The little book of ideas due for a comeback

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Once upon a time there was a young woman called Grenda Whitlow who wanted to write a bestseller, so she sat right down and wrote a novel called Under the Sundial.

Once upon a time there was a young woman called Grenda Whitlow who wanted to write a bestseller, so she sat right down and wrote a novel called Under the Sundial.

This was a family saga about a disputed inheritance, with lots of people who moved from London to the country, and then regretted it, and several characters who moved from the country to London, and regretted it even more, and even a character who tried to move from the country to London and only got as far as Reading (that was for comic relief).

She took the novel to an agent called Hugo, who normally refused to read novels by people he had never heard of, but agreed to read Grenda's because he quite fancied her.

"I've read the novel, Grenda," he said, "and it's a wonderful read. Unfortunately, it's a bit Joanna Trollopeish. Also family sagas are sort of passé. Also, it's the sort of novel that writers write before they do their bestseller. If and when you have a bestseller, they will bring this out later, saying, "Also by Grenda Whitlow, best-selling author of...' "

"Of what?" said Grenda.

"Ah! That's the problem," said the agent. "What you've got to do is think of something that was very fashionable years back, and is due for revival. After all, there is nothing very new even about Harry Potter. It is just Billy Bunter with the fat boy taken out and magic put in. A Hundred Uses For a Dead Cat was just sick humour revived, combined with the list concept. Ah - maybe it's time again for a revival of the book of lists!"

"Book of lists?"

"Yes. There was a time when people did books of lists. And sold them in the hundreds and thousands. I think even Craig Brown did a book of royal lists about 20 years ago."

Grenda thought about it, and liked the idea, and started compiling lists of dotty things, but before she had quite finished it, the agent rang her.

"Hold it!" he said. "I've just heard on the grapevine there's a bloke called Ben Schott doing a book of lists, called Schott's Miscellany. You'll have to think of something else."

So Grenda did. Noticing that books of etiquette were back in vogue, she decided to write a book of grammatical etiquette. Unfortunately, Lynne Truss got there first.

"All right," said Grenda, between clenched teeth, "how about a book of correct spelling?"

Then she learnt that Lynne Truss's publishers had commissioned a man called Vivian Cook to follow up Truss's success with a book on spelling, called Accomodating Brocolli in the Cemetary, which was very clever, because a lot of that too was written in the Ben Schott book-of-lists style.

Grenda was so upset she left England for six months and went to live in France. When she came back she went to see Hugo again.

"All right," said Grenda, clenching her teeth, fists, buttocks and anything else clenchable. "Got any other ideas, Hugo? Anything else due for a comeback?"

"Tell you what," said Hugo brightly, "I've always thought the time was ripe for an anti-Peter Mayle book. Year in Provence was so syrupy and out-of-focus it wasn't true. You've just been to France. How's about a book showing the French as they really are?

We shall draw a veil over Grenda Whitlow's efforts to write an anti-Peter Mayle book and her discovery, when she was nearly finished, of this year's runaway success, A Year in the Merde. We shall not mention how clenched she was, and how she had to do calming exercises to get unclenched. So let us cut straight to her next meeting with Hugo.

"Pity about Year in the Merde," said Hugo. "Still, shows I was on the right track. Tell you what, Grenda, I have a hunch that it's time for a return to the family saga. If you could knock out a sprawling dynastic tale set in the countryside..."

Much to his surprise, Grenda pulled a copy of Under the Sundial out of her bag and threw it across the desk at him, knocking him unconscious.

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