Book review – for readers and writers – no.134: Morgen Bailey reviews Not a Star by Nick Hornby

14 Oct

Today’s book review of a novella is brought to you by yours truly, Morgen Bailey. If you’d like your book reviewed or to send me a book review of another author’s book, see book-reviews for the guidelines. I am booked up months in advance though. Other options listed on opportunities-on-this-blog.

Being a writer and editor, I read and review books with both hats. If you’re a writer reading this review and found it useful, do let me know. If you would like help with your writing, do take a look at my online creative writing courses are currently half price.

Not a Star by Nick Hornby

Not a starSynopsis: It’s bad enough for a mother to discover that her son is a porn star, even worse when the nosy neighbours new first. When Lynn sees her son Mark in an adult film, she is forced to ask many difficult questions. How well does she know her son? Where did he get his obvious talent? And how will she tell his father? There are some things a mother should never know…

This novella is available via or

I’ve taken a photo of the cover I had as the ones online are quite boring by comparison! This was an ‘Open Door’ Shortlist book which “are selected to appeal not only to emergent readers but to anyone wanting a quick, powerful and fast-paced read. Was this book one of those? Read on to find out…

Review (of the paperback)

As all stories should, it starts with the action: the video and accompanying note through Lynn’s letterbox.

There follows the reveal to Dave, her husband and a funny reference to the TV series ER, a great chapter five ending, and even better retort to Karen, the neighbour.

Apart from being grilled by his parents, I feel sorry for Mark because he lacks confidence and says he has no other talent. With parents like his, I can see why.

And now for writers…

  • We get a great sense of Lynn’s embarrassment as she recalls Mark as a baby, and says, apart from the birds and bees talk and embarrassing walk-in on Mark snogging a girlfriend, she has not thought about that side of his life.
  • Writing for ’emergent’ readers is like writing for children; keep the language simple but don’t treat the reader as if they are stupid. You may have to explain some situations, using a ‘tell’ but you still want to use as much ‘show’ as possible, i.e. ‘Ted’s shirt was sticking to his wobbly stomach’ rather than ‘Ted was hot’.
  • There are a couple of unnecessary ‘started to’s, and eleven ‘well’s as dialogue pauses, but in this context, they can (sort of) be forgiven. Oh, and there was a ‘to be honest’ and ‘if I’m honest’, my least favourite phrases (next to ‘to tell you the truth’, ‘know what I mean?’). Has anyone noticed that to be honest / if I’m honest have become very popular recently?
  • Nick writes from the mother’s first-person point of view and despite Nick being male (I’ve seen interviews with him), she feels natural, if a little annoyingly prudish at times by calling her son’s penis a ‘thing’ (even to Dave who presumably she has been married to for more than Mark’s twenty-three years) but she certainly knows her men’s underwear!
  • When naming characters, try to avoid any starting with the same letter. In this 65-page large print story we have Ron, Rachel and Robbie. Out of a cast of eleven it shouldn’t have been… er, hard to choose distinctive ones.

Although clearly aimed at less confident readers – the writing is simple – it would suit everyone from young adults upwards. Enjoyable (especially because of the plot) with laugh out loud moments and an ‘ahh’ ending.

So… quick, powerful and fast-paced? Quick certainly but sadly only one of the three. Therefore…

Rating: 3 out of 5 (losing a point for the wimpy parents and another because it could have been a meatier – pardon the pun! – story.


Based in Northamptonshire, England, Morgen Bailey (“Morgen with an E”) is a freelance editor, online tutor, prolific blogger, 2015 Head Judge for the annual H.E. Bates Short Story Competition, Head Judge for the NLG Flash Fiction CompetitionRONE 2015 Judge, and teaches creative writing (and writing-related I.T.) for her local county council and online. She is also a freelance author of numerous ‘dark and light’ short stories, novels, articles, and very occasional dabbler of poetry. Like her, her blog,, is consumed by all things literary. She is also active on TwitterFacebook along with many others (listed on her blog’s Contact page) and has created five online writing groups. She also runs a free monthly 100-word writing competition where you can win her online creative writing courses!

Her debut novel is the chick lit eBook The Serial Dater’s Shopping List ($0.99 / £0.77) and she has nine others (mostly crime) in the works. She also has eight collections of short stories available (also $0.99 / £0.77 each) – detailed on

She also helps other authors with an inexpensive freelance editing and critiquing service (free 1,000-word sample), and welcomes, and actively helps to promote, guest authors on her blog – see opportunities.


If you would like to send me a book review, see book-reviews for the guidelines. Other options listed on opportunities-on-this-blog.

Related articles:

*** Breaking news! My online creative writing courses are currently half price! ***

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Morgen Bailey Cover montage 2I now run online courses – details on Courses – and for anyone looking for an editor, do take a look at Editing and Critique.

If you would like to send me a book review of another author’s books or like your book reviewed (short stories, contemporary crime / women’s novels or writing guides), see book-reviews for the guidelines. Other options listed on opportunities-on-this-blog. And I post writing exercises every weekday on four online writing groups.


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