Give E.L. James a break

Plucked this one out of the air, to soothe my itchy keyboard fingers…

E.L. James did a Twitter Q & A on Monday, and it went exactly as you’d imagine. People didn’t hold back – if you want to see the worst of it, check Buzzfeed’s take on the conversation. I’m not going to link that one though, because it just seems horribly inevitable that they would screenshot the most scathing tweets, give them some captions and call it an article. Listicle. Whatever.

Although I’ve criticised the author in the past, and have spluttered with laughter and disbelief when I have dipped into the books, I’m kind of bored by the critical mauling she still seems to be getting.

I’m tired of people slagging her off because they all seem to have completely forgotten that Fifty Shades started as fan fiction. Have you read any fan fiction? That world is a topsy-turvy place. It can be hysterically funny, sexy, dark, wildly creative, and it’s a fantastic concept when you think about it – people feeling so much affinity for fictional characters that they start making up their own stories for them – but ultimately, it’s just a bit of fun. A writers’ playground. Anything can happen in the fanfic world, and that’s the beauty of it. People are writing SherlockFault In Our Stars* crossovers. The joy of that is utterly endearing, isn’t it? And besides, there are worse hobbies to have.

*They’re also writing Sherlock – My Little Pony crossovers. That leap just boggles the mind, quite frankly.

By her own admission, Fifty Shades was James’ “mid-life crisis writ large. All my fantasies [are] in there”. She said that in an interview. So her critics are laying into her for 1) having the tamest mid-life crisis in history – I mean, come on, who rebels by sitting at a laptop and writing four books? That’s the kind of mid-life crisis I want, please – and 2) for writing about her fantasies. God forbid a woman should have a non-vanilla fantasy, and be open about it, right?

And while we’re on that bit about her mid-life crisis manifesting itself as a sudden need to write thousands and thousands of words, let’s just consider that very thing for a moment. She’s written four books – four hugely successful books – since January 2009. How many people do you know who reckon they could bash out a book? How many people do you know who’ve actually done it? I’ve been trying to do it on and off – more off than on – for months, and it’s really hard. You need to write a lot of words, apparently.

With the publishing industry in its current state, and with so much Content Available For Free On The Bloody Internet (one of my favourite rants), shouldn’t we be applauding the authors that sell like E.L. James, celebrating the unanticipated successes, taking heart from the fact that books, whole books, are being bought in their thousands, if not millions?

Aside from anything else, James is laughing all the way to her accountant and back again, as she’s reportedly worth £37 million now.

There’s a lot of well-thought-out, articulate criticism that’s been levelled at her, and that’s OK, for the most part – books, films, TV programmes, etc shouldn’t be exempt from criticism just because their creators never expected them to become successful. Of course it’s worth looking at how women, various minorities, sex, relationships, power and so on are being depicted in popular culture, because that culture can be used as a mirror for what’s happening in the real world. And the internet has made discussing and criticising works of art and cultural phenomena something everyone can do. Almost anyone can compose a tweet, write a blog post, fire off a Facebook status. Again, that’s great. We can discuss the latest episode of Games of Thrones or Humans as they’re shown, in ‘real time’ and share our reactions, create a conversation. But I think we’re still in the toddler-tantrum phase of the internet, really. We’re still making the rules for this relatively new environment as we go, and we’re not there yet. We haven’t quite civilised the space, figured out the etiquette; there’s still too much shouting and rage, too many trolls and vitriol.

We just need a little perspective – she’s a woman who wrote a story to amuse herself, and it made her very rich. Good on her.


On the Bambi bookshelf

Oh, You. I have to admit, I ignored this several times when I came across it in various bookshops, writing it off as one of those trashy summer thrillers that you might grab at an airport WHSmith’s, in the last ten minutes before boarding. I don’t think it’s possible for me to have been more wrong about it.
I found it in my local library – I’m currently a bit obsessed with the place – and the comparisons to Gone Girl reeled me in. (Say what you like about GG but it was one heck of a page-turner.) Having finished Hausfrau, I was in the mood for another addictive, read-in-one-hectic-go piece of literary ass, and damn, did You deliver.

It’s a classic tale – boy meets girl, boy fancies girl, boy becomes so obsessed with girl that he follows her, steals her phone, hacks her email and social media channels, breaks into her apartment, gets into a relationship with her, and then things get a bit murdery… It’s Fifty Shades if Christian never discovered BDSM* and instead went full psycho. There’s no major twist – a couple of minors, sure, but nothing gasp-worthy – but the impact of the book comes from the fact that it’s written from the stalker’s point of view. He’s a brilliant character (unlike Grey, then) and I so, so want to see a film version of this. I know a sequel’s due shortly, but a film would be fantastic. It says a lot for Kepnes’ skill as a writer that you end up empathising with Joe a lot more than you do with his victims. It even manages to be a bit sexy, in places (yes, I’m doing some major self-analysis as I type that).

Days later, I am missing this book, and Joe, really quite badly.

Here’s a fitting song for this post. You’ll know what I mean when you listen to it.

*Yes, I am aware that what happens in the Fifty Shades books isn’t an accurate portrayal of BDSM.

2 thoughts on “Give E.L. James a break

  1. Four blogs in a month – you are spoiling us with all this good writing 😉

    2 quick points however:
    1. Quick point of argument: anger at EL James seems to me to be quite justified. In answer to the question 'How many people do you know who reckon they could bash out a book? How many people do you know who've actually done it?' I would agree not many. There are however plenty of people who have written better books which have received nowhere near the success. I don't know about everyone else, but I certainly feel a whiff of indignation when confronted with what is ultimately a painfully awful read that has become a pop culture phenomenon by dumb luck. I'm not saying the author deserves to be targeted and publicly humiliated for the 'crime' of being successful, but I see no reason why her and her readership shouldn't be lampooned for their poor literary taste!

    2. Also quick question: is the Sherlock – my little pony crossover really a thing?! Who comes up with these things?


  2. I absolutely agree that there are many, many writers who deserve her level of success because they've written better books. But it's not her fault the book sold well, and if I remember correctly, the marketing behind the franchise only really kicked off when it became clear the books were flying off the shelves. The marketing follows the money, sort of thing.

    While I will admit to being a terrific snob, especially about books and music, deep down I don't think anyone should be “lampooned” for their taste in reading material. So someone enjoys something you don't – so what? At least they're reading something that isn't clickbait.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s