British author’s ‘mommy porn’ becomes US bestseller
With her debut novel at the top of the New York Times bestseller list and the subject of a bidding war over film rights, EL James is suddenly the toast of US literary circles, where she is credited with introducing “graphic, heavy-breathing erotica” to a mass of female readers never previously likely to have turned to the genre.
Yet at home in Britain, where she left her job as a TV production executive in January to concentrate full-time on her writing career, the mother of two still remains a virtual unknown.
It’s a state of affairs that’s unlikely to last for long, however, with plans for a British edition of the book and what James’ agent describes as an ongoing “bombardment” of interest from US film studios vying for the rights to her novel, the tale of a submissive-dominant relationship between a shy female college student and a successful male entrepreneur.
James, who lives in west London and is remaining coy for now about her full name, is leaving interviews for now to her agent, Valerie Hoskins, who said that the success of the book was due in large part to it simply being a “gripping read”.
“In many ways it’s a classic romance. It’s beauty and the beast, a wish-fulfilment story, and of course there are significant erotic passages in the relationship between the two principal characters, which I think is unique in mainstream commercial fiction,” said Hoskins, who also highlighted the way in which Kindles and iPads have brought a degree of anonymity for readers who would in the past have balked at being seen fingering a book identifiable as erotic fiction.
“It is benefiting from word of mouth among women who may previously have bought erotic fiction, and of course nobody can see what you are reading on your screen. A Kindle or an iPad looks like everyone else’s.”
“There is definitely a viral factor about it among groups of women who are talking about it where they meet at school runs, playgrounds, the hairdressers, exercise class.”
Proof that momentum is behind James came with her topping the New York Times bestseller list for combined print and ebook fiction for the week ending 3 March, ahead of names such as Jodi Picoult and Stieg Larsson.
Fifty Shades of Grey, the first in a planned trilogy that will continue with Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed, has been published by a small virtual publishing house called the Writer’s Coffee House, based in Australia. The book â€“ which has been described in some quarters as “mommy porn” â€“ started life as a “fan fiction” story that was posted online about the lead characters in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series.
Ebook downloads have discreetly driven much of the sales â€“ accounting for more than 250,000 copies of all three books â€“ while new ebook editions of the trilogy are expected to be released on Monday by Vintage Books, who emerged as the victor following a bidding war and reportedly parting with a seven-figure sum.
“We’re making a statement that this is bigger than one genre,” the New York Times quoted Anne Messitte, the publisher of Vintage Anchor, as saying.
“The people who are reading this are not only people who read romance. It’s gone much broader than that.”
The newspaper quoted one reader, who insisted on anonymity so that she would not embarrass her employer, as saying said the book had gained “an obsessive following among her friends, the first erotic novel they have ever discussed”.
“Women just feel like it’s OK to read it,” she added. “It’s taboo for women to admit that they watch pornography, but for some reason it’s OK to admit that they’re reading this book.”
James said in a statement: “I’ve heard from so many readers trying to find these books in their local bookshops and libraries.
“It is gratifying to know that they will soon become widely available in the US and around the world.”
Elsewhere, Fifty Shades of Grey is said to have had an unexpected knockon in the world of New York fashion retail, with fans seeking out grey ties, an item of clothing that features prominently in the novel.
“Hundreds of women write to me every day asking where they can buy grey ties,” said Lyss Stern of Divamoms.com, who was an early admirer of the novel and encouraged others to read it.
“The books are really making people want to have sex again. They’re a Band-Aid for marriages that maybe weren’t falling apart, but were getting stale.”