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Fifty Shades of a phenomenon
  1. Susan Quilliam
  1. Writer, Broadcaster, Consultant and Trainer, Cambridge, UK
  1. Correspondence to Ms Susan Quilliam;susan{at}susanquilliam.com

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Only if you have had no access to any media over the past 12 months will you be unaware of the erotic phenomenon that is Fifty Shades of Grey. So I wasn't altogether surprised when the Journal Editor issued me a brief, which roughly translated meant: “Find out what on earth all this Fifty stuff is about!”.

Let me begin with some background. The books – for it is a trilogy (Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed) – began as a female fan homage, written by British author E L James, to the teen-vampire Twilight novels.

The heroine of those novels, schoolgirl Bella, was recast as 21-year-old student, Anastasia Steele, while vampire hero, Edward Cullen, became handsome, rich, dominant-sadist Christian Grey. To grossly generalise, the underlying plot is the same in both series: girl meets dangerous boy, boy attempts to win girl into his world, girl – after much resistance – begins to enjoy boy's lifestyle but also wins him to her world of loving commitment. E L James added a significant layer of adult sexual content with a BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism, masochism) focus and the result was Fifty Shades.

So far, so unremarkable. Women's erotica is neither a new thing nor – at least in my opinion – a bad thing, and imprints such as Black Lace have been catering to the contemporary market for decades. But what happened next was new, good and remarkable. For the trilogy went viral. The first volume become the biggest selling e-book of all time and was number one on USA Today's bestseller list for a record-breaking 20 weeks. The author has just been named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. And the casting of the Hollywood movie is …

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