Giles Coren: My Failed Novel

Sky’s enjoyable season celebrating ‘artistic fiascos’ provided the schadenfreude opportunity of the year, as angry manchild and weapons-grade irritant Giles Coren conducted a painstaking autopsy on his first – and, to date, only – novel.

Winkler, described by the author as ‘a sexually frantic coming-of-age novel’ – but by everyone else as rubbish – was published in 2005, to the sort of reviews that made Sex Lives of the Potato Men look like Wolf Hall.

A decade on, Coren was determined to get to the bottom of what had gone wrong (bottom being the operative word, as an overwhelming obsession with bums was just one of Winkler’s many prodigious failings).

Howard Jacobson, who won the Booker Prize for The Finkler Question (while Coren’s only literary trophy was that year’s Bad Sex Award) assured him that failure was an essential part of the novelist’s journey. Jeffrey Archer, less helpfully, explained that writing was a God-given talent for which he thanked the Almighty every day. Lord Archer also delighted in reminding Coren (and us) that Kane & Abel has sold 37 million copies; Winkler, by contrast, has so far shifted just 771 copies in hardback, and around twice that in paperback. Not a great return for the publisher’s £30,000 advance.

Coren confronted one critic, who had derided his book’s ‘deadeningly consistent, ocean-going, lavatorial awfulness’, in his kitchen, armed with a meat cleaver, but thankfully it didn’t result in anything more violent than a comedy photo-op.

In fact, having consulted widely with authors, agents, critics and even some actual readers, Coren eventually conceded the reason his book had failed is because it was rotten, and he’d only got it published in the first place because of his newspaper columns, and he’d only got them published because of his famous, more talented dad. (I’m paraphrasing here.)

Ironically, the result of all this soul-searching – apart from the surprising revelation that Giles Coren has a soul – was a terrifically enjoyable authored documentary that may well be the best thing he’s ever written.

So there you have it: Giles Coren discovers humility – and ends up being almost likeable. Truth really is stranger than fiction.

TV extra:



I’ve never been on a stag weekend – partly because I can’t think of anything worse, and partly because, now I come to think of it, no-one’s ever invited me on one. Hmm.

Anyway, in this pitch-black comedy-horror, an unassuming geography teacher (the fabulous Jim Howick) found himself stranded in the Scottish Highlands with a bunch of braying upper-class cretins, while something unspeakable stalked them in the woods. Think The Hangover meets Deliverance, or The League of Gentlemen doing The Gruffalo. A macabre treat.



Grantchester is back, and the Reverend Sidney Chambers (James Norton – he does psycho killers on Tuesdays, vicars on Wednesdays) is still neglecting his parishioners in favour of impersonating a policeman.

This week, Sidney was helping them with their enquiries in more ways than one, being both suspect and unpaid investigating officer in a murder case. As usual, he solved the mystery with one of his single-bound leaps of deductive reasoning, though he did at least have some help this time. From his housekeeper. (Not the police, obviously. They’re hopeless.)

Published in Waitrose Weekend, March 3, 2016

(c) Waitrose Weekend