Next month, 16-year-old Emily Barker publishes her first novel, Loving the Band. Barker was commissioned by Penguin to write the book after it discovered her One Direction fan fiction. Fan fiction is a craze that's almost as old as the web itself, but is currently in the spotlight because EL James admitted she started out writing Twilight fan fiction before she changed the names Bella and Edward to Anastasia and Christian Grey and ended up writing the most successful sex book since Purple Ronnie's Guide to Doing It. Publishers believe they have found the next big thing in Barker's tales of boyband trysts.
For those who still read proper books, fan fiction – particularly its romance-heavy strand slash fiction – is a self-publishing phenomenon where amateur authors and tween pop superfans write sexy stories about the celebrities they are obsessed with. It's a dark genre where Justin Bieber and Draco Malfoy canoodle on a moonlit Quidditch pitch and the members of One Direction like to five-way spoon.
Barker is not the only one to find fortune from the genre: Abigail Gibbs signed a six-figure book deal when she was 18 off the back of her Twilight stories, and a blog of NME sex tales – where staff writers would check out each other's 7ins – ended when the magazine discovered its author and gave her a job.
Despite these successes, a misconception remains that fan fiction is just girls' fantasies scrawled on the toilet door of the internet. Fifty Shades of Grey has done little to rescue the reputation of the genre.
But if anything, most fan fiction is a rejection of Rihanna and EL James's leather-bound version of sexuality. When most teenagers are faced with the miserable advice of sex education (put a condom on a carrot, use a mirror to look at your bits), or the miserable version of sexuality in porn, fan fiction offers a more honest way to engage with relationships and sex.
Often, the most endearing thing about these stories is the way they draw upon the genuine experiences of teenage romance. Harry Styles never remembers to text back. Harry Potter is always passing out drunk before anything actually happens.
At the moment, one of the most popular stories on Movellas, the fan fiction site where Barker was discovered, is a sort of Hunger Games meets American Pie coming-of-age tale where members of One Direction compete to "stamp the V-card" of the story's first-person protagonist. You might expect a distasteful and badly written tale of teenage lust.
In fact, the story is a fairly merciless character assassination of the band, in which their petty attempts at sexual espionage are almost always rebuffed, by the same person who is making them up. A repeated device used to great effect in the story is Harry Styles getting kicked in the balls. Niall – the one who looks like a Guess Who? illustration – comes round to her house with flowers and chocolate, which quickly get "smashed at his face".
The serial is ongoing – we're only at chapter nine at the time of writing – but so far this has been a story about silly boys and how to deal with them rather than an entry in a wet dream journal. These are stories as much about relationships as they are fantasies.
One Direction dominate most of the fan fiction sites. A year ago it was Bieber, before that Twilight and the Jonas Brothers. These musicians and franchises are cynically marketed at teenagers and their parents as clean. When Disney was trying to promulgate the story that the Jonas Brothers were strict Christians who wore rings to symbolise their commitment to not putting it about, fan fiction sites were full of stories of girls being ravished by the band in incestuous foursomes. While Styles was made to apologise for a whispered indiscretion on The X Factor, it was vanilla to what he is whispering in teenagers' own imaginations. Fan fiction takes power back from a PR-obsessed industry and gives the fans free rein.
Often the funniest blogs are the ones that pick on unlikely stars – Daria on a date with Courtney Love, the Doctor getting his sonic screwdriver stuck in a Dalek. One site, Steadbombs, is dedicated to Bombay Bicycle Club, the shy, even-tempered indie band from Hampstead. Rather than make them out to be the lotharios they're not, it plays on the band's obvious lack of laddish behaviour with stories of spurned inter-band advances and lots of crying. Guitarist Jamie is often slipping his "soft, moisturised hand" into frontman Jack's. Eventually the two of them have a child together – Flashygertrude.
These stories are interspersed with endless photoshopped pictures of their heads on women's bodies. This is fandom at its most creative and cruel, with a sense of the surreal that you used to only get on The Mighty Boosh.Fan fiction is making teenagers better writers and better satirists, and allowing them to explore sexuality in a way decided by them rather than dictated by the entertainment industry. A purity ring doesn't carry much meaning when Ron Weasley is pulling it off with his teeth
I honestly don't know what to think about this, especially since this is written by someone who isn't that familiar with fandom and all the issues within it.