Books: Heroes and villains of 1998
After a hyperactive year in books, The Literator is seeing stars - and turkeys
Saturday 19 December 1998
When ordered from on high to drop Chris Patten's book on Hong Kong, he resigned from HarperCollins in one of the highest profile departures since Michael HeseItine stalked out of the Cabinet. As Proffitt defended his author, every last vestige of the non-Murdoch media were joined in battle. To them, Patten was a brave defender of free speech standing up to Murdoch's evil empire. Dozens of authors and agents offered soundbites to the effect that they would never again deal with HarperCollins. With one or two exceptions, it was soon business as usual as various individuals claimed to have been "misquoted".
Having sold his chain to W H Smith, the founder bought it back via HMV in a pounds 300m deal: the biggest ever in British book retailing. Despite this summer's British opening of Borders, it remains, for discerning buyers, the chain of choice.
The Poet Laureate surprised everyone with Birthday Letters, a reflection on his years with Sylvia Plath that looks all the more poignant with his passing. Just as he maintained a dignified silence against those who charged him with driving his estranged wife to her death, so he declined to play the sympathy card by sharing with the public the fact that he had cancer. Birthday Letters and his previous volume Tales from Ovid picked up all the major poetry prizes.
Yet again the bridesmaid, the author of Master Georgie bore her fifth failure to win the Booker with dignity and humour, even as everyone agreed that Ian McEwan had won with a novel very far from his best.
The dog once accused of GBH in St James's Park proved his rehabilitation by "writing" what everyone agreed was a nifty piece of doggerel about The Man, aka Roy Hattersley.
In his first tour for 17 years, the multimillion-selling author worked his butt off at sell-out events. At signings he made time for everyone, chatting, inscribing messages as requested and even phoning one woman's husband - despite the enormous queues. At the year's biggest launch party, for Bag of Bones, he sang and played guitar with Ken Follett's band Damn Right I Got the Blues. King may be one of the world's biggest selling authors, but he may also be the world's most unassuming.
The man who proved that bus drivers can go all the way when his debut The Restraint of Beasts made it on to the Booker and Whitbread shortlists.
Louis de Bernieres
Named Author of the Year, the creator of Captain Corelli's Mandolin continued to enjoy his long run in the charts while remaining unchanged by success. The Queen's Dragoon Guards dropout spent years odd-jobbing before embarking on a literary career. A word-of-mouth success shunned by all the major prizes, Corelli has doubled its sales in the past 12 months, to 700,000 copies in Britain alone. A film is in train.
Sir Edward Heath
For simply - finally - finishing those memoirs.
Just as Michael Heseltine's resignation was not merely about helicopters, so Proffitt's was not merely about Chris Patten. Impartial critics noted this was not a censorship issue. Murdoch, in deciding that Patten did not fit his agenda, was doing what all publishers do from time to time. Patten was perfectly free to publish elsewhere, which he did. Staff at HarperCollins bitterly resented being made to appear morally bankrupt and there was widespread feeling that Proffitt had attempted to use the Patten affair to enlarge his territory, never expecting that he would be forced to resign.
Like a thief in the night, the German media conglomerate stole in to buy Random House from Si Newhouse. Many agents and authors bewailed the fact that, however benign the Bertelsmann management, publishing was becoming ever more homogenised with power in fewer and fewer hands.
As though he hadn't helped to dish enough dirt already, Morton signed a deal with publishers Michael O'Mara to collaborate with Monica Lewinsky on her memoirs.
For brokering the Morton/ Lewinsky deal and then justifying their collaboration by citing a shared love of T S Eliot.
Frederick Forsyth and Lord Lloyd-Webber
Two of the world's most overweening ambitions announced they were joining forces to produce a sequel to Phantom of the Opera. The deal was brokered by Ed Victor, Britain's most egocentric literary agent (and, according to a survey, our third most popular party guest).
In writing Charles: Victim or Villain?, the journalist whose toadying oeuvre includes biographies of Richard Burton and John Major presumably hoped to help with the heir's rehabilitation. Sadly, the move backfired and even Vinnie Jones entered the fray when he and Junor were guests of Libby Purves on Midweek. When a US intervewer said that HRH had no one to confide in, Junor allegedly countered "He's got me!". The first rule of journalism? Protect your sources!
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