you assume it will work for somebody else?"

Three Aotearotica contributors, including Borrowdale, will read erotica during WORD Christchurch, the 2016 Writers and Readers Festival. New Regent St Pop-Up, Thursday, August 25, from 6pm. Free. Copies of the journal will be available at some WORD events and at aotearotica.nz, $20. 

 

 

 - Stuff

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