Books: Cover Stories At the Frankfurt Book Fair

LORD WEIDENFELD, in his opening speech at the 50th Frankfurt Book Fair, likened the first event to a scene from Brueghel. Today, Hogarth comes to mind: if the world is edging towards recession, there's no sign yet that publishers are feeling the chill. Bars and restaurants in the dozen halls were heaving, despite their cost. Hotels are packed; taxis impossible. Only the prostitutes find business slow: publishers prefer to sleep with each other.

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HODDER & STOUGHTON made early headlines by stumping up more than pounds 600,000 to buy HONEYmoon plus a second novel, by This Life creator Amy Jenkins. But, in general, the sums on offer were more sensible than last year. Then, the Christopher Little Agency announced it was selling Elton John's autobiography, for which they hoped to net pounds 10m. The highest bid was for a little over half that, and Sir Elton later opted not to pick up the pen.

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THE SAME agency has made much of the Frankfurt running this year. Little has closed a deal with Warners for film rights to J K Rowling's Harry Potter novels, at "a hefty seven figures in any currency". Penguin picked up Nigel Williams's Fortysomething, for around pounds 100,000, but passed on Holly Lester, the British version of Primary Colors. Fourth Estate also turned it down, with MD Victoria Barnsley saying simply that it didn't read as if it had the inside knowledge that Joe Klein brought to the US prototype.

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A BAD fair for BBC Books, who lost Michael Palin to Orion and Antonio Carluccio to Headline, where he joins fellow-defector Ken Hom. All three are apparently dissatisfied with the BBC's performance - with Saint Delia?

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AS TO new talent, Birdman by Mo Hayder was shaping up to be one of the books of the fair, with agent Jane Gregory (discoverer of Minette Walters) selling UK rights to Transworld. The novel has a necrophiliac aspect and, were it written by a mere male, would cause an outcry. Transworld also bought a first novel by journalist Joanne Goodwin, whose Danny Boy is said to make "Irvine Welsh look like an old hack". And Peter Farreley, writer/ director of There's Something About Mary, will make his fiction debut with The Comedy Writer, for Faber. If it's anything like the film, T S Eliot will be blushing in his grave.

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