Monday 20 November 2017

All the presidents' pens

As Bill Clinton announces he is co-writing a thriller, Bill Linnane casts a critical eye at the egregious creative attempts of other politicians

Word count: Bill Clinton will co-author a book with 'human bestseller machine' James Patterson
Word count: Bill Clinton will co-author a book with 'human bestseller machine' James Patterson

When it was revealed this week that Bill Clinton was writing a book, most of us assumed it would be a cross between 50 Shades and Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. Sadly, our hopes of a steamy memoir about Slick Willy Clinton polling the electorate were dashed when it was announced that it would be co-authored by human bestseller machine James Patterson.

So the book will be a hit, no matter what, even if the title - The President Is Missing, which according to the publishers is about a president that goes missing - doesn't suggest a page-turner. But not all politicians have had success creatively.


Churchill painted to alleviate depression, Hitler was a failed artist, and Franco was better than you would think. But beyond all those were the paintings of George W Bush, whose portraits of world leaders - and himself in the shower - were startlingly poor. Of course, art is completely subjective, but when a 14-year-old entrant in the Texaco Art Competition makes W's works look like a potato print, it is time to retire the easel. However, he did exactly the opposite - he released a book of portraits, on a subject that meant nobody could criticise his work: War veterans. Frankly, it was the least he could do after starting a war himself.


It should set off alarm bells that so many actors become highly successful politicians. Reagan, Schwarzenegger, Glenda Jackson; it is a surprisingly smooth transition from pretending to be someone, to being a politician. Perhaps the oddest transition was that of Ilona Staller, known by her stage name la Cicciolina. The Hungarian-born model (and porn star) stood for the Green Party in Italy and served one term, one of the most memorable moments of which was when she offered to sleep with Saddam Hussein in return for peace in his country. Perhaps if George W had painted that scenario he might have sold a few more copies of his book.


Wyclef Jean ran for president of Haiti, Youssou N'Dour ran for office in Senegal, Sonny Bono became a US congressman, and our own Bono seems to have more influence with world leaders than our politicians do. And then there's former TD Paul Gogarty, who brought his baby to a Green Party press conference calling for a general election, and on another occasion shouted 'f*** you' across the floor of the Dáil at Labour TD Emmet Stagg.

If he was to record music, you would assume it would lie somewhere between the Sex Pistols and the theme music from In The Night Garden. But Gogarty's project, His Sweet Surprise, is a very sweet surprise - synth-heavy pop songs with catchy choruses. His time in politics may have been brief, but his music (and swearing) definitely made more of an impressionthan his party colleagues, such as the lightbulb guy or the other guy, you know, the one who cycled everywhere.


Clinton's foray into writing is unusual in that it is a work of fiction. Most former presidents just churn out a memoir or three. The only previous work of fiction Clinton was affiliated with was the Chinese counterfeiting of his memoir, My Life. The Chinese version - which came out before Clinton's book was actually released - featured countless anecdotes of Clinton talking about how great China was and how their technology was vastly superior to America's. It also included a scene in which Bill informs Hillary that his nickname is Big Watermelon, which somehow seems entirely plausible.

But when it comes to forays into creative writing by politicians, few come close to our own Alan Shatter. His one novel, Laura: A Story You Will Never Forget, shot to prominence when a complaint was made to the censor's office about it. Shatter included a few scenes of the protagonists engaging in the physical act of love - which is what they called sex back in 1989 when the book was first published. After the complaint to the censor's board and subsequent furore, the book was republished, proving there's no such thing as bad publicity, in art anyway.

He does, however, get bonus points for including this classic Irish manoeuvre: "She knew that she had been foolish for not taking the necessary precautions herself, but Brannigan had assured her that he always withdrew in time and that she was not at risk." It was either that or tell her his nickname was Big Potato.

Irish Independent

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