I was listening to J. K. Rowling on Radio 4 this morning. She was talking about her new book – a book for adults. She didn’t have to write it, she said. She had nothing to prove. And she didn’t need the money – the profits from Harry Potter mean that she never has to worry about paying the bills ever again. For some reason, this reminded me of Nigella Lawson and her new cookery series with accompanying cookbook. Here, again, is another very successful woman who a) doesn’t need to prove she’s a good cook, and b) doesn’t need the money. (Although obviously I am not privy to the secrets of her financial affairs. But I would be surprised if she had sleepless nights over the gas bill.) All this leaves me to think – Joanna, Nigella, if you don’t need to prove anything, and you don’t need the money, could you give someone else a turn? So lovely when those who are successful usher in new talent. Pass on the Olympic torch. Stop hogging the limelight. I could go on.
I think J. K. Rowling may have lost the plot. Literally. According to the Guardian, her new novel for adults, a black comedy called The Casual Vacancy, is all about small town politics. Someone on the parish council dies and all hell is let loose. How utterly ridiculous. Who could possibly imagine that there would be anything comic about megalomaniacs seizing control of community initiatives?
Whenever I turn the pages of the Guardian or the Observer, I am struck by the number of adverts for writing classes. For a moment, I imagine myself sitting in a small intense circle with other like-minded people, soaking up advice and inspiration from published authors. I can see us now, frowning with concentration as we sip fine espresso from white cups and nibble chocolate bourbons. Then my eye is drawn to the price of these creative indulgences. A weekend will cost you around £400. I stare, dumbfounded. Unless the cliché is entirely wrong and would-be writers are, in fact, eccentric millionaires, what struggling author can afford such incredible prices?
Because of this, I am thinking of suggesting to my book club that we set up an informal writers’ group in Fitton. I would, of course, be happy to discuss the success of my own book How I Seized Power: A Handbook For Leaders Everywhere which I believe will be snapped up, at any moment, by an ambitious publisher. I will happily divulge my writing practices (the peace and quiet of the early morning, Earl Grey tea, a background of Radio 3). I will explain that I was inspired by Tony Blair’s A Journey (what a modest title!). If there is time, we could spend a moment considering others’ fledgling attempts and try to work up a bit of enthusiasm for those who clearly don’t have a hope. Criticism, while necessary, will be moderated so that those with very little confidence won’t feel entirely crushed.
If you would be interested in joining such a group, please contact me by email as soon as possible. If there is a rush of applications, I will choose those whose appetite for culture most closely resembles the enthusiasm displayed by audience members of Radio 4’s Bookclub.
I have been overruled. I wanted the Fitton Book Club’s next choice to be ‘Britain, etc: The Way We Live and How We Got There’ by the BBC’s Mark Easton. Polly Toynbee calls it a ‘charming and erudite portrait of modern Britain’. I believe there is even a chance that the author might have come to Fitton in person for a ‘book signing’ if we had asked. (He and I have been corresponding on Twitter. He sounds delightful.)
But one rather forceful member of our group (Eleanor Grantham) heard about a novel called ‘The Shadow of the Wind’ on Radio 4’s ‘A Good Read’ and managed to swing the vote her way. I have nothing against Spanish literature. But I feel that a novel set in Barcelona that begins with a visit to the Cemetery of Lost Books is unlikely to be very interesting.
Britain is, at the moment, utterly bewildering. It’s a country obsessed with petrol and pasties. Clearly we need enlightenment. Mark Easton’s book would have provided this.
I believe Mark Easton and I are probably soulmates. I imagine him, at this very moment, recommending chapter one of my handbook to a close circle of friends.
The DVD of We Need To Talk About Kevin is out tomorrow. As you know, I am not normally a ‘fan’ of new films. I am astonished by the explosions, the blood, the gore, the bad language and, of course, the nudity. But this film, I understand, is about the testing of maternal love. This is a subject close to my heart. I wait to be impressed.
I have always found words extremely interesting. (Thank goodness for the Fitton Book Club.) Which makes me, I suppose, a logophile.
Down on the floor among sharp pieces of brightly coloured plastic, Robin, I feel, is more of a Legophile.
(Photo by FreeBigPictures)
The creative spirit is always in danger. We are reminded of this here in Britain at the moment as we think of Charles Dickens. He died mid-sentence, apparently.
The next meeting of Fitton Book Club is on Friday 24 February (please email or ‘tweet’ me for further details). We will be reading The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas. I believe it concerns a father who loses control and smacks his son.
(This is, as you know, something of a departure for us. But I feel that ‘modern’ literature can play a vital role. A little while ago, every woman I know was reading Eat, Pray, Love, which must have boosted church attendance considerably.)
The MP David Lammy has spoken out in support of physical chastisement. He says that the riots in the summer may have been caused by parents’ unwillingness to smack their children.
Personally, I have never smacked Robin. To be completely honest, this may be because he always leaves the scene of a crime with such incredible speed that I have never been able to catch up with him.
But, in this year of the British Olympics, I think we have to see this as a positive contribution to sport.