Books: Cover Stories

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SCARCELY A year after the death of Dame Catherine Cookson, Britain's best-selling novelist, there is a dispute at the heart of her literary legacy. According to Publishing News, the story also involves a handful of unpublished manuscripts whose whereabouts are now unclear. The merits of her last books may be doubtful, but what is beyond doubt is their ability to generate cash.

Two key figures in the saga, Anthony Sheil - Cookson's long-time literary agent - and Sonia Land, who runs the agency from which it appears he is parting, were unwilling to comment. The roots of their falling-out go back some years. Land - a Singapore-born accountant and former Chief Executive of Harper Collins - bought what was Anthony Sheil Associates. The firm's clients had included Princes Philip, Charles and Andrew, Sue Townsend, Peter Ackroyd and Vikram Seth, as well as Cookson herself.

Land then went to court to claim that the accountants had over-valued the agency and, at just under pounds lm, she had paid too much. The judge disagreed, but the case has dragged on thanks to further arguments over costs.

Land's purchase puzzled industry insiders, many concluding that the Cookson royalties and estate were the main attraction. Cookson sales in the UK alone top 30 million, and TV adaptations have proved lucrative.

Surprisingly, Cookson did not herself appoint a literary executor. She left everything in the hands of Newcastle trustees, whose prime job is to administer her charitable affairs, but who may wish to appoint one. It appears that both Sheil and Land have now mounted a battle for the hearts and minds of those trustees. The wrangling has put Transworld, Cookson's publisher, in a difficult position. The company has one more title under contract. Its title? A House Divided.


RUCTIONS THIS week at Granta, publishers of both books and the magazine. Chief casualty is Frances Coady, the publisher who formerly established the Vintage list. It's thought that Rea Hederman, owner of Granta and the New York Review of Books, felt he had to staunch the losses caused by too much experimental fiction. Neil Belton, editor of prize-winners such as Brian Keenan, Eric Lomax and Orlando Figes, remains there as publisher.

The Literator