When I was in my teens I read quite a few Barbara Taylor Bradford and Louise Bagshawe novels (wouldn’t touch the latter with a bargepole now, I find her politics so repulsive). They had something in common: someone poor and/or ordinary discovers an amazing talent for hard work, and makes an huge success of themselves. Rags to Riches, Cinderella style.
Reading this interview with E.L. James in the Observer this morning, and this amazing story of a first time novelist finding an agent on the Strictly Writing blog, it struck me that there aren’t so many of the BTB and LB books around in the 21st century. Instead, we get our fix from the real life stories. That’s the real interest of Fifty Shades of Grey for me (and I haven’t read the books) – the way that James wrote something which became a phenomenon, and remained so resolutely normal. Pretty much like what you hear of JK Rowling.
Writers (for me, an obvious set of people to identify with) getting a visit from the fairy godmother of sales, are clearly my fairy tale/ saga novel of choice these days. I wonder if one of the reasons for the switch is the economic climate. BTB wrote in the 80s, during a boom. We could imagine and empathise with a character dragging themselves up by their bootstraps, in a way that during a recession (a depression?) we can’t find credible. Instead we’re cling to that much more unlikely of events, real life.