On Ghostwriting, Celebrity and That Guardian Review.
Yesterday, some of you may have noticed this review in the
Guardian. It’s a review by Jenny Colgan of The Secret Lives of the Amir
Sisters, by (according to the title page) Nadiya Hussain and Ayisha Malik.
Now, being one of those freaks who doesn’t watch GBBO, I
have only limited knowledge of Nadiya Hussain is. I do know of Ayisha Malik,
though. She’s a writer, a good one: and from that it’s pretty easy to guess
that she’s Nadiya Hussain’s ghostwriter.
So what? Becoming famous in one area (be it sport, politics
or baking) does not magically transform someone into a writer. Of course celebrity authors need
ghostwriters to help them: that’s why their novels and autobiographies are
generally clear, interesting and competently-written. And Nadiya even credits her ghostwriter; not all
celebrity authors do. (Some even make them sign non-disclosure agreements, in
the hope that the general public will really believe they wrote the book.)
However, having noticed all that, Jenny Colgan (whom I’ve
met several times; she seemed like a nice person, though even nice people can
be wrong, and in this case, I think she is) still proceeds to make her review
all about her dislike of celebrity novels, and how this somehow cheats “proper
writers” out of the shelf space they’re entitled to.
She begins with a description of two little girls, one in a
library, dreaming of being a writer, and one in a kitchen, dreaming of cakes.
You don’t have to be a great brain to understand that the little girl in the
library is Jenny Colgan, and that the girl in the kitchen is
Nadiya Hussein, who somehow in real life gets to be a baker and a writer too, thereby (it implies)
cheating the first little girl out of her dream; as if baking and writing were
two kinds of cookies, with limited numbers to go round.
Does she really need to
put her name to a novel, too, (writes this successful writer of the first-time author) when there’s
only so much shelf space to go around?
It feels greedy.
Well, maybe it would, if writing and baking were cookies. It
might be, if we lived in a world in which someone who was good at baking wasn’t
allowed to write books. It might be, if publishing were a charity, fairly and
evenly distributing its attention to everyone who needed it.
But as it is, no. It doesn’t feel greedy. It feels as if someone
is feeling insecure and resentful, and that comes out as sounding plain mean.
Don’t think I don’t understand: I do. Being a writer is a
risky business. It’s getting harder and harder to make a living as a
professional writer. And now we seem to be overwhelmed by politicians, and TV
chefs, and comedians, and musicians, and actors, and pop stars and people from
reality shows all wanting to be
authors, hogging the limelight and making it look as if anyone can write a book…
Yes, it sometimes feels unfair. It can sometimes seems as if
being a celebrity comes with a special, free “bestselling author” card: a card
that most authors never get to play. And yes, authors often feel jealous,
resentful and scared that their livelihood is being eroded by people whose
status as celebrities earn them special privileges. I’m as guilty of this
thinking as anyone. You’ve heard me rant about Morrissey, who used his special
status to get his ridiculous novel published by Penguin Classics – Penguin Classics, for pity’s sake, next
to Shakespeare and Homer. I’m still dismayed that Penguin could do that – to
themselves, and to us – for the sake
of a piece of piss-a-bed prose that even his fans couldn’t read. And for what? Sales.
So I get it. Yeah.
I’d also like to take a moment to mention the editor who commissioned the Guardian piece. My
strong suspicion is that he or she knew perfectly well that Jenny Colgan’s
review would raise hackles (and, of course, sales). Clickbait is synonymous
with journalism nowadays: but if they’d had any kind of integrity, they would
have given Jenny Colgan a kind and quiet warning, telling her just how badly she was exposing her prejudices, instead of throwing her under
the bus. Because that’s just what the Guardian did, in encouraging her to voice her
ignorance and insecurity in a way that would provoke debate. She got the flak:
they got the sales. That word again. Sales. Hm.
However – let’s get to the review, and why Jenny Colgan and the Guardian ought to think long and
hard about the toxic and damaging messages they are putting out.
First, let’s start with the fact that the book is “perfectly competently-written.” As well it might
be; it’s by a perfectly competent writer. It will sell “like hot cakes”. As
well it might: it looks like it might be fun, and lots of people have heard of
Nadiya Hussian, whose TV presence (by all accounts) is delightful, warm and appealing. But, for
some reason, we still shouldn’t buy it. Why? Because it’s ghost-written? The reason for this becomes increasingly unclear and illogical.
If you want to read
warm-hearted sagas about second-generation immigration, Meera Syal is a wonderful novelist. If you want to read a
brilliant book about four sisters, Little Women is still in
print. If you like sisters and cooking, try the marvellous Like Water for
Chocolate. Or read Ayisha Malik’s book: it’s huge fun.
Hang on – isn’t The
Secret Lives of the Amir Sisters Ayisha Malik’s book? Or does she mean a
different book, with Ayisha Malik’s name on the cover? In either case, we know
that the book would be perfectly competently-written. So why does it really matter
to Jenny Colgan which one of Ayisha Malik’s books we read?
Surely it can’t be just because the book is ghost-written. Ghost-writers
are excellent writers, and they work
hard for their shelf space. Their work is the reason “celebrity books” meet the
high standards readers expect. No, it’s because the book will “sell like hot
cakes”. Sell better than books by other, less visible authors, who also write about relationships, and families, and baking.
This surefire seller,
promoted at every literary festival you’ll attend this year, just feels like
yet another chance snatched away from that kid whose library is closing down.
Except we know who that kid really is. It’s little Jenny
Colgan, working hard to write her books, while TV celebrities are ushered past her
on a red carpet that’s cordoned off from ordinary people.
But here’s the thing. Jenny isn’t a little kid. No-one’s
snatching anything. She’s a high-profile, well-established white author, begrudging a Muslim woman “shelf space.” And that
sounds pretty greedy, coming from someone with 27 books already in print. In
fact, it sounds not entirely unlike “foreigners stealing our jobs.” or “get back in the kitchen.” Not a great
moment for Jenny (or indeed, for the Guardian).
Moving on to the actual book review part of the piece, we
encounter my next problem. Having pointed out the cosmetic similarities to Little Women, Jenny says:
I was hoping for insights
into a culture I don’t understand as well as I’d like, but the main thrust… is
that big noisy religious families are all more or less the same, which, while
undoubtedly true, didn’t add much….
Now whether she meant it or not, that reads as if she is
complaining that the Muslim family in this book isn’t different enough to be interesting. Muslims in fiction should be exotic. They shouldn’t try to be like
the rest of us. They shouldn’t take inspiration from Little Women. (Remember how Monica Ali was lambasted for daring to
write about Princess Diana, instead of staying in Brick Lane?) Reading about
people of other cultures should add
something (to the experience of white people). It’s a perspective that fails
to take into account the fact that a book authored by a Muslim woman, ghosted
by a Muslim woman, about Muslim women
may not be aimed at white people at all.
So hang on, I hear you asking. If Jenny Colgan didn’t like
the book, is she not allowed to say so?
Well, yes. Of course she is. But in her review, she didn’t suggest
that she disliked the book. Instead, she used her review platform to make a
statement about “greedy” celebrities. Again, she had every right to do this. But was it
really appropriate for her to do it as part of a review (and therefore target one writer only), rather than write a
general piece, in which she could have mentioned any number of (white,
privileged) celebrities?(Morrissey, I’m looking at you.)
And at best, it sounds as if this white author doesn’t
understand how little representation Muslim girls have – in the media or in
publishing. It sounds as if she has allowed her personal insecurities to cloud
her objective judgement. A book reviewer reviews the book, not the author
photograph. And in a world dominated by white celebrities, white authors, white
reviewers, is it really too much to allow Muslim girls this one successful role
Muslim women have little enough of a platform – be it on TV
or in publishing - as it is. They do not need to hear that one of the few
Muslim women recognized as a success outside of the Muslim community is taking up too much space. And in the past, Jenny Colgan has given glowing reviews
to books by (white) celebrities (who didn’t
happen to be writing about women, and love, and baking).
Now I’m not a great fan of celebrity novels either, although
I do think ghost writers do an excellent, and very underrated job. But in some
cases, the value of giving a high-profile role model to (for instance) Muslim
girls is more important than literary snobbery, or even the hurt feelings of an
author who feels threatened.
Books are a zero sum
game, she says. If you’re reading
one, you can’t be reading another.
Not so. Books are stepping-stones. One book leads to
another. People reading Twilight sometimes
go on to Wuthering Heights. People reading
The Secret Lives of the Amir Sisters might
well go on to read Little Women. And
people being told not to read it may
just end up not reading at all. Whether we like it or not, there are people who
never read books unless they have a
TV or a celebrity connection. Those people feel so disconnected from the world
of literature that, unless given permission to read by someone they know from
TV, they may never reach for a book at all, let alone Little Women. Are we to ignore them, just because we, as writers,
happen not to understand?
Books are for readers, not writers. And if even one non-reader
reads a book because of a TV show about baking, then that book will have served
its purpose. And if one Muslim girl sees Nadiya Hussain on the cover of a book
and tells herself “I could do that,” then once more, it will have served its
As writers, we are all subject to fears and
insecurities. But we’re not in this business to score off readers, or sneer at
their choices, or deny role models to those who need them. That kid in the
library needs to learn that no-one owes her shelf space, or column inches, or sales,
or cookies. As writers, we ought to care about literacy, and empathy, and the
good that books – that all books – do. And that means looking at what readers
need. Because we’re not children any more, even though sometimes, we feel that
So Gulati has an issue with Pinoe kneeling because it’s a “political statement”…meanwhile the MNT skipped their traditional pregame photo and did a joint photo with Mexico 3 days after we elected Trump and that’s totally chill…
Chantal Petitclerc (b. 1969) is a Canadian Senator from Quebec, as well as a wheelchair
racer. Despite having lost the use of both her legs when she was thirteen,
after an accident, she still participated in several competitive sports, such
as swimming and racing.
She was won 14 gold
medals in the Paralympic Games over the years, and holds several records in
wheelchair racing. She was elected as Canadian athlete of the year in 2008. Today
she is an independent senator.
The c. 15,000 golf courses in the US use up as much water as one-sixth of the US population - equivalent to about 55 million people.
Ancient aquifers which took millions of years to fill are being spread over large, private enclosed spaces, many of which have been built by corporate developers encroaching on ‘prime’ ancestral native heritage sites - so wealthy white elites have an arena for business networking and a nice bracing stroll.
And you can bet that water isn’t contaminated with lead.
Celtic (Scottish football club) fans have raised more than £100,000 for Palestinian charities in an attempt to match an impending Uefa fine for displaying Palestinian flags at a match against an Israeli team.
European football’s governing body began disciplinary proceedings against the Glasgow club last week after a number of fans displayed the flags during their 5-2 home victory against Hapoel Be’er Sheva in a Champions League qualifier.
The return leg is due to be played in Israel on Tuesday night.
The Green Brigade group of supporters set up an appeal on the gofundme website on Sunday to match the anticipated fine, and donations passed £80,000 on Tuesday morning.
The fans are raising money for Medical Aid Palestine, which delivers health and medical care to those “worst affected by conflict, occupation and displacement”, and the Lajee Centre, a cultural and sports project for children in Aida refugee camp, in Bethlehem.
The appeal read: “At the Champions League match with Hapoel Be’er Sheva on 17 August 2016, the Green Brigade and fans throughout Celtic Park flew the flag for Palestine. This act of solidarity has earned Celtic respect and acclaim throughout the world. It has also attracted a disciplinary charge from Uefa, which deems the Palestinian flag to be an ‘illicit banner’.
“In response to this petty and politically partisan act by European football’s governing body, we are determined to make a positive contribution to the game and today launch a campaign to #matchthefineforpalestine.”
The statement said the money raised would help buy football kit and equipment to enable the refugee camp to have a team, which would be called Aida Celtic, in the Bethlehem youth league.
Celtic face their ninth Uefa punishment for supporter behaviour in five years when the case is heard on 22 September. Two years ago the club was fined more than £15,000 after a Palestinian flag was displayed at a Champions League qualifier against KR Reykjavik.
Uefa rules forbid the use of “gestures, words, objects or any other means to transmit any message that is not fit for a sports event, particularly messages that are of a political, ideological, religious, offensive or provocative nature”.
White America and The Opinions Of Black Celebrities: Part 2,651
I was sitting in a restaurant when I heard it. A restaurant much like any other restaurant that is acutely aware of its pretentiousness. Just imagine a place where all the patrons drink Fernet Branca, quote Jaden Smith unironically, and wear sunglasses regardless of the time of day or them being inside an actual, y'know, establishment with it’s own lighting. Busy as I was by being so deeply committed to this douche-esque thoughtful critique of my environment while simultaneously glided over the implications of my character by willingly being there when it happened.
“I mean *jowl assisted chuckle* how can he say that with his millions and millions of dollars. I don’t see him going to the inner city to help any of these people he’s talking about. Just shut up and stick to football, you know.”
It doesn’t take a morphine-addicted Sherlock Holmes to deduce that he was talking about San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Who famously remained seated during last Friday’s Star-Spangled Banner number before a preseason game. He clarified his actions by saying “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. … There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” A sentiment that I wholly endorse, which in turn makes my resentment of Blake McDoucheface IV (I’m sure it’s not far from his real name.)
Much like the luggage of anyone who’s prepared a bug-out bag in case Trump is elected, there’s a lot to unpack here. I’m doing this by way of writing while stewing and replaying that statement over and over in my head. As potentially ignorant as it may sound, I didn’t have to turn around to confirm the skin complexion of the person who made a comment so stupid they must’ve brought it second hand from the trunk of Johnny Depp’s assistant. Nor did I have to have any particular insight into who they are to know that they’re probably the type to insist, laboriously, that GamerGate was about “ethics in video game journalism” or some other vinegar-based horseshit instead of a poorly-acted charade to assault people who have the gall to possess an actual vagina. So, I’m writing this in the interest of expediency and my own personal decompression.(Very counter productive for me if some random brochella jerk were to catch these hands like the Zika Virus.) So lets’s pick this stale ass turkey apart piece by piece:
If the basic movement of your mouth and jaw is wholly dependent on the rolls of fat you have stored there like newspapers on A&E’s Hoarders, then maybe you shouldn’t be so critical of someone exercising their, peaceful yet deafening, freedom of expression. After all, you’ve expressed your, peaceful yet deafening, freedom to abstain from having a neck that doesn’t look like a belly in it’s third-trimester of pregnancy with ballpark franks.
Where on the conventional metric of financial success does someone lose the right to speak about injustice? Is it somewhere between “I Shop At Whole Foods” and “Yes, I Do Own A Bidet. Why Do You Ask?”. I really want to know, because the subtext in someone contending that his millions somehow makes him immune/oblivious to structural racism is dumber than the entire concept of ass to mouth. One could argue that, because of his status and the large platform by which he has to speak, he has a moral obligation to call out breaches of integrity concerning law enforcement. Especially in regards to people who live in communities so unfairly targeted that the frickin’ Department of Justice basically had to step in and stop cops from treating Baltimore citizens like dark-skinned black men treat women in Tyler Perry movies. No one would be talking about Colin Kaepernick, the Ikea Sales Associate. No one would give a roasted fuck if Colin Kaepernick, Google Fiber Representative, said this in between annoyingly enthusiastic sales pitches for faster-than-ever Internet. Say what you will about the societal implications, but his fame and fortune grant him a bigger voice than the rest of us.
We all know that when someone uses the term “inner city” and “these people,” what they’re actually referring to is niggers and nigger babies. Just once, I would love to hear a white person refer to a group of black and brown children as “nigger babies.” I wouldn’t even be upset. I’d just breathe a prolonged sigh of relief that someone finally decided to be honest instead of burying their dog whistle racism under dulcet tones of condescension and white guilt. Also, I think people forget how real change is affected. Just throwing money at a situation does nothing to remedy the actual problem of economic disenfranchisement, institutional and systemic racism prevalent in both state and federal levels of government, and the fact that most people of color simply inhabit a different space than their white counterparts. This is why you don’t just keep throwing ACE bandages at the women in battered womens shelters after giving them all 30-second pep talks. It’s why you don’t expect the drug flow within challenged communities to stop once you’ve arrested the dude that does all of his deals in the bathroom of the Arby’s on Peachtree. You identify and strategize against the root of the problem. That problem being how some Americans can confuse patriotism with jingoism and simultaneously ignoring the struggles of their fellow countrymen with such ease you’d think all of black America was Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense.
“Just stick to football.” This is the most egregious of all, at least to me. If this were the only sentiment the gentleman had expressed that I overheard, it would have been enough for me to transform into some kind of Black Rage Hulk. Rampaging throughout the streets of Atlanta while reciting excerpts from every Ta-Nehisi Coates article I’ve ever read. This implies that a black celebrity’s only value is that by which they’ve achieved fame. That they are stripped of all thought, intellectual or otherwise, agency, and capacity to grasp issues larger than themselves. Essentially, that we are all nothing but vessels from which you derive your entertainment. This is evident every time a Black celebrity expresses an opinion formulated through observation and simple deductive reasoning. We are more than just repositories for catchy pop culture phrases and ephemeral dance crazes. The fact that we keep asserting asserting as much is guaranteed to ruffle the feathers of White America more than Michelle Obama speaking common facts by saying that slaves built the White House.
I suppose that maybe these four cups of coffee, glass of Buffalo Trace Bourbon neat, and the most delightful cucumber tea sandwich I’ve ever had has made me more than a touch sensitive. Maybe I’m just reacting to this poor fellow’s statement from a place of indignation that’s only heated by the small proximity I have from when I initially heard the news. That is also a possibility. But, chances are, I’m not overly sensitive nor too caught within the moment to see a situation for what it clearly is: A large number of people saying that the flag is the quintessential representation of what it means to be free. And to exercise that freedom by protesting what amounts to a racist 19th-century pop ballad (think Ted Nugent and Toby Keith getting drunk on moonshine after watching Civil War reenactments somewhere in southern Arizona. Then writing a song on the back of a of Trump/Pence shirt they bought at a yard sale. That song would be the Star-Spangled Banner.) It’s enough of a logical quagmire to make your teeth itch, and you’re eyes bleed, but enough people seem to think it makes perfect sense. Clearly, I have a lot to learn from “these people.”
I’m so sick of seeing 99% of Tumblr’s population constantly nitpicking at every single celebrity and their work that you can imagine. There is no way in hell these people can call themselves “activists” when all they do is sit at a computer and get freakishly upset over off-color jokes and act like that’s the biggest problem society and its people have to face. I also think it’s really sort of hypocritcal of them to be calling everyone else out on their “problematic” behavior when some of them are embarrassingly bad role models for their followers and can’t even be bothered to take care of themselves.
The biggest thing about this that pisses me off is how these SJWs always have to shield black people, LGBT+ people, and women. If you fall into any of these categories, you can be as shitty as you want and no SJW will dare lay a finger on you because otherwise that would be racist, homophobic, and transphobic. But the straight white male is out to harm everyone and can never be forgiven because the patriarchy has no excuse for what they do! 😒
It’s about time that Tumblr realizes that everyone, even celebrities, are human beings. They will do good, and they will do bad, it doesn’t matter who they are. The past is the past and if someone has apologized or isn’t like that anymore, we should just move on because it’s not worth beating a dead horse over. And hey, sometimes the pros CAN weigh out the cons, and maybe some of us don’t want to listen to negativity being spit in our faces all the time.
When Jeffrey learned of his wife’s inclination
to vote for Democrat Tom Barrett, he became determined to prevent her from reaching that polling booth, or die trying.
As Amanda pulled out of the driveway to vote, Jeffrey made his last stand by leaping in front of her car. Not really anticipating her husband risking fatal vehicular injury on the off chance his wife was the deciding vote in a Midwestern governorship, she ran him down and, probably wisely, drove to the police station to report it rather than help him up while being berated for her lousy liberal driving.
Jeffrey was taken to the hospital for the back and neck injuries he endured while saving America from a socialist apocalypse. Jeffrey’s brother, Mike, knew who was really to blame – after the media asked his opinion for some reason, he replied that “These crazy liberal nuts are always pulling this crap.” The “crap” being “Not stopping fast enough when a Republican flings his squishy body in front of your Dodge Durango to stop you from voting.”