When I was seven, my friend Grace came to school with the latest present from her adoring grandparents.
To our standard one class, Grace was the height of sophistication. She was pretty and popular and anything she touched seemed instantly endowed with glamour.
The gift was a Christmas-themed picture book, in which Grace had a starring role. She had to help Santa Claus overcome adversity to deliver gifts to children around the world, just in time for sunrise. It featured her name and those of her siblings, her street, her cat, her ballet teacher and her favourite doll.
To our seven-year-old eyes it was a wondrous thing. There was only one explanation: Santa must have written this story just for Grace.
I was reminded of this recently when I came across an adult version of the same concept. They're called U Star Novels. You choose a novel, enter the names of those you wish to star in it plus a few personal details, and the novel is dispatched within seven days. You can choose existing titles from the romance, classic or vampire genres.
Now the concept may not carry quite the same cachet as it did when I was seven, but I have to admit that I had fun playing around on the site. Just who would I cast as Scrooge in Dickens' A Christmas Carol? Or as Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde?
So I decided to try out the free excerpt service, for a taster of how my personalised novel would read. Sidestepping the "romance" titles (Fever in France, Indecent in Italy or Spanish Sizzle, anyone?) I went straight for the classics and that old faithful, Pride & Prejudice (not to be confused with Pride & Prejudice & Debauchery, which is also on offer.)
As I come from a family of four daughters, I only needed to add one cousin to fully cast the five Bennet sisters. I would, of course, take Elizabeth's role. My older sister would substitute for Jane and her husband for Mr Bingley. My husband becomes Mr Darcy, my younger and single sister, Lydia...
And that's where the trouble started. Casting George Wickham became suddenly critical. He had to be dashing enough to elope with, but rogue enough to dupe my sister of his dastardly intentions. A wrongly selected ex-boyfriend could easily invoke my sister's wrath.
The free extract provided sees the Sheehy family in a lather over the imminent arrival of my brother-in-law at Netherfield. How will they arrange an introduction for their four eligible daughters (assuming my cousin-aka-Mary sticks with the piano practice) before the next ball in a fortnight's time?
It's a scene I now find impossible to read without hearing the over-the-top histrionics of Alison Steadman, who played Mrs Bennet in the BBC adaptation. Except in this case, the voice came wailing from my mother's mouth, "Impossible Mr Sheehy, impossible... how can you be so teasing?"
Enough already! Amusing yes, but also quite disconcerting. I can't imagine actually reading a classic novel starring myself from end to end. It's too distracting and if at times actions seem out of character for your chosen star, at others they may be all too believable.
So for me personalised novels are confined to the joke-present arena - amusing in the right circumstances, but not something you purchase with the intention that it be actually read. It's a concept best suited to the children's market, like the personalised picture books published by Disney and Pixar, and numerous other online outfits.
Unless, of course, you fancy casting your partner/lover/unrequited love in the "romance" category. Now there's a thought - perhaps U Star should bid for the rights to personalise 50 Shades of Grey?