Fifty Shades Trilogy

Marie-Louise Muir | 18:34 UK time, Monday, 6 August 2012

So I know I am coming to the party late, and am not the first, nor will I be the last, to write about the publishing phenomenon that is "Fifty Shades". But having read all three books in rapid succession, I felt I had to write something. And it's not about the sex! It is just that I have never, ever, had such a reaction to a book in my life. I read a lot for the BBC Radio Ulster "Arts Extra" arts show - a lot of new writing, Irish, English, American, novels, short stories, poetry, memoirs, essays, biographies. I read them where and when I can. On the bus, in the hairdressers, over breakfast, lunch and even dinner. But I have never, ever had so much reaction to what I am reading until "Fifty Shades". Nobody has peeked into my bag and said I can't believe you are reading the new John Banville. Or talked to my reflection in the hairdresser's mirror that she can't put down the new Joseph O'Connor. More's the pity, as the literary purists would say. More's the pity I say too, but that doesn't mean you can dismiss what EL James has done by writing "Fifty Shades".

I have been equally lauded and lambasted for reading it. I've been told in no uncertain terms that it's rubbish and what am I doing wasting my time? "It's a cross between Mills & Boon and the Marquis De Sade" was one memorable comment thrown at me with near scorn. But equally I have had the most unlikely conversations with strangers about characters, plot development, narrative structure, and how difficult it is to write a good sex scene and felt a connection that, as an avid reader, I don't often get.  

And on the 17th September we'll have the soundtrack to it too, curated by the author, the 15 classical pieces of music she name checks in the book. That along with the name checking of Portadown artist Jennifer Trouton's work,  it seems that the former Belfast based EL James, married to a man from Newry, is using her new found fame to push and promote other creatives.

And come on, nobody is expecting it to win the Pulitzer Prize. It is what it is, pure escapism and as the grey clouds of financial doom and gloom encircle us, who wouldn't want a bit of the Christian Grey lifestyle to spread some light on us? Once he has removed the blindfold of course! 

Katharine Philippa

Marie-Louise Muir | 18:00 UK time, Thursday, 2 August 2012

I'd heard about this wonderful new singer songwriter from Portadown, Katharine Philippa. But I'm ashamed to say she hadn't hit my radar as much until the past week or so. I have been listening to her EP "Fallen" on almost constant loop, mainly in the car, while ferrying children back and forth to summer schemes. After a few days I noticed that instead of the usual calls for Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga, and possibly Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge over Troubled Waters", the request from the back seat was for Katharine Philippa, or "that girl Katharine". So track 1 goes on and the title track "Fallen" aches its way out and around the car. It is heartbreakingly sad, her voice compelling you to listen, to share in the moment with her, however blue it makes you feel. A discussion ensues between the two 5 year olds as to why this music is sad. Is Katharine sad? Does she sing all sad songs? She should sing happy music? Is she happy? And I'm thinking, this is great, a straightforward critique of the music; no agenda, no comparisons, just experiencing it as only a child can. So I decide to push them a bit more. What do you think of this music? No answer. Then LR, my daughter's friend, pipes up. "Marie-Louise....?" "Yes" I ask, "Look, I can make my tongue curl backwards".

And I laugh out loud. Happiness and sad songs do go together!

Maeve Binchy

Marie-Louise Muir | 17:53 UK time, Tuesday, 31 July 2012

I've been listening back to an interview I did with the late Maeve Binchy today, which we're playing in part on "Arts Extra" tonight. It was recorded in 2010, to coincide with the publication of what would be her last novel "Minding Frankie". She took the telephone call in her house, and was as warm and welcoming as ever. She missed the touring, having opted out of the promotional touring circuit around a new book in 2000. "I loved the tours....it made all the writing worthwhile". She was full of laughter remembering Northern Irish book signings to which fans would bring soda farls, potato cakes and even bulbs (for flowers!). They would call her a "good wee girl for coming here". It was a long time she said since anyone called her a "wee girl". Her garden, she said, still had flowers growing from some of those book signing bulbs!

And I suppose that's what we all loved about her. Not just planting fans' bulbs, but the fact that she wrote like she was our friend. A born storyteller, she said to me that she wrote exactly how she would speak, "wait till I tell you....I always feel I am writing to a friend".

She was open about the agonies she would have about a new book, wondering is anyone going to read it, just as nervous she said after twenty as she was about her first, "afraid this is the one which is going to lose you everyone". Even as she was speaking, I am thinking, but this is Maeve Binchy, surely her publishers must be doing cartwheels every time they see a new book appear. But somewhere deep inside her, she was still that wannabe writer whose first book was rejected 5 times by publishing houses before finally being accepted. 

Some of her last words in my final interview with her make me smile. " You know I'm 70 this year, but inside I still feel 23, I always imagined as you got old, your mind got narrow and you started disapproving of things. I don't disapprove of anything".

She was a one off.

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