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From public service to novelist: six politicians to try their luck in the world of fiction

From Winston Churchill to Anne Holt, politicians have found mixed success as writers

Former president Bill Clinton promoting 'The President is Missing'. Bebeto Matthews / AP
Former president Bill Clinton promoting 'The President is Missing'. Bebeto Matthews / AP

After the success of his debut thriller, 2018's The President is Missing, former US head of state Bill Clinton is, once again, teaming up with blockbuster crime author James Patterson to co-write The President's Daughter.

To be published in June, 2021, publisher Century promises a dark and sinister political thriller "informed by details that only a president can know.”

For such a pairing, you would think the upcoming novel would be a guaranteed hit. However, not every politician found success when transferring their communication skills to the written word. Below are six former political leaders who found mixed results as novelists.

1. Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill was not a fan of his one and only novel. The Cecil Beaton Studio
Winston Churchill was not a fan of his one and only novel. The Cecil Beaton Studio

He may have defeated the Nazis, but not the literary critics. Long before Churchill carved his name in history as a war-time UK prime minister, he fancied himself as a budding novelist. His one and only work of fiction Savrola: A Tale of the Revolution in Laurania is an action packed tale set in a fictional dictatorial European state on the cusp of violent revolution.

Churchill began working on the novel as a young solider in 1897, penning the opening pages during his voyage from Britain to India before releasing it in 1900. The critical response was withering enough for Churchill to disavow that book. The most stinging rebuke came from the author himself. In his 1930 autobiography My Early Life, Churchill laid bare his thoughts on the book: "I have consistently urged my friends to abstain from reading it."

2. Jeffrey Archer

Jeffrey Archer liteary success eclipsed his torried political career.Suzanne Plunkett / Reuters
Jeffrey Archer liteary success eclipsed his torried political career. Suzanne Plunkett / Reuters

Easily the biggest selling politician-turned-novelist. Archer actually began his writing career while still a member of parliament, releasing debut novel Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less in 1974. While it sold moderately well, it was the follow up, 1979's Kane and Abel that became an international sensation, going on to sell 37 million copies.

With his political career ending in ignominy in 1999, Archer focused solely on his writing, publishing more best-selling works including short story collections, a memoir of his prison experiences and the Clifton Chronicles series of novels.

3. Michael Dobbs

The House of Cards success is down to the political cunning of its author Michael Dobbs. Jim Pascoe.
The House of Cards success is down to the political cunning of its author Michael Dobbs. Jim Pascoe.

Such was the success of his House of Cards trilogy of novels - and eventual Netflix adaptation - that many people won't know that Michael Dobbs was a former politician. And quite effective one at that. Dobbs was a chief of staff for the UK's conservative party in 1986 and his political cunning had him labelled by The Guardian as "Westminster’s baby-faced hitman"

4. Shashi Tharoor

Shashi Tharoor's novels provides sly commentary on Indian society. David Levenson / Getty Images
Shashi Tharoor's novels provides sly commentary on Indian society. David Levenson / Getty Images

A man with almost too many talents. As well as being an experienced politician and gifted orator, Tharoor also found success in the literary field. His four fictional works, including 1989's The Great Indian Novel and 2002's Show Business, are characterised by its sardonic commentary on Indian society.

5. Anne Holt

Norway's minister of justice from 1994 to 1996, Anne Holt used that knowledge to become one of the leading lights of Scandinavian crime fiction. She is known for The Hanne Wilhelmsen series featuring the titular tough as nails police investigator. The books were not only best sellers at home, but went on to be published in over 25 languages.

6. Jimmy Carter

Former US head of state Jimmy Carter's novel didn't sell but made history as the first fictional work published by US president.. Ric Feld/AP Photo
Former US head of state Jimmy Carter's novel didn't sell but made history as the first fictional work published by US president.. Ric Feld/AP Photo

His one and only fictional work, 2013’s The Hornet's Nest: A Novel of the Revolutionary War, didn’t fly off the shelves but it has the distinction of being the first novel published by any president of the United States.

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Read more:

Literary Conversations Across Borders: Shashi Tharoor, Jane Goodall and Zaki Nusseibeh among speakers in new online series

Hay Festival 2020: the 14 must-watch talks now that it's digital and free

Abu Dhabi's long-awaited Kinokuniya bookstore finally opens

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Updated: May 29, 2020 06:00 PM

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