Competition - Win a bottle of champagne

No 3652 Set by George Cowley

Will Self in the NS wrote of an "exceptional sub-genre" of biography - dealing with the "out-and-out failure". We asked for examples in which the writer attempted a salvage job.

Report by Ms de Meaner

Not the masses of entries that arrive when limericks are what's required, but just feel the quality. An hon mensh to Peter Lyon. The rest get £20. The vouchers go to Adrian Fry.

Best (though barely) known for his unpublished book Abortions, a volume composed of first lines that led nowhere, Mark Smee was a true innovator, the first to realise the potential of the unwritten novel. Smee's works are not to be found trapped between covers on a shelf, but in the hazy recollections of the Soho habitues with whom he drank away the 1960s. Most agree that his first unwritten novel, The Man (1964), was about a man, or possibly a horse. But as his mastery of the form grew more assured and his drinking heavier, such clarity regarding subject matter became both impossible and irrelevant. Those to whom he fleetingly talked of his unwritten 1966 novel can remember nothing about it whatsoever, prompting allegations from critics that it did not exist, even in unwritten form. The late 1960s were a fecund period for Smee, during which he failed to write an estimated 12 novels and a poetic triptych in no parts. But creative exhaustion took its toll in 1971, when Smee died alone of alcohol poisoning in a Camden bedsit. The literary establishment that had so long shunned Smee paid belated respects, commissioning Harold Pinter not to write an oration.

Adrian Fry

Christopher Aloysius Smith was a remarkably popular geography teacher, whose ground-breaking notes on climate and weather systems had a profound impact on many of his pupils, who included Joan Allen, the later Lady Mayoress of Croydon. Born into a family steeped in stage history, he was fond of quoting King Lear's line "What is the cause of thunder?", and , although he concluded that there was no final resolution to this question, it resounded in the minds of his students to such an extent that many considered writing novels with similar titles. It is more than possible that Henry Thistlewood, the winner of the 1968 Campden Prize for his fiction Lightning the Load, the manuscript of which has since been lost, had Smith's interest at heart - it is certainly known that he went to the University of Cardiff with one of Smith's pupils. Smith himself prepared For a Rainy Day for Heinemann, and samizdat copies of his draft are still thought to be circulating in areas of Belize. His fatal encounter with Ofsted inspectors in 1998 made him a legend in the popular press on 3 June of that year. It was a fittingly stormy conclusion.

Will Bellenger

As soon as he turned the corner into his sixth decade, Seymour reckoned it was time to pursue more exciting challenges: to diversify away from his richly embroidered past. In the early dawn, he woke to discover an excitingly new horizon. No more adventures in ambitious millennium schemes and Nigerian mobile investment funds. His daring experiment in HM's solitude ("my Gauguin-like university-of-life period") was now but a fading memory. From September 1998, his vertiginous career as a stationary motor-vehicle attendant meant that his urban existence became increasingly intertwined with the culturally diverse lives of some of the most fashionable people of the age.*

* David Frost, Richard Branson, Lauren Booth, Cliff Richard, Carol Vorderman, Jeffrey Archer, Nicholas Parsons, Ken Livingstone, Delia Smith, Posh & Becks, Laurie Taylor, Janet Street-Porter, Liz Hurley, William Hague, Sue Lawley, Ann Widdecombe, Andrew Morton, Andrew Motion, Jeremy Paxman, Ruby Wax, Greg Dyke, Anita Roddick, Will Self, Maeve Binchy, Tony Benn, Harold Pinter, Boris Johnson, Clare Short, Cilla Black, David Hare, Jerry Hall, Tom Stoppard, David Hockney, Caroline Aherne, Eddie Izzard, Charles Kennedy, Madonna, Andrew Rawnsley, Mo Mowlam, Basil Ransome-Davies, Melvyn Bragg, Steve Redgrave, Piers Morgan, Charlie Dimmock, Graham Norton, Martin Amis, Michael Parkinson, Martin Bell (see Appendix 9, pages 256-297, for complete listing).

John O'Byrne

Sir Luke Martin-Hopper was fastidious in eschewing even the faintest hint of popularism. Unlike his more publicity-seeking contemporaries in the history departments of academe, he was not to be seen haunting the television studios. Nor did he aspire to the bestseller lists, preferring to entrust his writings to small presses and learned journals. It was this reclusivity in his nature that rendered all the more painful the publicity surrounding his authentification of the Oscar Maltby Journals. That a leading expert on the fascist movements of the interwar years should be deceived by so incompetent a forgery does, with hindsight, seem surprising. It is, however, understandable that Sir Luke's concentration on the historical details should have blinded him to anomalies that might have struck a less narrowly focused eye: the newness of the paper; the anachronistic deployment of "hopefully" as a sentence adverb; the use of a dot matrix printer not available in the 1930s, and so on. The point is that Sir Luke was a specialist whose obsession with his chosen period was once amusingly demonstrated when he absent-mindedly addressed a magistrate as Mein Fuhrer. We shall not see his like again.

Keith Norman

No 3655 Set by John O'Byrne

Remember C4's Big Brother? We want you to develop an idea for a new TV series that is so mind-numbingly crass and off-the-wall that even Channel 5 would pass it up. Max 200 words by 16 November.

E-mail: comp@newstatesman.co.uk