Phil: This must have been a cracking elevator pitch:
“I’m one of Britain’s best-loved actresses and my name-drop-worthy friends will write some great comments for the cover.”
You can just see the publisher’s eyes light up. Easy publicity, loads of sales, and the chances are our author can actually write so we don’t need to pay for someone to ghost the novel. Result!
And so it came to be that Celia Imrie wrote “Not Quite Nice”.
The story: Theresa is forcibly retired from her job. With a husband a distant memory, a daughter and grandchildren who consider her little more than staff and a desire for change, she ups sticks and takes flat in Bellevue-Sur-Mer in the south of France.
There she becomes involved with the ex-pat community and high-jinks ensue.
My sister hated it and gave up part way through. My mum only finished it because she was bored in hospital. Julian Fellowes said it was, ” A very witty novel by a very witty woman.”
I said I’d give it a go and you know what? It was OK-ish.
This is obviously a first novel. The setup takes far too long, and doesn’t the author know how French property laws work. There are too many characters, I couldn’t honestly tell you who half of them were. All the action happens in the last third of the book.
There’s an important fact given away far too early, for no apparent reason. And he plot hinges on a journalist being sent out to cover the story of a group of ex-pats no-one has heard of living in France. She’s there for a trashy magazine and stays around for a week. I’m sure that unless you are a best-loved actress, no magazine spends that sort of money on covering a story unless there is the promise of aliens and incest.
All this suggests that the publisher skimped on editing, that and a few road bumps in the text that a proof reader should have quickly nailed. The naked man jumping out of a window would have made a great opening for a start.
Presumably they were so intoxicated with the idea of a famous name on the cover, other considerations went out of the window. I’m sure that if a “civilian” had written this, it would still be in the slush pile but then publishing is a business and sales matter. When you have a Sunday Times Bestseller, you don’t worry how you got it there.
So, I’m a little bit jealous. But what the book does prove is that all those rules new authors have shoved down their throat aren’t that important. This isn’t a great work of literature, it’s a fun book to read on a sun lounger, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Give me a fluffy and amusing book over some tedious, pretentious lump of paper any day. Not Quite Nice won’t win any literary prizes but it will entertain a lot of people and at the end of the day, that’s what we do this for isn’t it?
(Incidentally, if you are an aspiring author, don’t forget to come along to our session at Stratford Literary festival. It will be brill and funny and Candice says I have to mention it in every blog post)