Frank Lampard
I’m reasonably confident this is him. Thanks Google Images.

Social media was all a-twitter the other day (see what I did there?) over news that England and Chelsea footballer, Frank Lampard, is to write a series of five books for children, to be published by Little, Brown later this year.

Based on my observation and a highly unscientific survey I conducted on my Facebook page, suggests reaction to the news has been fairly negative – particularly among children’s authors. There have been a lot of “he’s nicking our jobs” comments flying around, and I can absolutely see why. I mean, you don’t see Philip Ardagh playing left back for Arsenal (at least, not any more), so why should Frank Lampard be writing children’s books?

There has been outrage that yet another “celebrity” has been given a pile of money to put their name on a book they’ll likely play very little part in writing, while genuinely talented yet struggling mid-list authors produce quality book after quality book, but can only dream of seeing their name in a national newspaper.

Some commentators – again, many of whom are authors – have already decided the books are going to be laughably awful – lowest common denominator guff without an ounce of literary merit.

And hey, maybe they’re right, but then literary merit often isn’t enough to convince a reluctant reader to pick up a book. In fact, it can be the very thing that puts them off in the first place. I also don’t think it’s productive when us booky people come over all snobbish and uppity, sneering down at celeb-written and TV tie-in titles as not worth the paper they’re printed on.

Barring the odd terrorist manual and the like, there are very few genuinely “bad” books out there. Beast Quest, for example, reads like a pile of old guff to me, and yet they introduced millions of children to the joys of reading.

These are books about football for five-year-olds, written by a big-name football star. Whether he writes them himself or they’re ghost-written by someone not being paid nearly enough, his name will be there on the front cover, and for some boys that might be enough for them to give it a go. From there those kids might go on to read other football books by the likes of Alan GibbonsHelena Pielichaty or Tom Palmer. From there they may go on to read other books about something other than football, or they might only read about football, or they might never read another book again in their entire lives.

But they’ll have read something. And that’s important.

At school I was a booky kid. I read lots, and actively went out of my way to avoid football in all its forms. These books would not have appealed to me. Some of the other boys in my class were football kids. They could reel off every statistic from the past ten seasons, but steered clear of books wherever possible. Would these books have appealed to all of those kids? Probably not. Would they have appealed to some of them? Definitely.

Whether we like it or not, footballers are role models for vast numbers of boys across the UK and around the world. The success of the National Literacy Trust’s brilliant Premier League Reading Stars programme shows the impressive results that can be achieved by combining football and reading. Frank Lampard’s book deal may help further that good work, and I fail to see what’s bad about that. No, he’ll almost certainly never win the Carnegie (although you never know) but Carnegie winners rarely draw in the sports mad non-readers.

And let’s not forget about the effect all this may have on the perception of writing among boys of a certain age. So many schools I go to are full of boys who think writing is something girls and geeks do, so having a proper footballer who has scored goals and everything talking about his love of making up stories may help to chip away at those particular misconceptions

Yes, I’m insanely jealous of the money he will no doubt earn from this, and of the wall to wall coverage his books have already had this week a lone, but do I resent the fact it has happened? Not at all. New readers brought in by Lampard means more readers in general and I for one welcome that.

What do you think? Is all this idealist claptrap or do you agree with my thoughts on it? Will you be buying Lampard’s books, or avoiding them like the plague? Let me know in the comments below.

Some thoughts on literary Lampard

18 thoughts on “Some thoughts on literary Lampard

  • Something I forgot to add – quite often books like this, if they sell well, are what allows publishers to take a chance on new authors, or continue to support less commercial authors longer term.

  • Couldn’t agree more, Barry. Boys need something to engage them with books and if this does it then hurrah! It would be nice if Frank Lampard forwent his no doubt considerable advance and gave it to the Literacy Trust or something, but we can’t have everything. My dad was an English teacher and he always said it doesn’t matter if a kid’s reading the back of a cereal packet at least they’re reading. We get a bit confused sometimes about what literacy is FOR. To those of us in the business of reading & writing, it’s a no brainer that we derive great pleasure from literature. But not everyone is like us & we should accept that. However EVERYONE needs to be literate to survive in the work place, so learning to read is not just desirable but necessary. If along the way some kids get converted to readers that’s a bonus in my book, and I see this as being such an opportunity.

  • Wholeheartedly agree: “whatever gets you through a book, s`alright”, to paraphrase John Lennon, who went on to say “whatever gets you to the light”, or in this case perhaps, “whatever gets you to the library”. If Frank Lampard`s books work, or the Beano, or formulaic stories about animals, or books about snot and farting (particularly popular at the moment amongst boys) bring it on. Once we have them on board we can think about getting highfalutin`.

  • Thanks for the comments, and glad we’re on the same page 🙂

    When I was working with the NLT as part of the PLRS scheme recently, I was told that many teachers who had more or less written some boys off as “non-readers” were amazed to discover they buy football magazines every week/month and read each issue from cover to cover. Neither the teachers nor the boys themselves had ever even thought of it as “reading”.

  • I’m with you on this. I’m lucky that I have a 5 year old boy who will read anything without encouragement as he sees me reading. Lots of kids don’t see their parents reading, this may well make them ask their parents to buy a book if they see it in the supermarket.

    1. You could be right, Emma. Although I once saw a woman in a supermarket tell her son the £2 book he wanted was too expensive… as she stood in the queue for cigarettes. That’s another battle entirely, though.

  • As one of the several writers of Beast Quest (the guff Barry refers to), I completely agree. Literary merit and literacy are two separate things entirely. We don’t get up in arms about kids reading the Beano, though I expect I’d find some of the stories lacked thematic depth or the moral purpose that sets great works of literature apart.

    Boys talk about Beast Quest in the playground – they anticipate the release of the next series in a way which is very rare for young kids, where frankly books can be a long way down the entertainment pecking order. Obviously BQ is a well-worked marketing exercise in some respects, but the stories undoutbtedly appeal to young, or reluctant, readers. And I’ve lost count of the number of parents who asked me personally, or who have discussions on line, about what they should give their children after BQ, when they grow out of the relatively repetitive and simplistic stories.

    BQ are published by Orchard Books, and along with Rainbow Magic, are their most successful titles. That income gives a publisher capital to take risks and invest in new writers. So who loses from projects like BQ and Frank Lampard’s books? Possibly other published writers who are having to share the shelves with them, but if well-marketed celebrity or series fiction CREATES new readers, I’m not sure that’s true.

    1. Ah, Mr Blade, I’ve been expecting you…

      Thanks for adding to the discussion. I absolutely could not agree more with everything you’ve said. The Beano and the like are probably 90% responsible for me becoming a reader, and I think comics in general are a brilliant way to entice reluctant readers in. Some will never move beyond comics, and that’s fine – I think we need to stop worrying about what kids are reading, and just make sure they’re reading something they enjoy, whatever that may be.

      And, of course, I meant “guff” in the most affectionate possible way. As well as my own books I’ve written licensed fiction for various properties, including Ben 10. Guff? Absolutely – but like BQ they draw in readers who may not have picked up a book before, and that makes them massively worthwhile.

      Just had a thought – I think part of the snobbery in the literary world could be as a result of television. Obviously there are “good” TV programmes, which educate, enlighten and entertain all at once, then there’s the “bad” TV programmes which have no discernible merit whatsoever – reality TV in most of its forms being a prime example.

      But the same doesn’t apply to books. Anything you read is of merit in some way, even if only to help you grasp where commas are supposed to go. That’s why, outwith some how-to terrorists guides and the like, there are virtually no “bad books” out there. There are trashy books, poorly written books and all that stuff, but simply by being books they’re a long way from being “bad”.

      Even self-published stuff, much of which is truly, truly terrible – if it entertains someone and makes them want to read something else, then it’s a worthy piece of literature in its own right.

  • Hey Barry, Great post and thanks for the mention of my Girls FC books. I think this is an interesting discussion but there are so many issues here it’s difficult to know which one to address.
    1. Footballers writing books for children.
    2. Getting kids to read ‘anything’
    3. Celebrity writers (using ghosts) v ‘real writers’

    I’ll start with Frank Lampard. I have no problem with this. It would appear Frank is writing the books himself because he enjoyed reading stories to his own children. That’s exactly how I started. OK, it didn’t take him 10 years to get published like it did me but, hey. He’s a big name. Big names = sales. Publishing is a business. Plus, re: the football genre, I’m sure he knows a hell of a lot more about what it feels like to kick a ball or win a trophy than I do so he has an advantage over me there. What I hope I can bring to the table is three-dimensional characters, interesting storylines, cracking dialogue, humour and pace. I also did a ton of research and have the chilblains to prove it. If Frank can do that, too, then all the better for children who’ll read his books. We shouldn’t pre-judge a product until it’s on the market and I’m looking forward to reading them.
    What I dislike is dishonesty and codding the public (point 3) that ‘anyone’ can write a children’s book. So many people think Katie Price, David Beckham, Theo Walcott and Darcy Bussell etc actually wrote their own material. This includes parents and teachers and I think that’s worrying. Kids need to know the celebs had HELP. The Beast Quest & Daisy Meadows franchises are the same. I have no problems with the series – they get kids reading as stated by your other contributers – I have problems with the marketing. I know the ‘Lucy Daniels’ writers aren’t allowed to tell kids she isn’t real. That’s wrong.

    Here’s an idea regarding ‘guff’ v ‘non-guff’ Get a mixture of ghost written books and ‘real’ books. Bind them in plain paper so the kids can’t see the covers/authors. Ask the kids to rate them. See what happens. Who knows? We may be surprised by the results.

    1. It’s interesting what you say, Helen, regarding codding the public. I’m quite open when I go to schools that I’m not Adam Blade (I use the name here as a joke). If my name were something as a macho as ‘Blade’ , it would be a cruel cosmic joke, and my parents went about instilling all the wrong values. Around half the Adam Blades are female, so I suppose it would be even more tricky for them.

      I don’t think any restrictions contractually apply to ‘Daisy’ either. Lucy Daniels’ Animal Ark series isn’t one I’m hugely familiar with, but it’s quite possible the publisher, in a misguided moment, requested the contributors to remain anonymous to preserve the illusion that Lucy was a single person. I say misguided because one of the largest books ‘properties’ (and I know that word can be a turn-off) is Erin Hunter’s Warriors series, which regularly sits in the New York Times top 10. As far as I know, there are 3 or 4 Erins, and they tour openly in their real identities. And, interestingly, there’s a good deal of fan-love for all of them, ie, the separation of the writing duties hasn’t negatively affected readers perceptions of the merit of the books.

      So chances are publishers are getting worried about an issue for no reason. But these days a publisher expects a writer to be tweeting, blogging, and to be generally uniquitous as the ‘face’ of a book in a way that would make writers past astonished. That need for a might be to blame.

      With tenuous connection to your point about the untruth that anyone can write a book, and to return slightly to Barry’s point about TV above, if only tangentally: in the world of books and literature, there still exists a ‘cult of the artist’, which says that books come from a single consciousness which then crafts the idea into narrative with a sort of alchemy of thought to word. I probably buy into that myself to a degree, in that works of great literature (Beast Quest aside) have historically been made like that. There’s no reason they should continue to be so, in my opinion. But in TV, we have no problem with the idea of a group of people getting round a table and creating a concept together. In fact, we rather applaud it.

      1. Lucy Daniels was the precursor to Rainbow Fairies etc. The surname Daniels was deliberately chosen to sit next to Colin Dann’s books (The Animals of Farthing Wood) on the shelf – that’s how cynical the marketing was. One of the Lucy’s wasn’t even allowed to start the book with footprints in mud as ‘mud’ was seen as a depressing start. However, I think those days have gone and I’m glad you are able to ‘come out’ as Adam Blade to your fans. But let’s not confuse your books (ie a corporate idea where real writers are commissioned by a publisher for a targeted readership) with those of celebrity books. You were approached because you can write – celebrities are approached because they’re a name.That’s a different kettle of fish altogether.

    2. And Helen, regarding the test in your last paragraph, I expect the results would be very much in favour of the ghost-written, or packaged books, for simple reasons that they cater for a wide commercial audience.

      The same would be so, I think, if you offered TV viewers The X-Factor or Bronowski’s The Ascent of Man!

      There’s little accounting for taste in this debate.

  • I’m loving this discussion.

    I’d argue, Adam, that the vast majority of books are written in collaboration, albeit one between a writer and an editor. I know my books have been improved immeasurably thanks to input from the editors I’ve had, plus comments from my agent. No, it’s not the same as a writing team, but it’s also not a solo venture by any means.

    Some of the “commercially-led” fiction I’ve done (and that includes two football books, as it happens) is a few steps beyond that in that an editorial team develops a plot outline, then a writer is brought in to bring the story alive.

    I’ve often likened this process to join-the-dots, while the “normal” writing process is like drawing something from scratch, but in reality it’s nothing of the sort and in many ways it’s perhaps even more difficult to write something someone else has supplied the plot for. It certainly draws on a slightly different skillset, at least.

    But is one approach “worthier” than the other? I’d say no, they’re just two different ways of getting to the same end result – a book which will hopefully capture the imagination of readers.

  • Interesting Barry – you’re quite right about collaboration. I think there must be a mystical point as a writer when you’re in charge of your editor rather than the other way round! I’m still generally scared of mine!

    Perhaps a better description of those ‘packaged’ books is a skeleton – it’s the writer’s job to put the flesh on the bones. Because joining the dots will always end up with the same pattern, whereas we could create vastly different bodies from the same skeleton.

    I’ve done both original fiction and packaged stuff for a variety of ages. From a writer’s perspective, the packaged fiction is attractive as it’s on a clear schedule, it provides strong and consistent editorial support, and there’s nothing speculative about it. And by the end of the process, I sometimes find myself caring about the finished as much as my own work. Being released from those chores of author promotion can be nice too!

    Anyway, enough evangelising.

    1. A skeleton is a much better metaphor, you’re right. I know for a fact that I would not be a full-time writer were it not for the packaged books I’ve written, and will hopefully continue to write. They also taught me a lot about plot structure – something I struggled with – and on working to sometimes ludicrously tight deadlines!

      We’ve wandered a bit from Frank Lampard. So… er… good luck to him, I say.

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