A few mostly kind thoughts about Dolly Parton writing a novel…

Dolly Parton with James Patterson

Dolly Parton and James Patterson Photograph: Courtesy of Dolly Parton

Country singer Dolly Parton is writing a novel, news to dampen the soul of struggling writers everywhere.

Yet publishing is an industry whose product happens to be books. And if you want to shift books, getting Dolly Parton to write one is a smart move.

Getting her to write one with James Patterson is an even smarter move.

Patterson is a one-man publishing industry, a mega-selling thriller writer who seems to enjoy these collaborations. Among many such side projects he has co-written two political thrillers with former president Bill Clinton.

Parton is a debut novelist, although she has written several memoirs, including Songteller: My Life In Lyrics. The many country-pop songs she has ‘told’ include Jolene and 9 to 5.

Her novel is called Run, Rose, Run and is said to concern a young woman who moves to Nashville to pursue her music-making dreams. Barely a skip from reality, but same goes for the Clinton/Patterson show.

Easy to feel sour about this, but pointless. Besides, Parton seems to be an admirable person, from what you can tell. She donated $1 million to the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine. That makes her a modern heroine, although anti-vaxxers may disagree, as they like doing that.

Other causes she has supported include her own Dollywood Foundation, which aims to cut high school drop-out rates. Under the same umbrella, probably a frilly one with a cowboy-boots motif, she set up the Imagination Library to send one book per month to every child in Sevier County, Tennessee, from birth until their first year of school.

The list of her good deeds is too long to tote up further, but literacy is a common thread, inspired by her father, who could not read. A woman who wishes to use her power, influence and money to help tackle illiteracy is hard not to love.

Parton grew up “dirt poor”, as she has put it, and ended up a multimillionaire singer. It’s quite a tale (not a ‘journey’, for God’s sake, not one of those). As she is doing good with what she has squeezed from life, it’s hard to quibble.

She is knowing about the self-creation that is Dolly, a cheap and gloriously tawdry creature who enjoys her own brashness, while being astutely aware of what she is doing under that persona.

This self-awareness is clear from one of her best-known quotes – “It costs a lot of money to look this cheap.” If her book contains lines like that, perhaps it will be worth a read.

There is a trend for famous people writing books, with the publishers knowing they are likely to be on to a good thing. Richard Osman shows that, with The Thursday Murder Club.

I’ve not read his novel, a crime book at the cosy end of the spectrum. It’s super-successful, there’s a sequel (The Man Who Died Twice), and the publisher who had that idea hit gold.

Osman seems to be a witty and likeable man, so it’s hard to resent his success too. But if you wished to pucker your mouth, you could say he’s had all this laid on a plate.

My wife read The Thursday Murder Club and wasn’t that impressed, feeling it was only published because of the writer’s name and fame. A book-mad friend of sound judgment told me she enjoyed Osman’s novel. That isn’t enough to make me want to read it, but I heartily thank this same friend for also recommending Slow Horses, the first book in Mick Herron’s series of novels about a bunch of disgraced spies. It’s wonderful.

I had two crime novels published a while ago, and ever since have toiled on without a deal, happy to write, sad to see no printed book afterwards.

If Dolly and Richard have the world sewn up, maybe I should give up. Then again, no. Always writing, always hoping. Two novels are being written now in tandem. Perhaps one – or both! –will come to something.

Here is my favourite Dolly story. This concerns how she wrote two big hits in one day, Jolene and I Will Always Love You. Search online and you will find many people quoting this story. It’s a good tale, after all. But is it true?

One ‘fact-finding’ site gives the story a big tick, yet in a fans’ interview Dolly herself said she couldn’t remember. Years after the songs were released, she found the demos on the same cassette tape in her basement or somewhere. She thought it might have been the same day, week, or month. She couldn’t say for sure.

That story will probably stick around anyway, whatever Dolly remembers or doesn’t.

Leave a Reply