With his famous book, the Age of Reason, published in 1795 Thomas Paine confirmed a new age; the age of enlightenment. If Thomas Paine were to write a book today he would probably call it The Age of Stupidity.
In it he would chart the relentless rise of reality TV, talk about hoodies taking over the streets of Britain and the celebrity culture that has gripped the inhabitants of this once proud and intelligent island.
I don’t know when it finally dawned on me that we have entered an age of stupidity – maybe I was a bit dim not to work it out sooner – but a number of cumulating factors have led me to this conclusion. Take this example. What do you suppose is Britain’s best-selling autobiography? Ghandi’s perhaps? Or Winston Churchill’s account of how he saved Britain – and the world – from Nazism? Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom? Wrong. It is the account of how a woman tripled her breast size and thus endeared herself to a nation. Yes, Jordan’s is the fastest-selling autobiography in British publishing history.
Being Jordan and Jordan: A Whole New World have sold almost 1.2 million copies in the UK over the past five years. Churchill’s has sold just over 5,000. I looked at one of her autobiographies in a book shop once, just to see what all the fuss was about. I no longer remember which one, but it all started with a cat-fight and the unforgettable line, er actually I’ve forgotten, but it was something along the lines of ‘don’t you come creeping up to me you bitch, I know what the f*** you’ve been saying behind my back.’
Truly gripping stuff. I see her novel is in the best-seller list too.
So I am now faced with a dilemma. When I was in London last I had a life-changing moment. A publisher approached me at a party and said; “I think you should write a novel.” This to me was the equivalent of someone telling the England rugby team they are going to beat France on Saturday. Ever since I was little girl I have wanted to (and tried to) write novels. So once I have sent off the edited To Hell in High Heels on Monday, I will begin to realise this life-long ambition.
The dilemma is, do I write something I want to write or something I think will sell in this Age of Stupidity? Am I prepared to dumb down? No is the answer of course. But I shall probably remain a penniless writer while Jordan sips pink champagne before breakfast and has her numerous pools cleaned by Jonny Wilkinson look-alikes.
Perhaps I am the one being truly stupid, retaining a normal breast-size and trying to write relatively good books?
Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2007