My elder daughter pressed 50 Shades of Grey on me and told me to read it. I flicked through it and decided it wasn’t for me, apart from a faint whimper of envy at the millions the author was making. My younger daughter then borrowed it from her sister and decided the best way to enjoy it was to read it aloud with a kindred spirit and do all the voices in silly accents – imagine Officer Crabtree from ‘Allo, Allo’. ‘Good Moaning’ will never sound quite the same again.
What I hadn’t realised was that the 50 Shades book began as fan fiction based on the Twilight novels and movies. I don’t know much about fan fiction anyway but it turns out there are thousands of online sites where fans post their own stories based on their literary favourites. I was a bit stumped here. I’d love to jump on the bandwagon but unfortunately I haven’t been producing the necessary thousands of blog posts based on Harry Potter, or Pirates of the Caribbean et al.
No, what I’ve been doing has been so much more fun, but sadly not exactly marketable. As a life-long lover of what is called Girls’ Own literature I have a huge collection of Old Girls’ books, ranging from the classics: Little Women, What Katy Did and Anne of Green Gables, to the school series of the early to mid twentieth century, along with hundreds of less well-known authors. These are my comfort reads. When life gets too much to handle or the weather is vile, I curl up with my old favourites and start at the very beginning. What does it matter that I know them practically off by heart? That’s what comfort reading is all about. I knew I was only one of thousands of (mostly) women who loved these books but what I didn’t realise was that quite a few of them also wrote their own versions of ‘What Came Next…’ and it was with joy that I discovered that one of the famous Old Girls’ Schools attracted lots of this fan fiction. Some of it’s brilliantly written, some is long, some short, but it’s mostly touching or dramatic, funny or downright crazy and I’ve had a lot of fun reading these stories.
This still doesn’t provide me with a platform for a multi-million best seller though. Who, apart from a fan, would appreciate my own ‘drabble’ – as the stories are known – which crams in as many cross-over stories as I could think of? After meandering down quite a few byways, (Charlotte Yonge, Angela Thirkell, Elizabeth Goudge), this story ended up with DCI Gene Hunt (Life on Mars & Ashes to Ashes) visiting the well-known school to search for a strange pair of criminals who had set up a house of ill repute, giving the name of the unfortunate school as their HQ. He was soon accompanied by fellow sleuths Tom Barnaby (and his cousin, Jim Bergerac), Adam Dalgliesh, Frank Abbott and his ‘revered preceptress’, Miss Maud Silver.
My other attempt at fan fiction is even less likely to succeed in capturing the eye of readers sated by 50 shades of sex. This features Susan Sto Helit, (with a respectful and appreciative nod to Terry Pratchett), transported for a reason never specified, to a 1950s boarding school. Within a week she is second in command to the Head Girl because her discipline is so good – she does The VOICE which, like that of Death in the Discworld, is always in capital letters. She arrives at a time when the school is opening up to diversity and has taken on some rather unusual girls, including a small but very hairy girl called Paddy Brown who likes marmalade sandwiches and insists she’s a boy. Would a fan of soft-porn be excited by the scene in which Matron uses hair-removing cream on Paddy and puts the new pupil in the bath with a triumphant cry of: ‘See? No dangly bits, of course you’re a girl!’
S&M adherents might like the doll’s house that Susan introduces to the neighbour’s nursery. This is called Das Haus von Usher and has the exciting added feature of small figures that you can decapitate at will. (They bear no malice and obligingly put their heads back on in time for more jolly japes with a machete.) Sadistic readers might also enjoy the scene where an unwanted suitor has honey poured into his Y-fronts and ants added, just for fun. However, I think I’m most proud of the one spot of soft porn that I’ve managed to include. The famous author who lives in the village has a party and my heroine does a twitch of her nose (she’s channelling Samantha Stevens) and alters the titles of all the books displayed on the author’s shelves, including literary gems such as: ‘Ooh, Matron, Show us your Autoclave’.
Anyway, I’ve decided that fan fiction is never going to turn me into a best seller but what I do like to do is sneak, ahem – ‘literary’ references into my books. This means that there’s a reference to Cold Comfort Farm in Scuba Dancing, and lots of Austen hints in my Victorian mysteries, along with a well-known Thackeray character and a brief appearance from a young man who is interested in photography and gets on extremely well with little girls. With my contemporary mystery, Murder Fortissimo, there’s the slightest hint that Harriet, my intrepid sleuth, was educated at one of my beloved Old Girls’ schools but you’d need to be a fan to spot the reference. In the forthcoming sequel, A Crowded Coffin, (out on 31st January 2013, folks!) there’s another hint but it’s only relevant if the phrase ‘spineless jellyfish’ is familiar to you.
I do wonder, though, if a book cover that features a buxom and nubile young woman brandishing a hockey stick would win me a few million readers? Particularly if she’s stark naked?