Getting up close to your heroes is a bad idea even if it costs you nothing

…but $300,000 for an audience with James Patterson?

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How much would you pay to have a meal with your favourite writer? If your favourite writer is a journalist on this organ, you could simply bung a grand to the next Independent Christmas Charity appeal and find yourself deep in chat and Corton-Charlemagne at the Chiltern Firehouse before you can say “Robert Fisk.”

If the writer of your dreams is a starry literary figure, you can get to meet him/her by heading to one of the 478,953 literary festivals currently available across the nation, buying their new book and confessing your adoration for them during the 90 seconds it takes them to sign it. But dinner, I’m afraid, won’t be possible unless you’re spectacularly attractive and they’re unusually susceptible to author-fan relationships, which most authors aren’t, having seen Misery.

Recently the publishers Unbound made it easier for literary fans to get their feet under the same table as writers, through their scheme of pledges of money for as-yet-unwritten books. Bung the writer £20 or £75 and you’ll get your name in the book, or an invite to the launch party – and paying £150 will see you sitting by their side, having lunch at Quo Vadis and trying to interest them in your unpublished 10-volume History of String.

But look what’s happened now. A bestselling author has just set the gold standard for author-fan encounters. It’s James Patterson, the American author who has published 95 novels since 1976, most of them ghostwritten by, or co-written with, other authors to whom he assigns plots while they do the heavy lifting of writing sentences. Mr P is offering his readers a one-off encounter with him. For a mere $300,000 (£198,000) one devoted reader can meet him for a five-course dinner at which Patterson will give him a super-special edition of his new novel, Private Vegas. The reason it’s so special is because it will explode 24 hours after it’s been opened, with a trained bomb squad in attendance.

 

I’m not sure if Mr Patterson was in the grip of some major hallucinogen when he came up with this idea (a nod to the auto-destructing audiotape that gave our heroes their instructions at the start of every Mission Impossible) but it’s a damned odd reward to give someone who’s shelled out 300 Big Ones for the pleasure of meeting you.

I suppose the idea is to make the lucky reader feel they’re in a spy thriller, turning pages at superhuman speed in a Race Against Time, with a ticking bomb in their hands, which they must finish reading before it finishes them. But is it really the ideal encounter between creator and consumer? How special would it make you feel, after your five-course meal, having to race through 500-odd pages of Mr P’s leaden prose to reach the pay-off before the bomb squaddies come tramping through your door? It’s not as if you even get a signed copy to take home - more of a heavily-singed copy, with a big hole in the middle.

For reasons that are completely beyond me, Mr Patterson will also give his lucky dinner companion a pair of 14-carat gold binoculars to keep. He’s presumably had them in his possession for some years, through which he’s always been able to spot yet another sucker hoving into view.

I wonder if movie fans could be attracted in the same way. Instead of getting to meet film stars by shelling out half a million quid and calling yourself “Executive Producer,” you could pay twice as much and meet, say, Cate Blanchett for dinner; over coffee she’ll give you a screener of her new movie, which, when you watch it later with your admiring family and jealous pals, will self-destruct halfway through the last act, leaving you frustrated and angry but also secretly thrilled to have a charred DVD souvenir of your encounter with the movie goddess.

I can certainly see that working. And there must be an Ed Sheeran super-fan who would happily pay £100,000 to go for a bangers-and-mash pub lunch with the loveable troubadour and take home a brand-new, specially inscribed CD of his album X which, when played, actually starts to melt slap bang in the middle of “Thinking Out Loud” while emitting toxic fumes from the car sound system.

Patterson’s initiative is, I suppose, the logical extension of meeting someone whose work you revere – that they give you the only example of their work that you won’t actually possess any more the day after you meet them, a book that will disappear just like your memory of them, symbolising the evanescence of human relationships compared to the abiding solidity of art. Or it simply reminds us that no one ever lost money betting on how far people will go in the deranged grip of fandom.

 

Seen it all before? Of course we have!

Leafing through my Journal of Medical Case Reports, I read about an unnamed student of 23 who’s been diagnosed with chronic déjà vu. He has baffled doctors because he doesn’t suffer from any of the neurological conditions usually found in people suffering from the condition. He doesn’t have epilepsy. He’s not suffering from dementia. His memory is fine. He’s just anxious all the time because he feels “trapped in a time loop.” He’s stopped watching TV, listening to the radio or reading newspapers because he feels he has “encountered the content before.”

Whoever the guy is, I’m happy to tell him he’s not alone. I too walk around with a strange feeling that stuff from the past is happening all over again and that everything thqt happens has happened before.

Wherever I look, I see Churchill’s face scowling back at me. Twiggy has just been announced as L’Oreal’s new supermodel. The Pope tells Catholics that artificial contraception is banned. Meccano are in trouble at the London Toy Fair for aiming its sets at boys, not girls. The rock band Queen are on tour, as are The Who. The biggest thing on TV is Come Dancing. The most eagerly watched drama on TV is about King Henry VIII trying to get rid of his first wife.

According to Muslim extremists, the depiction of the Prophet Mohamad in a publication warrants a death sentence. Clinton and Bush are soon to battle it out for the White House. The papers are full of articles about Page 3 breasts, the invasion of Iraq, Bletchley Park, Uri Geller and James Blunt. In Britain, history doesn’t repeat itself. It just never goes away. It exists in an eternal present. No wonder we’re confused.

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