Firstly, back in February 2012, a small newspaper article about Amazon Kindle downloads by genre indicated that erotica was taking an undisclosed large percentage of ebook downloads and was 'doing well'. It described 'the reading public in private is lazy and smutty' - that's you and me they're generalising here.
A lot of this erotica was self-published. What this pre-empted was a desperate swipe at survival tactics by the Big Six publishing houses through 2012. I used to enjoy browsing the books in Tesco's. Now it's like having to sneak past a dirty old flasher at the school bus stop.
(Book chart fail in Tesco's - who's reading these two books together?!)
I don't read erotica. I read it once back in the early 1990's - it was Anne Rice's 'Sleeping Beauty Trilogy'. All I thought from that was, phew, some people are fucking weird, if that's what's in their heads. And never read any more. I didn't even read it twice. I gave the books away as a joke to a fat sweaty balding Moroccan nightclub doorman who didn't believe there was such a thing as porn that wasn't in movies, and he was in the staff toilet for about three days. But he had a porn addiction problem. As well as a problem with being married and banging slutty customers he gave lifts home to. Apparently it helped him feel like shagging his wife later. But that's a different story.
Anyway, Fifty Shades of Grey was given to me free at the London Book Fair this year, so when I started browsing it and realised it was self-centric author-wank-fantasy crap full of scenes ripped off out of Secretary, Nine and a Half Weeks, Pretty Woman, Lace etc, I nearly dumped it in the second-hand bookshop on the way home. After a small go at 'we've seen it all before' on another blog, I then wrote a zombie parody of chapter one. I got a lot of hits. So wondering what this book was, as it hadn't been anything anyone was talking about yet, I read further in - and found what appeared to be prose, lines and writing of my own imitated and incorporated into porn.
Well, that just made me feel dirty. But I'm not a Moroccan doorman clocking up his Mecca loyalty card points in a lap-dancing club when he should be at home hitting on his own wife. So I couldn't even go away and put the ideas into context.
So while querying the publishers (they were very nice, and said she'd never read my books, and that the writing of the sort in Fifty Shades of Grey, and the themes, characters and ideas, were all completely 'generic by nature' and 'not the sort of thing subject to copyright law' - so if you're thinking of ripping great chunks of it off, be their guest), I kept reading. And here's how I see it.
Firstly, I gather it was initially fan-fiction on a site used by children. Whether the author puts an age rating on it or not, the stories on the sites are unrestricted and searchable by Google word match, and no membership is required to read anything on them. Posting or publishing a grooming fantasy on there would constitute a criminal offence - and you don't see Random House rushing to publish that Florida guy's self-published pedophilia handbook, do you? Or film companies bidding for the rights?
And why are the author and publicity machine still talking about the children's books Fifty Shades was based on, as a launch-pad for its success? That's also grooming - of underage readers who Google it and think the books are connected.
However, regardless of this, Fifty Shades is essentially a book about the stalking and grooming of virgins in itself. It glamorises grooming, with the usual sex-trafficking tricks up its sleeves of enticing the reader and the female MC with shiny presents and electric gadgets that 'only he can contact her on', instructing her, gutter pimp-stylee, to use the Blackberry at work so her colleagues don't find out about their 'relationship'. He drives a car so common that every fourth car I pass is the same make - so in reality, his act of being the richest man on the planet would have a wise woman reaching for Jeremy Kyle on speed-dial, and a naive vulnerable young girl leaping voluntarily into the trunk of every shiny black Audi she sees, probably armed with her own copies of the book so that the rapist/murderer doesn't even have to bring it to the party himself. He won't even have to tell her his own sob-story to brainwash her first, as Christian Grey has already done that for him as well, in Fifty Shades Darker. He won't even have to bring condoms, as Christian Grey hates those too. Christian Grey also thinks it's cool to have paid for sex, so she'll accept that idea straight away - bonus! He'll also be able to introduce her to his own special 'doctor' who will give her pills and injections in the comfort of his own home. Until of course, she can't live without them.
Wow. What a hero, for every sleazy pervert and human trafficker that ever lived.
By the end of Fifty Shades Freed, what I felt was missing was the scene where Christian Grey locks her in a bare cell with a couple of his friends, and has 250 strange men visit her daily until she dies of syphilis. That's what would have made the books more realistic, in terms of the real world.
It's not for everyone. Legally, in terms of Child Protection, Human Rights sex-trafficking and anti-slavery issues, charities like Refuge and Barnardo's, it's probably not for anyone. But with Random House pimping it blatantly at the public all the time when we go shopping for oven chips and Summer Fruits squash, next to the toys and birthday cards and snack foods, with its misleading cover copy calling it 'romantic' (from the title, I thought it was about an old man in his fifties stalking a young girl at first), apparently we should all be accepting it now.
I know the kind of guy who will be thrilled - and I hope it makes his wife very happy, while he's giving her HPV and chlamydia from those starry-eyed, brainwashed nightclub customers.
Meanwhile, the other sort of guy who's probably appreciating it even more, is the one who'll be using it in an appeal against his Obscene Publications prison sentence, received for his little self-published handbook.
If you have concerns about the content or marketing/advertising of books, you can write to the Home Office - they've been cranking out reply letters at speed, and will tell you to complain to Ed Vaizey at VAWG; the UKCCIS and CEOP (there is an issue already raised with them on this subject, so you don't need to feel like you're the first); the Mothers' Union; the ASA; the Press Complaints Commission. The Home Office will also advise you to complain direct to the publishers, at either their editorial or marketing department.
I won't be looking out for any more books similar, or the films. I have seen it all before.
On the news. And on Jeremy Kyle.
"At first they treat you like a princess" - from the Guardian, May 2013, following the conviction of a grooming ring in Oxford, U.K.
MTV's Inhuman Traffic, presented by Angelina Jolie - human trafficking in Europe
For more information, see MTVExit.org
On Twitter: @mtvexit