Thursday 29 January 2009

The Paris Hilton Paparazzi Circus

I enjoyed a delicious collision of cultures over lunch on Tuesday. Joining the other distinguished judges from last year’s Biographer’s Club Competition for a reunion at Mon Plaisir brasserie in Monmouth Street, I was startled on arrival to find an absolute scrum of paparazzi on the pavement outside, like a real life scene from The Overnight Fame of Steffi McBride.
Opposite the restaurant was the Covent Garden Hotel, a hostelry I know quite well having spent several days locked in a suite there with the colourful Pete Bennett and his mum and entourage, when he was writing his autobiography after winning Big Brother.
Mon Plaisir is a delightfully traditional French restaurant and seemed to be crammed with other publishing dignitaries that day, (you know who you are). Distinguished biographer, Richard Davenport-Hines, had managed to get us a table in the window. So, as the four of us, (Nicola Beauman, mastermind behind Persephone Books, and Anna Swan of the Biographer’s Club making up the party), gossiped and gawped Paris Hilton emerged from the hotel and the street erupted, just as I’m sure her entourage hoped it would, with the paparazzi surging forward, fighting one another for prime position, climbing onto the roofs of their cars.
The elegant Persephone Books is well worth looking into, specialising as they do in the re-publishing of good books that have slipped out of print. Their great success at the moment is Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day and I can’t help thinking that Paris Hilton could very easily be a modern equivalent of Delysia, the dizzy, glamorous night club singer and socialite who provides Miss Pettigrew with her chance to ‘live for a day’.
What a glorious and varied world it can be some days.

Sunday 25 January 2009

Celebrity Short Story Finalists

The three finalists in the Steffi McBride Celebrity short story competition range in age from fourteen to sixty, which I guess just goes to show how all-pervasive celebrity culture is now, and also that the urge to write arrives early and does not dim with the years.
At fourteen, Nicole Hendry is probably a more typical Steffi McBride reader and the one who you would most expect to be wrapped up in the spell of celebrity culture, so much of which is marketed directly towards girls of her generation. Yet both the other finalists are linked in other ways; Veronica Ryder is a keen amateur actress and so understands the lure of the spotlight and Sue Clark is currently working as a writer for a consultancy which specialises in creating a marketing buzz through the use of new media – another link to the world of Steffi McBride.
In her story, “Do you Think It’s Fair? Nicole creates a real air of danger and potential evil with her sharp descriptions of how the forces of celebrity drive her heroine into the arms of anorexia. The incredibly sharp writing makes you long to find out more about the characters sketched in the background.
In “The Purple Peignoir” Sue Clark creates two very interesting characters, neither of which are obvious candidates for modern celebrity but one of whom, Eloise, may well turn out to be one of the founding mothers of the movement. If we knew more we would not only be able to enter the now relatively distant world of the Swinging Sixties, but we would also be able to see what happens to someone when their grip on the spotlight begins to weaken.
In ‘Losing Abby’ Veronica Ryder managed to surprise me several times with unexpected twists to the plot and being the father of an ingĂ©nue actress/singer myself I recognise all too clearly the mother’s description of how she feels she is losing Abby to the lure of spotlight.
Having to put aside the seven others from the short list was just as horrible as I expected. I feel sure that many of them could still be worked up into successful novels and I hope all the authors will feel sufficiently encouraged by their success to want to give it a go.
Interviews with the three finalists will be going up on the Steffi McBride website this week and now all I have to do is decide which of them should be the overall winner.

Monday 5 January 2009

Battling with Barak

I know I’ve written before about my unhealthy obsession with getting to number one in the bestseller charts, and I think I have vented my spleen against such serial titans as Clarkson, Hammond, Bryson and Brand, who spend months crouched at the top of the mountain, swatting aside anyone who tries to dislodge them. Now we have to cope with books by the most powerful man on the globe – how annoying is that?

You’d think that being probably the most popular person in the world – ever, would be enough to satisfy the man. Whoever heard of a politician who could write books that people genuinely wanted to read anyway?

Not just one, but two of Barak Obama’s tomes are still sitting up there stopping “No One Listened”, which I wrote for Alex and Isobel Kerr, from reaching prime position. (Plus Andrew Franklin’s latest “fantastic facts” book, a whole genre which is another contender for raising my competitive stress levels!).

The Kerr siblings more than deserve a number one for their stoic tale of surviving on their own in the world after their father murdered their mother with a gruesomeness that would have left most children in therapy for life. The way in which they have supported each other and gone on to lead selfless and worthwhile lives helping others less fortunate than themselves is an inspiration to anyone who meets them or reads about them.

In all seriousness, it rather raises one’s hopes for the future to see that people like the Kerrs and Barak Obama are actually getting heard and read in large numbers. They are good people with good intentions doing good things. Long may it last – but I would still like to see the Kerr siblings get past him to the summit for one week at least.

Sunday 4 January 2009

Feeling Sorry for Cheryl Cole

I have spent most of today feeling sorry for Cheryl Cole, Dannii Minogue and all the other emotionally drained judges who have to weep their way through reality tv contests. I have been sifting through a huge pile of entries for the short story competition which I ran in conjunction with publication of my novel, “The Overnight Fame of Steffi McBride”. The stories had to be less than 1000 words long and the subject had to be “modern celebrity”.

I have been trying to work out how those who work regularly as judges manage to maintain their sanity while dismissing and disrespecting the work and talent of others, deciding who will be encouraged and who will be disappointed. How come Simon Cowell looks so confident and carefree when he is breaking hearts with his highly subjective judgements?

Having read an avalanche of entries, the vast majority of which are extremely good, I am now a complete dithering wreck. The thought of discouraging any budding talent by excluding them from the shortlist simply on the grounds that there were other stories that struck me differently is horrendous, but I know it has to be done. I have received enough rejection letters during forty years of writing, (and listened to enough deafening silences), to know that it is the way of the world, and that the initial anger I felt at those low moments stoked the flames required to forge the steel that every freelance writer needs in their soul in order to survive and go on to enjoy the highs when they come.

The other blow of reading these entries is the realisation of just how ferocious the competition is out there. There are so many people with good ideas, so many people who write well, how can we all possibly survive? Where are we all going to find enough people to buy and read what we want to write? I suppose it’s the same feeling that would-be superstars experience when they turn up to the giant X-Factor auditions and realise that the talent they had until that moment believed to be unique, encouraged by doting friends and family, is actually not unique at all. We are all struggling together to make our voices heard and have our words read.

At least when I was a judge for the Biographers’ Club prize a few months ago I had two others to help with the ruthless task, one of whom was the chairman and therefore carried the ultimate burden. Now there is no one else to share the responsibility with.

I know I have to be strong and make the choices but every decision to put a well written story into the “no” pile is an agony. God knows how the Booker and Costa judges come out with their sanity in tact, or maybe they don’t.

I have bought myself some precious time by whittling the entries down to a short list of ten, (all of which I hope to be able to display on the website in the next few days), but maybe all I have done is prolong the agony for all of the entrants as well as myself. I hope not.