Thirty years later and everyone in the world is reading, or ostentatiously not reading, Fifty Shades of Grey. Conran, 79, was not impressed. ‘It needs a good editor. I went to sleep by page 300.’ It takes forever to get to the juicy stuff – ‘200 pages before the heroine gets spanked on the behind’, and is inaccurate. ‘A professional dominatrix does not do physical sex with his or her client and only the client has a climax. ‘The basic plot is Cinderella, plus sanitised sex. Nobody in Fifty
Shades of Grey ever has to sleep on the damp patch.’
The wild success of Fifty Shades – sales of 31 million worldwide and counting – shows that women still want to read about sex. Sex with a sharply-cheekboned gazillionaire in clean Calvin Kleins (none of EL James’ characters ever wear a generic garment when there is an aspirational branded alternative). It is lifestyle porn as much as start-me-up porn; James’ genius has been to bind the two together with a plastic cable tie (which, as every kinkster knows, can leave a nasty scar). Lace was doing this 30 years ago and it has set the blueprint for what gets women hot and bothered ever since. ‘We were all fed up of the details in male fiction, what kind of gun James Bond uses, what its special features might be. So women turned to wardrobe for detail. I have always thought there was a market for porn in haute couture.’
‘I FELL ASLEEP BY PAGE 300 OF FIFTY SHADES’
Conran is not convinced of the traditional argument, that women are aroused by words and men by pictures. ‘I think women are. I’m a visual person.’ (She went to art school and worked as a textile designer.) ‘I just don’t think we’ve got the right pictures yet.’ Diary of a Call Girl, starring Billie Piper, is the nearest that TV has got to getting it right. Anaïs Nin’s fiction is her only wholehearted recommendation; trying to think of others, all she could come up with are ‘not very good 18th century novels with women pretending to be virgins by hiding vials of cow’s blood in their bed posts to sprinkle on the sheets.’
Although their body fluids are absent from the texts, she reckons Messrs Darcy and Rochester are pretty hard to beat. ‘Erotica is intended to fire you up, which is not what Ms Austen and Ms Brontë may have intended but they did it, because they wrote passionately. I suppose because the alternative at the time was knitting or embroidery.’ Neither of which appeal to Conran, who runs two companies and is currently reworking all of her back catalogue for Canongate. (Next up, Savages. Roar!) Her days of writing new fiction are over. She has no regrets about this: ‘Writing sex scenes doesn’t make me feel sexy. I’m too busy wondering where his left leg is.’
Lace will be published by Canongate, Wed 2 Aug, £7.99, to mark the book’s 30th anniversary.
5 PLACES TO FIND . . . EROTIC FICTION
THE HARLEQUIN BLOG Inquisitive clit-lit newbies could do worse than have a peek at the Harlequin blog, which offers a beginners guide to erotica: just name your kink and they’ll provide recommendations from their impressive oeuvre, whether it’s BDSM, ménage à trois or historical bodice rippers. ■ harlequinblog.com/erotic-romance
THE EROTIC REVIEW Billing itself as ‘an antidote to the dumbing down of sex’, The Erotic Review seeks out witty, intelligent literature, art and theatre for the more discerning erotica fan. The site is brimming with columns, features and intelligent discussion to stimulate the brain as well as the body. ■ theeroticreview.com
MILLS & BOON No, not just for frustrated housewives any more. M&B have upped their game and released an eBook series entitled Twelve Shades of Surrender, presumably as a 50 dd Shades mummyporn counter-attack. Aimed at the modern woman, the books don’t nn’ss pussyfoot around and retain their inspiration’s sub/dom themes. Classic bonkbusters dragged into the 21st century. Nice. ■ millsandboon.co.uk
THE STORY OF O Originally a BDSM-l avoured French histoire, , ers inl uenced by a series of highly charged letters wawass to the author’s lover, the controversial tale was n subsequently made over in the 70s by Italian artist Guido Crepax and is now hailed as one of the great classics of erotic graphic novels. ■ Published by Corgi Books
LITERARY CLASSICS Sex in literature is no new phenomenon – authors have been slipping rudity between the pages for centuries. Think DH Lawrence’s controversial Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Anaïs Nin’s diaries, Shirley Conran’s bonkbuster Lace. . . and you’ll i nd more in our round-up below. These all blazed a trail towards a world that allows 50 Shades to be published. Er, thanks guys. (Kirstyn Smith)
1954 The Story of O, a French novel about domination, BDSM and submission, did Fifty Shades of Grey in glorious technicolour.
1966 Valley of the Dolls, a scandalous showbizzy roman à clef by Jaqueline Susann, features unusually frank depictions of sex, and the i rst mainstream anal sex scene. Popular with teenage girls ever since. 1979 Virginia Andrews’ Flowers In The Attic, with its depiction of adolescent sibling incest, causes controversy; spawns sprawling series of near- identical incesty books, which not even the death of Virginia Andrews could put a stop to. Again, popular with teenage girls.
100 THE LIST 2–9 Aug 2012
1982 Shirley Conran’s Lace: set between a Swiss i nishing school and 80s Manhattan, again popular with teenage girls. 1998 Sarah Waters’ Tipping the Velvet brings lesbian erotica to dinner party conversations and book groups.
2012 Fifty Shades of Grey gets everybody trying out badly-written S&M. 2009 Erotic i ction imprint Black Lace folds. Erotic publishing considered dead in the water by some due to rise of online zines and eBooks, such as the Mischief series by Harper Collins.