Sunday, April 24, 2011
Novels Must Have Scenes on Highways, Making Driving Seem Poetical and Magical
As travel reading on my recent hiatus-jaunt to Ireland I packed Steve Hely’s How I Became a Famous Novelist, a novel with a keen eye for the chortlesome japes to be had on the creative writing circuit. Its protagonist, Peter Tarslaw, is a rocket-propelled opportunist who decides to become a best-selling novelist in order to upstage his ex at her wedding. For Pete, writing is essentially a scam he explains to himself in a series of rules (‘Evoke confusing sadness at the end’, ‘Novels must have scenes on highways, making driving seem poetical and magical’, ‘At dull points include descriptions of delicious meals’, ‘Must include a murder’). Having studied the New York Times bestseller list, he draws up a list of potential bestsellers of his own on a sheet of paper he calculates is worth $32.5 million between royalties, movie rights and franchise fees, not to mention video game tie-ins. The ideas include ‘A New York City cop discovers that some Hasidic Jews have found a long-lost eleventh commandment that changes everything’ and ‘Pharmaceutical companies are poisoning everyone’s brains’, though that last one, he realizes wasn’t his idea – it was something a homeless guy had shouted at him while stuffing newspapers into his shirt.
In tribute to Pete and his never-known-to-fail rules, I thought I might try riffing on his method with some bestseller ideas of my own.
The ghost of Princess Diana is desperate to make contact with her sons to warn them of a kidnap plot but can only communicate with them through the medium of Alphabetti Spaghetti.
A psychic from Brecqhou, one of the lesser-known Channel Islands, discovers she has the unique gift of becoming pregnant with the ectoplasmic aura of anyone who sneezes in her company.
A maverick policeman uncovers a huge Masonic conspiracy in Britain’s call centres to cause millions of people slightly higher than usual levels of minor inconvenience and irritation.
A maverick vampire novelist uncovers a conspiracy by the global publishing industry to encourage millions of people to write books of their own, in order to recycle the postage on their manuscript submissions on a secret Polynesian island whose currency is used postage stamps.
A maverick plumber from Stockton-on-Tees, on the run from a shady cabal of other maverick plumbers, also from Stockton-on-Tees, tries to break the story of maverick (non-Yellow Pages) plumbers in the mainstream media, only to discover just how high the power of maverick plumbers goes (all the way to the top).
A feisty private investigator and paragliding enthusiast from Tubbercurry exposes the national scandal of inconsistent county council car park charges across the Irish midlands.
A telegenic mycologist in the Cleveland area makes the chilling discovery that reading the Daily Mail every day of her life, as she has done for the last forty years, has turned her into a Tory-voting racist cretin, a fact she exposes to the public at large by writing cretinously racist letters to the Daily Mail.
A pig farmer from rural Ohio finds shocking evidence on television and in print media that at least two large political organizations are planning to take control of the United States after the next election in that country.
A put-upon middle-aged accountant rediscovers his joie de vivre by touring the water filtration plants of the Northamptonshire area, finding love with a sassy Bulgarian waitress and chasing the dream of opening a water filtration plant of his own.
A three-year-old child accidentally assassinates the president of the United States and, in the ensuing political crisis, also accidentally, becomes president.
And that’s probably enough ideas for bestsellers.