Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

1. Austerity Labour is on its way and Ed Balls is leading the charge (Daily Telegraph)

The shadow chancellor must save money – and the NHS – if his party is to win the general election in 2015, writes Mary Riddell. 

2. The challenges of a post-crisis world (Financial Times)

Nations must nurture recovery and promote reform, writes Martin Wolf. Co-operation and communication should be the order of the day.

3. One tax rise too far and suddenly . . . crash! (Times)

Labour thinks it can increase tax on wealth creators without consequence, writes Daniel Finkelstein. Eventually it will reach a tipping point.

4. RBS is the people's bank. So let's stop this annual festival of bribery (Guardian)

Bonus culture has become so warped that bankers presiding over losses of £8bn still think they deserve a reward, writes Simon Jenkins. 

5. After a decade of pre-eminence, the balance of the world economy is tilting away from the BRICS (Independent)

While these countries were growing so fast we tended to ignore the warning signs, writes Hamish McRae. 

6. Our workplaces are about as family-friendly as a 19th-century mill (Guardian)

Maternity leave, sick pay, the minimum wage – the ability to claim these vital rights has been torched by our zero-hours economy, writes Zoe Williams. 

7. Will Obama stand with Japan against China? (Times)

Washington’s weakness – from Kiev to Damascus – has encouraged Beijing to assert itself, says Roger Boyes.

8. Imagine the explosion of growth if we got serious about tax-cutting (Daily Telegraph)

Those on the lowest incomes should pay no tax at at all; while the hard-pressed middle class should face a flat tax, says Allister Heath. 

9. Politicians must lead on immigration (Financial Times)

If we want the world’s best ideas we need innovators living among us, writes Gus O’Donnell.

10. Why I'm speaking up for Islam against the loudmouths who have hijacked it (Guardian)

I tweeted a cartoon of Jesus and Mo, writes Maajid Nawaz. My aim was to carve out a space where Muslims can be heard without fearing the blasphemy charge.

Getty
Show Hide image

Appearing in a book is strange – being an actual character must be stranger

Much as it jolts me to come across a reference to my music in something I'm reading, at least it's not me.

I was happily immersed in the world of a novel the other day, Rachel Elliott’s Whispers Through a Megaphone, when suddenly I was jolted back into reality by my own appearance in the book. One of the characters hears someone singing and is told, “‘It’s Leonora. She sings with her window open.’ ‘She’s good – sounds like Tracey Thorn.’ ‘She does, doesn’t she.’”

It was as if I’d walked on stage while still being in the audience. It’s happened to me before, and is always startling, a kind of breaking of the fourth wall. From being the reader, addressed equally and anonymously, you become, even momentarily, a minor character or a representative of something. In this instance it was flattering, but the thing is, you have no control over what the writer uses you to mean.

In David Nicholls’s Starter for Ten, set in the mid-Eighties, the lead character, Brian – a hapless student, failing in both love and University Challenge – hopes that he is about to have sex with a girl. “We stay up for an hour or so, drinking whisky, sitting on the bed next to each other and talking and listening to Tapestry and the new Everything But the Girl album.” Ah, I realised, here I represent the kind of singer people listen to when they’re trying, though possibly failing, to get laid.

Fast-forward a few years, to the mid-Nineties of Bret Easton Ellis’s Glamorama, a book constructed from lists of people and things, clothes and music, which apparently indicate the vacuousness of modern life. “I dash into the Paul Smith store on Bond Street, where I purchase a smart-looking navy-gray raincoat. Everything But the Girl’s ‘Missing’ plays over everything” and later, “In the limo heading toward Charing Cross Road Everything But the Girl’s ‘Wrong’ plays while I’m studying the small white envelope . . .” Here I’m being used to represent the way bands become briefly ubiquitous: our songs are a soundtrack to the sleazy glamour of the novel.

These mentions are all fine; it’s only the music that features, not me. Spotting yourself as an actual character in someone’s novel must be more shocking: one of the perils of, for instance, being married to a novelist. I think of Claire Bloom and Philip Roth. First she wrote a memoir about how ghastly it was being married to him, then he wrote a novel about how ghastly it was to be married to someone very like her. Books as revenge: that’s very different indeed.

Few people who had ever met Morrissey emerged from his memoir unscathed (me included), but particularly Geoff Travis of Rough Trade. He was hung, drawn and quartered in the book, yet seems to have maintained a dignified silence. But it’s hard knowing how to deal with real people in memoirs. In mine, I chose not to name one character, a boy who broke my 18-year-old heart. Feverish speculation among old friends, all of whom guessed wrong, proved how much attention they’d been paying to me at the time. I also wrote about my teenage band, the Marine Girls, and then sent the chapter to the other members for approval. Which led to a fresh outbreak of hostilities and not-speaking, 25 years after we’d broken up. Don’t you just love bands?

Worrying about any of this would stop anyone ever writing anything. Luckily it didn’t deter John Niven, whose scabrous music-biz novel, Kill Your Friends, mixes larger-than-life monsters such as the fictional A&R man Steven Stelfox with real people: and not just celebs (Goldie, the Spice Girls), but record company executives (Ferdy Unger-Hamilton, Rob Stringer) known best to those of us in the biz, and presumably thrilled to have made it into a book. John confirmed to me recently: “In the end I got more grief from people I left out of the book than those I put in. Such is the ego of the music industry. I heard of one executive who bought about 30 copies and would sign them for bands, saying, ‘This was based on me.’ You create the Devil and people are lining up to say, ‘Yep. I’m that guy.’”

In other words, as I suspected, there’s only one thing worse than being written about. 

Tracey Thorn is a musician and writer, best known as one half of Everything but the Girl. She writes the fortnightly “Off the Record” column for the New Statesman. Her latest book is Naked at the Albert Hall.

This article first appeared in the 06 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The longest hatred