I had a thought last night, just as I was going to sleep.
I see a book cover. It’s monochrome, beautifully photographed, a reflective surface with only one object on it – a pair of well-worn, once-white men’s underpants.
The book is called “Sixty Shades of Grey” (ten more, so has to be better, yes?)
It’s about a mysterious rich man who drops his clothes off every week at a launderette in a working-class part of London, Victoria Square. Then he goes for a drink, a single drink, at the local pub, the Albert, then he goes home, driven in his flashy limo by a driver who never says anything to anyone.
The woman in charge of the launderette and doing the custom washes, Polly Cotton, who has just taken over from her aging relative, finds it odd that he uses her launderette, but she isn’t going to rock the boat by asking him, because although he’s handsomer than handsome and richer than rich, he is standoffish. Always very polite. Besides, her inner goddess is a bad-tempered curmudgeon who chain-smokes, who won’t let her do anything impolite. Old-school Catholic, her inner goddess, the spirit of the woman who used to run the launderette.
Then, one night, after he’s handed her a very generous tip, and she gives him the two Armani suits she’s just carefully put through the dry-cleaning machine and then run the iron over (because he’s a special customer), everything changes…
His name is Jesus, and he’s from South America (so that’s okay, right?). He’s an orange juice billionaire, who inherited the business from his father, but inherited a whole lot of other things with it, including a messed-up mind and a weird set of sexual preferences. Polly reminds him of his mother, the beautiful martyr who took in washing to feed the family while his father was away in the orange groves. (yes, they ate washing).
Polly is captivated, completely under his spell. She will do whatever he wants, especially if the tips get better. He asks her to sign a contract, but it’s a long, legal document, so she takes her time thinking about it. Wondering if she could ask her Uncle Jezza, who was a lawyer for a short time before he was disbarred. Still, he knew his stuff, and she knows where to find him. The biggest house in Brixton. All that and her inner goddess is nagging at her night and day about the price of cigarettes, about her horrible, sinful life, and where can you get decent hairollers these days.
During daylight hours, the launderette in Victoria Square is like any other, a place of industrial washing machines and a faint, chemical smell. At night, when Polly closes the shutters, it turns into a place of enchantment, of bright light boring down on to her upturned face, while Jesus washes his underwear over her, drenched in orange juice.
Because that battered pair of underpants has a meaning, one Jesus isn’t prepared to share with anyone.
Okay, gang, that’s as far as I got. I mocked up a cover in Photoshop, took ten very precious minutes so the artist knows what I want, and wrote the outline. I need some help, here. Obviously there has to be whipping and chains involved, because everybody’s doing it.
That’s it. I’m blowing the whistle, calling “Enough.” I’ve read the first 50 Shades book and while it’s not to my liking, lots of people have enjoyed it. It’s a well-known fact that it started as Twilight fanfic. Now 50 Shades is getting fanfic of its own, and like most repetitions of an original, it gets a little bit worse each time. People are desperately looking for variations on the theme. There are already new covers based on that cover, which must have been one of the easiest ever, and that’s what got me thinking. How many pieces of clothing does a man have? How many things can there be before they run out? Because that’s how many books there will be before this fad has run its course.
Print publishers, desperate to make a quick buck, are clambering on, knowing they won’t make as much but happy for the million or three that will come their way from fans eager for more. Writers are dashing something off in three weeks that is rushing into the stores, and soon a bookstore will start to look like a branch of Brooks Brothers. In fact, if some savvy men’s clothing store doesn’t get on this one fast, then they don’t deserve to exist.
I could write that book above, and it would take me about three weeks, if I got busy with it. Not under my usual writing name, because, well, I want it differentiated, don’t I? Any offers? If it goes to auction, it’ll cost a few million more!