Penny Pepper 'Desires Reborn' - Book review by G Hall

Female Arts review ebook Desires Reborn by writer Penny Pepper. As the London Paralympics ended in a blaze of glory, Penny prised open the long-closed door to disabled people’s relationships, in her explicit collection of short stories, available in all ebook formats, including Amazon for Kindle, and iTunes for iPad, iPod touch and iPhones.

Says author Penny Pepper: ‘I wrote the stories ten years ago. But people continue to ask about our relationships and our sex lives. It remains a deep taboo.’

The stories feature a wide range of characters and situations, yet, as Penny points out, ‘Disability is a universal experience and within that is the need to be desired and loved – to explore sexual pleasure – as with all human beings. It is as the core of who we all are.’

Penny has also written a cheeky exclusive story 'Bound and Devoted' to commemorate the Paralympics, when the world has focused on disabled athletes and disabled people in general.

Penny, a writer and performer from Islington, London, brings her provocative voice to a wider audience with this release. A wheelchair-user since childhood, Penny is a respected writer and performer for over ten years on the UK’s Disability Arts sector – deemed the most vibrant in the world. She is well-known across the spoken word scene and has taken work to New York, the Edinburgh Fringe, Trafalgar Square, London and throughout the UK.

Penny leads an extraordinary and dramatic life, not merely because she is disabled. Punk claimed her at an earlier age, and in the 90s her own band Spiral Sky made no 2 in the Italian Indie charts. For the print copy of ‘Desires’, Penny went through the roller-coaster experience of working with Tony Cowell, brother of Simon Cowell of X Factor fame. Winning an ‘Erotic Oscar’, nude modelling and burlesque performing are a few of the other roles she has found herself in as she strives to breakdown barriers and discrimination.

Penny’s hope is for Desires Reborn to reach a larger readership from the global focus on the elite Paralympians. ‘We need the attention to stay after the games. Ordinary disabled people are facing tough times with many unfair attacks on their basic freedoms. These stories are in essence the political made personal. I hope Desires Reborn can play a role in reminding people that hard-won rights are crucial and must remain if we are to live fully and with some contentment.’ She laughs. ‘At least, the point is, we should have the freedom to fail, to be miserable, to experience loss – as much as anyone.’

To encourage people to think, to question, to value difference and disability, bringing it back to the heart of a diverse society in a three-dimensional, full-bodied, and perhaps surprising way, is the passion that drives her as a writer. ‘I like examining what is in the shadow, what is not acknowledged. And our stories are unique because they have not yet been truly told,’ she says. ‘But we have to break away from the stereotyping – which is not of our own choosing. I aim to show that outside of labels - we feel and love, we hate, we yearn - and we desire.’

Female Arts Review

Desire's Reborn is an excellent collection of eight short stories by Penny Pepper; each one exploring a different aspect of sexual awakening and adventure.

Penny places each of her believable main characters in different settings and situations, and is highly skilled at revealing their longings, motivations and emotions. She at once demystifies the lives of each, whilst highlighting their deeper qualities, and creating erotic drama.

I found the pace and drama of each story pretty much spot on. Penny Pepper's capacity for observation struck me: I felt I was looking out through her character's eyes, and identifying with their feelings and preoccupations.

In these intense and charged stories, Penny Pepper revealed aspects of a world familiar in terms of desire and fulfilment, without losing too much of the mystery.

Each story is full of the assumptions and misunderstandings of individuals, governments, institutions and wider society, about issues of disability, sex and gender. You feel her character's reaction to these; responses ranging from frustration and anger, through to resignation and acceptance.

'Girls Wank Too' is the story of Tracey and Vanessa two pubescent girls living in a physiotherapy ward who undergo a journey of self-discovery which becomes a subversive and liberating act.

Auntie Jean in ‘Postcards for Jean’ lives a sedentary life, appreciating small things so often overlooked. Although trapped, she has a good relationship with her niece, who neither patronises or belittles her. An especially touching moment for me was when her 'companion' dies and Jean re-examines her life. At the same time, another event reawakens her desire and curiosity, and potentially sets her on a new course.

Richard in ‘Fooling for Charlie’ longs for pert breasted Charlie but hesitates over what he wants when he is overwhelmed by relationship complications.

'Bound and Devoted' reconfigures poolside desires to even greater erotic effect in the exploratory relationship between Bethany and Adrian against the backdrop of the London 2012 Olympics.

In conclusion, it is so easy to go wrong with any kind of erotic fiction. To lapse into formula and cliche. However, Penny Pepper not only creates sexual energy, she also reveals real people.

G Hall for © Female Arts 2012

Links to Desires Reborn:
Amazon – for Kindle, £3.99
Itunes – for all Apple devices including Ipod and Ipad - £3.99
Kobo £3.98

Link to Penny Pepper on BBC Radio 4 - Four Thought

Penny in recent BBC featurePunks of ‘77 feature:

Penny Pepper website:

Author's review: