It must be peculiar not to exist.
Your strength is invisibility. You’re excellent at imitation. Your self-effacement knows no bounds.
You’re the wire that hoists actors into the air, or the stunt double donning a wig, or Zac Efron’s crooning in High School Musical, or perhaps you’re even Britt Ekland’s bum double in The Wicker Man.
You’re there to make others look good. (Or, in the latter case, to flash your arse for the cameras, because Ekland refused to flash hers.)
You have numerous names for your numerous roles – but in publishing you are known as a ghost.
The sister on the left was said to have died 2 days earlier… Think about *that* next time you’re listening to a Kenny G solo, alone in the house, after dark…
This post has been prompted by the ‘news’ that outrageously popular You Tube star Zoella (a name oft on the lips of my teenaged daughter) accepted a six figure sum from publishers Penguin for a novel, Girl Online, that, well, that she didn’t actually write. She did, however, come up with the ‘story and the characters’.
Zoe ‘Zoella’ Sugg, whose You Tube vlog has over 3 million subscribers at time of writing. This is small fry, of course, compared to Swedish gamer PewDiePie who has over 30 million.
After out-pacing Dan Brown, J.K. Rowling, and E.L. James with her first-week sales, things nosedived spectacularly for the smiley star when rumours arose that the novel was ghostwritten. Zoella tweeted this in response:
It’s fair to say she’d have needed some help with the spelling in her novel, if nothing else…
But we like Zoella in our house. She says useful things to teenage girls about her own anxiety issues, and also she has lovely hair.
I’m not meaning to patronise her (although I have, perhaps, patronised her a tiny bit so far). What I’m mainly saying, is no harm, no foul. Yes, it’s kinda shitty to take a six-figure sum from Penguin (who’ve also behaved kinda shittily from an outsiders’ point of view) when the person who actually wrote the book earned seven thousand, according to my informant (my daughter), and, yes, it’s kinda shitty to let legions of teenaged girls believe there’s no end to your talents (thus, perhaps, doubting themselves just a wee bit in response), but IT HAPPENS ALL THE TIME. Hence I find myself feeling a little bit sorry for poor old (actually, young) Zoe Sugg. I think she’s learnt her lesson. I don’t think she’ll do it again.
But, Penguin? They will do it again. As will every other publishing house so long as we, the public, are keener on buying a book because somebody famous wrote it (even though, nudge nudge, wink wink, we all know they actually didn’t) than because of the words inside. The words inside might be good, but it’s usually seen as hack-work, this ghost writing business. A writer who lovingly rubs each phrase till a genie pops out of it is unlikely to let Katie Price or Naomi Campbell take the credit. Instead they’ll hock them any old shit, because no one is buying the book on its merits. They’re buying it because it’s… pink and shiny. (I have tried for literally seconds to think of another reason they might buy a book that purports to be written by the human being formerly known as Jordan, and I cannot.)
(The internet says she also has four volumes of autobiography. To which I say: WTF? Her entire life has been televised, hasn’t it? What is there left to find out, for the love of God?)
Look inside ‘her’ first novel, Angel, on Amazon and you’ll find the following:
This was, in fact, written by a former journalist called Rebecca Farnworth. Very sadly, Farnworth died recently, of cancer, at the horribly early age of 49, which makes me disinclined to run on at any great length about the quality of this extract – except to suggest that Farnworth herself knew very well what she was doing. And what she was doing was writing by numbers.
There is more writing by numbers in Katie Price’s recent book, Make My Wish Come True:
This one wasn’t written by Price, either. I’ve made a cursory search online (including the book’s ‘author information’ page) and can’t tell you who did write it, but if Price – like Zoella – came up with the characters (in particular, if she came up with the heroine’s name) then I’m glad she didn’t write the book herself. It’s bad enough as it is. Once upon a time it was curious and new to read of sunlight ‘streaming’ through a window – but it isn’t anymore. Is warmth in any way watery? Why must sun ‘put in an appearance’ instead of simply shining? As openings go, this one is an omni-shambles, to quote Malcolm Tucker. If football pundits wrote novels, they’d write ’em like this.
An adverb here, a cliche there…
It’s muzak for the eyes, that’s all. And there may be a stonking good story, once Storm’s finished basting that turkey – but I, for one, will never know, because life is too short to be squandered on Katie Price’s oeuvre. I’ve been known to remark, whilst listening to Radio 1, that if ‘music’ consisted of only this one particular song that my ears are enduring right now (I will mention no names) then I’d rather have silence. Forever. The End. And if Make My Wish Come True was the only book that existed, then quite honestly I’d have to give up reading.
(Ah, who am I kidding? I read the back of cereal packets. I read bus tickets. I read literally whatever’s in front of my eyes. But I’d hate myself while reading it. And I’d hate all of humanity. And I’d burn the book – and myself – afterwards.)
‘Everybody does have a book in them,’ said Christopher Hitchens, ‘but in most cases that’s where it should stay.’
Wise words. You see, having a story to tell is not the same thing as being able to tell it. And that’s fine! Why should everyone be able to write a (publishable) novel? They shouldn’t, quite frankly, and to suggest that they can – that they ought to be able to knock one off in their lunch break – makes a mockery of the profession of Writer.
Most artists can only do one thing really well. Shakespeare didn’t have a sideline in lute playing (that I know of). Margot Fonteyn wasn’t also a talented painter. Picasso didn’t compose symphonies. John Lennon didn’t write novels. The list goes on…
Bob Dylan did write a novel. Reviews ranged from ‘not good’ to ‘unreadable’.
Sylvia Plath was talented with a pencil as well as poetry:
It’s just that she was more talented as a poet.
The actor Keanu Reeves is also in a band called Dog Star – but we’ll just leave that statement alone, without comment (because speaking frankly I’ve always quite fancied Keanu Reeves, since the long-ago days of Dangerous Liaisons, and River’s Edge shows the nay-sayers that he can act – when he wants to – and quite apart from all that he’s a genuinely generous soul who gives away vast quantities of cash – and I really do mean vast. And, for me, that helps undo the memory of his frankly dreadful English accent in Dracula).
Let’s look at what happens when celebrity novelists Do It Themselves. (So far as I know…)
Take Judy Finnigan’s novel Eloise, for instance. (Go on, take it.) (Boom boom.)
Here’s an extract from page two. On page one, Chris and Cathy arrive at a cottage in Cornwall, under a ‘smoky-grey sky’ and stoke up the fire:
For those who don’t know, Judy Finnigan is a TV presenter, latterly famous for the Oprah-knock-off Richard and Judy Book Club, who recently inserted her foot in her mouth on an episode of Loose Women, describing the little-known non-bodily-harm variety of rape. (Like Zoella, Ms Finnigan seems to be taking a break from twitter.) But that’s by the by. I’m not here to judge her opinions on rape (I’ve done that already elsewhere, and do have a look at the Republican Rape Advisory Chart if you’re curious about rape’s many varieties, including ‘legitimate rape’, ‘honest’ rape, and even ‘enjoyable rape’). She ‘misspoke’, as the politicians say, and I doubt that she meant any genuine harm: she once flashed her bra by mistake on live telly; in this case, she just flashed her ignorance.
But I digress. I’m not here to judge her for any of that. I’m here to judge her as a writer.
This really isn’t very good, is it? Could Try Harder, Judy. F for effort. I’m sure there are people who like this sort of thing, but quite a lot of the people who don’t like it have left their own comments on Amazon: ‘boring’, ‘tedious’, ‘amateur’, ‘overwrought drivel’, ‘truly awful’, ‘We Need a No Stars Option, Amazon!’…
Many of us have been misled into thinking that because Ms Finnegan has been the champion of many excellent and previously little known authors she might be able to write herself.
I have learned my lesson… says one reviewer.
As previously noted, even Queen Hilary gets crappy reviews on Amazon (it’s par for the course), but based on the evidence of the Kindle sample these folks have located the nail’s head and struck it with startling accuracy.
Spot the shoe-horning of the Info Dump into Chris’s opening parlay:
‘If you’re not careful you’ll get seriously depressed again… blah blah, Eloise’s funeral… blah blah, let you go to their house‘.
Rules for writing good dialogue #47: characters should speak to each other, not to the reader.
As for Chris’s lurch from ‘growing impatience’ to ‘studied patience’ within the space of eleven lines (yup, I counted them)… goodness gracious me. Page two of the novel and the Ideas Engine has run out already.
Husband Richard (of afore-mentioned Book Club infamy) has muscled in on the fictional action himself. Here, dear reader, are the opening lines of The Way You Look Tonight (great title, also, Richard):
Imagine the very first line in the voice of Victor Meldrew and it’s a helluva lot more enjoyable.
Again, you can entertain yourself by spotting the shoe-horns. This is rather a lot of boring back-story in exchange for four shit words of forward motion, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Here’s Richard again with Some Day I’ll Find You (not if I see you first, Richard):
So many questions. Why is Diana searching for the weather forecast? Might there perchance be a ration enforced in rationed-to-the-hilt England? (Perhaps we need Diana’s father to step in and remind us four lines after you first mentioned it.) Is it colder in England than it is in France? Could you possibly tell us more about the weather, Richard, because after all that is widely acknowledged as the best way to begin a novel…
You’ll have realised by now: it’s not my cup of tea.
Am I being a Massive Snob? The answer is: yes, a bit and no, not really. I’m trying really, really hard to write something myself and, although I also play the old Joanna to a reasonable standard, this here – this writing lark – is My Thing. (Even if no-one else agrees; in my heart, it’s my thing, and will always be, whether Madder Hall makes it to print or not.) I am genuinely putting everything into it. All you need do is bleed onto the typewriter, as Hemingway said. Did Judy bleed? Did Richard? Did Katie Price?
In my humble opinion – no. No. Most certainly no.
I imagine the conversation went something like this: ‘We’ve read lots of books, Richard, haven’t we?’
‘Why yes, Judy, we have.’
‘Our names have become entwined in the UK’s consciousness with the concept of a Best-selling Novel?’
‘Why yes, Judy, yes they have.’
‘And selling the books will be a Piece of Piss!’
‘Why yes, Judy, yes it will.’
Perhaps I’m being cynical.
Before you go, Lyns, what’s to do with the title of this here post?
Why, thank you for asking. It’s the epitaph of the poet John Keats, inscribed on his grave in Rome.
And what’s it got to do with celebrity writers, pray tell?
Well, Mr Keats? Over to you.
‘If poetry comes not as naturally as leaves to a tree, it had better not come at all.’
Unless, of course, Ode to a Nightingale was ghosted by an ancestor of Miss Katie Price. In which case, I’ll look a bit of a fool.