I should start off by saying that perhaps it is more of a British occurrence than North American, but the wave of comedians finding newfound fame and success by writing children’s books is still going strong, regardless of how far it has spread.
It began a few years ago when comedy writer and performer David Walliams, known for his lewd sketch shows and bawdy characters, wrote a number of best-selling children’s books. As well as dominating the kids’ section of any bookshop worth its salt, they have been made into TV specials, movies, West-End plays and will probably soon be beamed directly into your sleeping child’s brain. Without wanting to sound cynical, it would take a momentous amount of denial to say that his literary success was not a result of his fame.
Perhaps that’s unfair. It’s probably down to his fame. It’s not completely impossible to think of him having gone through the route that all struggling writers go through and finding success that way. It’s just a lot less likely.
Because of Walliams’ success, children’s publishers started to poke around in the comedy circles for more willing authors, and they found them. A number of popular comedians and television personalities were more than willing to oblige (for the cash and for the joy of warming the hearts of children, I don’t doubt their sincerity in that), knowing that they were more or less guaranteed success. Now the fiction shelves, alongside the children’s section, are well-stocked with celebrities “having a go” at novel writing.
Let me make things clear here: it’s not their ability that I’m questioning or their success that I’m angry about. My annoyance comes from jealousy.
I wish it were that easy to just step into a career on impulse, or to be asked to do something that a huge amount of genuinely talented people spend their lives trying to achieve. At the very least, I wish that when the chat show host who fancies writing a fiction book gets a “Pick of the Week” sticker on the cover, they would admit that it is at best a marketing plan and at worst an embarrassing reminder of how little effort they needed to expend compared to the average writer to gain such plaudits.
Of course, this is anything but a singular phenomenon. All around us supermodels are becoming actors, actors are becoming political spokespeople and reality TV stars are becoming president. We know these things are sometimes, occasionally and never, (respectively) successful. Regardless of the statistics, we should all admit that things in general are best left to those qualified to do them. Or, in this case, those who have spent their lives and life-energies creating meaningful literature.
Children are, after all, the most discerning and demanding audience. What they read should not be a trite subject. And what’s more, it should not be a subject that is farmed out to popular figures by publishers, but rather one that is tackled by those who have a passion for delivering ideas and who know their craft.
Far be it from me to take from children their favorite books, or stop celebrities from fulfilling their dream of publishing that novel inside them. So it is that I’ve come up with a solution: Pen names. If you are a TV personality and want to write a novel, by all means, go ahead. But if it is done under your own famous name then it should be null and void, no matter how good it is. If you want the true writer’s experience, then simply change the name on the cover. This way all the toil, failure and rejection that precedes success can be yours and you can truly call yourself a writer.
Josh King received his MFA from Adelphi University in New York, and now lives in the UK. His fiction has been published in BlazeVOX magazine and other places, and he divides his time between writing articles, drama and drawing comics.