Just imagine that you are an aspiring Tory MP – yes, I know it’s difficult, but stick with me – and the week after you become an approved Parliamentary candidate you are sent the manuscript of a political thriller with a view to your company publishing it. And then you find out that it’s written by your party leader. Imagine the inner conflicts. What is if it’s awful? What if he can’t write? What do I do?
I found myself in just such a position last year when IDS’s literary agent sent me his book. At the time it had a working title of ‘Ithaca’. The fact that the book is now published by Robson Books will give you a clue that my company, Politico’s decided to pass on it.
So when I was asked to write this review I felt those same conflicting emotions. To be honest, the raw manuscript that I was originally sent was, er, how shall I put it, less than riveting. I expect a good novel to grab me by the end of the first chapter and I expect to have formed a good idea about the personalities of the major characters within the first few pages. This book failed on both counts. At least, it did then.
I am happy, and somewhat relieved, to report that the final version of the book is a huge improvement. It’s not a work of high literature, but then again it was never meant to be. It’s an Archeresque fast paced thriller with some intriguing twists in the plot. It revolves around the world of international art dealing, a subject which I doubt IDS is an expert on. But let’s face it, if you have to be an expert on your subject in the world of fiction writing, Ruth Rendell must have committed an awful lot of murders.
For a novel it’s quite a long book and perhaps the best that can be said for it is that it would help pass the time on a three hour plane journey. And not just by sending you to sleep. The book has that helpful knack of making you sit bolt upright, just when you thought it was safe to doze off. A bit like Meatloaf blaring out of your car radio just as you’re about to drift off the road.
One slight jarring is the naming of the characters. Admittedly the book’s tale is centred around America, but Senator Ewan Kelp. Oh, please. The main character is called John Grande. How many Grande’s are there in the Norfolk phone book, I wonder? IDS is not alone in making this error. It’s a trap that Jeffrey Archer falls into time after time.
Many politicians have turned their hands to fiction, some more successfully than others. Disraeli’s Sybil and Coningsby remain classics today. Latterly, Edwina Currie, Douglas Hurd, Chris Mullin and Ann Widdecombe have all written bestsellers. But their books tend to be reviewed because of who wrote them rather than because of their literary merits. Most of the reviews of Ann Widdecombe’s excellent Act of Treachery concentrate on the fact that as the country’s most famous spinster she has written a love story. Indeed, a love story without sex. (Although there’s a small taster on page 160!). So what? Had her book been written by Patricia Cornwell it wouldn’t have been remarked upon. Perhaps when she’s on her fifth bestseller reviewers will give her books the credit they so richly deserve.
And here we find IDS’s main problem. The fact of the matter is that if this book had been written by Joe Bloggs the chances are it would not have been published, and if by some chance it had been, it wouldn’t have attracted a single review. This may sound cruel but fiction publishing is a cut-throat business nowadays. Few novels sell more than 1500 copies in hardback, but the publishers tell me The Devil’s Tune is about to go into reprint. So political celebrity has its advantages. The true success of this book will be its paperback sale. That’s where the real money is. In fact it’s about the only way to make money out of writing or publishing books nowadays.
My advice to Iain Duncan Smith, for what it’s worth, would be to start work immediately on a book about his eleven years in Parliament. He’s a man of principle and fought a tenacious battle against the Maastricht Treaty. In the end it was the memory of this disloyalty that helped bring about his downfall as Conservative leader. Former whips like Derek Conway remembered his rebellious behaviour and for them, ousting him not just a matter of revenge, it was almost a personal mission.
IDS’s own story of his two years as leader would undoubtedly merit a place in the bestseller charts. Now that’s a book I would certainly like to publish.