Graham Norton, Mel Giedroyc… every celebrity wants to be a writer. But can they hack it? | Books
NNot that long ago, you couldn’t go after celebrity fashions. It didn’t matter how famous you were—a TV host, a professional soccer player, some vaguely recognizable reality TV git—at some point you’d write an autobiography (or bark some nonsense at an indifferent ghostwriter), give it a terrible title such as like Reflections or Unfiltered or My Story and sit back as you watched the money roll in.
Now, celebrity autobiographies haven’t completely disappeared—two of the most inescapable books this fall are memoirs by Matthew Perry and Bono—but they’re popping up. After all, there are only so many celebrities in the world, and traditionally you can only tell your life story once. But if you’re a public figure with a large and willing audience, you might not want to give up all that sweet publicity cash, so what’s a celebrity to do?
Increasingly, the answer seems to be to knock out a novel. Encouraged, perhaps, by Richard Osman’s successful pivot from quiz show sidekick to best-selling author, in recent times a large number of people from television have produced novels of their own. And, unlike previous waves of celebrity romances – when the likes of Katie Price and Kerry Katona pulled out ghostwritten rags at an almighty clap – these actually appear to have been written by the people whose names are on the jacket. But are they good?
The best stuff by Mel Giedroyc
Plot Sally Parker is the boring wife of an elaborately rich hedge fund manager. She has a full-time nanny, a cook and someone to look after her dogs. But when her husband suddenly goes bankrupt, all of this is whisked away from her and she can start to find herself again. This debut novel comes from comedian and former Bake Off co-host Mel Giedroyc, one half of Mel and Sue.
Main character Sally, a woman who happily rediscovers her can-do attitude when all the unnecessary peripherals start to fall away.
Write an essay Lively. It is impossible to read The Best Things in anything other than Giedroyc’s voice. Especially Sally, who, while starting out as a slightly odd trophy housewife, quickly blossoms into a full-fledged Giedroyc analogue, with spunk and pep and let’s-smile-through-the-bad-times determination. But this is not a bad thing in the least. In interviews, Giedroyc has spoken of her desire to turn The Best Things into a “Leatherhead Trilogy”. Hopefully this will come true. Honestly, there can’t be enough of her in the world.
Previous work Two non-fiction books, From Here to Maternity and Going Ga Ga.
Cover offer “I enjoyed it HUGELY” – Marian Keyes.
Latest Amazon review (at time of writing) “There were so many current pop culture references that it almost felt like the book was written by a teenager.”
Who should buy this book? Fans of The Great British Bake Off, especially fans who have only just begun to notice how wobbly the show has become without her.
Plot The Thursday Murder Club – four pensioners who live in a fictional retirement village in Kent and keep their minds active by solving old crimes together – are back for their third trip around the block, written by Osman, the Pointless TV producer turned novelist. . This time a local news presenter investigating VAT fraud is driven off the road and over the edge of a cliff on the A20 near Dover. Can our heroes succeed where the police failed?
Main character Technically, the Thursday Murder Club is an ensemble – Elizabeth, Joyce, Ron and Ibrahim – but the leader is arguably Joyce, an ex-spy and primary carer for her husband, who has dementia.
Write an essay Very hot. As other reviewers have noted, you don’t buy Osman books to piece together a hard-boiled mystery; you do it to float with the members of the club for a while. This installment is no exception, and it’s full of dry fun (two pensioners going on a date to “a Nando’s and a laser tag”). There are no grand literary flourishes, no sense of Osman reaching for something beyond his reach. Instead, this is simply a popular crime novel. And he is very, very good at it. Part of Osman’s appeal is how familiar he is willing to be, whether to his readers, viewers or Twitter followers. This is incredibly clear here, primarily in the acknowledgements, which are written in the style of a letter to his grandmother.
Previous work Two other Thursday Murder Club books, Richard Osman’s House of Games, A Pointless History of the World, The World Cup of Everything: Bringing the Fun Home.
Latest Amazon review “Richard was able to put a smile on my face on several occasions.”
Who should buy this book? None, because either you already own a copy or you’re destined to get three or four for Christmas in a few weeks.
Plot A woman in her fifties is devastated when her partner is diagnosed with dementia and his children take her out of the home they shared. Her roommate insisted that the house should never be sold. But why? Graham Norton, now an established author in addition to his TV and radio career, finds out.
Main character Carol, a middle-aged woman forced to move back in with her parents after her stepchildren cut her out of her life. Her life is turned upside down by an incredible discovery in the basement.
Writing style Norton, it turns out, is a wonderful writer. The story of Forever Home is simple, but it hinges on a major twist halfway through. A lesser writer would have rushed to the big moment sooner, or at least happily started dropping bigger and bigger breadcrumbs. But Norton is a model of restraint. He spends chapter after chapter making doubly sure you feel the way he wants you to feel about each character before he drops the bombshell.
Previous work Three novels (Holding, A Keeper and Home Stretch), a quick read (The Swimmer), two memoirs (The Lives and Loves of a He Devil and So Me) and a painful uncle book (Ask Graham).
Cover quotation “His grasp of human loneliness and longing is beautiful and comforting” – Marian Keyes (again).
Latest Amazon review “Maeve Binchy the best Irish author Sorry Graham, I left your book half read.”
Who should buy this book? People who have read Osman’s books and want something a little darker and grittier. Everyone else too. This is a very good book.
Love Untold by Ruth Jones
Plot A story told across four generations of Welsh women – an unstoppable pensioner, her estranged daughter, her abandoned daughter, and then her daughter – written by actress and Gavin and Stacey co-creator Ruth Jones. Can these women heal the complex wounds that drove them apart?
Main character The story is told from the perspective of all four characters, although the most important is Grace, a woman approaching her 90th birthday with the same energy that most approach their 30th birthday. We meet her on a beach, snap at a condescending benefactor, and things go on from there.
Write an essay Love Untold has a plot, but its real joy lies in how Jones digs her nails into decades of complicated family history. The risk here would be to boil down at least one of the generations to stereotype, but Jones vehemently opposes this. These are four complicated, unique women on their own paths, and the story comes entirely from watching them rub against each other. It’s confident when it comes to beating you over the head with emotions until you give in and start crying too. Jones could write books like this for the rest of his life, and they would all be brilliant.
Previous work Two other novels, Never Greener and Us Three.
Cover offer “A big warm blanket of a book” – Jojo Moyes.
Latest Amazon review “I’m going to give this to my 94-year-old mother!”
Who should buy this book? People who don’t mind dissolving into big, ugly sobs on public transport.
Plot Gary, a down-on-his-heels London lawyer, has a drink with a friend. The next day, the friend disappears. Meanwhile, Gary meets and falls for a mysterious woman. Can the two be connected? And why does Gary keep having conversations with a slightly belligerent squirrel? The debut novel by comedian Bob Mortimer has the answers.
Main character Gary, a man with a job that Mortimer used to have, at the same place Mortimer used to work. He also has the exact same cadence, vocabulary and thought processes as Mortimer, seen in his long digressions about pies. That said, Gary is described as having a slightly larger nose than Mortimer, so they are definitely different people.
Write an essay Gary isn’t the only character from The Satsuma Complex who speaks like Mortimer, as – with very few exceptions – they all do. Both Gary’s elderly neighbor and the mysterious woman are more than happy to go off on long, absurd tangents about oddly worded details. Even the squirrel picks up an inherent Mortimery streak along the way. Which is not a bad thing. If Mortimer had written a terse thriller where everyone talks like a Hemingway character, it would have alienated his entire fan base. This one—a funny, rough, sometimes unexpectedly sad book—is much better.
Previous work An autobiography (And Away …) and a Mortimer and Whitehouse: Gone Fishing tie-in gift book.
Latest Amazon review “It’s very well written, a one-off, with a strange, strange cast (including a squirrel!), and a nicely developed plot.”
Who should buy this book? Fans of Mortimer, first and foremost. And it’s not exactly a niche group: the man is so loved that The Satsuma Complex managed to sell out the unsinkable Osman for a while.
Cat Lady by Dawn O’Porter
Plot Mia has everything: a husband, a stepson, an important job and a cat. However, she increasingly feels that she is simply holding it all together to present herself as society wants. If only she could be more like her cat. This is the fifth novel by presenter Dawn O’Porter.
Main character Mia, a character who pulls the old trick of being awful, but marginally less awful than anyone in the book. Her husband is uninterested, his ex-wife is uncomfortably present, her boss a cartoon witch.
Write an essay This is a book about a woman who essentially devolves (or evolves, as it wants us all to believe) into an animal, making it a slightly less high-minded version of Paula Cocozza’s novel How to Be Human. It rips along at a decent clip, and although O’Porter now lives in Los Angeles, he does a very good job of portraying the empty ambition snuff of London’s creative scene. In fact, this is where it thrives. The chapters about Mia’s horrible workplace are much more compelling than the ones where she stops washing and pretends to be a cat.
Previous work Four novels (Paper Airplanes, Goose, The Cows and So Lucky), plus a lockdown diary (Life in Pieces) and a work of non-fiction (This Old Thing: Fall in Love With Vintage Clothes).
Cover quotation “A reminder to live life your way. Cat or no cat” – Fearne Cotton.
Latest Amazon review “This book made me laugh, be angry and sad too.”
Who should buy this book? If I had to guess, I’d say that every woman who owns a cat will have this press in her hands in the next few months.