To date one of the high points of my career as an author of erotica was discovering my novel, The Initiation of Ms Holly, is on the list of top thirty erotic novels chosen to go onto the shelves of libraries in the UK! Holly in public libraries! To me this was a cause for celebration, a serious reason to dance in the streets. It wasn’t just that Holly was on this list, but it was the fact that there was a list at all, it was the fact that at long last erotica would be taking its rightful place in the libraries; the place where people go to read, where people go to expand their world, the true treasure troves of history. Also it was the fabulous depth and variety of the list that excited me. There were modern reads mixed in with classics and best sellers and something for everyone.
In conjunction with the libraries welcoming erotic titles onto their shelves, Stellar Libraries launched the wonderful Between the Sheets project, which is a month-long celebration of erotica, with blog posts on the BTS site and with erotica authors visiting libraries around England to talk about erotica. That was what I had the honour of doing earlier this week with Dudley Libraries up near Birmingham, up in the Black Country.
There are parts of the UK I’m familiar with. As most people know I can write about London or Surrey, and I can write about the mysteries of the Lake District, but the rich industrial heritage of the Black Country was a totally new experience for me, and one I intend to explore in more detail first chance I get. I don’t mind saying I found some serious inspiration for future stories on this trip.
The lovely Jills, Jill Wood and Jill Bright, along with the fab Hilary Riley liaised with Kay Jaybee and me to arrange the three library visit. I took
the train up to Wolverhampton, and then a taxi to Kingswinford to find myself overnighting in a Travelodge that was a refurbished Georgian manner house. (My knowledge of architecture is non-existent, but the building was old, square-ish and lovely, and my room was not the usual Travelodge bed, shower and kettle. My room was huge with high ceilings and two windows looking out onto the countryside. I later learned that most of the people who had grown up in the area had memories of the building being a place for weddings and celebrations before it was a Travelodge. They had memories of it being a place where there were dances that all the young people attended.
Our first talk was at the Kingswinford Library, and because it was an afternoon talk, we were warned that the attendance might be small. Small, but lively, would have been a good description for this group of ten people ranging in age from early twenties to a lovely gentleman in his eighties. Kay and I kicked off the event with a very short, very soft pedalled reading each, and then talked about our journey to writing erotica. The first question when we opened up the floor for a lively discussion was; How do you define erotica? And it was a wild and exciting ride from there including a discussion of men writing and reading erotica and the usual highly charged discussion of Fifty Shades.
Kay and I were riding high by the time the hour was over and the discussion continued around the book display for another thirty minutes before Jill and Hillary whisked us away to the Stourbridge Library, which was a delightful warren of an old building that I wouldn’t want to have been turned loose in without a guide. There, ensconced in the lounge, we were treated to sandwiches and drinks to tide us over until after the evening event.
The librarians at Stourbridge had the place where the talk was to happen decorated with black feather boas, red velvet and roses. They served wine and nibbles to the twenty-some people who attended. Talk about a warm welcome! A good number of the people who came were members of various reading groups. The highlight for me was a lovely 89-year-old woman – a retired hairdresser, sharing tales of how she and the other young hairdressers at the salon where she worked used to sneak off to the book store next door to thumb through the copy of the Kama Sutra, then return to the salon to whisper about what they’d discovered for the rest of their shift. Sex and adventure, sex and coming of age, sex and celebration. Within that same group was a lovely mother and her 19-year-old daughter – a first year uni student studying sociology. Kay and I left the event, which ended up an hour longer than intended because of the enthusiastic response of the group, excited and encouraged to see such enthusiasm for erotica and for having it in the public libraries.
I was amazed to find that all of the libraries now check out eBooks and a lot of the people who attended our talks showed up with eReaders or tablets in hand. It seems to me that in libraries it’s was all about new and easier ways to make books and information available to everyone.
The next morning, after talking excitedly long into the night about the events of the day, Kay caught a cab back to the train station and Jill drove me to the final destination on the Dudley Library tour, Cradely.
Cradley Library was the smallest of the three libraries I went to, but also the most traditional with high wooden shelves full of books and an area separated off for talks and meetings from the main library by a wooden and wrought-iron panel. The talk was scheduled for ten-thirty in the morning, and I was pleased to be greeted by fifteen or so enthusiastic women from several reading groups, as well as some who were just library regulars. Because I was on my own, I was a bit concerned I’d not be able to keep the conversation going. I needn’t have worried. This lovely group was the most enthusiastic, most naughty-minded group of the three, and they were delightful. For me, the very best part about the visit with the Cradely readers was that a majority of them had already read at least Holly! Some had read Pets and Body Temperature as well, and though Kay wasn’t able to attend, a good few had also read Kay’s Perfect Submissive and some of her short stories from The Collector. It was wonderful to engage in conversation with people who had read or were reading seriously beyond 50SoG and were so anxious to know more. Another hour-long talk extended to two hours with suggestions of who should play Anderson and Tino and Edward in the movie versions of my novels, and with questions of what to read next and what they could expect in certain books.
As I rode the crowded train back home playing the exciting events of my two days visiting the Dudley libraries over and over in my mind, one thought came through loud and clear. Though not all of the people we spoke to had read even 50 Shades, and some weren’t sure how they felt about erotica, there was an open interest, an enthusiasm and a hunger to understand what all the post 50SoG excitement was all about, and IF there was really any substance behind the hype. That was what people wanted to know. That’s what libraries are about, to me. That’s what libraries have ALWAYS been about. Libraries offer a place to approach the world of knowledge and the unknown with an open mind. Libraries offer a safe place to understand, to learn, to experience vicariously – even things that frighten us a bit, things of which we’re unsure. And libraries offer this wonderful gift to everyone! That’s a real treasure, a treasure on which we can’t put a price.