A tiny Yorkshire publishing house made waves when it announced plans to print a 'biography' of Christian Grey. Then came the scary threats from some bigshot lawyers.
The publishing world erupted in a frenzy when a small West Yorkshire publishing company promised to deliver the "unauthorised biography" of Fifty Shades of Grey's controversial heartthrob Christian Grey.
Within an hour of the Bookseller revealing details of the forthcoming book, the Hebden Bridge-based independent publishers Bluemoose Books were inundated with requests, including from 20 different European and north American publishers asking to buy the rights to the "biography". They even had Hollywood on the phone - Universal Studios wanted to buy the film rights.
The book was to offer a psychological insight into Grey before he became famous, his "childhood, educational background, rapid rise in business, years of international travel and his string of relationships and select sexual proclivities," as written by a fictional former classmate of Grey's, Dominic Cutmore, and was due to be published last October.
The only problem was Bluemoose Books did not actually own the rights to such a book – nor did it have the funds to print such a book – nor, in fact, did it have the book itself. None of its in-house authors had ever read EL James's erotic novel, let alone written fan fiction purporting to tell the tale of how a troubled young chap grew up to be the tall, dark and handsome man of every woman's dreams. (Every woman willing to submit to his darkest and kinkiest sexual desires, at least.)
So what happens when a tiny publishing house takes on a project on this scale and effectively takes on one of the most powerful publishers in the world? Kevin Duffy, owner of Bluemoose Books, was under a bit of pressure to make good on his opportunistic stunt and produce a novel which, he had boasted, would "pull no punches and leaves no stone unturned".
He instructed his wife to buy a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey and desperately leaf through it on the train down to London while texting a plot summary to one of the company's authors, who fired off the first three chapters of The Secret Life of Christian Grey in an afternoon. Meanwhile, Duffy started trying to cobble together enough cash to print the hundreds of thousands of copies needed to quench the world's desire for Grey-related fiction.
And, he said: "For a week I nearly became a millionaire." But alas, Bluemoose Books soon fell off the "erotica" bandwagon they had only just jumped on to, after a terse phone call from James's New York and London-based publishers, Random House, whose corporate lawyers were bandying about the term "copyright infringement". They quickly dropped the idea.
Duffy is not too disheartened, however, saying: "The reason I re-mortgaged the house was to publish great stories." (A Bluemoose book, Pig Iron by Benjamin Myers, was recently reviewed by the Guardian.) The stunt had also put him in touch with publishing houses in Australia and the United States, allowing him to promote some of the homegrown fiction Bluehouse is so proud of.
Duffy said that although his company was too small to risk legal action, they might "write a book about the book about the book. Just about putting the idea out there, that idea going off on its own steam, and then realising that because of the cash cow that is Fifty Shades of Grey that means we wouldn't be allowed to publish it. They couldn't sue us for that. I just get really annoyed that the biggest publisher in the world can tie you up in knots."
Though unsuccessful, the almost-attempt at cashing in on James's success is testament to the erotic furore which gripped the nation at the publication of Fifty Shades of Grey, itself a product of fan fiction of the Twilight series. Publishers must believe there's still a market out there yearning for sex novels women don't have to hide on the train. But it seems only the biggest publishers can cash in on it.
And remember, you can buy your Fifty Shades hardcovers with attached red ribbon bookmark later this month!
(And to make your day worse, Fifty Shades sold over 60 million copies worldwide in 9 months in 2012.)