Celebs with a novel ambition

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'THE MUSIC swelled, the red curtains parted and I felt the designer give me a little push in the small of my back. 'Get ready to glide, Swan,' he whispered and I was off, climbing the steps to the runway, moving out into the spotlight. . . . I hooked my thumbs into the pockets of my tight silk pants and began to saunter down the runway, one foot dead in front of the other, hips wiggling subtly. . . . A supermodel can make anything look sexy and they say I'm the sexiest of them all.'

With these purplish words, Naomi Campbell joins the ranks of a select but ever-growing band - the celeb turned novelist. The 23-year- old model's debut novel, Swan, will be one of the most heavily promoted books of the pre-Christmas season, but it will fight for shelf space alongside novels by the likes of tennis champion Martina Navratilova and hearthrob actor Rupert Everett.

The pages of the autumn books special edition of the Bookseller reveal a host of writers who have made their names elsewhere before trying their hand at fiction. Some suggest writing a novel; others are approached by agents and publishers aiming to sell a book on the strength of a name. But can being a celebrity really make anything sell?

According to publishers and book buyers, the clout of a famous name should never be underestimated. Yet they can bomb as well; novels by Ivana Trump and Britt Ekland were poor sellers.

Jenny Dutton of Transworld, whose imprints include Corgi, Black Swan and Bantam, said: 'You can have an enormous impact with your first book if you are already well known, but after that you do need to be able to write. Eddie Shah, for example, is one of our authors and his first novel did well. Now he's on to his fourth, but that sort of writing success cannot be sustained using a famous name alone.'

Graham Edmonds, the paperback buyer for W H Smith, believes a publisher's marketing strategy can make or break a celebrity novelist's fortunes. While W H Smith will often decide not to buy any copies of an unknown writer's first novel unless the reviews are exceptional, he has already bought 20,000 copies of comedian Rob Newman's novel at pre-publication stage after being impressed by the cover, the advertising and the interviews arranged by Newman's publisher, Century.

W H Smith has also bought 10,000 copies of Jill Gascoine's novel, impressed by the advertising campaign, the book jacket and the target audience. Ms Gascoine, meanwhile, is seeking not to fall by the wayside like some celebrity first-time novelists; she has been attending writing workshops near her Sussex home. She can also take heart from the fortunes of other celebrities turned novelists; M P Edwina Currie's novel A Parliamentary Affair was a bestseller, and Sir Dirk Bogarde, originally a star of the British film industry and then of idiosyncratic European movies, is now well- known as a talented fiction writer. The key to these two, however, is their interest in writing, not their fame. Mrs Currie practised writing short stories long before a novel was suggested; Sir Dirk wrote highly praised autobiographies before turning to fiction. As Mr Edmonds puts it: 'When it comes to books, in the end it's that undefinable, intangible something, and you don't have it just because you're famous.'

But this is a publishing fad that looks set to run and run. Next year the reading public will be able to relish Two Georges co-authored by Hollywood actor Richard Dreyfuss, and actress-turned-cake-decorator Jane Asher's Bearing Down.

As to why they do it, agents and publishers refuse to say - accurate figures for advances are kept close to their chest. Richard Dreyfuss, who won the 1977 Best Actor Oscar for The Goodbye Girl, is reputed to have secured a five-figure advance for his book. That might not be much for a Hollywood star, but the kudos, the publicity, the interviews and adverts can all give a star's profile a welcome boost.

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