Fifteen Shades for Grey...
Less of the hot and steamy, more of the warm and furry. Fifteen heart-warming stories and poems to make the reader smile and to help a dog called Grey. JJ Marsh explains what happened.
Grey is a mastiff cross Rhodesian Ridgeback. He and his two brothers arrived at Wooffles Animal Shelter in February. While the others quickly found homes, Grey wasn’t wanted. He has an ear condition which will require an expensive operation and considerable aftercare.
Volunteers held car boot sales, raffles and created a dedicated Facebook page; the local hairdresser raised donations from her clients and friends of the shelter gave what they could. Still, the fund was short. My sister Julie – one of the frustrated volunteers – called and asked for ideas.
How did a phone call result in a book?
I live in Switzerland; Grey is in Wales. What could I do? Here are a few things I am good at: shouting, drinking wine, fire-eating, writing and organising. The latter two gave me an idea.
I know some extremely talented writers, one of whom is allowing me house room today. (Thank you, Maureen.) I also observe, in blinking, stunned disbelief, the extraordinary success of a certain trilogy of ‘Mommy Porn’. And thirdly, I’ve learned a little about independent publishing.
As Hannibal of The A-Team says, “I love it when a plan comes together”.
Saturday evening, June 23: I post to all my writerly contacts. Send me a story. Nothing kinky, just heart-warming and related to creatures, charity or kindness. It’s to help Grey.
Sunday 24: Stories and poems arrive from France, Australia, Scotland, Whitby and the Isle of Wight. Julie and I write a foreword about Grey and chew over titles: Fifteen Tails for Grey (too naff). Fifteen Shades too Grey (meaningless). Fifteen Tales for Grey (better).
Monday 25: Superwoman Jane Dixon-Smith offers to typeset the book and design a cover. We decide on an e-book purely for speed. Grey’s ears aren’t getting any better while we research print-on-demand.
Tuesday 26: We realise the volunteers help all kinds of animals, not for profit, but because no one else will. Rewrite foreword to encompass all the rescued and vulnerable creatures at the shelter.
Wednesday 27: Wonderwoman Gillian Hamer, who has a high-pressure day job and is currently promoting her first novel, The Charter, manages to create an entire short story from scratch, exclusively for Grey.
Thursday 28: Conversation with an old/odd friend results in a discovery. A certain person has been hiding his writing talents under a bushel. Two more tales! Julie takes a grey tie to the shelter and gets some gorgeous shots of the boy himself.
Friday 29: One more story makes fifteen. Work begins on compilation via pink and blue Post-its with Swan Lake in the background (thematically appropriate). Jane astutely suggests we change the title to Fifteen Shades for Grey. The casual browser, stumbling over our book, may choose to warm the cockles rather than warming ... anything else.
Saturday 30: Jane sends designs. Julie and I love them all but the cutest wins. My idea for a grey and black version makes it look like a misery memoir and it’s the absolute opposite. So scrap that. Check bios with writers and proof one more time. Curse those en-dashes!
Sunday 1 July: Ready! And my computer goes down with a virus. Much stamping, gnashing and whining later, Fifteen Shades for Grey is published on Amazon.
People are buying the book, not just in Britain, but Germany, France, the US and Spain. One week. That’s all it took for eleven writers, one designer and an army of supporters to make Fifteen Shades for Grey a success. Tails are wagging, cats are purring, chickens are clucking, ponies are whinnying and Grey is getting papped so often, he’s considering a different pair of shades.
Thanks to JD Lewis, JD Smith, Edward Marnier, JW Hicks, Barbara Scott Emmett, Perry Iles, Liza Perrat, Lorraine Mace, Chris Curran, Lee Williams and Gillian Hamer for their generous donations; and Maureen Vincent-Northam for giving me a chance to spread the word.