Fifty Tangents

Illustration for my Story (in For Women/Ludus) Partners In Flight – where, essentially, a lawyer has a mile high fling with her boss…

I find this whole Fifty Shades of Grey thing very funny. It apparently began life as a Twilight fanfic piece. I’m not a particularly jealous author. Well, no more than any other. (I’m writing something quite different and, I hope, it’s written as well as I can do), though, of course, it would be amazing to get the kind of sales E. L. James is currently achieving.

I simply find the raving popularity of Fifty Shades (and the actual writing, what I’ve seen of it) fantastically funny because, apart from the ludicrously terrible writing in FSOG, I know that magazines like Ludus and For Women – both were women’s top-shelf magazines – were publishing mine and others’ erotic stories in the 1990s. One of mine, “Unavoidably Detained” – aptly titled I thought – was about a librarian who misses work one morning because she is still bound and gagged from the adventures of the night before.

It wasn’t exactly literary fiction but those tales had a story, often even subplots, humour, style and were meticulously edited. I think they were ahead of their time at that point. We knew it then and we sure know it now.

Last night in the UK, there was a great hue and cry after our version of Big Brother showed Connor angrily claiming that he hated Deana to the extent that, were her epilator on the dining table, he would “shove it up her minge” and furthermore swearing curses towards the said Deana in question.

Braun Epilator

All I could think was that, from what I’d heard, this would have been worthy of a full scene in FSOG.  And many a reader, it seems, would have been loving it. Beats me. But it appears it’s not always what you say but the context in which you say it that could be important.

The male fantasy of bashing women about, or Domestic Violence as a sexual thrill (or Bondage & Discipline/Sado-Masochism) has been long-held, ever since the Marquis de Sade and probably before that, for all we know. I know that, if my OH suddenly began threshing around me with a torque wrench, I might have words to say about it.

Your street prostitute may earn £60 a time; your escort apparently can earn anything up to £1,000 a night, and some much more. The difference between £60 and £1,000, I learn from research, is sado-masochism. Or outrageous acts and a long night-stay! Does that mean, if we go to sexual extremes and practices in our fiction, we’re on the road to more pay? I think you can see where that argument is heading. Ahem…

So… it was only just about time before someone began writing a mainstream novel about it. One that one of my friends, okay acquaintances, is loving to pieces. All I can see, as far as I know, is that E. L. James (a Londoner) initially wrote some Twilight fan-fiction, substituted vampires with BDSMs and she was off and running.

All I can say is, I can only imagine that, next up, we writers will be plagiarising anything popular to that degree, writing even more badly, perhaps finding a paedophile or two that we can write about. I won’t. But picture the scene: Lolita fanfic? Clockwork Orange fanfic? I don’t think so! Because Nabokov and Burgess wrote well.

I Don’t Even Like The Tie!

Because that’s what E.L.James has done, in the sense that she writes about someone who is not only a virgin, can’t even think of a name for the common parts of her own body. This is where I start thinking about Christian Grey: “hang on, this is some paedophile”… Because this so-called heroine is behaving like a ten-year-old. This is sad. And I have read now many a review that claims it to be so. Others love it. I’m still figuring, here.

E. L. James found that writing about someone who is based on Ana in the Twilight Series, doesn’t even have a word for her own “down there”, who therefore appears very young, virginal and inexperienced yet is turned on by being bashed around (big downturn in feminist politics), is someone through whom she can earn a heck of a lot of money. Pity the poor women out there who are bashed around on a regular basis – without the incredible sex.

I remember when I wrote erotic fiction. It was accepted quite readily – I have some wonderful acceptance slips from the magazines (Ludus and For Women) for which I wrote my erotic fiction. But it was still a niche market.  In those times, they never said, “hey, make the bondage racier!” – yet they would have been thrilled if we had. We had a good run, though it sometimes felt like those magazines were a woman’s guilty little secret, male centrefold or not.

Grey tie, red hair… Hmmm, I only wrote this 20 years ago.

I’m glad Fifty Shades of Grey has somehow touched a chord. I’m a touch green about the sales figures, of course I am.

One thing it means is that readers are reading, critics are writing, people are talking about books, critiquing books, and there is a whole ton of scope remaining out there for those of us left writing original work. Please let that be a good thing. About realist stuff, about mysteries, about romance, about psychological dramas, about literary fiction, about crime thrillers, about horror, about romance, about fantasy, about… about… what we make up next.

This 50 Shades thing has been a huge lesson in … actually staying true to ourselves. And that, I think, is what we writers need to do. Never mind the fan-fic. What about the true-to-ourselves-fic?

It is one thing to write fan fic – and, oh my, to do it as badly as the original must be quite a skill – but it seems to me that, if we all sat at our desks writing fan fiction, then sooner or later there would be nothing left to emulate. Because we’d have all emulated it! And then we’d have to start again.

Give me a Werthers worthy original every time, no matter how it’s written and then let me, the reader, decide.

Please comment/tear me to pieces/bash me over the head sideways/shag me madly/shock me with the way your pants hang/shove an epilator wherever you want … below… or perhaps I should say “down there”.

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About Tessa Tangent

I write and I often go off at tangents. Tessa Tangent's my nickname and, at home, I'm called Tessa more than I am my real name, Heather. In the 90s, I had short stories published in magazines like Ludus and For Women. I also won a cherished second prize in a BBC travel writing competition, was the writer of a newsletter for a dry ski slope and had a newspaper article about the slope published. At the same time, I wrote half a first draft of a novel then, for reasons I may reveal, I stopped writing. After a long fallow period, I am writing again - and not a moment too soon...
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2 Responses to Fifty Tangents

  1. Wow. Properly interesting, that was. Just wanted to say that. Really agree with you about staying true, but also think the Fifty Shades thing shows there’s an audience for reading stuff which isn’t currently getting published. Or perhaps now we’ll face an onslaught of terribly S&M soft core porn and the publishing industry will be saved by whips, gimp suits and chains. Weird world.

    • Thanks for the comment,Lloyd, and you’re right. It’s a weird world. So, if fanfic writing becomes more and more dilute, imagine what the FSOG *grand* fanfics will be like. Hmmm. Don’t think I’ll worry myself about imagining that.

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