Books: Cover Stories

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HODDER & STOUGHTON this week celebrated a rare visit by Stephen King, reputedly the wold's bestselling author, with a vast party at the Royal College of Art. Sportingly, they invited hundreds of people who had nothing to do with King or his latest book, Bag of Bones. Even more sportingly, they ensured that neither booze nor food ran out, which meant that pretty much everyone was still there when, as midnight approached, King picked up a guitar and joined Ken Follett's band Damn Right I Got the Blues for a jam session. King took the lead vocal and pranced like a pro between Follett on bass and agent Antony Harwood on lead before ceding the mike to Follett. After signing literally thousands of books, King returned via Concorde having enjoyed a wealth of English treats: cricket in the rain and fish `n' chips from the paper.

DESPITE A little light friction earlier this year which led to this month's news that Jung Chang, author of Wild Swans, is to move to Random House, HarperCollins has announced a 200 per cent increase in profits. To the year ending June 1998, the book publishing operation, based in London and New York, turned in an operating profit of $37m, up from $12m on sales of $737m. UK chief executive Eddie Bell commented enigmatically that it had been "an interesting, exciting and rewarding year".

AND WHILE HarperCollins have lost Ms Chang, they have gained Sister Wendy. The nun has been given access to the Vatican art collection to write a book on the Nativity for the millennium. Rupert Murdoch, who recently received a bauble from the Pope, must be pleased.

MEANWHILE, A forthcoming ICA seminar on "Publishing, Principles and Style" will ask where - possibly, if - talent figures in the race for success and profile. "Youth beauty and white teeth" appear to be the order of the day in publishing, notes the programme, and writers are increasingly required to be primarily "young, stylish and sexy". Talent: who needs it?

POLLY SAMSON is young(ish), stylish and sexy. By all accounts, she is also a talented writer. The former Cape publicist whose promotion campaign for Heathcote Williams led to a liaison and a son is now happily settled down with guitarist Dave Gilmour, and Ed Victor, the agent who recent polls suggested was Britain's second favourite party guest, has sold a debut collection of short stories to Virago. Lying in Bed apparently explores "the white lies women tell their husbands in bed - the sort of things that keep the world going round". Samson's publisher claims she has "a very distinctive voice".