E.L. James was born Erika Leonard in London, England, in 1963. Originally a television executive, James began writing erotic stories inspired by the Twilight fiction series and publishing them online. She self-published Fifty Shades of Grey as an e-book in 2011. The book became a phenomenon, topping bestseller charts and breaking records after the publication of a trade paperback.
E.L. James was born Erika Mitchell in 1963 in London, England. Her father worked as a BBC cameraman and the family lived in Buckinghamshire, in South East England. James attended the University of Kent, where she studied history. After graduating, she embarked on a career in television, rising to the level of executive. In 1987, She married screenwriter and director Niall Leonard.
'Fifty Shades of Grey'
While James built her career on TV, she was not active as a writer until 2009. At that time, she began writing fanfiction inspired by the Twilight vampire fiction series written by Stephenie Meyer. Using the pen name "Snowqueen's Icedragon," James wrote her own stories featuring the Twilight characters Bella Swan and Edward Cullen.
The novel that Leonard shaped out of these stories, titled Masters of the Universe, appeared online in installments on several websites. Masters of the Universe was more explicitly sexual than Meyer's original works, which were intended for young adult audiences, and included descriptions of sadomasochism, bondage and submission. James later removed her pieces from fan-fiction sites, compiling them on her own website instead. It was at this point that she changed the names of the two main characters from Bella and Edward to Anastasia and Christian Grey. She has since stated that her novel bears little resemblance to the material that inspired it.
In 2011, James published the first third of Masters of the Universe under the title Fifty Shades of Grey. She did not attach her real name to the erotic work, assuming the identity E.L. James. The novel was originally produced as an e-book and a print-on-demand paperback by The Writers' Coffee Shop, based in Australia. Writers' Coffee Shop published a second volume, Fifty Shades Darker, the same year, and a third installment the following year under the title Fifty Shades Freed.
Within a short time, the Grey novels achieved a remarkable level of popularity based solely on word-of-mouth and online advertisements. Sales continued to grow as the media focused on James' work, citing as a case study of viral marketing and the promise of e-readers. Dubbed "mommy porn" for its appeal to middle-aged women, the novel could be read discreetly in its electronic format even in public settings.
In April 2012, Vintage published a print edition of Fifty Shades of Grey. By the end of the summer, the book had outsold the previous record-holder—the Harry Potter series—in the United Kingdom. Sales also broke records in the United States, where the book topped the bestseller charts for 20 weeks or more despite a dismal critical reception. The book also sparked debate regarding the availability of sexually explicit material in public libraries.
In 2012, Universal Pictures and Focus Features secured the movie rights to Fifty Shades of Grey.
E.L. James lives in London with her husband. The couple has two sons.
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