I must admit to being a bit grouchy with Random House publicity for getting me up for another early start in order to spend much of the morning as a panellist on Channel 5’s The Wright Stuff. I am not a daytime telly kind of person … Yet I really enjoyed it, not least because of the extraordinary ground that we were able to cover.
There was plenty of time for discussion of my new book, Burden of Power, re Iraq, Ireland etc, but in addition we had fairly serious and lengthy discussions on Scottish independence, mental illness, and the publishing phenomenon that is Fifty Shades of Grey, as well as shorter discussions on issues as varied as welfare reform, poverty in Britain, energy saving, dieting, racist abuse on twitter, Alzheimer’s, autism, Royal protocol, and lots more besides, complete with phone-ins as well. Oh, and I played the bagpipes on telly again.
Unless it is sport, I never watch TV during the day, but I thought in terms of format, length, tone and audience participation, it was a pretty good way of making a lot of different issues accessible to people who do watch it.
I also came a little closer to understanding the incredible Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon, which last week sold as many copies in Britain in that seven day period as my first book, The Blair Years, sold in total – and that remains the second best selling political book of the Blair era, after TB’s Journey.
My fellow panellist, Amanda Lamb, said she first heard of the book on twitter, when she asked her followers what book to take on her honeymoon. Back came an avalanche of ‘Fifty Shades,’ mainly from women. She read it, loved it, and later gave it to her new husband, saying ‘there is not much in here that I wouldn’t mind being done to me.’ How her husband feels about hearing this on TV I don’t know, but it does suggest Fifty Shades’ success is built on women’s sexual fantasies and frustrations and that it is best understood as a written exhortation to men that women may be more adventurous than we were brought up to think.
Anyway, as a major resister of hype, I do find my resistance to this one wearing down. In Spain recently, a woman at the conference I was speaking at, told me she had read all three of the Fifty Shades trilogy, found them badly written but ‘utterly gripping’, and added that it had changed her attitude to sex. She showed me the section where the man in the book submits a contract to the woman. He is known as the Dominant, she as the Submissive, and I can’t say it turned me on or filled me with desire to read much more.
But I have now seen so many people reading it, and seen so many smiles at my publisher’s as the cash comes rolling in (yes I share a publisher with EL James) that I feel I have to. So once I have got through the ten books at my bedside, I will, and will let you know what I think.
Meanwhile thanks to the twitterer who suggested I change the name of my book. Memo to Random House – let’s change the title from Burden of Power to Fifty Shades of Power, and have a drawing of me tying up Clare Short on the front cover …
Mmm, maybe not.
PS Amanda was brilliant talking about mental illness. She has a brother with borderline personality disorder and spoke really well about what it was like for him and what it was like for his family. The debate was about whether public figures with mental health problems have a duty to talk about them. Two callers with mental health problems felt that they did. Amanda and I shared the view that they do not have a duty, and it has to be their choice, but that it will help break down the stigma and taboo the more that people do talk openly about it. To get involved join the Time to Change campaign, of Fifty Shades of Breaking Down Stigma as I may now call it.