Books: Cover Stories

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The Independent Culture
DESPITE THE presence of Irish PM Bertie Ahern and two of his predecessors, there was a refreshing lack of formality when Hodder launched Helen Burke's and Olivia O'Leary's biography of Mary Robinson in Dublin. The former Irish President (now UN High Commissioner for Human Rights) was detained in Geneva and might have been embarrassed by the praise heaped on her by Ahern - who ran the campaign of Brian Lenihan, Robinson's opponent for the post. However, President Robinson's own easy informality did not always please the Brits. When Prince Charles visited her, royal protocol demanded that security personnel be present during his private lunch. Robinson said no, and HRH had to settle for one security man on the other side of the corridor.

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NEXT SPRING, one of O'Leary's fellow Newsnight presenters will also make a debut between hard covers. Francine Stock has opted for fiction: A Foreign Country (due from Chatto) is about a TV journalist whose coverage of a war in the former Soviet Union brings his aged mother face to face with her past.

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NO ONE could have failed to shed a tear at this week's Talking Heads, with Thora Hird waiting for death in an old people's home. Alan Bennett's real-life humanity is captured in The Lady in the Van, his account of the elderly lady who, for 15 years, lived in his Camden drive. It is now to be published as a stand-alone paperback from the doughty independent Profile Books, who made Bennett's The Clothes They Stood Up In a bestseller. Small wonder that the firm, set up by Andrew Franklin after his ousting from Hamish Hamilton, has seen turnover hit pounds 1m within its second year.

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ONE OF Scotland's most notorious former prisoners is set to make headlines again. Jimmy Boyle, who met the psychiatrist who became his wife in the celebrated Special Unit at Barlinnie, has written a novel, Hero of the Underworld. Fuelled by his anger at the treatment of former prisoners and the failure of care in the community, it is brutally realistic - so much so that his friend Helena Kennedy begged him not to publish it. The version that Serpent's Tail are to issue in February is, apparently, heavily edited. Even so, it's not for anyone with a weak stomach.

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GOOD NEWS for those who enjoyed Olivia Goldsmith's novel and the much- hyped subsequent film, The First Wives Club. The feisty novelist is at work on a sequel, Wives Again.

The Literator

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