|Duncan Fallowell: The modern|
approach to flogging books
I've had some personal experience of Mr F. In another age I feature edited the late IPC glossy Woman's Journal. In my first week in the post, following years as a jittery freelancer, I had to deliver on promises made (aka wishes expressed) to the grand editor-in-chief Laurie Purden MBE and produce big-name interviews by writers. Now. Not just hacks, not just "professionals", but prose naturals of the stylised kind. Of the sort likely to take Laurie by surprise. Because nothing bored her more than an expectation confirmed. She wanted to be taken unawares by an expert in seduction. Only people with a voice and a gift for animating their perverse reflexes in the written word would do. Byron Rogers could do it. I did not know DF but he'd already made an impact (on me and innumerable publications). He really did take one's breath away. He'd pissed off Gore Vidal big time. "He's lazy," bitter, angry Gore growled when I mentioned DF in an interview. "He said that I said writers are like cows - I am not a cow." I liked the way DF started his slebby pieces, as if idly picking up on a conversation begun sometime earlier or out of earshot. By some magic he seduced one into thinking that it was worth listening in on, to see what happened next. All an illusion, of course. All artifice. But this is what he calls a celebrity interview. An unfamiliar voyage into the familiar.
So, I made contact with DF from one of the top floors of IPC Towers and before I could say "lunch" he'd delivered the nightclub queen Regine to me from the sunny south coast of France. The piece enraptured Laurie, not normally given to orgasmic display, such was her intimacy with disappointment. I knew I was safe for a while. Yes, DF: you played your part in my survival.
So, let's start again. In his latest book, DF holds Tina Brown responsible (not solely, but majorly) for the destruction of his brand of celebrity journalism in newspapers and glossy magazines. She's to blame for his decision to give up on interviewing the stars. You'll have to read the book to find out how precisely, but the word "corporatism" is repeated. No matter Tina's glory at Tatler/Vanity Fair/New Yorker/Whatever she did not get DF at all. "She became a control freak," writes DF, of her immunity to his interviews that she'd commissioned. Her editorial expectations were narrow; she favoured the "girlie and conventional": she animated the corporate move against "authorial independence" (ie DF's). Her Vanity Fair became a "watertight plastic product which no writer was allowed to upstage with a personal voice." Tina B unleashed the infection of professionalism on a generation of underling and inferior editors anxious to copycat her success in their own name. Bitch.
That aside there's much yummy goss and much reflection on the pleasing by-product of celebrity meet-ups. I won't repeat the Germaine Greer sexual position that was novel even to DF. The John Osborne letters crackle with acid intelligence and guile. Wily Mick Jagger (probably) positioned a certain druggie book title on a table as a nod to DF's chemical treks. Oh, there's much to savour. And there's no malice. Of Tina B, DF remains fond. It's just she's put paid to his career as a celebrity interviewer. Bitch.
Of course, the celebrity interview is still alive and kicking, as cat litter trays everywhere testify. DF does not credit Hello! as another foe, with its seminally inane Q&As and PR-driven drivel, draped around pendants of posy pics of orange skin. The celebrity interviewer (epitomised by the ever self-regarding Piers Morgan) is now favoured, one half of a recorded collision of a double-barrelled marketing campaign to other media, pegged to book/film/whatever releases (as identified in italics at the end).
During my time at Woman's Journal, by far the most successful interview we ran - as measured by headlines generated all over the world - was DF's discourse with Germaine Greer in which she ended up rating lovers by nationality. British men - all homosexual! You can imagine the impact. All achieved by allowing two people of learning to do battle in and on their own terms. Laurie (bless her) felt no need to interfere though she did order me to strike out a "fucking" or two. We were a smart ABC1 glossy after all.
Student hacks (among others) should read this book to script the next retro-revolution in journalism. The online extravaganza of global readerships has scarcely begun - and these billions of the jaded and the seen-it-all will be seeking tit-hardening surprises. Q&As won't do. Mark my words, poppets.
DF's book can be downloaded here now at 99p