IT'S not all about the sex, says 50 Shades of Grey author EL James. Women readers just want a passionate romance.
It is a tale of erotic obsession so racy that fans know it as “mummy porn”.
Yet EL James has claimed that the extraordinary success of her Fifty Shades of Grey novels is down to old-fashioned romance rather than sex.
The trilogy has sold 31 million copies worldwide, overtaking Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and The Da Vinci Code in Britain, because it tells a simple love story, the author said.
However, James said she was unhappy that teenage girls are reading the books because the content is strictly adults-only.
The 49-year-old writer made a rare public appearance on Wednesday night to promote Fifty Shades of Grey: The Classical Album, a tie-in featuring music that “inspired” her writing and features in the books. It includes pieces by Chopin, Debussy and Rachmaninoff.
Her hero, brooding billionaire Christian Grey, plays classical piano when he is not seducing a young woman, Anastasia Steele, in a variety of sado-masochistic scenarios.
Asked if female readers were attracted by the adventurous bedroom scenes or the fantasy of dating a ludicrously rich man, James replied: “No, it’s the love story. Women like to read a passionate love story.
“There is sex but as the books go on the sex changes as the relationship changes. You see the evolution of it.”
James said she was inundated with emails from readers who said the books had changed their lives and, in many cases, saved their marriages.
“Women of all ages are reading it - from women at university right through to women in their nineties,” she said. “I get the most TMI [too much information] emails you could ever hope for. People go and try this stuff.
“I hope teenagers aren’t reading it but I think a few are because I get emails from them as well, and I wish they weren’t.”
The author - real name Erika Mitchell - said that the rise of e-readers such as the Kindle allowed women to read the books without embarrassment.
She explained: “E-readers have been very liberating for people because they can read whatever they like with no judgment.
“In fact, I designed the book covers because in my early thirties I read a lot of romantic fiction when I was slogging into and out of London on the Tube, and they had these horrible covers with women with their clothes falling off.
“I hated that, so I designed discreet covers where nobody would know it’s a really salacious novel.”
James said her next book is likely to be a sequel written from Christian Grey’s point of view.
There is also a film in the pipeline, with some of Hollywood’s hottest actors linked to the starring role. Asked to choose her ideal leading man from any era, she named Robert Redford and Paul Newman.
Scoring the best-selling book in Britain since records began is “bizarre”, James said, particularly as the books started out as online “fan fiction” based on the Twilight teen novels. She has never visited Seattle or Portland, where the books are set, and did all her research via Google Street View.
“It’s overwhelming. I wrote these books for me, but other people seem to share my fantasies too, so that’s interesting. I’m not such a pervert. Itt was a huge relief to find that out,” she joked.
James is married to Niall Leonard, a fellow writer, and has two teenage sons. Sadly, her own marriage does not quite live up to the pages of one her novels. Leonard’s first Christmas present to her was a tin-opener. “A tin opener! Jesus Christ on a bicycle. He never made that mistake again, trust me.”
Asked if she had ever met a man in real-life who resembled Christian Grey, she sighed: “Oh, I wish.”
Anita Singh Telegraph.co.uk