Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Rimington writes

The Sunday Times (which I have only just read) tells us that Stella Rimington, former head of MI5, has written a thriller. Title: At Risk.

Now, there are two possibilities here. One is that Dame Stella has written the book herself, in which case it is unlikely to be much good, and the second is that she has had it written for her.

Why do I say that a book by the Dame herself isn't likely to be much good? Because it takes time to learn how to write a novel, that's why. This is something that publishers used to understand but the modern lot have either forgotten or were too thick to understand in the first place. Thomas H. Uzzell (Narrative Technique, long out of print) used to say that you had to write a million words of fiction before you became much good at it, and he wasn't far wrong. So the chances that the Dame has written a cracker first time out are somewhat thin.

The situation is slightly more promising if she has confined herself to providing the espionage background (which apparently includes detailed recipes for making a bomb) and someone else has done the nitty-gritty. I seem to remember that, in the case of Swan , Naomi Campbell was described as author on the copyright page, and that lady from Piatkus (name escapes me) was listed as Writer. Which is plain enough. That sort of arrangement sometimes works pretty well.

Of course, you may wish to argue that Ian Fleming, another man with real-life experience of the world of espionage, managed to write his own books, and that his first one, Casino Royale, was pretty damn good. And I wouldn't disagree with you. But Fleming, remember, was a first-class journalist, well used to stringing words together in a way which would hold readers to the page. What is more, he knew how to be concise. My early paperback copy of Casino Royale runs to 159 pages -- barely 60,000 words. Rimington's book, which for some reason is listed on Amazon only in its paperback version of 2005, is shown as running to 384 pages. Which suggests that it will be long-winded and dull.

Don't get me wrong. If At Risk turns out to be halfway readable I shan't complain, because there's not much about that is. But somehow I feel a bit... doubtful.

The cover, of course, claims that the book is a 'stunning debut novel'. They always call them stunning, don't they? And sometimes they are. You read the first few pages, and then you slap yourself on the forehead and stagger drunkenly around the room, mumbling 'How the fuck did that ever get published?' Sometimes it takes days to recover.

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