Fifty Shades of… the CFL sex survey!

Unless you’re orbiting on one of Saturn’s outer rings, you’ve probably noticed the stir a certain book called Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James has created. It’s been described as pornographic, and sadistic, and I saw a story online about a man who sprayed brown sauce in his girlfriend’s face because she wouldn’t put it down. True crime.

Of course, plenty has been said about the book, which has two sequels – Fifty Shades Darker, and Fifty Shades Freed. It’s story began life as Twilight fan fiction. It’s setting printing industry records. It’s a major driver behind Kindle sales. And, it’s changing women’s sex lives, apparently.

But what impact is Fifty Shades-o-mania having on crime fiction? Will crime authors be tempted to make their stories sexier, perhaps? We asked seven of them what they make of all the fuss… and please note our parental advisory on entry number four!

Louise Voss
Have you read it? Yes. Well, I started actually reading it, and ended up skimming through the second half…
What do you make of it? I thought if Ana said ‘Holy crap/cow/smoke/moley’ one more time I would scream, but I have to admit that the characters were fairly strong – not just for S&M-related reasons.
Are you tempted to write sexier crime books? Not particularly. I don’t think erotica should be crow-barred into a novel for the sake of it, but when it is necessary, such as to illustrate the sort of relationship the characters have, it’s nice to make it sexy and memorable.
Your sexiest book is… I’d say that the most memorable sex scene I ever wrote was in my novel Games People Play – it involved my protagonist being bent over a balcony in a heavy rainstorm in Kansas…

Harry Bingham
Have you read it? No, but I expect I will.
What do you make of it? Very interesting. James’ success is yet another huge sign that our industry is changing fast and broadly to the benefit of authors. It’s pretty clear that the book isn’t well written but is fabulously successful. I guess if the manuscript had been submitted to agents or publishers, no one would have picked it up. That’s a pretty jumbo clue that they are missing something key about what readers want. What else might we be missing?
Are you tempted to write sexier crime books? Er, no. I’m a 45-year-old bloke and my detective protagonist  is a 20-something woman. I think adding very much erotica to that mix would feel a little creepy!
Your sexiest book is… Talking to the Dead, but my readers love me for my writing and for my detective. EL James, I ain’t.

Ali Knight
Have you read it? I’ve read two out of the three.
What do you make of it? You certainly can’t put them down, even though you know you probably should. The ebooks’ word search is a godsend here. Saves hours.
Are you tempted to write sexier crime books? Eew. It’s such a fine skill, I imagine it’s really tricky to do well.
Your sexiest book is… Sexy books tend to have more impact when you’re young. I remember reading The Magus by John Fowles years ago. All detail from the book has gone, but I still remember being stunned by how erotic it was. Come to think of it, Birdsong isn’t bad either. You can always rely on the Belgians…

Helen FitzGerald

Have you read it? No and I’m not tempted. Not because I’m highbrow but because no-one’s said anything about the story that grabs me.
What do you make of it? I’m jealous she’s making so much money but this does not make me vicious or bitter. Good on her. Leave the woman alone.
Are you tempted to write sexier crime books? A few lines about how a character behaves in bed, or in the club loos, can tell you so much about them. Because my characters are usually pretty fucked-up, I tend to write bad sex – icky stuff that puts you off ever doing it – and apparently this is not good for sales.
Your sexiest book is… My debut, Dead Lovely. On the first page, Krissie talks about swallowing semen. I don’t regret writing this. No matter what my mum and my editor say, it was this first page that got me a publishing deal.

Paul D Brazill
Have you read it? I am the ‘Grey’ of which they speak.
What do you make of it? It’s good that they toned down the sex scenes.
Are you tempted to write sexier crime books? It would’t be fair for those of a nervous disposition.
Your sexiest book is… Yellow Pages.

Anya Lipska
Have you read it? I read the opening chapters on Kindlestore and decided it wasn’t worth paying to read the rest.
What do you make of it? I’m not averse to porn on the page – so much better than the film variety – but I found this pretty predictable stuff, with some laugh-out-loud bad lines. I’m slightly mystified at its omni-success since it feels not a jot different to the often better written Black Lace series that came out a few years ago.
Are you tempted to write sexier crime books? When I’ve tried to do sex on the page the results have made me cram my fist in my mouth and gurn with embarrassment. One crime novel that really got it right was the dark and sexy In the Cut by Susanna Moore, later made it into a film.
Your sexiest book is… The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles. Now, throw a bucket of cold water over me, please.

Stav Sherez
Have you read it? No. Probably won’t, either. Too many other unread books stacking up in my flat.
What do you make of it? I think every generation seems to have its own breakthrough sex/porn book. Remember Belle de Jour? The Story of O? Anais Nin? Tropic of Cancer? At least Henry Miller mixed in philosophy, rages against the modern world, poetry, travel writing, social commentary, and Kant between the sex scenes.
Are you tempted to write sexier crime books? I don’t like reading sex scenes in books. Just one of those things that prose cannot convey very well. I don’t write them either. Eroticism is in the snatched edges of a kiss, the colour of lipstick, a woman seen briefly from a moving car, the slanted smile at the end of the night.
Your sexiest book is… Well, I suppose it has to be The Devil’s Playground because there’s no sex in the other three.

As usual, dear reader, please post your thoughts in the comments below…

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3 Comments

  1. Rebecca Stanley Reply

    Great survey CFL! I already had zero interest in reading 50 shades, now I have even less. Crime and sex? Depends on your audience. Imagine coming across a raunchy scene in some of the cosy crime novels… Might wake some readers up a bit. Ooh la la indeed.

  2. Hilary Norman Reply

    Like Louise Voss, I ended up skimming it and won’t be reading the other two. But given that I tend to use Kindle mostly in order to fall asleep in bed, I have to say it kept me awake. I’m told that I used to write great sex, but these days I’m more into murder. I just glanced back at one of my oldies, LAURA, remembering my research into sex toys, etc, and was quite startled by the eleven pages or so in the middle of the book where Ambler certainly startled Laura. I recall Judith Krantz referring to ‘typewriter turn-on’, and I do remember experiencing that… Another older title of mine, SHATTERED STARS, just came back to me: sex on horseback. I won’t tell you how I did my research into that. I’d better think about spicing up the next Sam Becket…

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