Up close and personal: Fifty Shades of Grey author EL James reveals real-life secrets to her readers

As the enigmatic author's S&M novel tops the bestseller lists, Arifa Akbar sees her indulge in a little Q&A

Dressed in leopard print and thigh-slashed, spangled silk, it looked like a hen party convention had landed at the wrong central London venue. A pair of pink fluffy handcuffs would not have looked out of place.

In fact, pink fluffy handcuffs would have been apt for the occasion. For this decidedly unsexy venue was where EL James – erotic writer extraordinaire and so-called progenitor of "mommy porn" – made her first UK public appearance since her debut S&M novel, Fifty Shades of Grey, rocketed into bestseller book-charts across the globe.

The two-hour Q&A session in the formal, two-tiered conference room at IET was more like a raucous girl's night in, with the audience giving EL James – real name Erika Leonard – a standing ovation as she sat down to talk about her inspiration for the characters, and the "kinky-f*ckery" that populates her fiction.

James turned out to be a funny and entertaining speaker as well as a woman who could hold her own in the face of the occasional hostile question (what can you add to Marquis de Sade's legacy? one woman barked. "It's a love story", replied James, not a story as "savage" as de Sade's).

She spoke of her surprise at the unprecedented popularity of her story, currently being adapted into a Hollywood movie. "I feel like a rabbit in the headlights…I wrote it for me… Holy sh*t, how the f*ck did this happen?"

She told us some things we already knew – that she was a former TV executive, a mother-of-two - and some things we didn't. She is embarrassed by men reading her work; she has a history degree; she used a combination of "primary research" for her sexy scenes (her husband became weary from the experimentalism) and the Internet. She told a story of how she phoned up her local car garage in London to ask two people could have sex in the back of an Audi R8 as part of her research. The salesman said 'no' but after visiting the showroom and sitting in the car, she decided it was a 'yes'.

She revealed that she is now re-writing the first (unpublished) book she ever wrote, another love story. With much goading from the audience, she added that she might re-write the Fifty Shades of Grey story from the perspective of its male protagonist, Christian Grey. "Commit", came the heckles.

It was clear from the audience demographic that her "mommy porn" did not just appeal to "mommies" but also to "grand-mommies", teenagers, 20-somethings, and even a handful of men, who were shrinking and largely silent.

Many asked how close she got to her subject matter, while some wanted to send thanks from their husbands for improving their sex lives. One woman stood up to say "My 82-year-old granny read it and now she's as horny as hell."

James said she would be doing more events as the over-heated audience formed a queue to have their free copy of the book signed by her. The party for James's erotica fans, it seems, has only just begun.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment

Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy

Arts and Entertainment
And now for something completely different: the ‘Sin City’ episode of ‘Casualty’
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
    The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

    The haunting of Shirley Jackson

    Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
    Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

    Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

    These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
    Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen