THE rain is lashing down outside, the only queues to be seen are for the chippy and the self tan shop.
As autumn nights go this is decidedly grey - 50 shades of grey.
But, boy, are things more colourful inside Kirkham’s Silverdell where an erotica writing workshop is being held behind decidedly closed doors.
The small but perfectly formed independent bookshop has won awards for big name writer coups since first whipping up interest with themed author ice creams by Elaine Silverwood and business partner Sue Wardell.
Elaine got the glace cherries out for the WI Calendar Girls and piled on the pink for Katie (Jordan) Price. She’s now working on what to offer Olympian idol Jessica Ennis - and Rebus author Ian Rankin.
As for our treat? There’s an alluring hint of the taste of things to come in the title of the ice cream on offer. Lips and whips. Oh my, as Fifty Shades of Grey creator EL James would have her heroine say. Rather too many times.
While I daintily pick out the gummy bits and set them aside to focus on the ice cream, visiting author Susan Stephens has no such compunction.
She tucks in with aplomb. Must be a change to actually eat ice cream and not have it smeared over you. Not that I’m suggesting Susan does that sort of thing. But she’s one of the most prolific authors for an erotica brand leader which sprinkles such sauciness between the pages of its books.
Mills and Boon - in the mucky book market? Oh my, how times have changed. Yet the distinctive “blue book” (Harlequin/Mills and Boon) market satisfied by Susan carries the promise “international affairs, seduction and passion guaranteed.” M&B’s digital sales of erotica are up by 2000 per cent. Oh ... my word, I’m repeating myself now.
Susan, a trim elegantly turned out woman with a wicked line in wit, hands over my homework – an erotica writing exercise – with a graceful apology for the stain upon the page. ice cream? “No, coffee.”
Readers can’t get enough of Susan. She’s sold millions, in umpteen languages. There’s a huge market in India alone - and they sell well to men. Not bad for a former singer whose husband’s charity auction bid secured the services of Mills and Boon writer, the late Penny Jordan, as mentor for a day. The pair became great friends. “It was Penny who encouraged me to write.”
Success in her second career still startles a naturally self effacing woman who owns up to the insecurity most of us feel when it comes to baring innermost salaciousness.
Women wanting tips from the top at the workshop include receptionists, teachers, other walks of life. All wannabe writers. Some already on that path. One man present offers one of the best contributions. Understated erotica. You can almost hear the Mahler Five playing over his sensual beach scene.
Overseeing author Susan cracks the whip and most come up with choice words involving the exercise-stipulated hat, glass of water and umbrella. It’s that or risk detention.
Louise Martin has travelled over from Clitheroe to try her hand at erotica. She’s already a playwright and children’s poet. She likes “feisty” heroines. “My late gran was a mill worker. Had a really interesting life. I want to write stories that uplift people.”
Blackpool hotel receptionist Soo Cross, from Freckleton, rises to the challenge, still furiously scribbling while the rest of us suck our pen tops and look pensive.
Soo’s upfront in her appreciation of erotica and her ways with words has got her out of a scrape or two, including with a speed cop. Her job means she sees and “hears it all”. “I have the sort of face that makes people open up,” she admits. She writes erotica to order for friends, and occasional others, her only reward resting in knowing “it works” for them. “My mum and kids don’t know what I write about.” (They will now...)
Visiting author Susan, who has two more “uncut” modern M&B romances coming soon, The Man from Her Wayward Past and Taming the Last Acosta, admits: “My children were embarrassed at first, now they’re proud of me.”
She advises wannabe erotica writers to apply themselves to research (have a care), story structure and clear characterisation. “Plot doesn’t matter so much as sexual tension.”
The Americans who once castigated her as an “unfit mother” after one book featured gentle chastisement - nothing on the scale of Shades Of trilogy - now cry out for more. The Untamed Argentinian made her USA Today’s best selling author. That’s Yanks for you.
And when it comes to erotica versus great art - study these figures. Nearly £33k was spent on Booker Shortlist books on release, £688k on EL James’ “Grey” trilogy over the same period. As for my own efforts? My lips are sealed but my Kindle’s aflame. Oh my!
* firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jacquimorley