Publishing: They can sign an autograph, but can they actually write?

Geri and Coleen have joined the ranks of celebrity children's authors

Katy Guest
Saturday 22 October 2011 22:02

Once there was a time when an aspiring young lady's career span ran: actress, singer, dancer, model. But in these times of emancipation and empowerment, women expect to achieve more than that. Now, young wannabes write on their passports (or their marriage banns): journalist, columnist, novelist, British Book Award-winner. Once, we had Simone de Beauvoir and Martha Gellhorn. Now we have Coleen McLoughlin and Geri Halliwell. Don't complain – every society gets the girl power it deserves.

The cause of all this literary confusion is a new breed of female authors who are, shall we say, predominantly famous for other things. Now, Coleen and Geri have joined Madonna and Katie Price on the bookshelves with their first offerings as children's authors. Ms McLoughlin, author of the imminent series Coleen: Style Queen has form. Much like Ernest Hemingway (but prettier, and with better shorthand), she was a hack before she found fame as an author. In the banns for her forthcoming wedding to Wayne Rooney, posted at Crewe register office, she gives her occupation as "journalist". Geri Halliwell, whose Ugenia Lavender series started last week, has not previously been published in book or magazine form. But a spokeswoman for her publisher, Macmillan, said she has always been a book lover, and used to write short stories as a child.

Apparently it is not cool to care how much of a book the name on the cover actually wrote. When Price's book Perfect Ponies was shortlisted for WH Smith Children's Book of the Year, some authors – Joanne Harris and Tracy Chevalier, for example – said it was "disappointing", "inappropriate" and "tacky". But no less a figure than Michael Rosen, children's laureate, disagreed. "We get too hung up about authorship," he said. "None of us writes a book entirely on our own. We get help from editors, or ideas might come from conversations with our families, or children."

In which case, only bores will notice a tiny note on the back flyleaf of Halliwell's offering "Thanks to Jonny Zucker", the name of a popular children's author. Coleen's acknowledgements thank a Lucy Courtenay, whose biography on the website of literary agents Curtis Brown says she has worked as a tea lady, porcelain dealer, Tefl teacher... and children's author.

Geri says: "There is a prejudice against celebrity authors, but if you read my stories you'll know they're not ghost-written – only I could be that bonkers!" But at the PR firm employed by her publisher, nobody seemed clear about Jonny Zucker. Later, somebody researched him and replied: "He was one of the first people she spoke to and he gave her some great advice and encouragement. That's all I've got." They added that they'd heard Coleen did not write her books and only "endorsed them".

According to Amazon, people who bought Madonna's children's books also bought the CD Hard Candy, which shows that children have catholic tastes these days, or maybe that parents have very little imagination. But who cares? Anyone can be a top-selling author. And that's incredible! It's inspirational! It's totally ingenious! (As Ugenia Lavender would, and does, say a lot in her latest adventures.)

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