Erotica from Tesco? Every little helps ...

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I’m at the checkout at Tesco, Cleveleys, at gone 7pm, the latest must have book secreted furtively beneath my half-price Cathedral City extra mature cheese.

It’s not the only thing in the shopping basket that’s extra mature. There’s a copy of EL James’ latest book Fifty Shades Freed there too.

It’s the hottest thing on the book shelves, has broken best seller records, including for Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code paperback. And the secret rests between the sheets...

EL James is the sassy and saucy El Cid of storytellers – offering a Chatterley for our times.

Her Fifty Shades trilogy is flying off the shelves as what’s been dubbed “mummy porn” hits a spot the book market previously missed. Erotica for women. The flames fanned online.

Her latest book Fifty Shades Freed is the most talked about book for adults in years. Diehard fans even trade specific page references for their favourite “bits”. Think Mills and Boon with nipple clamps and you’re there. A film’s in the pipeline too.

Tesco’s two for £7 paperback deal has ladies swooping on what gran might have called “smutty” fiction, and the public library would have kept under wraps.

All of which makes it marginally less embarrassing when a neighbouring check out assistant to mine declares: “It’s for middle aged women who aren’t getting any hanky panky.”

Granted it’s my 56th birthday present to myself she’s probably got a point. Indignation makes me forget my Clubcard points so I huff over to customer services to clock them up.

The two ladies on duty agree a grave disservice has been done to ELJ’s growing legion of local fans. Both are avid readers themselves. A third assistant joins them. And some shoppers. Put this lot on Loose Women and they would give Jenny Eclair (12 mini eclairs here for £1) and Sherri Hewson a run for their money.

This is Cleveleys, a town where working hips, let alone pelvis, are thin on the ground, which is why I was sure Tesco would have all three of the trilogy on sale.

It hasn’t. Just the last. That two for £7 deal has swept inhibitions aside in the rush for the first two volumes Fifty Shades of Grey and Fifty Shades Darker.

Sam Turner, 25, who works on customer services, gives me a masterclass on how to approach the trilogy. Start with the first. “You cannot possibly begin with the last,” she scolds this duly submissive shopper. “You’ll miss the build-up. The intensity. It’s like Twilight for adults.”

She hunts out a copy of the first which has been returned because page 93 has been shredded in the print run – or by an over-appreciative reader. Sam knows enough to appreciate the significance of the page. “It was crucial. We can’t let you have this. We keep ordering new stock and it flies out. The writer handles the sex side very well, but it’s the storyline that’s best. My friends are reading it, it’s all over Facebook, even my gran’s reading it and she’s 73.”

Co-worker Sue Rose, 58, is well and truly hooked. “Oh yes, it’s a shocker, there’s a lot of very VERY explicit scenes but there’s a good storyline too. I got stuck into it the other day in the garden, but my husband who is 68 kept interrupting me. In the end I just exploded: ‘I’ve read the same paragraph 10 times, shut up and leave me alone’. It’s most frustrating.”

It’s the same story at Waterstone’s, Blackpool, where manager Craig Charnley predicts a tidal wave of erotica to come as a result of Fifty Shades success. “It started as a huge online phenomenon, and is now selling books and to younger women too, which is good news. The genre’s been around a while, but this has really caught the attention. Customers range from 20s to 92. More couples are coming in. We sold 160 titles last Saturday of all three of her books. It blew the nearest best seller out of the water.”

All three books in the Fifty Shades trilogy (Arrow) last week surpassed the single week sales record for an adult paperback novel of 205,130 copies sold, set the previous week by James’ Fifty Shades of Grey.

The first of the trilogy is now the fastest adult paperback novel to surpass the million copies sold mark (1,162,637), a feat achieved in just 11 official weeks of sales.

Elaine Silverwood, of SilverDell Bookshop, Kirkham, concludes: “It’s crazy, but good crazy. We can’t keep up with stock. Publishers are on their 16th reprint, the last print run was for a million copies. My staff are contacted out of hours by friends and family to order copies. I’m sure we’ll find a new genre of erotic by publishers emerging with a very quick turn round. It’s fantastic these are book sales and not just downloads.”

As for my verdict? My lips are sealed...but my Kindle’s on fire!