I do love it when a book goes bonkers – and at the mo’, as you know, there’s a book of bonking going absolutely bonkers. I love it when a book rampages into the market selling gazillions because it means that the joy of reading is spreading like wildfire and people who don’t normally read are inspired to do just that. We saw it with Harry Potter and the Da Vinci code. And now, with Fifty Shades of Grey. HOWEVER, I’m a little disturbed (and I’m pretty unshockable). I made my point on BBC Radio London (27/6/2012 Vanessa Feltz show, last half hour).
I worry about the knock-on effect of the Fifty Shades phenomenon. Will the market be flooded with a hasty bandwagon of new books trying to out-smut each other? Will publishers be churning out porn even if it’s depraved and poorly written? But, more than the predictable quality issues, what truly worries me is the audience. When I was a teenager, we furtively passed around Sidney Sheldon and Harold Robbins – well-thumbed copies which fell open at certain pages, fulfilling our curiosity, fascinated and titillated by the sex scenes. But these were mainstream novels falling into the hands of sniggering teenagers. What we have with Fifty Shades is hardcore porn of the type traditionally secured by the top shelf, out of reach of those for whom it is NOT intended. Do we want teenagers aspiring not just to this kind of sex, but this kind of sadistic-masochistic relationship?
Interesting that Fifty Shades started off as an ebook – that people downloaded the book anonymously and kept it as their dirty little secret on their kindles. Such was the interest that only then was it published in traditional book format and it is now The Book that everyone wants to be seen reading. It’s been given credibility by a vast section of readers who would actually denounce porn. Is it because it’s written by a woman? If it was written by a man – would the same readers not be those who’d denounce it as misogynistic, who’d boycott it? If this book is truly about the emancipation of women and their right to express the darker side of their sexual proclivities, why is the female character the submissive? Where’s the girl power in that? S&M sex is one thing – but for the sadism to extend to a man demanding that a woman only eats salad and not put on weight is something else entirely – far more dangerous than any kinky shenanigans involving bondage or having a wee on each other.
As many of you know, my novels are fabulously raunchy – but the sex is never gratuitous, never a canny marketing ploy. Yes, sex sells – but I never use sex in my stories to shift copies. What happens between the sheets of my characters’ beds and the sheets of my books benefits the story – and, at heart, my stories are wholesome. I write feisty romps – essentially they’re girl-meets-boy tales complete with all the realistically squelchy rude bits that should be a part of all good relationships. Nothing to be ashamed of – sex is central to healthy relationships and good sex is great. I’d rather write – and read – about colourful sex which enhances life and love, than destructive sex in dull shades of grey.