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…