So, I got my royalty check. It covers the period from January to June this year. Thus, before I release the figure, I would like to say, please keep in mind that this period is before the nations’ pants have been set on fire by Fifty Shades of Grey. That is, it’s pre the erotica boom. What I mean is: Lower your expectations, people!

Still, I can’t deny it is a tad disappointing.

£58

Its shit, isn’t it? Goodbye Monaco, hallo Clacton.

So, I lie in bed, even though its 2 o’clock in the afternoon and I have to get up and do the school run and I ask myself: Tabitha Flyte, where did it all go wrong? Why did E L James hit the big-time and you hit the weeny-weeny teeny-tiny time?

1. It can’t be the titles. My titles were ‘carry on’ funny whereas Fifty Shades of Grey has been variously described as a something B and Q would sell or an orgy in an old people’s home.

2. It can’t be the sex. My books had it all. You name it. There wasn’t one position I didn’t have covered. I had spread-sheets and everything! The sex was sexy, funny and orgasmic (but not ridiculously so) There was love too, sometimes. And tension and plot and stuff you have to go to creative writing classes to learn.

3. It can’t be the lack of spanking, could it? Hmm. The books didn’t have that much BDSM but there was some. It was probably a bit half-hearted, but then, I thought so was E L James’s.

4. It can’t be the writing. I can’t believe that. I refuse to believe it. If so, shoot me now!

5. It can’t have been that I didn’t use the phrase ‘inner-goddess’ enough, could it? Ha! I never used the word inner-goddess but surely that goes in my favour?

6. It can’t have been that my female characters are strong and feisty and do not think love will change a man? Again, surely that was a good thing!

But then I come across the reason, the only answer that is plausible, and the good thing about it is that this answer blames someone else entirely and this really appeals to me. Now, in professional terms what I will now proceed to do is called ‘biting the hand that feeds you’ or even ‘career suicide’, but when your royalty check is £56 I think it’s fair to say I’m already pretty much dead. Anyway, I’m not blaming the cover designer himself because he would only be obeying orders (why do I say ‘he’? Just intuition I guess) but a way of thinking – the thinking being women would buy a book with a cover that looked like this!

I give you: THE BOOK COVER

If I see this pic one more time, I really might borkkk

Erm, I'll have a large cheeseburger and fries to go with that.

Exhibit A. Fifty Shades of Grey. A silver, patterned tie. Suggestive. Evocative. The emblem of modern masculinity and wealth and of, umm, tying things up. It hints at excitement within.

Exhibit B. Full Steam Ahead. A large thighed lady drinks a large milkshake from a popular fast food restaurant. Now, I’ve nothing against ladies with large thighs drinking milkshake but why oh why is she on the cover of my book? Why is she wearing an animal print fur coat? I hate fur. And if it’s that cold that she must wear fur, then why is she nekkid underneath? And what’s with the hair? That is terrible hair. (It’s a little like mine, but I would never wear one of those terrible hair bands, well not since the 1980’s I wouldn’t.) It hints at more milkshakes within. And a cheeseburger and fries please. Would you be seen reading this on the train? I’m thinking no.

If I had written the masterpiece that is Fifty Shades of Grey, no doubt, my picture editor would have put Paul Daniels on the cover with little Bonnie Langford in leopard skin bent over his side feeding him Krispy Kreme donuts.

Could it be, a tie, a simple silver tie was all that lay between me and my own book aisle at Tescos?
I hope knot! (boom boom).

I like to think of my time between my two marriages as like the inter-war years in Germany. It was a time of debauchery and hedonism. A time of freedom and liberation. That is not to say I went on to marry Hitler, no, no, my second husband hates vegetarians, but that I had a ‘happy time’.

Just call me “The Weimar Republic”

I am not a particularly attractive woman. I’m ok, but I’m no beauty queen. At school and college I was the pretty girl’s best friend. I don’t know why the pretty girl always want to be my best friend but hey.
Yet, during the inter-war years, I WAS as popular as the pretty girl not because I started plucking my eyebrows and straightened my hair, (although I concede that may have been a factor) but because I had a fabulous man-pulling tool in my arsenal. (Oo-er.)

It was my job. There are some jobs that just do it for the opposite sex. Ask any male nurse or any fireman and they will tell you, “yes, the ladies love my work.” (Said in a really low voice, while taking off top)
So it is for a female erotic writer. The men love my work. I would simply have to announce “Oh yes, I’ve been writing sex scenes all day long,” in the pub and the fella would have abandoned my pretty best friend and would have been putty in my hands (which was not the desired effect but hey…)

Put it away, beauty queen! There are other ways to skin a cat.

The reason I am writing this is to say while erotica is massive at the moment and one or two authors are busily renovating their fourth or fifth homes in Provence on the proceeds of their book sales, for many more of us, the best sellers lists are a wet dream, and we have to take our job satisfaction elsewhere. And if that’s simply a sudden ‘irresistible’ aura then that’ll have to do.

There are other wonderful things about being an erotic writer – the shock on other parents’ face at the school gate when you tell them your book titles, the afternoons spent idly imagining plots, the first and final paragraphs, the editing process “How does he do that? He must have five hands?” the thrill of the first copy and the smell of the cover, the sight of the book on the shelves at Waterstones, or better still, in someone’s hands on the train.

There are many, many wonderful things indeed, but unless I have been particularly unlucky, then massive financial rewards aren’t one of them.

At the beginning of October and the beginning of March, I get my royalty checks. Last night, before setting off to invade Poland, my husband and I placed our bets. How much would I get this time? He said, “£800″ which is uncharacteristically optimistic of him. I’m going for…£150. A cautious guess. I don’t know if my book sales will have gone up as part of the fifty shades effect or not. My last royalty cheque in March would not have bought a door knob on my imaginary house in Provence (£15) but I have, honest guv’, had pay outs of around £2000 mostly when rights had been sold to different countries (mostly Germany, oddly enough).

End of September, ‘salways an exciting time of year. I promise to let you know when the letter arrives.

I like my quizzes like my men, deep and meaningful. Unfortunately, this quiz is neither. It’s more of a nod to ‘Jackie’ than the works of Freud. Nevertheless, it will provide profound philosophical insight into your aptitude for writing ‘dirty stuff’.
That is, are you the next E L James?

All you have to do is answer the four “literary” questions below. And your first reaction please, no trying to second-guess the interviewer. This is not the diplomatic service. Ok, imagine the scene you have stopped browsing useless blogs and have settled down to write your novel. You are writing, writing, writing and trying to figure out what happens next in your plot. (Clearly you are not the kind of writer who plans out everything in advance and puts it in post-it notes around the computer. You are more of a spontaneous wordsmith. I approve). Anyways…

1. Your main character is skint. Totally borasic. Poor. Hard-up. etc.
a. She sends her son to market. Son exchanges cow for beans. They grow beanstalk outside the window. Discover giant at the top. Climb up. Steal things including the golden hen. Surreal.
b. She sells her body at the local market. Some time later, discovers man with giant cock upstairs. More sex stuff happens, she rapidly goes off giant cock man and instead does golden showers with the local ‘wood cutter’.

2. Your main character is in love with a gypsy boy.
a. She loves her adopted brother because he is “more myself than I am”. Changes her mind. Marries a friend. Dies slowly. Anorexia? Broken heart? Becomes a ghost. Cue lots of running around in her nighty on the moors.
b. She shags her adopted brother. Incest angst as she changes her mind. Cue lots of sleeping with neighbouring farmers in her (see-through) nighty, yelling “more, more, more”.

3. Your main character is ambitious.
a. With the help of his wife, he commits regicide, he murders his friend, is visited by ghosts. The country is torn apart in violence. Three witches prophesize he will stay in power until Burnham wood trees come walking. They do! Its a brilliant plot twist. Oh yes and the wife goes mad.
b. The wife is utterly sex-mad. Together they hold feasts and mad orgies, shagging from left to right, up and down. Three sexy ladies keep following them around making sexy promises. There is, of course, a handsome fellow called Burnham. More shagging. Everyone is up ‘the duff’. The country is torn apart by naked pics in Vegas.

4. Your main character is a university student.
a. He get involved with a very wealthy family in a heart-felt exploration of Catholicism. He falls in love, perhaps with the brother and then the sister, who ultimately will not marry him, but perhaps most of all with the fabulous place, Brideshead.
b. She gets involved with a very wealthy family in an exploration of S and M (lite) Attempts to change the multi-millionaire from being a stalker-ish cross between Paul Daniels and Julian Assange do not appear to work (sorry have not read books two and three so might have got that wrong) She also loves a fabulous place, the Playroom.

If only it had been tweaked, Brideshead Revisited could have been an erotic bestseller.

Now add up your A’s and B’s.

Mostly A’s: Get thee to a nunnery. I’m sorry neither you nor your writing will amount to anything. Dominate the best seller lists for months on end? I don’t think so!

Mostly B’s. Baby, you’ve got the smut-gene. Filthy nose to the grindstone and you too might sell five million books by Christmas.

You’ve done creative writing classes with a teacher who’s been published in ‘Woman’s weekly’. You’ve let off a stinking poem or two. You have a half finished screenplay under your bed that Spielberg would send over a private jet for, (Oh! if only he knew about it!) and now you are wondering: have I got what it takes to write erotica?

Its not an entirely stupid question.

The success of Harry Potter meant children’s publishing got a massive shot in the arm as publishers and public alike realised what how brilliant (and lucrative) children’s books could be. So, it is with Mr Grey and Anastasia. The publishing and reading world await the next shagging sensation. Erotica is ‘in’. You can bet your ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, that right now, thousands of hopeful people across the world, are banging out something. And some of them might be writing a bit too.

So what are the essential qualities of the erotic writer and how do they differ from writers of other genres?

I was going to say simply the ability to write interesting sentences but in the light of recent best-sellers, I’ve decided to scrub that. Ha ha. It is clearly more important to create interesting, possibly sympathetic, characters and, if its your thing, a good, page-turning plot. So far, same as in other kinds of writing but where it differs, naturally, is an interest in “the sex thing”. Obviously, the erotic writer must be, as they say on dating websites, “open-minded”. If the erotic writer feels that what they are doing is wrong then this will shine through their work (in a bad way). I don’t know the religious make-up of the top erotic writers but I’m willing to bet my copy of ‘Fifty Shades Freed’ that they are not practicing Catholics. I’m not saying practicing Catholics can’t write brilliantly, (God forbid) I’m simply suggesting extreme romance writing isn’t for you.

The erotic writer clearly needs to do the sex thing as much as possible: we call this ‘research’. However, I’m not a believer in write what you know. You don’t have to know about orgies and dragon butter to write about it – you do however have to find all that interesting. Write what you care about, and you can’t go wrong.

The next essential quality of the erotic writer is to be well-read. You should have some sense of the history of rude-writing from Anais Nin and Henry Miller to Black Lace favourites Portia de Costa and (shameless plug) Tabitha Flyte! And here, allow me to make a small digressive joke: the erotic writer must know his Dickens from his dick and his Hardy from his Hard-on.
Ho hum.
The erotic writer doesn’t leave anything to the imagination. He or she knows that the devil is in the details. He or she should also be able to swear like a navvy and he or she should be prepared to sign a contract promising never ever to use coy phrases like ‘inner goddess’ or ‘sex’ where other, better, words would do.

It also helps to be an orphan. Not really – one dead parent will do. Honestly, my mum would have done her nut about my career choice. She would have been sat at my shoulder. “O-kayyy, so Sally, is the one who’s shagging the big fellow but she prefers his wife and…ooh darling, you know Mrs Johnson’s daughter is training to be a doctor.”

Does Annie have what it takes to be the next EL James, or is she more of a PD James kind of girl?

A subversive streak is another job requirement. You don’t have to be a steam-punk trustafarian living in a squat in South London but I’ve never met an erotic writer yet who doesn’t, in her own, sweet way, stick one finger (the middle) up at the system. I suppose its the same with most writers, whatever the subject matter. You have to be interested in revealing the hidden, in exploring and busting taboos. All writers are outsiders, looking in and exploring what they see. Erotic writers are outsiders too, although they are looking in the bedroom window in particular.

It’s imperative to have thick skin. You need the hide of the rhino if you are to read some of the reviews on Amazon. Especially the ones your “friends” insist on writing. The response is even worse if you make the mistake of writing in the first person, the “I” because everyone will think it’s actually you. Sigh.
They say if you left a monkey at a computer for 1000s of years, eventually it would produce the works of Shakespeare. I believe if you did the same with a rhino then he would eventually produce ‘The story of O’. (If he didn’t squash the computer first.)

Could he be the next publishing sensation?

Finally, in this day and age, it’s important to have a USP. For those who aren’t expert in marketing-squeak, USP is your unique selling point. Just as Delia is associated with pre-mashed food, and Heston Blumenthal, rats arse ice cream, every chef needs a signature dish and so too does the erotic writer.
So if your thing is a toe in the hoo-haa or perhaps “water-sports” (not in the dating site sense of the word), then don’t be afraid to explore this in your d’oevre. What you may find, to everyone’s amazement, is that niche is no longer niche and before long Marks and Spencers will be stocking your bestselling book alongside waterproof sheets and nail clippers.

Ok, maybe not M and S, maybe Morrisons.

The erotic writer was concerned that she was writing 'mummy porn'.

The erotic writer was concerned that she was writing ‘mummy porn’.

Was there ever a more embarrassing job description than erotic writer? For, if ‘writer’ is synonymous with ‘person stuck up their own arse’ then ‘erotic’ is five hundred times more so. Unfortunately for someone who creates it, the term ‘erotica’ makes me cringe. It conjures up nipple tassles, the Joy of Sex, swingers, belly dancers and all sorts of wrongness standing behind a draughty stand at the ExCel centre.

Even so I’ll have erotica, erotica writers and erotic novels any day over the phrase ‘mummy porn’. Used to describe fifty shades of grey (henceforth known as FSOG), its followers and its target audience -the 30yrs-50yrs female readers, the phrase is wrong on so many levels I’m worried I won’t be able to fit both my argument and my bile in one blog post. My bile will just have to do.

For a start,the use of the word ‘mummy’. Jay-sus. Are you my child and are you under ten? If not, don’t call me ‘mummy’. Even my eleven year old is not allowed to call me that for fear of him sounding like a wuss. Mummy is a baby’s word. (or an upper class Englishmans word but thats another story) But don’t call this stuff ‘Mother’ or ‘Mum’s’ porn either because I can’t understand the odd need some folks have to separate the female parent from the rest of world. It makes us seem like a sub species who need special businesses, cupcakes, spas etc. I know it is marketing talk but honestly, does it work? Aren’t most women, sorry, “mummies”, offended by it? And why is there no equivalent for men? There don’t seem to be a rush to bring out daddy’s porn, daddy’s businesses and daddy’s cars etc.

Secondly, the term ‘mummy porn’ is downright confusing. Half the population still think that mummy porn is umm, porn featuring “mummys”. You know, in the same way, teen porn features teen and granny porn features grandmothers. Surely, it wasn’t wise to name it to something it kind of is but isn’t at all? Even internet search engines are struggling with it.

But the thing about mummy porn that really gets on my tits is actually the inclusion of the word ‘porn’. When I first started writing erotica people often used to ask me: “what’s the difference between erotica and porn?” and I had a glib response. “Erotica is stuff I like. Porn is stuff I don’t.” But actually, there is a perfectly clear description of porn that we can use:
“Porn is the visual depiction of individuals engaged in gratuitous nudity or sexual activity.” (Ok, so there are loopholes here a-plenty but its probably about as good a definition as it gets.)
Well, did you notice the word visual?

Visual.

Visual.

Visual.

When I last saw FSOG, I noticed it was words. Sentences. Paragraphs. Oh My. Not pictures. Not photos. Not images. (This argument clearly will need tweaking when the movie comes out.)

So why call a STORY-book porn?

Well, porn is increasingly gaining a second meaning. The paralympics was recently described as ‘inspiration porn’, I’ve heard of ‘food porn’ and ‘information porn’ lately too. So now porn not only means “Visual representation of sex – and umm some things that aren’t visual either”, but also “kind of things that are presented in a very interesting way.” So “property porn” doesn’t only mean three houses getting it on with a garage, or having a wank to Beany’s restoration nightmare but also might mean showing you something you will be ‘gripped or entertained by.’ Here, the word ‘porn’ is being used to sex-something up, to add a frisson to something which by most peoples’ standards, (apologies to fetishists), would normally be frisson free.

Now words evolve all the time, but they don’t evolve in a vacuum: I believe six foot lizards brought FSOG on earth, called it mummy porn, and only those sensible enough not to read it will survive the inevitable killer plants aka triffids.

Not really.
I don’t know why ‘porn’ is now the word du jour but we can observe the effect: I believe one effect of calling everything ‘porn’ even when it isn’t, is almost a sinister way of sanitising real porn, which for the sake of argument and because it sounds funny, I shall call porn-porn. (Are you still with me or have you gone off to watch some porn-porn this blog not being what you hoped for?)

So by using the word ‘porn’ to apply to anything and everything, well ‘porn-porn’ doesn’t look so bad any longer does it? In fact it seems pretty cool.
Imagine, in the bedroom of a modern day Neanderthal as his wife reads her erotic book in a scene replicated across the land.
“You’ve got your mummy porn and I’ve got my porn-porn, its the same, innit?”

No Mr Neanderthal, its not the same, see I know for sure that in my erotic story, no real person was abused, no one was unwilling, no one was high on drugs, no one was trafficked, no one has a history of mental illness, no one had an STD and no one was unaware of being filmed. Your porn-porn uses real life people to get off. Erotica is simply a product of the imagination. (Admittedly the imagination is a very strange place that you wouldn’t want to meet down a dark alley). And of course some porn-porn is fine and lovely and all about mutual consent and daffodils but about 85% of it is misogynistic, dark and nasty and putting the word ‘mummy’ in front of it won’t help. (Statistics made up at the authors own school of statistics which is where most statistics on this subject come from.)

So I am not going to look at some ‘holiday porn’, thank you very much, I am just going to check out some campsites. I’m not going to go to do-me some ‘Ikea porn’ later, I am simply going to buy a new sofa, and I am not, absolutely not, ‘writing porn’ (porn has got to be visual, visual, visual, right!) when I am writing erotica. In fact I am doing neither, I am just writing this blog.

I have also found a much needed alternative phrase to the cringey ‘erotic writer.’ My friend Katherine coined it (circa spring 2012). According to her, it is the genre of’extreme romance’ I like it. Not a yummy mummy or a Neanderthal in sight. But there might be lizards!?

Diana didn't give a fluck

Diana didn’t give a fluck

The story of how E L James, (or E L Lucky Jim as I like to call her), found success is well-known. She was writing Fan Fiction, her story grew popular, she self published, a huge publishing firm bought it up and her opus is now available alongside chutney and olives for the busy BDSMers at Waitrose. I thought I would write about my experience of getting published as it follows what might be considered a more typical, although increasingly old fashioned, route in to print.

It all began, when I was working as a P.A in the education department of a not very prestigious university. Fortunately, this brain dead role gave me plenty of time to pursue my other keen interests: trying to get a new and better boyfriend and writing the great British novel.

Three years, 70,000 words and the same boyfriend later, my first manuscript was done. I sent it out to every agent in the Writers and artists book who sent my three years and 70,000 words back to me with a “It’s good but not for us,” or “We liked it but we didn’t feel that strongly about it.” They could have been talking about my boyfriend…

I was undetered at first. Like those people who squeak in front of Simon Cowell, ‘whadyouknowaboutthemusicindustry?” self-confidence can carry you a long way. I even made the schoolboy error of submitting my manuscript to the same agent twice. He responded: “I didn’t like this the first time I read it, I liked it even less the second.” But a massive ego can only carry you so far. In spite of wanting it “110 percent” and “all my life” my modern day Pride and Prejudice was not to be unleashed on an unsuspecting world.

However, one kind agent did respond more helpfully: “Although this isn’t for us,” he said, “I must say the sex was remarkable.” “Really?” I said, hastily retrieving my knickers and with his complement ringing in my ears, I started to find out a little bit more about the world of sex books. There wasn’t a lot to find. Shirley Conran and Jilly Cooper had been and gone. Paedophile priests and shagging siblings in the loft were out of favour. It was all Bridget Jones and dieting. There was however, one company producing erotica for women and by women and once I read these, I knew I had found my writing home.

It soon became apparent the subject matter – fornication- and my style – smart/casual was a match made in heaven. Rude scenarios and fantastic entanglements spilled and pulsated out of me: I couldn’t stop writing, I was insatiable, throbbing, etc, etc, and all the while I was meeting and greeting eminent professors and answering the phone to their students. “No you can’t have another bloody extension”. For the first time in my life, I knew what it was to love work.

You couldn’t say I wasn’t proactive in those days. I sent off the first three chapters and a synopsis to Black Lace, and lo! one hundred years later, Kerri Sharp, the then editor had given me my very first book contract for the novel, Tongue in Cheek.

My advance disappeared within hours. More time consuming was choosing my nom du plume or pseudonym. I wanted something that conjured up the image of a woman in a bubble bath and not a woman with too many cats but it’s a very fine line. I was advised to use the ancient method of first pets name plus mother’s maiden name: this method is commonly applied to porn star name or bank account password but hey. I was Buttons Applebaum. Posh and foreign but not in a good way. However, lady luck was smiling on my erotic writing career, because I soon remembered a neighbour’s gerbil had been called Tabitha. What a gerbil that was!

I added the Fluck, in homage to that great British institution Diana Dors, (formerly Diana Fluck). Sending off my completed manuscript with the cover: Tongue in Cheek by Tabitha Fluck,the pride I felt that moment was second only to the pride I experienced when years later my son was selected to be Inn-keeper in the Nativity. Precious memories!

The powers at Black Lace responded that they liked the name but they “didn’t feel strongly about it”. Maybe, I had crossed the line from picking cat hairs off the sofa and from masturbating in a bath to somewhere else entirely. I don’t know. Anyway, a few hours after that, painlessly but not entirely drug-free, Tabitha Flyte was born.

Jane Austen I wasn’t. My writing wasn’t going to set the world on fire, (I was a different kind of arsonist, fnar) but it might, just might, make for a pleasant evening’s distraction…

Imagine: You’ve been writing for nearly 15 years. You’ve had four books published. Those books have been translated into languages you didn’t know existed. Like The Hoff, you are big in Germany. The Observer says that your writing is part of the zeitgeist. (No, you’re not sure what that means either) You are photographed for features in the Sun and The Express. The Express even tog you up in a diana-esque black velvet ballgown. You aren’t making a living from your writing – but hey who is? – still, you get regular cheeky royalty checks. Things are ticking along nicely.

And then along comes the upstart, the pretender, the fifty blows to the solar plexus and nothing is ever going to be the same again.

People on Facebook post about “Curling up with Mr Grey” and that gets twenty likes! They are reading it on the beaches, the streets, the hills, the soft play centres. (You get the picture.) They are reading it with their kids, their Aunt Maisy, their bank managers. And, not only are they reading it, they are talking about it, they are, it seems, wetting themselves over it. Uh huh.

“Are you pissed off?” ask your friends.
“No, no, no. I’m just astounded!” You say. “I never, ever imagined they would be selling filth in Tescos (Not that kind of filth anyway) “I’m impressed. I’m proud. I’m intrigued.”

You are seriously pissed off.

Every second*, a million copies of Fifty Shades of Grey are spawned yet no matter how many times you refresh Amazon it tells you the same bad news over and over again. You are 200000 on the bestseller list. 199,999 books are more popular than yours. You hate people. You hate books. Most of all you hate the people who buy books.

You need to get over it. You used to be so happy. Now you just want to jump around going, “Why not me? Me!” Was it simply that Tabitha Flyte writes shite? Maybe. Was it timing? Did Tabitha Flyte prematurely ejaculate her books on a world that wasn’t ready? Was it the lack of a stalker/abusive fucked up hero? Or Was it something more simple like the Book covers? Or luck? Or that zeitgeisty thingy again?

This blog is no journey. It is picking a scab.

However, by having fun here, talking about your (non)career and passing on your many dirty writing tips (hah!)you plan to move from a state of envy to ‘mudita’ – This is a Buddhist concept which means “sympathetic joy” or “happiness in another’s good fortune”. (Yeah, I hadn’t heard of that either).

*Slight exaggeration

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