Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Friday 15 September 2023

Credit Where Credit’s Due

One of the hallmarks of what passes for fame today - as manifested by a host of ‘influencers’ and television personalities - is having a ‘clothing line’, a collaboration where the celebrity earns money by endorsing a range of apparel, generating sales from social media publicity and the inevitable press attention. 

For the most part, the celebrity's role in the process is to select items from the manufacturer’s range of possible garments (I believe the influencers’ preferred term is ‘curate’, as if they were the Elgin Marbles or impressionist paintings); aside from superficialities such as colour or trimmings, all the labour over sketchbook or sewing machine is done by nameless employees of the company.

This week has seen a similar attempt to cash in on celebrity in a novel sphere, so to speak; the 19-year-old star of the TV series ‘Stranger Things’ appears on the cover of a new work of fiction as the author, even though the actual composition of the thing was the work of a ghostwriter. 

Apparently Ms Brown contributed to the process with ‘a couple of Zoom calls’ and some WhatsApp messages about her relative whose wartime experiences inspired the story, but the writing itself - the flesh and bones of the book - is the work of a woman as sidelined on the cover as the staff in the design studios where celebrity-endorsed garments actually take shape.

In the words of Longrider, who, with a number of highly readable works (and some wonderful characters) to his name, is better qualified than I to comment on this story:

Writing a novel takes a bit more than sending messages on WhatsApp. You have to be able to craft your story, build worlds and learn how to write prose and dialogue in a way that is digestible to the reader without jarring. In short, it takes effort.

Celebrity autobiographies have long used ghostwriters - a mercy, given the tortuous grammar and paucity of vocabulary of some sporting or TV personalities - and it’s common practice for accounts of real-life events, where the emphasis is on documentation rather than creation. Fiction, on the other hand, is an art form which relies heavily on the quality of the author’s prose to create a self-contained world and set the tone of the narrative.

I wonder whether Brown feels any moral qualms at passing off another woman’s work as her own or whether, as a true child of her time, like the influencer who talks of ‘designing’ a sportswear collection, she believes that her own limited input is all that matters.


  1. "I wonder whether Brown feels any moral qualms..."

    It's an intriguing question. Maybe pressure from her agent and publicity outfit created a strong impression that it's just something celebrities do now. "They do it with autobiography and this is much the same" may be how they put it.

    Her world isn't ours - that seems clear enough though.

    1. It’s certainly a strange world; sadly, I expect many of its inhabitants will rush to buy the book simply because they liked ‘Stranger Things’.

      In a similar vein, Amazon had a recent offer on a CS Forester book from 1955, recently re-issued under a new title to match the upcoming film version with a cover image showing its star, Tom Hanks. One of the accompanying customer reviews read, ‘I had to buy this book because I’m a big Tom Hanks fan’.


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