The Importance Of Being Famous (if you want to publish a novel)

“La la laaaa..” (that’s the noise I make when I’m trying to stay calm and ‘cheery’). Yet another celebrity has published a novel – this time it’s Ulrike Jonsson – with the uninspiringly named ‘The Importance of Being Myrtle’.

Now I haven’t read it, so I cannot comment on how bad – or good – it is (please, if you have read it, let me know what you thought), although I must admit to a sly chuckle when I read this review in The Guardian.

I’m not saying that all celebrity novels are rubbish. My friend, for example, has raved about Dawn French’s ‘A Tiny Bit Marvellous’ and I’m in the queue to borrow it.

But it’s just rather galling – don’t you think – that, for many celebrities, churning out a novel is just something they ‘do’, (Perfume endorsement? Check. Clothing label? Check. Movie and record deal? Check, check. Or should that be, cheque, cheque) – while for the rest of us mere mortals, it’s a life-long dream and just getting someone to read our work would be a major achievement.

“And what about writing a book now?” their agent probably suggests, with one eye on his cut. “Better make that a kid’s book,” he might well add. “They’re easier. You don’t wanna spend too much time on the thing and anyway, there’s money in kids’ books. Just look at that JK Rowling guy.”

Writing a novel is hard work – and getting it published is even harder. I’m not saying that Ms Jonsson didn’t put the hours in – and at least it wasn’t ghost-written – but it’s a hell of a lot easier to burn the midnight oil when you’re certain that what you’re writing is going to be published.

Katie Price, by the way (aka Jordan and one of the UK’s ‘top writers’), has a stash of best-selling adult and children’s books to her name. How does she do it? (And this could be where we’re all going wrong). Apparently, she thinks up the plot, leaving the actual writing to ‘an assistant’. Of course!

“I’m not going to lie,” Katie pouts. “I don’t sit there with a typewriter, of course I don’t.’ Why not? Oh yes – she doesn’t have the time. Fair enough.

Celebrities make it all look so easy! No wonder I have strange conversations like this with people from the tennis club:

“How’s your writing going?”
(me) “Er..OK, you know. But I still need to get a job and – ”
“You should write a novel!”
(me) “Well, yes – but I still have to earn some money while I’m – ”
“Get whatisname to support you for six months! That’s what all these writers do! Look at JK Rowling!”
(me) Baaaaahhh..?

Yes, celebrities definitely get the sanitised version of author-dom. They don’t have to tout their books around agents and publishers; they don’t have a shameful pile of unpublished works under the bed and, let’s face it, they wouldn’t know a rejection slip if it hit them in the tiara.

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12 Responses to The Importance Of Being Famous (if you want to publish a novel)

  1. Hi Helen,
    I like the cover of Ulricka’s book, but I wouldn’t bother reading it as I couldn’t believe it’s not ghost written. It makes me sick (as you say) they probarbly wouldn’t have even thought of writting a book, it’s just another progression along their gravy train. I’d rather read a book by someone who’s not famous and lead an unusual life. Saga magazine are running a competition for a life story from ‘anyone.’ Details are on the website. I’m off to have a peek at that Guardian review now.

  2. Helen says:

    Don’t get me started on Katie Price. Writing requires a lot of time and commitment, and books appearing on the shelves under the name of a celebrity who didn’t even write them, completely trivialises that hard work. While she may think coming up with a couple of neat ideas constitutes writing a book, the truth is far different (didn’t I see somewhere, she doesn’t read either…?). I have great ideas all the time, but I dare say nobody is going to pay me for them (sadly).

    Like you say, at least Ulrika has written her book, although whether it’s any good is another matter. Why is it that celebrities famous for one thing, suddenly think they can do everything else – singing, writing, acting, and so on?. Come to think of it, what is Ulrika famous for anyway? I only remember her from Shooting Stars and having an affair with a certain football manager…

    Frustrated non-celebrity writer, having a little bit of a rant.

    • Good for you, fellow-Helen – rant away! Ulrike is ‘famous’ for other things too – like presenting the weather, going out with Prince Edward, winning Celebrity Big Brother (whoops, yes, I must admit, I watched that one), presenting Gladiators (whoops, saw that too) and having four children…(I could be really bitchy and add ‘by four different fathers’ but that would just be too nasty).

  3. Stephanie Holliday says:

    Funny you should blog this because I was thinking exactly the same myself yesterday. Being stuck indoors with a bad foot I’ve been reading anything I could borrow from friends. I’ve just read Alan Titchmarsh’s ‘Rosie’. I enjoyed it but it is a well worn story and simply written and I do wonder if it had been anyone else trying to get it published how easy it would have been for them. The same with Alan Carr’s autobiography. Did he write it himself? I’m not sure.
    On the good side though I’ve been lent White Tiger by Aravnid Adiga. Very cleverly written, amusing and thought provoking.

  4. It’s tempting (and easy) to diss celebrities who publish books, but I like to think (generously) that at least a few of them are like us. i.e. they have always been writers, but do something else to earn a living.

    Most of us won’t make a living from writing. If we became famous doing something unrelated to writing, I wonder how many of us would dust off our long-ago-written novel and try to get it published, or whip-up something new. Would we really ignore that opportunity? Are we only allowed to have one job? One skill? Actors often go on to be screenwriters or directors. Sportsmen and women go on to be commentators or trainers. Maybe the experience of fame gives celebrities a new angle on life that is something worth writing about (and judging by sales the public appear to want to read it).

    That doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of dross out there (there is). And, to be fair, some of it is written by well-established authors who can now get away with churning out anything.

    I’m not sure if I pity all those ghost writers. They rarely get the credit for books, but then again with a big celebrity ‘Name’ on the front they can usually avoid the blame for lousy writing too.

  5. Big Mamma Frog, you are probably right: there is a lot of ‘dross’ published – and written by all kinds of people, celebrities or not. And, after all, one person’s ‘dross’ is another person’s fantastic can’t-put-down book. (I, for example, cannot stand Kate Mosse novels – or Jodi Picoult’s, but I know I’m in a minority there). I will be the first to come back and admit it on this blog, if Ulrike’s book – or any other celebrity’s book, for that matter – turns out to be a good ‘un! But someone’s going to have to convince me before I set aside the time to read it!

  6. Keith Havers says:

    I just happen to have read a comment in an old Writers’ News which says we should welcome celebrity publishing because it reaches a fresh audience who may go on to read more challenging stuff.
    We can but hope I suppose.

  7. Keith – yes, that could be right. Just getting people reading – whatever it is – has to be a good thing!
    Big Mamma Frog… I can’t believe it.. you said the ‘C’ word!!!

  8. Meyeley says:

    Brilliant, loved reading your piece and the comments/rants, Helen. Glad someone liked Dawn French’s novel “A Tiny Bit Marvellous” as I was thinking of buying/reading that one. Must put it on my list. As for other celebrity novels, I enjoyed the ones by Jenny Eclair, which were hilarious and Jo Brand books are great, too. Just my opinion.

    • Michaela
      All of the ladies you’ve mentioned – Jo Brand, Dawn French and Jenny Eclair – are funny and clever and were already comedy writers before they turned their hands to novels, so I really don’t have a problem (how kind!) with them and I’m sure I’d enjoy their books too. It’s the ‘Ulrikes’ , ‘Fern Brittons’ and the ‘Martine McCutcheons’ of this world that get my goat – ‘celebrities’ known for other.. .er.. talents.. who then decide, seemingly on a whim, to ‘write’ a book (note the inverted commas, as I’m not sure that Ms McCutcheon did actually write hers!). Apparently Richard and Judy are both writing novels now too!

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