Forget celebrity books, it's their pets' tales that are flying off the shelves

Sales of the stars' real memoirs may be plummeting, but animal autobiographies and canine kiss-and-tells are storming the literary charts. And they're often better written, too. Arifa Akbar reports

If its critics are right and the bloated, badly written "celebrity memoir" has had its day, an exotic offshoot of the genre is taking its place.

The spoof memoir – be it written from the point of view of a celebrity's dog or their cute-yet-complex pet chimpanzee, or a fake autobiography of a politician with leadership ambitions – is now stirring the imagination of the publishing industry. It still has its marketable celebrity element, yet no ghost writers are required, nor is there any need to check facts.

Ever since James Lever earned a Booker Prize nomination for the spoof life story Me Cheeta, which was written from the perspective of an ageing silver-screen chimpanzee who starred in Hollywood's Tarzan films, a spate of fake confessionals has followed. They each simultaneously look askance at celebrity culture, while benefiting from the public's appetite for it.

Lever's novel has sold more than 50,000 copies since its publication last year. Shortly after it came another spoof memoir. Bubbles: My Secret Diary, From Swaziland to Neverland is a variation on Lever's theme, and is based on the eventful life story of Michael Jackson's pet chimpanzee, organised as a collection of "very personal and honest entries from Bubbles' diary".

The book sparked a bidding war in America and Australia, and its publisher John Blake suggested its contents would shine a light on a troubled mind – Bubbles' that is, not Jackson's.

"Behind his seemingly perfect life of glamorous friends, gold-plated tyre swings and personal chefs, there is a dark history of medical experiments, addiction and loss," he said. Nicholas Pearson, publishing director at Fourth Estate, who conceived the idea for Me Cheeta after reading a news story reporting the real-life chimpanzee's 65th birthday celebrations in America, said he was reacting against the glut of celebrity memoirs published in recent years. "They were making me feel slightly sick," he said.

While the celebrity memoir is often criticised for being poorly written and containing pedestrian C-list subjects, Lever's spoof was praised for being sharp, witty and brilliantly imagined. But a year on, with more spoofs on the shelves, Mr Pearson suggested "there is only room for a certain number of animal autobiographies in the world".

Yet the writer Andrew O'Hagan, who will see his The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of his friend Marilyn Monroe published in May, said this genre precedes Lever's book by centuries.

The satirical or wise anthropomorphic narrative has long been a literary trope, perfected in Aesop's Fables, and adopted by Jonathan Swift and George Orwell. "It is part of a joyful tradition of satirical animals who somehow say something about society," O'Hagan said. He added that he had had an extraordinary amount of interest in his book, with filmmakers discussing an adaptation and publishers showing interest across Europe and the world.

"It connected with our interest in personalising the experience of celebrity.... It is a documentation of our times, our love of celebrity and our obsession with public tragedy," he said.

He suggested the genre's popularity may also reflect our recession-ridden times. "There's something in the air at the moment: we need a cultural moment of comedy," he argued. "We have lived through some dark times, and perhaps a degree of the unreal and the miraculous has crept into our lives."

His book was conceived in 1999, when during an auction of Monroe's personal possessions by Christie's, he came across the story of her dog, Maf, who was given to her as a present in 1960 by Frank Sinatra .

"Maf had an incredibly colourful life, being part of the litter brought up by the housekeeper of Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell, who were leading lights in the Bloomsbury Group," O'Hagan explained . "It's wonderfully absurd to think of the idea of a white Maltese witnessing events and being connected to so much of 20th century culture."

Bill Coles, who last year brought out a fake autobiography of Lord Lucan, has now written his second spoof, this time assuming the voice of the Conservative Party leader David Cameron called Dave Cameron's Schooldays. The book was this week picked by Waterstone's as its "book of the month".

Mr Coles said such memories intended to weave fact with fiction seamlessly and often contained a sting.

"I'm not saying that he is ridiculous (in the book) but he has his weaknesses – his predilection for promoting his Bullingdon Club friends and surrounding himself with Old Etonians," he said. "At Eton, we learned that one of the lessons of survival was to 'deny, deny, deny'. I'm saying that lesson stood Cameron in good stead as a politician."

A spokesman for Waterstone's said the trend was in keeping with Britain's tendency towards satire.

"The British have always loved to poke fun at those they feel may need taking down a peg or two, and the spoof memoir is a classic example of the satirist's art. Politicians obviously lend themselves well to this form of lampooning, hence the success recently of Going Rouge [about Sarah Palin] and currently Dave Cameron's Schooldays."

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Just folk: The Unthanks

Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne with his Screen Actors Guild award for Best Actor

Arts and Entertainment
Rowan Atkinson is bringing out Mr Bean for Comic Relief

Arts and Entertainment


Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups


An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment


Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment


Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original


Arts and Entertainment


Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'


Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

    Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

    Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea