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Archive for October, 2012

“Fifty Shades Lighter”: the difficult follow-up to the surprisingly successful debut

So, first of all, THANK YOU to all the lovely people who bought “Lighter Shades of Grey” – the e-book of the blog-post that went all around the world and got me astonishing amounts of attention, and a book-deal. And especially big thanks to the lovely people who reviewed it so kindly.

Lots of readers have asked if I was going to do the next two books, so I’m really pleased to say that “Fifty Shades Lighter” is now available, for Kindle, Kobo and other e-readers, from all the usual outlets. To help you make up your mind if you’d like to buy or not, I’m giving a free sample of my favourite bits!

But before we get to the free sample, this also seems like a good moment to say that I’ll be donating half my royalties from this book to Women’s Aid. Just so we’re clear, this absolutely doesn’t mean WA are endorsing my book, approve of my book, have read my book, or are even aware of its existence. It just seems like the right thing to do.

Here’s why. In “Fifty Shades Darker”, Ana manages to make over her monster into a hero just by hanging on in there and loving him hard enough. In the real world, thousands of women stay in violent and abusive relationships because they hope that if they hang on in there and love him hard enough, he might change. And every week, two women in Britain die at the hands of their violent partners. WA provide lifesaving advice, support and escape options.

Okay. That’s the serious bit. Now here’s a random sample of fifty entries from “Fifty Shades Lighter”…

1. Ana enters the workplace
[Jack to Ana] “Excellent work, Ana. I think we’re going to make a great team.”
Somehow, I curl my lips upward in a semblance of a smile.

“I’ll be off, if that’s okay with you,” I murmur.

“Of course, it’s five thirty. See you tomorrow.” (p5)

Hi, Ana. Welcome to the workplace! Right, let’s get down to business:

a. When your new boss says something nice and encouraging on your first day, like, “I think we’re going to make a great team”, or “You’ve made a great start”, or even just “We’re pleased to have you on board” – responding with “LET ME OUT OF HERE RIGHT NOW” and running for the exit is almost never the correct response.

b. On the plus side, you appear to be working at the only publishing house on the entire planet where the staff keep standard office hours and are not required to take armloads of work home with them. Good work there.

2. Ana contemplates the awfulness of her grief
I walk towards the bus stop with my head down, staring at my feet and contemplating being without my beloved Wanda, my old Beetle…or the Audi.

I shut the door on that thought immediately. No. Don’t think about him. (p5)

Well, Ana, technically you were thinking about cars.

3. Contradictory contradictions
I am numb. I feel nothing but the pain. (p6)

If I talk to Mom, I know I will break even further – and I have nothing left to break. (p7)

And so a pattern develops: wake, work, cry, sleep. Well, try to sleep. I can’t even escape him in my dreams. Gray, burning eyes, his lost look, his hair burnished and bright all haunt me. (p6)

Okay, Ana, just a few points here:

a. If you can feel pain, then you’re not numb.

b. If you have nothing left to break, then you don’t need to worry about further breakages.

c. If you’re dreaming, then you’re quite definitely able to sleep.

d. Although I must say you’re getting some very cool dreamscapes here. Eyeballs on fire, disembodied expressions and floating hair. Very Kubla Khan. Have you been taking opium by any chance?

4. Not necessarily a symptom of heartbreak
Even the jingles in commercials make me shudder. (p6)

Me too, Ana. Me too.

5. Ana looks forward to seeing Christian again
Oh my. I’m going to see Christian… (p11)

This seems like a good moment to share the observation made by Shelby, who dropped by my blog to point out that if you read the words “Oh my” in George Takei’s voice, this book automatically becomes one hundred per cent more entertaining.

6. Tokenism has a new champion
Nervously I walk through the foyer with a smile and a wave to Claire at Reception. I think she and I could become friends. (p12)

Oh yes; Claire! The un-named non-speaking extra who featured in two paragraphs on p378 of “Fifty Shades”, and with whom you’ve exchanged – let me check – yes, that’s definitely right, a total of zero words in the intervening one hundred and forty-four pages!

Yeah, Ana, you and Claire are totally going to be BFFs. After all, she’s black.

7. Christian gets back in the driving seat

“When did you last eat?” he snaps…

Crap. “Hello, Christian. Yes, it’s nice to see you too.”

“I don’t want your smart mouth now. Answer me.” His eyes blaze. (p13)

You know what? I can actually hear the sound of the Fifty Shades Handmaidens wailing that No, you just don’t get it, he’s not a monster, he’s a lovely, damaged, fucked-up man. He’s only angry because he loves her so much and he wants to care for her but he just doesn’t know how to express it…

No. No, he doesn’t. This is not love. A loving man would feel remorse, shame and tenderness. A loving man would not verbally abuse and insult a woman whose forgiveness he should be begging for on his knees.

And a man who deserved to be called a man wouldn’t even think of coming near the woman he beat with a belt except to own his actions, sincerely apologise for them, and then go away and wait to see if she ever wanted to hear from him again.

8. Ana, remind me again what your major was at college and what you do for a living?
The last time we flew to Seattle it was dark, but this evening the view is spectacular, literally out of this world. (p17)

Ana’s Alternative Dictionary:
Literally (adv.)
1. In a literal manner or sense; exactly; actually; “The motorist literally drove over the roundabout”
2. In a metaphorical manner or sense; not exactly; not actually; “The motorist did not literally drive over the roundabout”

9. The shape of things to come
A young woman dressed in black with very short brown hair, bright red lipstick, and large hooped earrings greets up. She glances briefly at me, then much longer than is strictly necessary at Christian, then turns back to me, blinking as she blushes. (p20)

I’m pointing this out because from hereon in, every single woman who lays eyes on Christian is either

a. Speechlessly besotted with his ineffable male beauty
b. A close female relative
c. Gay

10. Let’s not all jump to conclusions here
“I looked for pictures of you with dates on the Internet. There aren’t any. That’s why Kate thought you were gay.” (p22)

In a world where John Travolta can be papped giving another man a lingering kiss on the mouth and still not be officially gay, I’m struggling to see how “has never been photographed in a social situation” automatically makes you gay, rather than, for example, “shy” or “busy” or “not very keen on being photographed”.

11. Christian fails to own his actions
“You have to stop intimidating me if you want that,” I snap.

“You have to learn to communicate and tell me how you feel,” he snaps back, eyes blazing. (p24)

Of course! It’s all Ana’s fault, isn’t it?

I bet you think you hit her because she deserved it too.

12. Ana gives Christian a nickname
[José] is talking to a group of young women. I stalk off towards him and away from Fifty. (p25)

I wonder if Fifty Cent would be interested in playing Christian?

13. In a restaurant, Ana tries expressing an opinion
[Ana to Christian] “And if I don’t like steak?”

He sighs. “Don’t start, Ana.” (p28)

Don’t start what? Having opinions? Wanting to choose your own food? For the love of God, why are you still sitting at the same table as this man?

14. How to read a wine-list
“Would you like to choose the wine?” he asks, raising his eyebrows at me expectantly, arrogance personified. He knows I know nothing about wine. (p29)

See, Ana, that’s the nice thing about ordering wine in a restaurant. Someone else has done all the hard work for you. Rather than requiring you to recall and then accurately name something appropriate from memory, those lovely men and women in charge have compiled a list of nice, bland, middle-of-the-road wines that aren’t too expensive and go with most things on the menu. You just look at the list, decide how much you want to spend, and then pick that one.

If you have a preference – for example you like a particular variety of grape, or you have a huge fondness for the wines of a certain vineyard, or you’ve fallen for the Gallic propaganda machine and believe that the French are the only wine-making nation on earth who truly know what they’re doing – then feel free to express it. But no-one is going to point and laugh because you picked a Rioja when they would have preferred a Merlot.

Well, nobody sane and with a semblance of good manners, anyway. I’ll be the first to admit that definition doesn’t necessarily apply to Christian.

15. While you were sleeping
“You said you’d never leave, yet the going gets tough and you’re out the door.”

“When did I say I’d never leave?”

“In your sleep.” (p31)

I wonder if Christian ever tries this on business colleagues. “No, you definitely said you’d sell me that candle-making factory at a fraction of its actual market value. It was on that plane to Rio…yes, I know you were asleep all the way to Rio, but you said it in your sleep and that totally counts! Okay?”

16. You know that thing that happens where you say a word over and over and over and it starts to lose all semblance of meaning?
[Christian to Ana] “I have a proposition for you.”

“This started with a proposition.”

“A different proposition.”

…He has a proposition? (p33)

The only possible way out of this conversational loop is for the entire restaurant to break out into a gigantic musical number, with all the diners transforming into chorus girls and twirling around with the waiters, and everyone singing:

“He has a proposition,
He has a proposition,
A proposition that could change her l-i-i-i-i-fe…”

17. Good looks get you off the hook for everything
I allow myself a brief moment to examine his profile: straight nose, sculpted full lips, hair falling deliciously over his forehead. This divine man is surely not meant for me. (p33)

I wonder, Ana. What would happen if Christian were to become facially disfigured somehow? Would you still love him just as much as you do now?

18. Future continuity fail
[Christian to Ana] “You are exquisite, honest, warm, strong, witty, beguilingly innocent…”

My mouth goes dry. Holy shit. If that isn’t a declaration of love, I don’t know what is. (p36)

I’m just mentioning this because over the course of this book, Ana will completely forget about this and waste a really quite astonishing amount of time wondering whether Christian does, or does not, love her.

19. Things that do not need explaining
Jack has [an iPad] at the office, so I know how they work. (p40)

E L James, pre-verbal children can figure out how to work iPads. You really don’t need to waste a sentence assuring us that your heroine has been exposed to the right educational experiences to enable her to figure out the mysterious wonders of the capacitive screen.

20. Ana has a new project
…I drift slowly into sleep, marvelling how the world has righted itself in one evening and wondering idly if I should make a playlist for Christian. (p45)

Oh yes please, let’s make a playlist for Christian! Here’s mine:

10. “Bye Bye Badman” by the Stone Roses
9. “Scary Monsters” by David Bowie
8. “Mean Mistreater” by Grand Funk Railroad
7. “Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover” by Paul Simon
6. “The Woman in the Wall” by The Beautiful South
5. “Black Heart” by Stooshe
4. “Me and Mr Jones” by Amy Winehouse
3. “Narcissus” by Alanis Morissette
2. “I Hate Everything About You” by Three Days Grace
1. “You’re Such A Turd” by Big Time Rush

21. Ana meets a ventriloquist
As I head out of the building, I hear my name called…an ashen young woman approaches me cautiously. She looks like a ghost – so pale and strangely blank.

“Miss Anastasia Steele?” she repeats, and her features stay static even though she’s speaking. (p52)

Now all she needs is an agent and a terrifying puppet, and she’s got an entire career lined up.

22. Who does this remind you of?
She stops, staring at me from about three feet away on the sidewalk, and I stare back, immobilised…like me, she has dark hair that starkly contrasts with her fair skin…Her beautiful face is pale, and etched with sorrow. (p52)

Ana, are you completely sure you’re not just staring madly at your own reflection in a shop window?

23. This book needs editing, she pointed out adverbially
Jack shuffles back uncomfortably.

“Jack, this is Christian,” I mumble apologetically…

…”I’m the boss,” Jack replies arrogantly. “Ana did mention an ex-boyfriend.”…

…”Well, no-longer-ex, “Christian replies calmly.

“Please, stay and join us for a drink,” Jack says smoothly. (p55)

So – many – adverbs – text – becoming – too brilliant to mock – must – worship – glorious sentence construction – and never write another word again about how much this book needs editing –

Just in case you’re unable to tell, I’m saying that sarcastically.

24. Oh, well that makes everything okay, then
“…what kind of responsible business executive makes decisions based on who he is currently fucking?”…

…“Firstly, I haven’t fucked you for a while – a long while, it feels – and second, I wanted to get into publishing. SIP is profitable, but it’s on the cusp and it’s going to stagnate – it needs to branch out.” (p58)

Okay, Christian, just a few things here:

a. If your interest in getting into publishing dated from before your interest in getting into Ana, then I would have expected you to mention this fact to her at some point. Possibly during the numerous conversations where you were trying to convince her to come and work for you.

b. If you were really looking to make the best overall business decision, I can’t think of any stupider purchase than a company that is doing really well right now, but which you have good reason to believe is about to start tanking. Why would you want to pay top whack for something that’s almost certainly going to be worth less than you paid for it this time next year?

c. Furthermore, I’m struggling to see how an expertise in ship-building, solar energy and telecommunications (that somewhat eclectic collection of industries you apparently operate in) would in any way qualify you to transform the fortunes of a reasonably successful mid-sized regional publisher.

d. And so, for all these reasons, I’m going to assume you only decided to buy it when you heard Ana was going to work there.

e. Let’s get onto the mechanics of this deal you’ve supposedly just done. If SIP is publicly listed, the chances of you concluding a takeover in the few weeks since Ana received her job offer are basically zero. You wouldn’t even have had time to get round and speak to all the shareholders, let alone get them all in the same room to discuss and agree whether or not they were going to accept your offer.

f. And if SIP is privately owned, the chances of you doing this deal are still basically zero. Any sensible business owner, receiving an offer for the purchase of his business, would at least want to consider the possibility that someone else might be willing to pay even more, and would therefore want a couple of months to think about it.

g. And while we’re at it – since a maximum of five days have elapsed since you last fucked Ana, and you’re plainly within about ten minutes of fucking her again, I don’t think the “We were on a break” defence is going to fly for you here.

25. Not sure this was quite what Baden-Powell had in mind, to be honest
Dragging his shirt over his head, he then reaches down to his discarded jeans, and like a good Boy Scout, produces a foil packet. (p69)

Suddenly, scouting Jamborees are sounding a whole lot more entertaining.

26. I could really have enough of this hey-let’s-repeat-each-other’s-words thang you two have going on
“Come and cook me some food, wench…”

“Wench?” I giggle.

“Wench.” (p71)

You know, this is really starting to piss me off.

Piss?

Yes. PISS.

See? Not even faintly amusing. Please stop it. Now.

27. This is not the sign of a healthy relationship
“Do you know who she is?”

“Yes.” He runs a hand through his hair…”It’s Leila.”

I swallow. The ex-sub! (p81)

Okay, Ana:

a. If you meet your boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend, and realise you look just like a non-crazy version of her, there are a couple of questions you might like to ask yourself. For example: does he love me, the inner person, or is he just slotting me into the woman-shaped hole in his life which can only be filled by girls who conform to my particular physical type? Would he still be interested if, for example, I got a suntan, or went blonde, or shaved my head? And – since very few men are keen on dating women who are demonstrably crazy to start with – what part, if any, did Christian play in sending Leila over the edge?

b. Please stop referring to Leila as “the ex-sub”. It makes her sound like an expired sandwich.

28. Things that are not okay
I lean over and tenderly kiss one of his scars…I kiss another and his eyes open.

“Hi.” I grin at him, guiltily…I run my fingers down his happy trail. He captures my hand, narrows his eyes, then smiles a brilliant Christian-at-ease smile, and I relax. My secret touching stays secret. (p86)

Ana, just to illustrate to you how wrong this is, let’s replace the notion of a touch-taboo with a phobia of spiders:

‘I lean over and tenderly place a massive spider in his navel…I add another spider and his eyes open.

“Hi.” I grin at him guiltily…I quickly whisk the spiders away and put them back in the secret compartment beneath the sheet. He smiles a brilliant Christian-at-ease smile, and I relax. My secret spider-placement stays secret.’

29. How to throw a party
[Ana to Christian] “…there’s your father’s function this evening.”

“Remember, it’s black tie…[it’s at] my parents’ house. They have a tent.” (p90)

What, like this one?

30. Ana has an exceptionally bad hair day
My scalp is trying to leave [the beauty salon]. It’s prickling with apprehension, and my subconscious is screaming at me to follow it. (p94)

This is an especially good idea because, if your scalp succeeds in its escape attempt, the chances of you needing a haircut are remote.

31. Ana the literature student strikes again
Why, oh why, have I fallen for someone who is plain crazy – beautiful, sexy as fuck, richer than Croesus, and crazy with a capital K? (p104)

This is so dumb that I don’t think I kan even be bothered to komment.

32. Ana has the memory of a goldfish
[Christian to Ana] “That’s one of the things I love about you.”

I gaze at him, shocked. Love about me? (p109)

Yep. He loves you, Ana. Like he said on p36. And p41.

33. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother
“My mother had a mantra: ‘musical instrument, foreign language, martial art.’” (p114)

Oh, good thinking, Grace. Because the emotional and psychological problems faced by adoptive children – especially those who have come from abusive situations – can totally be overcome by the power of massive parental expectation.

34. An inexplicable tube of bright red lipstick
“I think I’m in need of you. Here.” He hands me a tube of lipstick.

I frown at him, perplexed. It’s harlot red, not my color at all.

“You want me to wear this?” I squeak.

He laughs. “No, Anastasia, not unless you want to…” (p116)

So, what – this is Christian’s lipstick? Does he keep a tube of it around at all times, just in case he accidentally meets and brings home someone who this shade of lipstick would suit?

Or, um –

35. Man, I’m glad I’m not Christian’s housekeeper
The lipstick marks remain on his exquisite body. I note some smears on the duvet cover, though, and wonder briefly what Mrs Jones will make of them. (p123)

[Christian] leans behind me, lifting me again, and removes his condom, dropping it unceremoniously on the floor beside the bed. (p123)

But hey, on the plus side, Ana – at least speculating on the origins and meaning of the lipstick stains will help take her mind off being forced to pick up Christian’s disgusting used condom.

36. Just because it worked for Batman…
“Mr Grey!” one of the photographers calls. Christian nods in acknowledgement…How do they know it’s him? His trademark unruly copper hair, no doubt. (p133)

Oh, my picture in the press again. Leila briefly enters my mind. This is how she found me, posing with Christian. The thought is unsettling, though it’s comforting that I am unrecognisable beneath my mask. (p133)

Ana, I think you’re over-estimating the power of a simple eye-mask to perfectly conceal your identity from the world.

Also, since Leila already knows your name, the place where you work, your relationship with Christian, and Christian’s home address, I’m not quite clear how her seeing a picture of you two in the Seattle Times is going to give her any more information than she already has.

37. “Single” is not a synonym for “gay”
[Mia to Ana] “You must come and meet my friends. None of them can believe that Christian finally has a girlfriend.” (p134)

“Of course, we all thought Christian was gay,” [Lily] says snidely, concealing her rancour with a large, fake smile. (p135)

Although if I’d just got together with a man in his late twenties, and the reaction of absolutely everyone who knew him best was, “Huh. We always thought he played for the other team, actually” – I might have to give some serious consideration to the possibility that they might have a point.

38. Ana and Christian get all frisky
Slowly and surreptitiously, so I don’t realise his game until it’s too late, he eases my hand up his leg and against his erection. I gasp, any my eyes dart in panic around the table, but all eyes are fixed on the stage. Thank heavens for my mask. (p144)

Unless your mask is on Christian’s lap, I’m not sure it’s really contributing much here. A better thought to have at this point might have been, “Thank heavens for the tablecloth.”

39. Christian likes girls who do as they’re told
“Ana, no,” he grunts, trying to still me. But I want him too much, and I grind against him, watching him thrust for thrust.

“Ana, shit,” he hisses… (p154)

Oh, if only she had.

40. A strange compliment
[Carrick to Ana]: “You certainly have had a very positive effect on hi, Anastasia. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so, so…buoyant.” (p163)

“We tested this out by throwing him in the Sound earlier. Before you started dating him he just used to sink like a stone.”

41. Put a lampshade on it
“Are you going to call the police about the car?” I ask as I turn around…

“No. I don’t want the police involved. Leila needs help, not police intervention, and I don’t want them here. We just have to double our efforts to find her.” (p174)

And clearly the best way to find the woman who’s recently bought a gun and has just vandalised your girlfriend’s car, is to not enlist the help of the dedicated and well-trained professionals with legal powers of arrest, but instead get your crack team of security guards to keep checking behind the sofa from time to time.

Of course, if I’d got extensive form for beating up women, I might not be all that keen on having the cops coming around my place, either.

42. Ana and Christian on the subject of Ana’s car
“How could [Leila] have known it was my car?”

He glances anxiously at me and sighs. “She had an Audi A3. I buy one for all of my submissives – it’s one of the safest cars in its class.” (p179)

Especially since you never actually let them drive anywhere.

43. Things that are not surprising to hotel staff
“Do…you need a hand…with your bags, Mr Taylor?” she asks, going scarlet again.

“No, Mrs Taylor and I can manage.”

Mrs Taylor! But I’m not wearing a ring. (p183)

Oh, no! Quick, steal a curtain-ring from somewhere or she’ll have you thrown out on the streets as a scarlet woman!

44. I do not think this means what you think it means
I trail my fingers down his arms, down his lower back to the waistband of his jeans, and push my intrepid, greedy hands inside, urging him on and on – forgetting everything, except us.

“You’re going to unman me, Ana,” he whispers suddenly. (p187)

What I think you mean: “Ana, you are about to bring me to a premature orgasm”

What you actually just said: “Ana, you are about to forcibly remove my penis”

45. Love is in the air
He gazes down at me, his eyes wide and panicked, and all we can hear is the steady stream of water as it flows over us in the shower.

“You love me,” I whisper.

His eyes widen further and his mouth opens. He takes a huge breath, as if winded. He looks tortured – vulnerable.

“Yes,” he whispers. “I do.” (p196)

Yes, Christian. We know. You told her. Several times.

Maybe the problem was that the previous three occasions when you told her, you weren’t looking like a deer that’s about to be run over.

46. Ana the art critic
Gazing at us both in the mirror – his beauty, his nakedness, and me with my covered hair – we look almost biblical, as if from an Old Testament Baroque painting. (p199)

Ah yes; the parable of the Naked Wife-Beater and the Woman With The Towel On Her Head, from the Book of What The Hell Are You On About. I especially enjoyed Rubens’ interpretation.

47. Thoughts on safe cars
[Ana to Christian] “A Saab?”

“Yeah. A 9-3. Come.”

“What is it with you and foreign cars?”

“The Germans and the Swedes make the safest cars in the world, Anastasia.” (p204)

In which case, Christian, you might like to consider Volvo, which is also a Swedish brand and which is generally held to make the safest cars in the world.

48. Ana and Christian take a walk
We stroll arm in arm to the waterfront, where the marina stretches out in front of us.

“So many boats,” I murmur in wonder. (p207)

A marina full of boats! What are the odds?

49. Ew
[The cabin] has a king-sized cabin bed and is all pale blue linen and pale wood…

“This is the master cabin…you’re the first girl in here, apart from family. They don’t count.” (p211)

The mental picture I am forming here horrifies even me.

50. Rewriting history
I let my fingers wander, tracing his erection through the soft denim. He flexes his hips into my palm and closes his eyes briefly, relishing my touch.

“You’re getting so bold, Ana, so brave,” he whispers. (p218)

Christian, she gave you a blow-job the first time she went to bed with you. Since then she’s let you tie her up, tie her down, spank her, actively encouraged you to put silver balls in her vagina and jerked you off at the dinner–table. Touching you through your jeans while you’re alone together with the door shut is honestly not the boldest thing she’s done.

And that’s the end of the sample! If you’d like to read the rest, here’s the link to purchase. I’ll be donating half of my royalties to Women’s Aid.

Thanks for dropping by!

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