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Writers for Hire

2 September 2002

An article in the London Independent raised once again the thorny question of 'writers for hire' - fiction writers lending their skills to producing fiction which will promote a brand or, as in this case, the launch of a company which will provide name authors to write specially commissioned novels for businesses and for government departments.

When Fay Weldon wrote a novel for Bulgari, she encountered heavy criticism, but this latest development is likely to engender an even more hostile reaction because of the scale envisaged. One of Narration Ltd.'s first customers is the Foreign Policy Centre, which has commissioned an online novella about an anti-globalisation campaigner who gives up direct action in favour of Internet protest.

The reaction of some prominent British authors has been hostile. J G Ballard commented: 'I wouldn't want to buy a novel whose point was that I should eat less saturated fat or drive more slowly. This sounds deeply sinister. It's all part of the corruption of the mental environment we inhabit.' David Lodge dismissed it as advertising and said: 'There's a long tradition of using fiction to get across ideas and there's nothing wrong with that. But this has nothing to do with literature.'

But many authors may be happy to undertake 'work for hire' of this kind. Unfortunately for many possible participants, this venture does seem to depend heavily on the name of the author, so writers need to have a name the public will recognise before they are likely to be tempted by receiving commissions of this kind.