THE X-FACTOR CURSE & CRYBABY COLE: it’s catching! by Jan Ruth & John Hudspith

X-Factor Fiction, Halloween, Ho ho ho & hugging Dermot O’ Leary and saving the world.

John: It’s that time of year again, when writers send an avalanche to the ebook shelves hoping for a festive bestseller; when big-boobed slebs offer up their latest ghost-written
shenanigans; when agents and publishers hire staff to handle the increased numbers of rejection notes. Had any good rejections lately?

Jan: Rejection is a tough lesson. I grew up with plenty of it. (I’m talking creatively; as in, go away and do this again it’s not good enough). At primary school I was told it’s vital to experience rejection in order to improve. Character-building, even.

John: Did you sob, like an X-Factor reject?

Jan: I don’t remember sobbing or clinging on to Dermot O’Leary when my first manuscript thudded back through the letterbox for the umpteenth time; it had morphed into a hefty wedge of dog-eared paper with mostly derogatory scribble in the margins by then -  but I guess if Leery had been available, I might have been tempted into a bit of clinging.

John: Is that because you fancy him? Did you know he’s only 3 foot in his underpants?

Jan: He is quite short, isn’t he? That’s suits the midget that is me; I’d still look up to him. I’d have fallen into his arms but only because he’s cuddly, not because I thought my life was over.

John: Was it that bad?

Jan: This work has promise but it is overwritten and the scene where the shop blows up is ridiculous.

It was, actually. Those times draw a fair comparison with past X-Factor winners who’ve taken the prize initially but then sunk without trace. And yet, those who’ve come in third or second have scooped the best prize of all: by going away to think, then coming back with quality material. In my case, I went away for several years and did it again, and again and again. In fact, I kept on re-writing until I was sick to death of it.

John: And prospective agent snapped you up?

Jan: No chance, I really could have wept: Congratulations on producing a novel that is fully engaging, the narrative is sharp and the dialogue excellent. However, we cannot see where we would place this book in terms of marketing.

John: Ah, yes, the worried agent … talent doesn’t matter, simplicity does.

Jan: Right. I learnt that I wasn’t actually sick to death of it, more puzzled by these powerful gatekeepers, the agents and publishers who could make or break your day – your life! But this was traditional publishing BK. (Before Kindle, and before X-Factor)

John: I do like X-Factor, and it’s a good comparison; the machinations of voracity versus real quality - the psychology of it all.

Jan: We need the same show format for fiction, imagine the panel! Simon would be thrillers and crime with a strong leaning towards mafia bosses with lapdogs.

And Louis Walsh: I t’ink you should give her a chance, Simon. I t’ink it’s got something. He always ends up with the groups and oddballs, so, anthologies and something daft?

John: Yep, the requisite annoyance. Remember Jedward? Maybe Louis could have sex with dinosaurs. The books, I mean. Big sellers, apparently. I love, love, love, your book “T-rex on Top”… it looks good, it’s freaky, it’s got everything, it’s what this show’s all about!

Jan: You know, I was amazed those dino-sex books actually exist. Who the hell reads dino porn?

John: Louis Walsh, probably. What about Cheryl? I do like Cheryl, she’s a canny Geordie like me.

Jan: Crybaby Cole? A was blown away by ye’- sob - but a have to turn ye doon cos o’ the typos, like -  romance and true-life stories.

John: She’s not Cole anymore though, is she? Some weird-sounding long name. When Dermot announces it, he sounds like he’s casting a spell, Cheryl Fazhawazzfini or something like that.

Jan: She should have gone back to Tweedy for her stage name, shouldn’t she? Simon and the panel get a far bigger intro than any of the wannabe artists. The judges - or let’s say, the book bloggers and reviewers and the big promotional sites - are set to become more important than the author, much like disc-jockeys did in the seventies. They just played the records but their endorsement and their inane chatter made them into far bigger celebrities than the actual artists.

John: DJs from the seventies have a creepy image these days, though. Creepier than clowns, even.

Jan: True story. Let’s not go there.  

John: So, for the initial auditions, they have to read a blurb? Then, at boot camp they’d get to read one page, then whine There’s better to come when they’re told the narrative voice is out of tune, repetitive and boring. Oh, and at the 'take a seat' stage, they’d read a longer, random section and provide evidence of social marketing skills before submitting the entire book to get to judges’ houses.

Jan: Where Simon isn’t happy with the lineup:

Simon: Hold on, you’ve all picked books that are well-written, we need a couple of dumbed down ones to get the bookworms annoyed, so they’ll hit the phones and vote. Remember guys, it’s a pound per phone call, so I’m going to swap The Extraordinary Life of a Turtle for She likes it with Next Door’s Dog by Crystal Balls.

Louis Walsh: No one wants to read badly-written erotica, Simon!

Simon: Fifty Shades of Grey would disagree with you. Louis, you’re out of touch.

Louis: *blinks, grins, does the orangutan clap*

John: Yeah, Simon likes his quota of weirdoes.

Jan: Talking of weird, what about Sinitta? Where would she fit in? 

John: She’d appear at Simon’s house wearing three strategically placed bookmarks. Then she’d judge the books by their covers.

Jan: And people do, don’t they? Although, as in the real show, they’d be looking for raw talent they could manipulate... I mean mould. So maybe all the books in X-Factor Fiction should start with brown paper covers. On the live shows the backstory footage would include the authors getting professionally designed covers.

John: But some would want to use their own ideas,

Simon: What – the bloody hell – is that? (looking at an image of yet another bare torso with pecs like Cameron’s forehead)

Louis: It’s all the rage, Simon.

Cheryl: Divint worry, pet. Simon’s just jealous.

Mel B: Phwoaaaaaaar, let me hug that boowk.

Jan: Yeah, Scary Spice does like to wrap her arms around the fit ones.

John: Talking of scary, what about the Halloween show?

Jan: For Halloween, the contestants would have to sit it out in a haunted castle overnight, then write up a short story or flash-fiction. I’d be hugging Dermot alright! If I didn’t write contemporary, I think I might gravitate towards historical. There’s an amazing ruined castle in my neck of the woods and it gave me the idea to write something with a paranormal feel for my Christmas collection.

There’s a much bigger story in the history of Gwrych Castle though... so maybe one day. There’s recordings of hauntings and you can sign up for an evening of spookiness on the 31st. To be honest, the place is creepy enough in the daytime!

Anyway, what will you be wearing for Halloween? I still shudder when I think about the nun with no legs being washed in the sink by the way. (*wait ’til you read John’s new book, folks!)

John: That nun deserved all she got! For Halloween I shall be wearing the standard drunken fug, hidden away at the back of the house with the lights off so the sprogs in their crappy get-ups will think no one’s in.

Jan: Bah humbug!

John: That’s Christmas, you dillweed.

Jan: Hey, maybe you could give the kids humbugs?

John: Laced with chili and laxative. Good idea.

Jan: Actually, maybe the panel should consist of notables like Stephen King. How would you feel reading your work-in-progress to him? And, would you cry if he said it was a three-star book? I think the 3* is a much maligned rating. Not even close to rejection is it, really? I think it’s important that authors take-it-on-the-chin with good grace when someone says they didn’t really like the material. It’s not personal, is it? The personal enjoyment of a book is just that, personal.

John: I’d love to read my WIP to the King. He rarely gives opinions on books, though. And you’re right, reading is subjective and you will never please every reader. Maybe for the Halloween show, the X-Factor fiction finalists should be made to read their early stuff, that would be a scream.

Jan: Oh, that would make me cringe, showing anyone the contents of my bottom drawer.

John: Is there much crap in there? Plot holes? Cardboard characters? Predictable? A bit like the X-Factor, really. Hey, you could win it! And, of course, the winner goes on to have a Christmas no. 1 bestseller.

Jan: It’s much tidier now you’ve been in there, John. My lingerie has never been so soft, the words flow like silk, and you’ve removed those annoying frills. I wouldn’t mind a Christmas bestseller actually, or any kind of seller! Is this an opportune moment to mention my trio of Christmas shorts? There’s even a hint of the paranormal in there with a touch of ho ho ho. Santa versus Satan. If they were a box of chocolates, the paranormal one would be the brazil nut. The first one would be a caramel. Is the last one a soft-centre do you reckon? Got to have something sweet at Christmas...

John: Yeah, coffee cream, laced with after dinner mint. Your latest shorts are in great shape.

Jan: There’s always one filled with Cloaca. Chocolates, that is. Okay, here’s goes, it’s Halloween and we have to read a chilling paragraph to the panel.

He carried her to his bed. Clothing was removed, some of it snatched and torn in the process as if their connection had disturbed something feral. A hundred different thoughts, a hundred different reasons not to sleep with a man she’d only just met, a hundred different voices shouting in her head and yet, she slid beneath him, her underwear in disarray. They both seemed in perfect tune, one moment caught in the delicious intensity of anticipation, and then suddenly laughing at the craziness of it, laughing at the red freckles sprayed across his hands and face.

He kissed every inch of her face, she kissed every inch of his face…

Maybe it was then when she knew; that moment when she tasted that unmistakable metallic tang.


Louis: You looked amazing, you sounded amazing, it was amazing.

Simon: You need a new script, Louis.

John: Wise words from Simon. So many books, so many writers, but not enough depth, originality or imagination.

Jan: Stop being grumpy. Readers will always determine what writers write, right?

John: Very true. Teaching the next generation how to read is a must, not only for the future of decent storytelling, but, you know, that old save the world from humanity thing.

Jan: Yes, there’s a long way to go with that.

John: And it starts with the written word.

Jan: Once upon a time…

Useful Links:

*SALE* A Long Way From Home: Short Story Collection, one with a hint of Halloween: 77p/99c

New! Home For Christmas by Jan Ruth out soon:

Editing & more by John Hudspith at:
“In the northernmost spire of his black-brick chateau, John Hudspith edits novels by day and scrawls scary stories by night.”

Halloween Spooky walks North Wales:


Dennis Hamley said…
Smashing. For years I've LOATHED X Factor with a fanaticism which quite worries me. This encourages me to have another go.
Lydia Bennet said…
Good to see a duo on here, makes a nice change! witty and wide-ranging too. of course the 'reality' shows are pretty much rigged or at least manipulated, which would be depressing if it applied to books which I'm sure it doesn't!? and of course the really bad contestants are set up to look stupid, as they'll have 'passed' several auditions before they get to do it in front of the judges, so all the surprise at how bad they are is staged and it also explains why they think they must be good. That might apply to some where the sense of entitlement is much bigger than the talent, but as you say, 50 shades shows that sometimes pays off!
Unknown said…
Thank you both for your comments. Glad it entertained!
glitter noir said…
This bears more than a passing resemblance to my post of 10/12. :)
Lydia Bennet said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
glitter noir said…
Deleted comments, especially by friends, usually give me the willies.

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