My GCSE triumph, or how Michael Gove got it right


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The Independent Online

I've had a lot of weird things happen to me in the past 15 years. I've skied/tumbled down a live Nicaraguan volcano, I've "played" Wembley, I've formed a political party whose membership consisted entirely of bears... but even I was gobsmacked by news I received this week.

I awoke to discover that a passage from my latest travel book – Scary Monsters and Super Creeps – was a featured text in this year's GCSE English Literature exam. Tweets trickled in from students informing me that they'd had to discuss my writing "technique" and "style" while describing my solo boat trip to Rattle-snake Island on Lake Okanagan in Canada.

It was only last week that I was haranguing Michael Gove on Twitter for supposedly vetoing such classics as Of Mice and Men and To Kill a Mockingbird for study in schools, in favour of British authors. I now know that he is a man of impeccable literary taste.

I made the trip featured in the exam while in search of Ogopogo, Canada's answer to the Loch Ness Monster. I didn't find the beast but did discover an even better story – about a mad Lebanese man who wanted to build an Arabian theme park on the island. He got into hot water with the federal government and ended up arming himself to the teeth and taking over the Canadian Embassy in Beirut.

I'm very proud of my travel books and would defend them against all comers, but I am aware that their appearance in a GCSE may be valuable ammunition to opponents of Gove. I can already imagine an MP in full Commons pompous mode, having a go – "Does the Secretary of State really expect us to believe that the children of this nation are better off studying the works of a man most famous for dressing as a squirrel than those of the world's great writers?"

To some, the inclusion of my book isn't far off those jokes about future kids studying the literary output of Jodie Marsh or Wayne Rooney. In my defence, I do write my own books.

I was astonished, recently, to learn from a drunken chat with a publisher just how many public figures have their books ghost-written, and I'm not just talking about the obvious "thicko" candidates. I'd love someone to pop in and make my TV shows for me, but it's only in the literary world that you can get someone to do your job for you. That and celebrity perfumes. All you do is slap your name on the bottle and watch the cash roll in.

Donald Trump, who appears to see himself as the next US President, has been promoting Father's Day gifts on Twitter. He implored his followers to treat their dads to something "from my signature collection". I checked out the collection so you don't have to. I'm convinced that my father would have just adored a bottle of Success, the Donald Trump after-shave ….

My dad was a frustrated writer, and I think he might have been a smidgen proud of me this week. Not that he'd ever have let it show. Unlike Donald Trump and myself, he believed in modesty.