Letter from Simon Kelner: Appetite for memoirs seems to be unquenchable

 

Simon Kelner
Wednesday 14 September 2011 00:00
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Yesterday I invoked the memory of the late Robin Cook, the former Foreign Secretary and a man whom I got to know when he left office.

During that time, he was working on his memoirs - called The Point of Departure - which, as well as being a gripping account of a tumultuous period in British political history, set the standard for the senior figures in New Labour's administration.

One by one, they've written the book, taken the royalties, sold the serial rights, done the round of the chat shows and generally added to our impression of the dysfunction that characterised Labour's 13 years in power. We've lapped it up - how difficult Gordon was, how imperious Tony was, how secretive Mandelson was and so on, until we get to John Prescott - and it seems there's an inexhaustible public appetite for this sort of behind-the-scenes account.

Robin Cook himself once told me that, after his book was published, nobody would turn up if he held a public meeting on a political matter, whereas if he was simply doing a reading from his memoirs, he could fill a large hall with people prepared to pay £10 for the privilege.

Politicians have certainly benefited from the growing number of literary festivals around the country - I remember David Cameron packing them in at the Woodstock festival to talk about a book which was simply based on a series of conversations with him. And that was two years before he became Prime Minister. This week, Alistair Darling is the latest - and, let us hope, the last - figure from the Blair/Brown administration to put Cook's observation to the test.

I'm pretty sure that if Mr Darling was to give a lecture on the global financial crisis, you wouldn't get hurt in the crush for tickets.But, in the wake of the publication of Back From the Brink, his memoirs of the worst banking crisis for more than a century, he's appearing on Friday at the Woodstock Literary Festival, sponsored by our sister paper, The Independent.

We've already seen the extracts and we've heard about how he fell out with Gordon and we know what he thinks of Mervyn King. Nevertheless, the event is practically a sell-out, as the estimable Mr Darling turns - for a day at least - from ex-Chancellor to literary lion. And you can play a part in putting him on the spot.

I shall be in the interviewer's chair on Friday and I'm happy to put questions to him from i readers. You know how to get in touch. And no questions about his eyebrows, please!

i@independent.co.uk

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