Page Turner: Is anyone out there not writing a book?
Sunday 19 April 2009
It is attributed to Peter Cook: the anecdote in which an enthusiastic young ingénue approaches a seasoned old cove at a party and says, "I'm writing a novel," and the old cove (Cook) deadpans: "What a coincidence. Neither am I." Time was when every student, wannabe, scribbler and hack was trapped (obviously) at a party thinking guiltily about the empty garret with the unstarted manuscript gathering dust as they drank. Now it seems that everyone really is writing a novel. Hardly any of them novelists.
The London Book Fair opens tomorrow with a Cookbook Corner, a PEN literary café, several clammy acres of publishers, agents and booksellers and a keynote speech by the recklessly prolific Boris Johnson. Last year, Gordon Brown was the surprise guest speaker – encouragingly for aspiring new authors who have not even managed to make the front bench yet, never mind produce a library of intellectual tomes about courage or Maggie Thatcher. But Johnson's output is even more prodigious. It includes an introduction to the Roman Empire, a guide to cars, a comic political novel and a story in verse about pushy parenting with illustrations, of course, by the author. It is to be hoped that becoming London Mayor has slowed him down slightly, or there will be no time at the fair for any other authors to do deals.
At the Galaxy British Book Awards recently, everyone and his sidekick had a book deal. Ant and Dec announced that their "conversational" joint memoir will be out in September. Jerry Hall said that she had opted to be funny at the expense of being kind. Alan Davies revealed that writing a book turns out to be harder than it sounds. Jack Dee said that his will be "[Barack Obama's] The Audacity of Hope but from a white man's perspective. Kind of redressing the balance." Dara Ó Briain complained that his writing a book "starts to look a bit shit" in this crowded market. Thanks to Jerry Springer, who is not writing anything. "What makes you think any of my fans read?" he asked.
At the Book Awards and the Book Fair, all eyes were, and will be, on Canongate, the big-hitting small publisher that has still not revealed how it managed to persuade Obama to sell them his back catalogue, back before he was famous. Publishing insiders say that it was all down to MD Jamie Byng's genius and charm. Guests at the British Book Awards after-party suspect it was to do with his dancing: he and Barack have quite a similar style...
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