Martin Amis tells an audience he's based a character in his forthcoming novel State of England on the glamour model turned celebrity author Jordan/Katie Price. According to Amis, "she has no waist... an interesting face... but all we are really worshipping is two bags of silicone". Not just a repulsive comment, but a bit rich coming from the man who's spent thousands on improving his own dentistry.
Knocking "sleb" authors has become a bit of a trend lately. It started at the Specsavers Crime Thriller Awards the other week (my goodness, there are more literary awards than telly ones, and that's saying something). I knew about this event because Specsavers offered me money to attend, an offer I felt able to decline. But I do regret missing the moment when the Prime Suspect author, Lynda La Plante, received a "hall of fame" award and bagged the opportunity to have a jolly good rant about the ghosted memoirs and books "written" by celebrities that dominate the publishing industry at present.
She urged the industry to "cut through the dross", which must have been a bit embarrassing for Martine McCutcheon, who'd been on the podium earlier to present an award and whose first novel comes out any day now. And let's not forget that Cheryl Cole, Sharon Osbourne and Coleen Nolan are all following suit. I can see why Lynda might be mad at this huge influx of amateurs – but is her rage justified?
Amis could be accused of sour grapes – he seems to have had some problems following up his last novel, House of Meetings, published in 2006. He's been working on The Pregnant Widow for seven years, as well as State of England which features the Jordan-inspired character he tells us is called Threnody. The truth is, he doesn't sell as many books as he used to: Yellow Dog, published in 2003, got shocking reviews. The Daily Telegraph described it as "not knowing where to look bad" and The Times called it "copiously second-hand". Whether Amis can cope with it or not, Katie Price sells millions of books to people who would not normally buy books. That's why the book trade loves her, and it fully expects her latest epic, Sapphire, to be the Christmas number one.
One critic said of Amis: "His books lack an emotional bite. You don't care what happens." It must be galling for him that Katie Price's fans are willing to buy anything with her name on it, but that seems to be the case. Far from lacking emotional bite, every aspect of her life is a roller coaster of tears, tantrums, joy and sorrow, fully exploited in all media, leaving the line between fact and fiction blurred. This is why people buy books with her name on it: it's pure escapism, and what's wrong with that?
Could it be more irritating for Amis that bestselling fiction is currently dominated by a whole range of fine female authors – Sarah Walters, Maeve Binchy, Hilary Mantel, Philippa Gregory, Kathy Reichs and Margaret Atwood? You couldn't accuse any of them of being airhead, uneducated slebs.
Poor old Amis, reduced to slagging off a woman who will never have read one of his own books, or even have heard of him, in order to drum up interest and grab a few headlines for his next opus, due out in February. By hitting such an easy target, he's signing up to the very culture he's said to despise.
As for Lynda La Plante's comments, a huge number of celebrity autobiographies – by Russell Brand, Alan Carr, Paul O'Grady and Dawn French, for example – not only sold extremely well over the past year, but were surprisingly well written. O'Grady, in particular, got excellent reviews. So what's to moan about? One in four 14-year-olds is not up to standard in English, and reading levels are similarly poor. Philip Roth says he expects novel reading to die out within 25 years, but I don't agree. Celebrity authors bring to reading and enjoying books exactly the people the industry needs to survive. Amis should stop being such a rude snob.
Crass words from a poor leader
Last week I spent a couple of days at the historic Pen-y-Gwryd Hotel in Snowdonia. I love the way they sound a gong for meals and the place is full of climbers admiring the Everest memorabilia in the bar. As it was sunny, I decided to recreate a hike I'd done 15 years ago to the summits of the Glyders. Needless to say, I fell over three times in the first hour and my legs soon felt like iron girders.
A group of young men were trudging up the ridge in front of me, carrying heavy packs. Chatting to the leader, a young Sikh, I discovered they were doing the Duke of Edinburgh's gold medal scheme. I wonder what they would have made of Prince Edward's fatuous remarks about the death of an Australian schoolboy on one of the programmes in 2006. The Prince, who is visiting Australia to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the scheme, crassly pointed out that when an English boy had died in the early years of the scheme, it boosted its popularity. He's right, of course – the young like extreme experiences – but it was hardly a tactful choice of words. Edward is one of those unfortunate men who seemed to morph straight from child to middle age. He's an uninspiring choice to head up this excellent charity.
More of us are tuning into Radio 4. But only because there is nowhere else to go
I hope the BBC isn't gloating because Radio 4 has recorded the highest audience figures for a decade. Thousands of us tune in only because there's nothing else available for large stretches of the day. In the morning, I don't want to be shouted at by moron Moyles, and the Wogan magic leaves me cold. Radio 3 presenters now chat all the time and beg us to send texts, in a desperate bid to emulate Classic FM. Age Concern and Help the Aged reckon Radio 4 is popular because the audience finds most TV too youth-obsessed, but I disagree. Don't assume that an ageing population will all behave like lemmings – the over-50s are a diverse group, and far too much of Radio 4's output is aimed at the white, cosy-middle-class, elderly end of the scale. The very mention of You and Yours has me reaching for the off-switch – how many items about pensions and savings can you broadcast? Today seems to lose the plot every time it attempts something on contemporary culture – any semblance of content went out the window last week when Evan Davis fawned over the Coen brothers.Yes, Radio 4 has some real gems, such as Desert Island Discs and The Archers, but it doesn't really address the audience it should.