Confessions of a media whore

I once appeared on L!ve TV. I cannot say I am proud of myself, but these things happen
THE RECENTLY published history by Chris Horrie and Adam Nathan of the country's must vulgar cable company, L!ve TV, has caused much superior chortling among our more sophisticated commentators. Its trampolining dwarfs and bare- breasted darts players, its News Bunny and its plan to use stammering newscasters, have widely been perceived as British low culture at its delightful and appalling best.

If I have mixed feelings about these things, it is not for reasons of post-Hoddle sensitivity towards the differently abled. The fact is - it is bound to come out at some point and there seems little point in denying it - I once appeared on L!ve TV. The Duchess of York had come up with some money-making book scheme. My name had appeared on a researcher's Rolodex. There was a call, a pounds 50 fee reluctantly offered, a free taxi ride, and there I was in the corner of the open-plan office that doubled as a studio, talking about a subject on which I had no particular views or expertise. I cannot say I am proud of myself, but these things happen.

Unfortunately, they have happened rather too often. There was the discussion about dishwashers on a "my favourite things" phone-in for Talk Radio. There was being photographed with a hen on my head for a "Me and My Pets" magazine column. There was a Sky TV commentary on the court battle between Joan Collins and her publishers. Only a matter of weeks ago, there was a down-the-line interview about TV chefs for Radio Scotland.

One or two such moments could be put down to vanity, boredom and the excitement of entering the real world of studio lights and microphones and women with clipboards who call you by your first name. But, taken together, a pattern of media promiscuity begins to emerge, the sort of problem that could usefully be probed on one of the nuts-and-sluts daytime TV shows (and yes, of course, on which I would be available to appear).

What causes this inability to say no to the humblest researcher working for the tawdriest programme? The first rule of publicity, drummed into every new writer, is that an inch of feature coverage about the author is worth a foot of reviews for his work.

The pay-off for all this low-rent punditry, it is argued, will be in the fiction departments of bookshops across the country, where potential book-buyers will be saying to themselves: "Hang on. Wasn't that the man talking bollocks about Fergie/ posing with a chicken on his head/ discussing dishwashers with Anna Raeburn? That settles it - I'll buy his novel."

A harmless delusion, you may think. The author is rescued from his desk. The TV researcher knows that, unlike the losers who sometimes have to be impersonated by actors, writers are always ready to fill up air time. But now the tyranny of personal publicity has pushed the process one step further. Last month, the BBC announced that they were looking for four novelists for a documentary about the creative process. Once a week, a film crew would visit each of them to see how their work was developing.

Suddenly it is not enough merely to write, and be judged upon the words you have produced. The activity of writing is an essential component in the promotional package. Two new writers, Josie Lloyd and Emlyn Rees, recently played the game to perfection by not only writing a novel together - in itself more interesting than any solitary act of creation - but by falling in love and getting married as they wrote. Inevitably, they were invited on to The Vanessa Show, where they sat, hand in hand, discussing the romantic excitements of the literary life. In the same spirit, novelists eagerly contribute to "How I write" columns in the press. One literary journalist has bravely, if unwisely, taken to reporting on the progress of his first novel, as if the act of creating fiction has become more interesting and entertaining than the fiction itself.

The problem with all this is not just that, as John Osborne once pointed out, good writers are dull dogs, but that the better a novelist performs in a studio or in a light arts feature, the less likely he or she is to produce work of genuine interest or depth. Soon, the process of paying more attention to the life than the work has trivialising and vulgarising effect on the reader. Consider, to take an obvious example, the way the death of Iris Murdoch was covered in some quarters last week, and how much less attention was paid to her achievements as a novelist than to the tragic, and ultimately irrelevant, details of her final years.

Sometimes publicity provides not a window between the reader and an author's work, but a wall.

Comments