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Steamy tales heat up book market

By South Wales Evening Post  |  Posted: August 23, 2013

classic Sarah Rees from Cover to Cover book shop in the Mumbles reads The Great Gatsby.

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IT has already been crowned the best-selling book of all time, eclipsing the sales of J K Rowling's Harry Potter books.

So it may not come as a surprise that the tale of a virginal heroine who falls for a bondage-loving billionaire was also voted 2012 Book of the Year. E L James's steamy sensation Fifty Shades of Grey picked up the title of number one book by the reading public. The novel, the first of a trilogy of saucy tales dubbed 'mummy porn', has become a literary phenomenon, selling more than six million copies to become the best-selling book of all time in the UK.

And how we love it apparently!

So much so, a just-released poll from romance publishers Mills & Boon, says 47 per cent of Welsh readers now choose steamy reads such as Fifty Shades as their top choice of genre to pack alongside their bikini and sun hat. It is the highest of any UK region.

Surprised? Don't be. For sales of red hot novels are booming.

Sarah Rees, from Mumbles bookshop Cover to Cover, says the rise of erotic and romantic fiction is good news for both hard-pressed booksellers and for reluctant readers.

"I'm not sure if more people in Wales read more erotic fiction, I think the poll reflects seasonal reading," she says.

"People want to read something light when they are on holiday. But I know when Fifty Shades of Grey came out we were lucky in that Tesco and Amazon both sold out very quickly and we had stock, so people were coming in here and buying the three all together."

And even serious publishers are getting behind the tidal wave, she says.

"Faber and Faber, who are thought of as the more literary publishers, have Tampa."

That controversial headline grabber sees a teacher pursue and seduce the teens in her class room. And it isn't exactly what everybody might call 'literature.'

On a less queasy note Ammanford writer Toni Sands is consistently popular here for her writing workshops. She is the first to say she might look more like a stereotypical librarian than like a writer of steamy books. But she turns out colourful romantic and erotic fiction, often featuring jousting knights, a willful heroine and some interesting power games.

Toni says she isn't surprised to see so many turn out for her events.

"One of the interesting things that happened is that I read some extracts from one of my books and women come up to me afterwards and thank me.

"They say it really makes them want to read erotic fiction for the first time.

"I think the fact that here I am, looking more like a librarian than someone who writes erotic fiction, is consoling to them."

Every generation has its own scandalous or raunchy work of fiction of course, from 6th century Sappho to Harold Robbins.

"There have always been books people have sneaked in to school and read in secret, like Lady Chatterley's Lover," says Toni.

"I remember my mum used to go to the library and borrow Mills & Boon titles which I used to steal in secret when I was 12, 13 or 14, until my father found out and then they were hidden away.

"I think that started the idea of writing romantic fiction, for me.

"But now with the e-book revolution anyone can read erotic books without people knowing, so that has changed everything."

Sarah's own tastes don't stretch to steamy fiction, but she say the fact that readers still have an appetite for the lacy and swoony is a sweet idea.

"I know the Barbara Cartland books are being released as e-books, which is a bit of a surprise, but if it means romance isn't dead, it is a good thing."

Other novels with some romantic content are flying off the Cover To Cover shelves at the moment, including The Great Gatsby.

"It is a wonderful novel, and people are becoming interested in it again because of the film."

Some of the best known writers of top selling scorchers are now in their later years, with Jilly Cooper and Jackie Collins showing no sign of running out of saucy material for their fans.

And while Jackie and Jilly might not go down in history as writers of note some of the greatest authors of this century have been adept at writing bedroom scenes.

Philip Roth and John Updike both pepper their tales of married lives with the most sparely written and concise, but utterly convincing intimate tableaux.

Then again, as Alan Titchmarsh found to his embarrassment when he was landed with a Bad Sex Award, for his arguably laughable attempt at a love scene in his book Mr MacGregor, it isn't easy as a writer to peek behind the bedroom door without wishing you hadn't.

Toni says it is a mistake to think that just because we all have some experience in love that we can all write about it well.

And if you are thinking of penning passionate prose one of these days, the key is to remember that those rules which apply to writing any novel apply to writing a romantic or erotic novel.

Show rather than tell is the first rule.

Toni adds: "The most important thing is that you have a good story and that your characters are strong characters. It is a mistake to write sex scenes for the sake of it without thinking about how your characters would behave.

"In fact in some of my books hand holding is as steamy as it gets because that is right for the story."

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