Thursday, March 11, 2004

Belle de Book Deal 

The Times ran a very long feature yesterday on Belle de Jour's book deal and the speculation about who she is--whether she really is a "London call girl" as she claims. The article requires paid-registration but Grace Bradberry really does a nice job (almost too thorough, really) in getting reactions from all sides. What's interesting is that it seems her road to the book deal was very measured and extremely calculated:

Just before Christmas Belle won a Guardian award for her blog, and began assiduously seeking a publishing deal. Among those who championed her was [Mil] Millington, though he has never actually set eyes on her. "Met her? In person? What an excellent notion," he writes to me via e-mail (bloggers seem allergic to telephones). "I can just see myself telling my girlfriend that I'm off down to London to have dinner with a call girl I met on the internet. They'd have to spray down the walls with pressure jets to get the blood off. No, I know her only virtually."

Mil put her in touch with a number of people in publishing, including Hannah Griffiths of Fabers, who has spoken to Belle but never met her. So, is she American? "I respect her decision to remain anonymous," says Griffiths hurriedly.

Whether Belle will be able to preserve her anonymity as the publicity grows is another matter. Helen Garnons-Williams, her editor at Weidenfeld & Nicolson, originally spoke to Belle by phone. At that point Belle was in the process of choosing an agent, and had already met Patrick Walsh, who now represents her. He insisted that Garnons-Williams meet Belle in his office, not at the publishing house, and that she sign a confidentiality agreement. He also says he didn't hold an auction for the book, precisely because it made it easier to keep Belle's identity under wraps.

Naturally, there are conflicting opinions on the veracity of Belle's claims:

"I know someone who has met her," ventures Annie Blinkhorn, deputy editor of The Erotic Review, which now publishes a diary by Belle. "He said she was imparting highly technical information that you could only come by if it was bread and butter."

Angel Zatorski, manager of the London women's sex shop Sh!, was sceptical. "It didn't sound terribly convincing to me," she says. "It's very flippant, and she's able to separate herself off from what she does a little too much. If you were going out to sell your body I don't think you'd be quite so sorted and confident."

As for the idea that Belle is a liberated young woman in charge of her own sexuality, Zatorski doesn't buy that notion at all. "I find the blog quite objectionable," she says. "Why take the worst aspects of male sexuality and transpose them into the female arena? I think for a woman to become a kind of walking sex menu is a rather lowly aspiration -we can do better than that."

But in the end, all the speculation and sniping doesn't really matter:

Is Belle de Jour really British? Is she a hooker? So long as her books fly off the shelves, no one in publishing is likely to complain.

Because that's the bottom line: if there's a market and people will buy the books, the publishers will keep hawking them. Me, I'll only say that when the 40th anniversary edition of LONDON CALLING is reissued with an introduction by the ghostwriter, then it's time to talk.

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