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If you’re a writer looking for representation, you’ll typically be told by an agent to submit ‘your first 3 chapters’. On those first 3 chapters you rise or fall. The first 3 chapters of 50 Shades of Grey are so insipid you can’t help feel some extraordinary exception was made for EL James. 

From a purely plot point of view, the set up in 50 Shades of Grey is solid enough.  Ana, our young, effusively self-deprecating first person narrator, is sent by her relatively self-assured, sexually alluring flat mate, Kate, to interview billionaire Christian Grey for the local uni rag mag. OK, this to start with is somewhat incredible, but never mind, let’s roll with it. Ana, short for Anastasia, by the way, goes to see the immaculate, inevitably glacial Grey and, despite tripping over her feet and blushing like a fifteen year-old, she succeeds in making a favourable impression on her interviewee.

In chapter 2 Grey pops up at the shop where Ana works part time. Coincidence or design? Ana wonders. Well, duh. Anyway, more blushing and heart-pounding ensues amid incredulous wonderings from Ana that maybe, just maybe, this 'damn handsome' guy has a thing for her.  

The regularity of Ana’s sexual panic and embarrassment leads you to wonder whether she might actually have a medical condition. ‘My heart slams into my mouth…’ What? Again? you begin to ask yourself. At every juncture she pretends to be amazed that Grey is showing nonchalant interest in her. Apparently blind to the notion a man might just want to fuck her. Or even slap her, tie her up and fuck her.

Grey himself is not even as three dimensional as a video game hero. Bizarrely – in spite of being under 35 – he talks like a man whose diction straddles not two but three centuries. “I wonder if you would join me for coffee this morning.” Have you ever heard an American talk like that? He sounds like an English toff with a broom handle up his bum. And does anyone call anyone ‘Miss’ anymore, unless it’s in a letter to your child’s primary teacher?

Grey seems to have two basic modalities: he has a ‘burning grey gaze’ (does grey actually burn?) or a ‘dazzling, unguarded, natural, all-teeth-showing, glorious smile’.  Your average male model, then.  Fascinating.

Ana is similarly very un-American to my ear. Her diction, her blushing and self-deprecating wit – these are all very Bridget Jonesy traits, surely. About the only American quality to her diction is that she says ‘toward’ instead of towards. Not a ‘gotten’ in sight.

She's also in such a flap about her hormones and blushing it becomes a sort of narrative tick – Oh, crap, I'm blushing again – to keep the reader engaged. She sticks to one note throughout: I might be a bit dumb, but I’m also smart enough to see how silly this all is. This self-deprecating and increasingly predictable and tiresome brand of wit is a very British affair, so why set this story in Seattle?

The dialogue also has this journo-interviews-her-awesome-subject kind of style to it, which is bearable for the duration of Ana's interview with Grey, but grates thereafter. There's also quite a bit of exposition, too, that slows things down; I would have thought an editor would have had this stuff tummy-tucked.

Erotic…uh?

Above all, what is surprising about these opening 3 chapters is the lack of anything remotely erotic about the action or the writing. If I knew nothing of what came after, I would have no notion that we were due to move on to scenes of bondage etc. It’s easy enough to believe Ana might be a ‘submissive’ type, but the problem is, her being such a cliché submissive type puts so little at stake.

By contrast, the submissive protagonist in Marthe Blau’s Submission, is highly intelligent, sophisticated and discerning. So when she consents to being – by most people’s standards – sexually abused by a mysterious, powerful man, a sort of Grey equivalent, but French and therefore truly risque, to whom she is fatally attracted, we are intrigued because she is acting against type and we want to know why.

There is no such intrigue in 50 Shades of Grey. I’m reminded of the few soft porn movies I watched as a teenager: you just wanted to fast forward all the laborious footage of the sexy, languid lead getting in and out of cars, walking through doorways and lounging about with cocktails on a chaise longue and get to the steamy point of it all.

Given the sheer ubiquity of porn on the internet and the fairly universal need for instant gratification, why would anyone read on beyond chapter 3?

Chapter 3 ends with Anastasia stumbling yet again – panicked and flushed, beetroot red etc. – but on this occasion the gallant Mr. Grey catches her in his arms. Just like that. Even your average hack wouldn't dare to put in a scene like this to a low budget romantic comedy these days. She might have been held up but my jaw hit the floor.

OK, so the opening of 50 Shades is not literary, it’s not erotic, there’s little in the way of suspense… so… presumably it all kicks off in chapter 4… right? 

For the truly erotic… thrilling… literary… check out "Hi, I'm Luna, I'm a Sex Addict"

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The main protagonist in “Hi, I’m Luna, I’m a Sex Addict” starts behaving like a sex addict. What triggers this kind of behaviour?Can visits to Sex Addicts Anonymous provide a viable solution?

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I just finished the first chapter of 50 Shades of Grey, by EL James, and was at least mildly entertained. It’s chatty, but more economical and much less gushing than most chick lit, and quickly gets to a diverting first encounter.

The set up is well constructed: young woman goes to interview billionaire at his palacial – or perhaps glacial – grey offices in place of her better looking, ambitious friend and in spite of making a fool of herself manages to implant a seed of erotic interest in her subject.

50 Shades of Grey opens with the narrator having a fit about her hair. One more page of this sort of flap and most men would be embarrassed to continue reading, but thankfully this soon gives way to our narrator having to stand in for her best friend to interview the aptly named Grey.

The narrator is a young and self-deferential university student who seems to be perpetually in awe of beautiful and ambitious people, both male and female. She’s roped into interviewing a billionaire for her university rag mag by her more beautiful flatmate, Kate.  Upon entering the room where her gorgeous billionaire interviewee awaits her, she trips over her feet and nearly falls flat on her face. I can see this working well in the movie. That the writer goes for this kind of comic turn suggests she wants us to take all that follows – i.e. bdsm, etc – with a large pinch of salt.

Grey is described as if he were some sort of god, albeit a bit 'arrogant'. You can’t help picturing feminists writhing in their seats as they read this first chapter… God, we went through all of this just to be followed by university graduates who nearly wet themselves when confronted with men like this!?

The narrator is in such awe of Grey’s good looks, cool confidence and wealth, it is hard to take him any more seriously than the fabrication of a 13-year-old’s imagination. His physical presence and confidence conjures up superhero characters such as Bruce Wayne and lead characters in my son’s video games – entirely plastic, vaguely cybernetic, emptily enigmatic. The writer isn’t interested in even hinting at an inner life for Grey at this juncture, she merely wants us to ‘buy into’ this man as an object of desire. Basically he’s a sugardaddie supreme. Kinda depressing that women (in droves) still buy into this dubious fantasy but would doubtless complain at the first hint a man might be treating them like a ‘sexual object’.  I mean, hello?

Anyway, our narrator is so intimidated by and in awe of her subject she blushes at every turn during her fumbling bumbling interview. You could be forgiven for thinking feminism had never happened – or at best was just some passing fashion circa 1966.   

Sadly there is no attempt to satirize either the narrator or Grey. Then again, satire and erotica don’t make for compatible bed fellows…

I’m not there yet, but I understand most of the story is about submission – and presumably the writer’s intention is that we get off reading about a woman’s submission to a rich and powerful man, without finding it ridiculous or demeaning.

But for the hype surrounding this novel I’m not sure I would bother with chapter 2, but it’s hard not to want to understand what makes this book stand out while so many erotic novels end up as pulp after making barely enough money to furnish a cheap brothel.  

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So it seems to me. If you write about sex, it has to be 'erotica'. Cue book covers sporting steamy sex buddies boasting chiselled bodies right up close, the kind of pics I used to gawk at as a teenager in a newsagent – top shelf, out of reach of all but the tallest of teenagers. 

I haven't read much 'erotica' but it seems to be the kind of stuff I used to pore over as a twelve year-old thumbing through old copies of Playboy and Hustler. Now that we have free internet porn on tap, I don't really see the point. 

When my London literary agent submitted my novel “Hi, I’m Luna, I’m A Sex Addict”, she was met with mild consternation, it seems, from her ‘buddies’ in publishing. They expressed concern that the title and contents were too racy for Tesco’s and WH Smith. Well, that didn’t add up, to me. For one thing, of the various booksellers interested in my first novel, Sisi & Sonia, WH Smith wanted a racier cover. Added to which WH Smith sell porn titles. Well, they did the last time I was in there. And what about ‘Diary of a Call Girl’? The novelised blog of a woman who enjoyed having sex for money. No problem there, apparently.

I had to ask myself, Was it that I was a man writing about sex in the literary genre? Easier if I were gay, or writing purely for Erotica, but literary fiction? Aren’t straight English guys supposed to be less interested in the emotions surrounding sex? Yes, even now, n this metrosexual age. If they ever 'do sex', aren’t they supposed to be masters of smut and self-hate (Martin Amis and Money)? Sex as politics, sex as a means to power, etc. etc.

Having said that, feedback from American (professional) readers was entirely positive. I hadn’t expected that. The impression we get here in the UK is that there is only a small enclave of culturally sophisticated and liberal-minded Americans who might be interested in sex in literature that is not merely porn or erotica.

Sex in titles

I have to admit I wasn’t sure whether to go with the bold title “Hi, I’m Luna, I’m A Sex Addict”. On the one hand it was provocative and, for anyone who felt they were or had been a sex addict (perhaps a growing percentage of the population), it was at least relevant.

But most people will turn away from the words ‘sex addict’. Unless of course applied to someone like Michael Douglas or Tiger Woods, then they want to know everything.

So perhaps, I thought to myself, I could rely on a certain hypocrisy working in my favour. And then there was the fact the title held some pretty useful keywords. We do live in the internet age, after all.

There have been days when I’ve thought, Maybe I should have played it safe. Like everyone else, more or less. People might think my novel is only about sex addiction… Oh shit, what have I done, it's about so much more! What have I done!

But sometimes you just have to be bold.

Hopefully the warmth of the cover draws people in who might otherwise hover, afraid of the words ‘sex addict’, as if they believed they might become one if they were to read the book.

The truth is, the novel contains sex scenes, and graphic descriptions of sex, but the sex is integral to the story; it is not merely illustrative or titillating, it goes to the very fibre of the protagonist’s experience of life. Sex is the hinge that allows the character to swing from one space to the next. It is way more than mere sensation, or sensationalism. it is the motor to Luna’s life. Read it here.

 

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PR for your novel

Blast your novel on PRWeb

 

I just had an email today from PRWeb – with my analytics for the release I did recently, promoting my latest novel "Hi, I'm Luna, I'm A Sex Addict". To be honest, I haven't much idea whether the impressions or reads they give are good or bad. That said, it had to be done.

To quote:

'According to our records, your release entitled "London Author Nic Penrake Takes Readers On A Dark, Erotic Journey in his Fast Paced Literary Thriller" went live on June 19, 2012. So far your release has received 10684 impressions and 604 reads.'

It's difficult to gauge how effective online PR works with something like a novel. Novels are notoriously difficult to market – unless you are already a name. They can't be said to fulfill a need, solve a problem, or feed a niche. They're either hot or they're not. So, if your publisher is small – as mine is – and has only very limited resources to promote your book, what do you do?

The press aren't interested, because they are swamped with requests from publishers with much glossier titles.

Bloggers tend to be blogging… but are possibly your best bet if you can get your approach right, and your timing right.

Facebook? Linkedin? Hm, maybe you get a tiny bump in sales that way.

Yahoo groups are worth a shot, especially if you write in a genre, although they are very crowded. Can't help feeling they are populated mainly by people pitching their book, not reading anyone else's, but that's just an impression, I have no data to prove that. I try to keep an open mind…

My guess is you're probably best off just blogging about and around your book's subject.

Blog till you drop 

I recently joined Empower Network. Founder Dave Sharp and Dave Wood are all about blogging. More specifically being committed to blogging and, of course, the products they have to sell you. Watching Dave Wood on a video last night I have to admit he got me a bit fired up, believing again that maybe consistent blogging can work. 

If you could use some extra juice to your blogging motor, get some inspiration from this guy Dave Wood. Well worth the watch.

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Blurb

At 38, Luna's career as a painter takes a sudden dive. The credit crunch is still grinding on and her regular buyers are too busy guarding their second mortgages to invest in modern art. As her financial anxieties escalate, and she digs deeper for new, more 'commercial' ideas, she returns to the Pandora's Box of the past, the sexual and physical abuse she experienced as a child…

…until, one day, she chances upon an idea for a new series of paintings that seems to offer her not just a way out of debt, but a way in to the dark side of her sexuality where nagging questions still remain, demanding answers before she is too advanced in years to have a child of her own.

But at what cost? Her idea is a radical one and upsets her actor boyfriend. She goes for it nonetheless. And in pursuing her ambition, she throws herself into a sexual odyssey with a French swinging couple that brings her to the edge of losing control. Will her daring bear fruit, or end in a triptych of death and disaster?

~

For a limited time only I'm giving away the Kindle version. 

If you'd like the paperback version, you can find it here: Luna at Melange Books

To download the Kindle version of my latest novel, click on “Hi, I’m Luna, I’m A Sex Addict”. Not even an optin required! 

Comments welcome, as are short reviews on amazon, barnesandnoble, lulu and other online stores. Feel free to share the links.

 

Free PC Kindle app:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html/ref=kcp_pc_mkt_lnd?docId=1000426311

Free Mac version:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html/ref=kcp_mac_mkt_lnd?docId=1000464931

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I finally got a couple of videos up on youtube this weekend for this site. And I hope I made it clear, this site is not just a showcase or depository for my own work –

I am looking for submissions!

 

So let's have them.

I've been working on a new novel this month, based on the play I wrote, produced and directed last year called Virtually In Love. This novel – working title, Creative – will also incorporate material drawn from another unproduced play I wrote a few years ago. I seem to be in a cannabilistic frame of mind at the moment;)

I'll be putting up chapter 1 on this site next week, together with a short outline of the novel's themes. Feedback from some copywriter and actor friends so far has been an emphatic thumbs up, always good to have a 'like' this early on in a first draft.

Thanks for reading this short post. Now send me your extracts and stories!

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