Fifty Shades of Grey: e-book success or top-shelf snigger?

Writing news

It’s “Media Monday”, when I bring you a short, sharp post of the latest writing news…

Fifty Shades of Grey. Heard of it? It’s the erotica novel that has just pushed the phenomenal Hunger Games off the US bestseller list and has bagged its author, E.L. James, a $5 million publishing deal – oh, and it’s a bit racy. While industry experts and publishing houses are now dusting off their erotica authors and getting them out on the shelves to cash in on this new trend, many journalists and reviewers are hailing this fiction genre as the long-awaited voice for all women. News streams such as The Huffington Post have applauded E.L.James’ book, with guest blogger, Lisa Guest, declaring that it was ‘about time’ women spoke of s.e.x (see, I can’t say it…), while has announced that the book could be turned into a movie. But, the thing is, I think they’ve all missed a major point here, namely, has the fact that this was originally published solely as an e-book contributed to its success? Fifty Shades of Grey is, as the media claim, ‘mummy porn.’ But answer me this: How many mums do you know who go to the top shelf of the local supermarket and chuck a copy of Playboy in with the mince and the nappies? I’m guessing there aren’t many. And that’s the point. These women saw an opportunity with the e-book format – and so did E.L.James. Namely, they could buy their erotica and no-one would be any the wiser. Except, perhaps, their other halves.

Now the book is in paper format, it’s doing very well, but for its author E.L.James, the success lay, not only in having the guts to write a book of such an explicit kind in the first place (it’s one of a trilogy), but to then sell it as an e-book so readers could purchase it in the privacy of their own homes. Like it or not, the e-book is a seller, and while Fifty Shades of Grey is not my kind of novel, top-shelf snigger or not, you’ve got to admire the sheer success of it all.

What do you think? Is it an e-book phenomenon or simply a top-shelf snigger? Let me know.

**Look out for “Wednesday Wafflings”, my Diary of a Hopeful Author out on..Wednesday. This week, I talk about the sheer agony of listening to my own voice on the radio…**

New “Friday Fiction”: first short story instalment now ready to read…

It’s “Friday Fact or Fiction”,  a new post where I write a little something for the weekend for you to read, be it fact or, um, fiction. This week, we’re kicking off with the first instalment of a short story I have written, called The Woman Who Walked To School


The woman who walked to school           (Part One)

When Margaret turned up at the school gates, she couldn’t remember how she’d got there. She knew she had walked, always had; but no, that wasn’t it. She simply couldn’t recall the journey.

The village where she lived was a holding area for commuters, families and people with lives. On a Monday, Margaret would watch them from her lounge window and wonder what they were doing, where they were going. She always imagined they had busy, important things to do; doctors, lawyers, teachers. She would get up, flip on the kettle and check the time. She used to have a life. And now? Now it was as if the world was carrying on without her.

Grassmore Village was postcard-perfect, with the Church at its heart. Her name down on the helper rota, Margaret walked to Church with Thomas about twice a week to give the place a quick vacuum, but, with Thomas now a toddler and into everything, she found it hard to keep up, his endless investigations into hymn books, trees and dog poo, exhausting.  When she saw the other mothers outside school, she imagined they never had to deal with a child brandishing a stick of dog muck at them. These mothers arrived glistening, polished and utterly protected from mud and nature, their high heels un-scuffed, their fingernails shining and their hair styled. They somehow reminded Margaret of fresh candy floss – sweet, pink and popular. These women were so composed, so well managed, so…together. They were also together as a group. Every summer’s day they would converse with each other at the gates in fresh, delicate words, words so beautifully blended that if she could pop one in her mouth she imagined it would taste of the lightest lemon mouse. The group was something that Margaret felt, with her frayed skirt, greying hair and baggy t-shirt, she could never be a part of. Ironic, she thought, that this is what it had come to. It almost made her laugh. In her teens, Margaret used to be something of a popular girl at school, not too showy or tarty, but simply pretty, bright and fun. And, now here she was, at school once more, watching the other pretty, bright, fun ones and wishing she were one of them.

The morning when the Vicar first asked her to prepare the soup for the Friends of the Church lunch, Margaret thought he was joking.  Do the soup with a toddler in tow? She’d end up wearing the soup, not eating it. Yet the idea, as she soon discovered, was not for her to actually eat any of the soup herself, but to prepare it at home, transport it to the Church and serve it. She wanted to say no. She wanted to tell the Vicar where he could shove his soup. Yet, saying no was hard for Margaret, and so, when she agreed to help, her shoulders dropped and her heart sank. This was her life.

And so it was that on a summer’s morning Margaret found herself entombed inside the Church, shivering and heaving a bucket-sized pot of vegetable soup into the serving area. With Thomas already playing cars on the floor, she side stepped a Matchbox Ford and promptly dropped her bag, the contents spilling to the floor. For a moment she just stood, clutching the soup. She looked at her things: a hair band, a bus ticket, broken breadsticks, nappies, biscuit crumbs, fluff from the carpet at home, tractor books. This was her, these were the items that represented her, who she was, what she was about. When she saw the other mums’ handbags, all soft leather, buckles and brand names, she knew those bags would hold items that kept each owner individual: a bit of Chanel here, a new scarf there, a mobile phone holding a lively social calendar.  To Margaret, those women, they were still themselves. But, who was she?…

Copyright © Nikki Owen 2012

Thanks for reading! The next instalment of The Woman Who Walked To School will be posted next Friday. Have a lovely weekend.

**Look out for  my “Media Monday” post on, um, Monday. A short, sharp snippet on the latest writing news…**

Latest column now out and it’s all about the Olympics…

It’s Thursday so it’s “Column Day” where I post my weekly newspaper column to my blog so you can have a read…

This week my column for the Gloucestershire Gazette is all about the Olympics and their value to us and future generations. To read it, simply click to my Column page.

Hope you like it. Thanks for reading!

**Look out for tomorrow’s brand new post, “Friday Fact or Fiction”. This week I’ll be posting an extract from a short story of mine**

How a nice cup of tea helped my will to win. Sort of…

Welcome to “Wednesday Wafflings” a bit of a well, waffle, where I post the latest in my Diary of a Hopeful Author…

I need a cup of tea. Last week I was clumsy, this week I’m tired. For the past few months I’ve been getting up at 5 a.m. again to write –  and I think it’s taking its toll. Writing in the morning helps reassure me for the day because if other work takes over later on, at least I know that I’ve put an hour’s worth of writing on to the page. The thing is, I am now absolutely shattered. ‘You look tired,’ says my friend one evening as we go for a fast walk in the late sunshine. ‘I know,’ I yawn, ‘but it will be worth it.’ She narrows her eyes at me and stops walking. ‘Look,’ she says, her serious teacher face on, ‘you don’t need to push yourself quite so hard. Maybe move your deadlines back a bit.’ I rub my eyes and nod before we resume our exercise in the fading light.

When I get home later, I slump on to the sofa and realise that my friend is right. I am pushing myself a little hard. I have given myself a deadline for my second novel to be complete, and it’s quite a tight one. Thing is, I’m over half way through it now and I’m at that stage where I can get an idea of what the finishing line will look like. Trouble is, I am frying myself in the process, but isn’t that what we all do when we work towards something we so badly want and love? There’s a free e-book I downloaded the other day by Karen Brady. If you watch TV, you may know her as the advisor to Lord Alan Sugar on the BBC show The Apprentice; if you’re a footie (aka soccer) fan, you may know her as the Vice-Chairman of West Ham United. The book’s entitled Karen Brady’s 10 Rules for Success, and in it, amongst other things, she cites how hard work is essential if we want to get to where we want to be.  Sat on the sofa one night, iPad on, I quote this to my hubbie. ‘Honey,’ he says, ‘she’s right. You do need to work hard. But right now, if you keep getting hardly any sleep like you are, you’re going to make yourself sick.’ I blow my nose. ‘I’m not sick,’ I croak. He rolls his eyes. ‘Do you want some paracetemol?’ I pull the blanket on to my lap. ‘Mmm, I’d better. Maybe some hot water and lemon, too.’

The next morning, I take a quick look at Karen’s other top ten tips and try to see if I am already achieving some of them. ‘Know how to negotiate.’ Hmmm, I can get the eldest to have only one digestive biscuit instead of two, so, tick! ‘Have the courage to take a risk.’ Okay, so I did contact the Gloucestershire Gazette about writing a column, and I did try a raw scallop once, so yeah, I do risks, so, tick! ‘Plan to win.’ Hmmm…I stand and think. ‘Plan to win,’ I say out loud. My youngest must hear me as she rushes in shouting, ‘Who won? Who won? What did you win mum?’ When I tell her nothing, she drops her shoulders and sulks off. I flop into my seat. Planning to win is not something I normally do. Planning to juggle, yes. Planning to get my roots done one day soon, definitely. But win? It seems almost arrogant – and certainly alien – to think such a thing about myself. But I realise Karen’s advice is right. If I don’t plan to win, how will I ever, you know, win? Feeling a bit tired by all the thinking, I get up, get the kids to school and return to the house to find my mobile buzzing – it’s a direct message for me via Twitter. Clicking it open, I read it to see it’s from a radio presenter at BBC Radio Gloucestershire, Claire Carter – and she wants to do an interview…about my book The Boy Who Played Guitar.  Frozen to the spot, my heart bangs in my chest as Claire and I then proceed to send a string of messages to each other, the upshot of which is that she is coming to our house the next day to interview me. I immediately phone my husband. ‘Wow! Nice one, honey,’ he says. I let out a breath and say, ‘You do radio. Will you give me some pointers?’  He readily agrees and I am very grateful (he, the media tart, loves the radio, and does the BBC Radio Gloucestershire Business Briefing almost every week. He does TV interviews, too. Our kids now think he is famous. I know.) Next, I phone my mum. ‘Proud of you!’ she shouts. Then, finally, I phone my friend. ‘Jesus!’ she shrieks. ‘You’d better wash your hair.’ I nod. ‘And the kitchen sides,’ she says. ‘Wipe down the sides!’  I thank her – she is an oracle of advice.

While I am nervous to start with, the actual interview goes really well. Claire is lovely, so chatty and friendly, and we bond over talk of cuppas and fake tans.  The interview doesn’t just stop at the subject of The Boy Who Played Guitar, either. ‘Do you fancy doing the Thought for the Day slot, as well?’ she asks. I gulp. ‘Sure,’ I croak, but it’s all okay. Claire asks me five Gloucestershire-based questions and I answer them best I can. When we are done, she says each one of my thoughts will air every day on the Breakfast Show for a week. I am beyond chuffed.

‘The Breakfast Show?’ says my hubbie later that evening as we sip some merlot. ‘That gets the highest listening figures.’ I grin. ‘And she was so nice,’ I say. ‘She said she’d let me know when it was all going to be aired and tweet everyone, too.’

It gets to Friday, and as I turn to Twitter, I get a lovely #ff message from Claire Carter, saying kind things about me. It almost makes me cry. Smiling from ear to ear, I tweet back and then stick the kettle on. Switching on my iPad, I click on to Kindle and spot the Karen Brady book. ‘Plan to win,’ I say to myself. The kettle whistles, and I grab the tea bags. Whatever I plan to do, I’ll just make a nice cup of tea first.

Tired from writing or working? What helps you to keep going? Need tea or is coffee your thing? Pop on a comment and let me know. Thanks!

**Out tomorrow: my latest colulmn post for the Gloucestershire Gazette**

Today is World Book Night – what will you be reading..?

It’s “Media Monday”, when I do a short, sharp post on the latest news in writing, books or fiction…

23rd April 2012. Today is World Book Night, and to be honest, at first, I didn’t really know what it was about. Turns out it’s about a lot. Tonight 1 million books will be given away. 1 million. It’s a follow-up to its more famous brother you may have heard about, World Book Day, and its main drive? To get people who wouldn’t normally read to pick up a book and, well, read.

A lot of people may be cynical about this. How do the organisers know that the people who they are trying to target are going to actually get the books? How can they monitor whether they’re being read or not? Who will distribute them? Well, turns out the last part is the easy one. Some 20,000 people have volunteered to give away the free books, books that range from classics such as Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, to Andrea Levy’s A Small Island. Now, I’m actually not one of the distributors tonight, but I know, if these volunteers are anything like me, they’ll try to ensure the books get to the right people in the right way (apparently, their remit is to give books to 48 strangers).  While for many of us, reading is as familiar as breathing, for others getting into books may not have come as naturally – and it can take a donation of a book from another to spark a literature love that can sometimes, quite literally, change lives. Take inmate Daniel Bramley, a father who read Martina Cole’s novel The Take in prison – and felt it changed his life for the better. The book, about a dad who comes put of prison to his wife and kids,  made Daniel want to improve his life – and part of that was by ensuring other inmates got the chance to read.

And that’s it, really. It’s all about getting the chance to read. While yes, the organisers of WBN can never accurately know whether their books are read in the end or not, what they do know is that through distributing them via libraries, the London Marathon yesterday, celebrities givers, and so many more routes, they at least are creating that chance. And who knows where it could lead to? Reading creates writing, and writing can change the way we think, the way we live, the way we are. As the author Emily Barr said in her excellent blog post about a children’s writing club which she runs, encourage your children to write – they are amazing. Just think – if we all had that approach to reading, writing, no matter what out age, just think of all the things we could do, we could change. Now that’s a World Book Night I’d like to read about.

To find out more about World Book Night 2012 go to their website . It details all the books being given away and how and where to get your hands on one. Good luck!

**Look out for my next blog post, “Wednesday Wafflings”, all about my Diary as a Hopeful Author. It’s up on, well, Wednesday…**

NEW Regular blog posts now announced

It’s out with the old and in with the new! This week saw a change to my blog posts – and now, thanks to you lovely folk, there are some new additions, which hopefully you will like…

All the advice is the same: make your posts regular and interesting so people will want to read them. While I can only keep my fingers crossed that you’ll find what I write interesting, at the very least I can come up with something a tad more regular. So, with the weekend underway and with it the time for me to have a wee think (with coffee!), I’ve come up with, what I hope, will be a regular little blog post timetable. Think of it as a scatty schedule of stuff – or just a bit of something to read. It’s a second draft, revamped from feedback from fine folk. I hope you like it. If you have any thoughts on improvements, I’d love to hear them.

So, drum roll, here’s me new blog post timetable…

MONDAY: “Media Monday” A short, sharp blast of the latest writing, book or fiction news…

WEDNESDAY: “Wednesday Wafflings” This is The Diary of a Hopeful Author bit, where I post the wafflings of my latest exploits in trying to make it as a mildly successful author…

THURSDAY: “Column Comment” Taken from my weekly writings for the Gloucestershire Gazette, this is a post of my column, appearing, funnily enough, on my Column page…

FRIDAY: “Friday Fact or Fiction” Every Friday I will post something about fact or fiction. This new post will kick off with a serial of a short story I have written.

So, that’s it. Whatcha think? Hope you like it. And in the meantime, have a great weekend.

First I lose my files, then I drop my oats…

Welcome to “Weekend Wafflings” my new regular Friday evening blog post full of, well, waffle about me trying to become a reasonably successful author. Think of it as a bit of a feet up read at the end of a busy week.  Glass of wine optional.

Sometimes I’m so clumsy.  Once, a few years back (alright, 12) I was walking to work when I suddenly tripped up on my own feet. Seriously. There I was, spread out on a Manchester pavement, rain lashing down on my back, the contents of my work bag strewn all over the concrete, my Filofax and lippy blending in with the discarded Tennents cans and crisp packets. Pulling myself up, I glanced round to check no-one saw me, and when I was sure the coast was clear, I let out a long breath of relief. Only when I resumed walking did I feel a slight additional, shall we say, breeze to my left leg. Halting, I glanced down at my trousers to see an almighty rip at the knee, the material flapping on either side like sails on a boat. When I walked into the office 10 minutes later, my work pals let out the loudest laughs at the state of me, and even louder ones when they badgered out of me how I’d done it. Needless to say, I was mortified.

These days, while I trip up a touch less often, I’m still just as clumsy. Take this blogging lark. The other day I go to post a comment on the film blog, Fandango Groovers , and instead of starting my comment with an intended, “Aaah”, in my reminiscence about the 80s film, The Breakfast Club (aw, d’you remember those outfits?), I write “Saab”.  Before I know it, I am clicking ‘post’, and there I am, sounding like a numpty to the whole world. Like many a person, turns out it’s not just my feet that trip me up. It’s my fingers, too. You see, after a small run in a few months back with a corrupted memory stick from which crucial files could not be clawed back, I join the server cloud website Dropbox, on the advice of my husband. ‘You need to back up your files,’ he instructs. I nod, trying to remember what he’s saying. ‘A memory stick is not the most reliable place to store your manuscripts,’ he continues. ‘You’ve backed everything up, haven’t you?’ My silence speaks volumes. He shakes his head and leaves the room.  Praying for a miracle, I switch on my laptop and begin to register with Dropbox. Over the next few weeks, all goes well. I write my novel, save it to the cloud. I write my newspaper columns, save them to the cloud. I even email some crucial second drafts to myself as third back up. Save it to the fluffy cloud. Mighty pleased with myself, that night I tell my husband that I’ve rearranged my Dropbox link on laptop number two because there was a shortcut link icon type thingy that didn’t need to be there. Top Gear is on, so I don’t think he hears me, and, thinking nothing more of it, I resume typing away novel number two, making a mental note to get up at 5 am.m to do some writing.

‘Oh my God,’ I whimper. It is now 6 a.m. and I am sat at my laptop in shock. ‘What is it?’ says a sleepy husband, entering the room. ‘Oh my God,’ I repeat. Used to my warblings, my husband ignores me and inspects the screen. ‘Is that your Dropbox link?’ I nod. ‘Aren’t your files supposed to be there?’ he says. Again, I nod. It is all I can manage. Because he is right. The files are supposed to be there – but they have disappeared. ‘I think I deleted them by accident,’ I finally say.  Then: ‘I feel sick.’ My husband lets out a breath and pats my back. ‘I’ll go and put the kettle on,’ he says.

The next morning, by some miracle, I manage to retrieve all but a few of the files. My second novel is still all there, as is the original manuscript of the first, plus a whole host of other crucial items. Padding downstairs, I switch on the stove and make some porridge for me and the youngest – our favourite breakfast treat, figuring, after the morning’s events, I need it. My husband comes in, fixing his tie. ‘Did you manage to sort the computer files?’ he asks. I open the draw to get the porridge oats. ‘Yep,’ I say, ‘thank goodness. What a nightmare.’  Reaching for the porridge tub, I pick it up only for it to inexplicably slip from my hands, its entire contents tipping everywhere. I don’t move, instead choosing to just blink at the drawer and the floor, each now covered in oats. ‘Oh dear,’ says my husband. I say nothing and close the draw. ‘Weren’t you going to make some porridge?’ he asks. I look at him. ‘No,’ I say, deciding to reach for the bread bin. ‘I think I’ll make some toast.’  ‘Ah,’ he says, ‘you could if I hadn’t fused it the other night.’ I sigh and reach for a banana. I’ll be alright as long as I don’t slip on the skin.

Right. Done anything clumsy? Ooo, let’s hear it. Have a great weekend.

**New for next week: “Media Monday”.  A new blog post that gives you a short, sharp start to the week blast of stuff going on on a Monday in the media.**

How to avoid getting addicted to the Internet

Welcome to  the new Weekend Watch“, my new  Friday morning blog post that looks at weekend events, be it news, books, or a little bit of fun.

As comedian Peter Kay says, the t’internet. This week’s Weekend Watch kicks off with the results of a poll I posted last week. The vote question was ‘Do you switch off from the internet when you go on holiday?’ Hmm, come on, admit it, you know it’s a tricky thing – and turns out you’re not alone, because a whopping 57% said that, if they went on holiday, they couldn’t do without the Internet. Take a ganders at the results….

The results to the poll, “‘Do you switch off from the Internet when you go on holiday:

57% No

27% Yes

14% Other

Thing is, more and more these days, the Internet, along with social media, smart phones and apps, is a growing part of our lives. As a writer, I find the Internet invaluable. Years ago, if I wanted to research something for an article or story, I would have to go to the library or trawl the papers, both of which could take up a good few days of my time. Now, though, things couldn’t be more different. The book I am currently writing is about a category one murder convict, so I need to know about prisons, criminal law, the appeal system.  Within just a couple of hours of web surfing, I can have the beginnings of some solid research, so much so that I now know about different aspects of prison life not just from a warden’s view, but from the viewpoint of  a convict inside – amazing.

And that’s the thing – the web is amazing. But with it, comes a darker side.  Type ‘Internet Disorder’ into Google, and you’ll get an array of websites and articles detailing the increasing rise of apparent dependency on the Internet. Sites such as posted an interesting article on net addiction, sighting three stages of addiction, namely: enchantment, disillusionment and finally, balance. They do, however, speculate in the article that while the term, “Internet addiction” is spouted widely, the terms “book addiction”, or “TV addiction” are not (although, they haven’t met my kids…)

Further searching throws up more articles on the subject – and ones that are a little more cause for concern. The Telegraph newspaper published an article back in January, 2012, stating that research has identified that Internet users who become dependent on being online have shown signs of changes in the brain similar to alcoholics and cocaine addicts. Oh crikey. Now, while we mustn’t use this as cause for panic, it does throw up some interesting questions. How many of us have ignored our spouses, kids, because we are answering a text or tweet? (Come on, hands up…) Or, how many of you have ended up on Facebook till the wee hours after originally telling yourself that you’d only be on there for half an hour and then you’re off to bed? Hmmm? I know I have. And the rest.

I think, really, that the key is to find a balance. The Internet undoubtedly has enriched our lives. Information is available in a split second, social media can quite literally cause life-changing democratic revolutions and books can be written (hopefully for the better) with the aid of speedy broadband connections. However, with this 24-hour connection comes the constant pressure to never switch off, to always be in touch with others and, sometimes, at the detriment of those who we love around us. For me, personally, the Internet, Twitter, Facebook et al, they are all invaluable. But, there are times when I know it is wise for me to turn my back on it all, just for a while, and take a break. Thing is, can you?

Ooo, look out for my new regular Friday afternoon post, “Weekend Waffling” out later on today…