Junket author Lionel Shriver plugs paradise. Author’s new novel has glowing references to a resort where she enjoyed a free holiday worth £5,000 on the island of Pemba.
For most of us it is a pipe dream in which we drink cocktails on a wooden deck lapped by the waters of the Indian Ocean and bathed in African sunshine.
That’s how the hero of Lionel Shriver’s new novel sees it. But not Shriver. In need of a holiday and looking for ideas for her next work, the Orange prize-winning novelist landed a week’s junket in paradise worth more than £5,000.
It is common practice for well-known authors to write travel pieces for Sunday papers. But Shriver, 52, who changed her first name at 15 to suit her tomboy spirit, has broken new ground by getting a holiday company and a resort to fund her research for her new novel, So Much for That.
The research was hardly taxing. Shriver stayed in a £775-a-night suite on an isolated island off the coast of Africa. “I often go to places on other people’s dime,” she said last week.
Those who turn to the acknowledgments section buried at the back of the book, which is published in March, will find her thank-you note for the hospitality at the resort.
She says she is grateful to the owners and managers of Fundu Lagoon on the island of Pemba, 50 miles northeast of Zanzibar, “for enabling me to be obscenely pampered with sundowners, coconut curries and lemon-grass oil massages all under the hilariously respectable guise of doing ‘research’ ”.
Her stay there is part of a growing trend. Hotels and resorts, keen to attract customers, are seeking plugs. Authors, facing a cap on advances, are looking for free stays to research books.
Even big-budget Hollywood movies are not exempt. Up in the Air, George Clooney’s latest film, is awash with on-screen plugs for the Hilton hotel group as part of a multi-million-dollar deal. In one scene Clooney even explains how he is able to jump the queue at check-in because he is part of the Hilton Honors loyalty scheme.
However, Shriver’s half-hidden thank-you note is a far cry from Fay Weldon, who openly acknowledged that she was being paid by Bulgari, the Italian jeweller, to mention it a dozen times in The Bulgari Connection. “I don’t care,” she said at the time. “They never give me the Booker prize anyway.”
Shriver, who won the Orange prize and £30,000 in 2005 for We Need to Talk About Kevin, chose a resort that was created by Ellis Flyte, the Scottish fashion designer….
She was able to watch the sun go down while sipping cocktails, enjoy Swahili feasts and indulge in massages from two Balinese spa therapists. The novelist even penned a travel piece for The Sunday Times on her return to pay for any incidentals.
In her latest book, the main character, Shep Knacker, who has been saving all his life for retirement abroad, only to see it threatened when his wife is diagnosed with cancer, shares her enthusiasm for the resort. Pemba is mentioned every few pages while Fundu Lagoon gets eight direct mentions, even down to the price of the superior suite.
“The resort’s comically palatial luxury was perfect for this recuperative pause,” Shriver writes. “Catered meals, towels the size of bedsheets in high thread-count Egyptian cotton, and their encampment’s generous provision of everything that Shep might have forgotten: floppy straw sunhats, sandalwood shampoo, organic hibiscus teabags, bug spray, mosquito coils, straw carrier bags for beachcombing, and a copy of Africa Birds and Birding, not to mention the iced bottle of champagne and chilled glasses that greeted them on arrival.”
Shriver’s endorsement is likely to have a knock-on effect among her readers, just as Louis de Bernières’s Captain Corelli’s Mandolin made Cephalonia a prime holiday destination among the Greek isles. Those who head for Pemba will find few places to stay apart from Fundu Lagoon and a backpackers’ lodge.
Shriver said: “The acknowledgment in the book is meant to be a thank you. I have heard from several readers who have seen proof copies that they are thinking of booking a holiday there.
“This is not a product placement deal. I took the trip with a dual purpose and was completely upfront about that. I wanted to go there because this was where I decided to end my book. I was under no obligation to put Fundu Lagoon in it.”
A spokeswoman for HarperCollins, Shriver’s publisher, said: “This was a private arrangement.”
(Source: Sunday Times, 24.01.10)