I don't begrudge Helen Fielding her success with Bridget Jones. Not at all. No way. Absolutely not

Ten am. 12st 8lb, alcohol units 0, cigarettes 0, calories 357 (according to the outside of the porridge packet).

Don't worry. This isn't going to be another Bridget Jones parody. More a howl of pain.

I heard Helen Fielding being interviewed on the radio about the Bridget Jones sequel, and she was actually giggling helplessly as she described the plot of her own book, which is probably impressive in a way. I mean, if you've spent a year writing something and it still makes you laugh, either it must really be funny or you've gone mad from sitting in a room too long - or maybe you just have a nervous laugh.

Apparently, the first Bridget Jones book sold a million copies, or was it three million? It was certainly excessive. I used to turn to the bestseller list every week and there it still was. It was pretty clear that every single woman in the country who could make out the top letters on an eye chart had bought it. Then married women bought it, then men. By the end, the only explanation that made sense was that some of the higher mammals had started to buy it as well. And now there's another book, and it's going to start all over again.

"It is not enough to succeed," said Gore Vidal. "Others must fail." I don't agree with that at all. I think it's a gross distortion of the fellow feeling that exists between writers. "There's something in the disasters of others," said La Rochefoucauld, "that doesn't displease us." Absolute rubbish.

Confucius observed that "there is nothing more pleasant than to observe one's best friend falling off the roof of a house". Crap. Absolute crap. There are many things I can think of - nice things - that are much more pleasant.

I started to read Bridget Jones's Diary and found it quite likeable and funny. Admittedly, some of it is a bit odd. Opening the book virtually at random: "Apparently, there is a Martin Amis character who is so crazily addicted that he starts wanting a cigarette even when he's smoking one. That's me."

If you're going to steal other people's jokes, it's better just to steal them and pretend you thought them up yourself. Anyway, as I read on, I began to get a bit impatient and then I started to look ahead. Was this all there was? Were these lists of calories consumed and cigarettes smoked going to continue throughout the book? Was it just going to be 300 pages of maundering about her private life?

Because, if so, I don't need to read about maundering. I can maunder myself. And I can write about maundering. I was maundering in the New Statesman before Bridget Jones was ever heard of. And before that, I was maundering in New Society.

I was exploring sexual failure and being self- pitying on the subject at a time when Helen Fielding was still having a great time and hadn't even thought of being neurotic. No one can tell me about sexual failure and maundering. I wrote the book on sexual failure and maundering. Except not literally. I didn't actually write the book on it.

In the remarkable first episode of his History of the Renaissance on BBC2, Andrew Graham-Dixon argues that one of the first great renaissance painters was a totally obscure and forgotten church painter in the Balkans. When somebody comes to do the history of famous sad bastards, I'll be like him. "Long before self-pity and social failure became lucrative and successful," some scholar will argue, "Sean French spent years being self-pitying and a social failure in complete obscurity."

And as for that Nick Hornby, years before Fever Pitch was published, I wrote a column about going to a football match with my father, Philip French. It was even at bloody Arsenal.

I wrote about how, at the end, we were separated by the force of the crowd. As my father was swept away from me, he shouted: "This is like the last scene from Les Enfants du Paradis." Did this get any media attention? Yes, it did. It got into Pseuds Corner in Private Eye. The words "prophet", "honour" and "without" come to mind.

Believe it or not, I am now off to my local primary school to give a talk to the ten year olds in the "Reporters' Club". Next week, Douglas Bader will be teaching them to tap dance.

This article first appeared in An explosion of puffery

1999-11-29