Friday, 18 January 2008

Coffee Break: I’m a celebrity, write me a synopsis

Inspiration has been in short supply this week, as I’ve lead something of a twilight existence, with yesterday’s trip to Tesco representing my only foray out of the house in a full seven days.

I was starting to panic ~ Thursday afternoon and still no inkling of a coffee break topic. Mslexia popped through the letterbox and I scanned it furiously, hoping for some topical titbit to leap out as suitable discussion fodder. No such luck.

But inspiration lurks in the most unlikely of places, and I finally struck gold while perusing Teletext, of all things. BBC2 is planning a marriage of those two oil and water entities, the celebrity reality show and the novel writing process. No, don’t re-read that last sentence, you read it right the first time. Murders Most Famous will see six celebrities (as yet unidentified ~ yes, I shudder to think, too…) attempt to write a crime novel, under the tutelage of Minette Walters. Along the way they will learn about forensic techniques such as autopsy procedure and use of sniffer dogs. Notably the brief gave no mention whatsoever as to whether any writing techniques would be covered.

How do people feel about this? I had always assumed that whilst the life of a writer is perceived to be excruciatingly glamorous and langorous, the reality is (as we can all testify) far different, and as unlikely a premise for TV as you could possibly imagine, at least whilst there is still paint to be dried in the world.

Actors and presenters often decry the trend for reality shows, as they take work from trained performers and hand it to fame-hungry monkeys who will readily debase themselves for free in the pursuit of their Warholian fifteen minutes. Is that what’s happening here? Zelebs are already being paid the type of advances most writers can only dream of, and are usually on to volume three of their ghostwritten memoirs by the time they hit thirty. Do we really need an X Factor type show adding more celebrity-penned (or ghostwritten) books to publishers’ lists?

Some might argue that it’s a good thing ~ any insight into the writing process is valuable. Maybe the show will highlight just how hard writers work, from pitch to publication, through research and rewrites.

If the show does go ahead, who would we like to see on it, and why? And who absolutely should not be allowed within 100 miles of the project?

Personally I would hold out high hopes for any comedian who takes up the challenge. I see a parallel between a tightly plotted crime tale, with just enough given away to whet the readers appetite but not enough to give away the big reveal, and teasing an audience with a drawn-out gag, building to the big punchline. David Baddiel and Alexei Sayle are fine writers, and comedians work at using language in such a way as to create a specific reaction in others.

But please, please no WAGS, and no-one who is famous purely for appearing in another reality show. It's bad enough that Jordan is marketing her "own" line of fiction.

"Murder Most Famous" ~ yay, or nay? I'm naying at the moment, but I'm prepared to be persuaded......


Lucy Diamond said...

I read about this show too and think it sounds bizarre, frankly. And quite boring telly too!

"Do we need an X-Factor type show adding more celebrity-penned books to publishers' lists?" NO!

CTaylor said...

Nay, nay and thrice nay!

I really, really hope this doesn't become a popular idea. Leaving writing alone!

liz fenwick said...

I can't see it flying as writing is generally a slow and painful process......time will tell though.

How's is everyone's writing going? I haven't done a single new or old word! However I now have a writing space of my own which with dh home on garden leave will be essential to writing anything at all!

ChrisH said...

The only value I could see in such a project would be if it demonstrated the realities of writing, or trying to write for a living. No leg ups, please. Just go out there and put the hours in, like the rest of us and take your chances like the rest of and get the same pay as the rest of us!

Rowan Coleman said...

Oh dear. I have enormous respect for some people who can be famous for one thing and write brilliantly as a second string, I'm thinking Peter Kay, Jo Brand - they are creative people and I think writing is what they do, so why not in a book? I also hear Judy Finnigan is writing a crime novel, and I wish her luck. She obviously loves reading and just because she's been doing one thing that happened to make her famous for several years why shouldn't she had a crack at doing another. And I'm not even going to diss Jordan. That woman has got a lot of drive and there are a lot of people out there who want to read her fiction because she is involved with it and I applaud anything that gets anyone reading. HOWEVER this idea for a TV show sounds just dreadful and the thoguht it is makes my heart sink. Minette Walters is an excellent writer and an intelligent woman so I am hoping that her involement means that we are all wrong and it will in fact be the cultural event of 2008 that in years to come we will look back upon as a turning point in literary history. Or maybe not.

KayJay said...

Why not?

Look, I hate celebs getting deals for books written by ghost writers as much as the next person, but this is different. If they have any talent, it will out. If not, we get to point and laugh.

Celebs will get a leg up and they will get better deals because there is already a market for them. That's just life. I don't see how it hurts any of us!

And ask yourself this - if you were Minette Walters, would you do the programme?

Juliette M said...

I'd be up for it if, like X Factor using real people who want to sing, they used real people who wanted to write crime - NOT celebs. (Zelebs = marvellous word, btw.) I dont think we need more 'celeb'-penned books, the ones we have are bad enough (apart from those by decent writers such as Stephen Fry.)

I do think it would be interesting to use real 'wannabe writers' though.

Who would probably be acceptable: People with a decent level of intelligence.
My shortlist of six would be -
Sir Ian McKellen (no chance he would be in it, but a girl can dream - I think he'd write a cracking crime novel.)
Alan Davies
Hugh Laurie
Victoria Wood
Caroline Quentin
Emma Thompson

Who shouldnt be allowed within 100 miles of it:
Anyone who's famous for being posh or taking their clothes off.
Anyone who's already been in some kind of godawful Big Brother celeb nonsense.
WAGs and glamorous 'sports stars'.

Leatherdykeuk said...

I can see the weekly chapters being ghostwritten, though, so more work for jobbing writers.

Helen said...

My original thought was nay. I agree with what Rowan has written - being famous for one thing and also being able to write. (I too admire Jordan for her drive and business like approach to everything. But Kerry Katona I draw the line!)

But I'm going to sit on the fence on this one. Its a case of wait and see. I can't imagine what it is going to be like...

CC Devine said...

This is just lazy T.V. Haven't we all had enough of reality T.V. and celebrity challenges etc? I can't see that this will be particularly entertaining either and like Liz said, writing is such a prolonged process that this 6 week series will be a bit of a farce.

Fiona said...

It had to happen though, didn't it?

I think it may help people see just how hard writing is and how badly paid...10% - 15% of any profit?

But I so agree - no to WAGS,Big Brother contestants, Jordon or Kerry Katona (sp).

I bet we all watch it!


Hmm this raises the question where on earth are they going to find a cleb let alone several who can string a sentence together let alone write a thrilling one? Perhaps that is why they havent given any clues to who will take part yet.

Big Nay from me, surely it would be more interesting having a series on novelists nad how they write and their background research than some pot boiler like this?

Yours mrs grumpy from France.

Kate said...

Actually, they have named the people, see here:

Two of these - Kelvin and Matt - are journalists so already have some writing experience. Diarmuid is quite jolly and Angela has always struck me as an intelligent person and I don't know much about the other two.

I used to work in TV development and regularly tried to pitch X Factor style reality formats to writing, though in my case I suggested romantic writing, to tie in with Valentine's Day, and children's writing. Interestingly, my versions featured Diarmuid and Matt, too, plus Alan Titchmarsh as the romantic novel writing mentor. We got no interest from the channel so I am surprised that this has been commissioned but it might give some insight into the process. Though of course fiction writing itself is essentially a static activity involving one person and a keyboard, so there has to be this 'research-related activity' to give viewers something to see. I'll definitely watch it, though. I'm not at all keen on celeb ghosted novels, but like Rowan, I think there are some celebs who CAN do it, just as there are dentists and dinner ladies and waitresses and bricklayers who go on to write bestsellers. Julian Clary's first novel was great fun.

Also, their books will be published as Quick Reads, i.e. short books aimed particularly at adults who don't read much or are struggling a little with literacy. A celeb novel might encourage some people to engage with books and so I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing.

JJ said...

Excellent topic.

I thought it sounded hideous until I read the article that Kate linked (thanks Kate). I see absolutely no reason why these people should not attempt to write - just as I am attempting... Lots of artists (in the loosest sense of the word) are creative in other areas, so I wouldn't be surprised if they could do it.

But, having said that, I hate reality TV and moving to Thailand was a great excuse to get away from it. I would watch this though just because of the writing content. But I won't get it here, so I won't be watching.

Kate.Kingsley said...

Thanks for the link, Kate ~ I tried googling and came up with nothing :-(.

Diarmud is a firm favourite in our house ~ husband voted for him repeatedly when he was in Strictly come Dancing, then insists that he saw him walking along the street when we were in Dublin (I was standing right next to him and saw no such thing).

But I can do without seeing Brendan Cole on another reality show ~ is he trying to break a record by doing them all?

Rowan Coleman said...

Ah, thanks Kate, for shedding more light on it. I wrote one of the first Quick Reads (WOMAN WALKS INTO A BAR)- the same year as Minette Walters, we stood in a row and shook hands with Tony Blair and I thought, blimey I'm standing next to Minette Walters! Getting people who don't read, whether its because of gaps in their education or because they just don't fancy books, is hard. Whatever way we look at it celebrity reaches a wider audience and encourages more people to pick up books. Its for that reason that I am all for supermarkets selling books, making them more accessible to everyone including people who'd never step foot inside a bookshop. In the end the more people who read the better it is for all of us, so now that I know more about this I am not a nay, but - oh ok then lets see if this works out, it might be a good thing.

Cathy said...

My first reaction was urgh, no, but it will be interesting to see how it works out.

As others have said, if nothing else perhaps it will shatter some myths about just anyone being able to write a novel (even a journalist!)

Expatmum said...

Hi - new blogger and writer here. I think it would be funny if the celebs had to have their weekly piece judged by the viewing audience and a panel, without anyone knowing who had written what. A bit like a wine-tasting where the cheapest wine is votest best, and everyone spits out the most expensive vintage. That would really sort the wheat from the chaff, or chav in this case.

sheepish said...

When I heard about this some time ago I thought it was going to be aspiring writers trying to write a novel, I really don't see why we have to have Zelebs, they have enough clout as it is. I don't like reality shows but I will probably watch this one if it happens just because of the content.
I think it would be much more interesting with wannabe writers but presumably they wouldn't get the audience. There should be more original work on tv that would help real writers who need the work a lot more than a bunch of celebs.

L-Plate Author said...

Didn't I hear it originally was going to be Simon Cowell's brother and was going to be called Best- Seller? If so, I too, thought it was going to be open to everyone. But can you imagine, if you had to stand up in front of everyone and read your work out, (like X factor auditions)especially as it takes a while to learn the craft. I hate public speaking and if I had to do that, I wouldn't get past the first sentence.

Also imagine if you had to include certain props and then had a kindof writers block. Forgetting your lyrics is one thing but a blank peice of paper....

If we get advice and encouragement out of it, surely it can't be bad. I'll watch it.

A. Writer said...

Not sure about it to be honest.

Doesn't sound like good tv - I probably wouldn't have watched it but I'm intrigued now.

There's too many reality tv shows on the box and this is just another to add to the long list!


KeVin K. said...

Dean Wesley Smith, whom I often cite as half the husband & wife team that set me on the right course (he's the husband half of the team) is a ghost writer. He's written nearly hundred novels with actors' and other celebs' names on them. One of whom has publicly acknowledged he didn't write the books with his name on them.

I wonder if these celebs will have their assignments ghost written?

Debs said...

Great post. I'm not a reality tv fan and usually groan when I see another one advertised but I shall probably watch this to see what I can glean from Minette Walters.

When I first read the post my initial presumption was that the usual Zelebs would be involved such as Chantelle, et al but having seen who is on board maybe it won't be so dreadful after all.

Caroline said...

You know what - I think it'd be quite fun to watch - of course it depends on the celeb. But I'd like people to realise just how hard it is to write a novel.

Graeme K Talboys said...

The only discussion this merits, in my opinion, is how much rope we use to tie these people up and just how much petrol we pour on them before throwing the match.

This is not going to refelct anything but the continuing yobbishness of celebrity culture, even if it does involve 'real' writers. I'm not surprised at MW getting involved, I'm not surprised at television taking up the idea, just surprised that writers aren't up in arms and picketting the production company responsible for such dreck. Whoever appears on this is going to command a fee and get publicity that writers can only dream of.

Such stuff makes me despair and will do nothing for the position and good fortunes of real writers, or understanding about real writing.

(This is a much edited and highly tempered version of what I first wrote which was full of sweary words).

wordtryst said...


I hate these celebrity vehicles called reality shows on principle, and the fact that this one involves 'writing' cuts no slack with me. Rowan and the rest of the ayes have made some good points in favour, I admit, but nonetheless I'd never watch this.

Graeme, you gave me my first laugh of what has been a pretty grim day. Thank you. I'll read your comment again and insert the sweary words myself.