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May 12, 2021

The knives are out for Meghan Markle as she announces her forthcoming children’s book

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The Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, is soon to become a published author. Her first book, The Bench, is written for children and will be illustrated by award-winning artist Christian Robinson. It highlights the special bond between fathers and sons, as inspired by Prince Harry’s relationship with their son Archie. The Duchess elaborated on the project in a statement, reproduced in The Bookseller:

The Bench started as a poem I wrote for my husband on Father’s Day, the month after Archie was born. That poem became this story. Christian layered in beautiful and ethereal watercolour illustrations that capture the warmth, joy and comfort of the relationship between fathers and sons from all walks of life; this representation was particularly important to me, and Christian and I worked closely to depict this special bond through an inclusive lens. My hope is that The Bench resonates with every family, no matter the make-up, as much as it does with mine.”

Unfortunately, and largely unsurprisingly given their track record, the British right-wing media have come for Markle with guns blazing. Boy, do they hate her.

Reporting on her book news, The Telegraph went with a the no-way-overly-dramatic headline ‘Meghan Markle’s fun-free children’s book may put an entire generation off reading.’

The Sun spat “Meghan Markle has no ‘write’ to trade on royal name for kids’ book” raking up the old I thought she didn’t want to be in the spotlight argument. A classic.

The Express brought out the big guns with the headline “Queen urged to ‘contact publishers now’ to remove Meghan’s royal title from book cover.” Good luck with that one Your Majesty.

And the ever charming Piers Morgan, given a platform by the Daily Mail just had to express his vitriol to the world, writing:

“How the hell can Meghan ‘I hate royalty but call me Duchess’ Markle preach about father-child relationships when she’s disowned her own Dad, and wrecked her husband’s relationship with his?”

Funny, isn’t it, that when Prince Charles published Climate Change, his book in the Ladybird Expert series, such a fuss didn’t occur? And what, I wonder, made the Daily Mail write this week on publication of Kate Middleton’s book:

It’s unclear how Meghan’s book, which goes on sale next month, is going to perform, but Kate is already reigning supreme in the publishing stakes with her book Hold Still becoming an instant bestseller.

What is it that makes black, American woman Meghan Markle hated so much by the British ring-wing press?

(I’ll just leave this here ↓)

Bigots aside, Markle’s book does add to an ongoing debate on the increasing number of ‘celebrity’ authors pushing out opportunities for the everyman. At the end of last year, Sian Cain addressed this growing phenomenon for the Guardian, writing:

“No one knows what anyone else is paid before royalties, but when some celebrity deals are referred to as “seven figures”, and children’s authors regularly report advances as low as £2,000, it is easy to understand why they suspect they are losing out on money and marketing in an industry built on the idea that 10% of books will pay for the other 90%.”

Speaking to various authors, celebrity and non, the response was mixed. Some celebrity authors including Charlie Higson and David Baddiel defended their right to write, while author and children’s critic Amanda Craig told Cain:

“Where I draw a line in the sand is at this idea that children’s books are there for people like Simon Cowell or Madonna as an extra way of making more money… The real evil of this is they have no talent, yet they mop up a publisher’s marketing budget and they crowd out the good stuff. This field, which was once really important, is being swamped by people who think they’ll be as rich as Rowling.”

BBC broadcaster Naga Munchetty took up the debate this week on BBC Radio 5 live, using Markle’s book as a launch point for a wider discussion with children’s authors Mimi Thebo and Olaf Falafel. Thebo told Munchetty, as reported in The Express:

“I don’t wish anybody any harm and I certainly wish Meghan Markle all the best but it is a bit of a problem for us.

“Authors income has fallen by 42 per cent since 2005 and this is £5.5 billion industry with book sales in the UK.”

“Children’s fiction has done remarkably well over the past few years. Especially during the pandemic but all of the income keeps falling and it’s getting harder and harder to be commissioned.”

Decide for yourself if you think Markle’s book is a worthy addition to the canon of children’s literature or an unwelcome move. The Bench is out on 8th June by Puffin in the UK, and Random House Children’s Books in the US.

 

 

Nikki Griffiths is the managing director of Melville House UK.

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