Between The Covers: 13/11/2011

Your weekly guide to what's really going on inside the world of books

Congratulations to David Nicholls, who is best known at the moment as the million-selling author of the novel-turned-film One Day, but is currently back in his old job, adapting classic novels for the screen (he was responsible for the 2008 Tess of the D'Urbervilles, starring Gemma Arterton).

Nicholls is now working on an adaptation of Great Expectations, which is due to appear next year, in the bicentenary of Dickens's birth, and he has just seen the first stills. Friends have pointed out to Nicholls that "You know you're getting old when Helena Bonham Carter [inset, bottom] is playing Miss Havisham", but the youthful writer is having none of it. "HBC and I are exactly the same age (as are David Cameron and Russell Crowe)," he points out, "and they're all markers for my own ageing process. In real-life, needless to say, she looks a great deal more youthful than I do. Pedantically, I should point out, though, that Miss Havisham in the book is not that old. Dickens never specifies her age, and if you work backwards, using Magwitch and Compeyson as a guide, she's only in her early forties when Pip meets her. Interesting fact, or maybe just a fact."

***

Congratulations to Anthony Cummins, who was the first to email in with the information that Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth, Penelope Lively's Family Album (both below The Da Vinci Code next to the teapot), and Isabel Allende's Paula (to the right of the vase on the shelf) are all pictured on the cover of Penelope Lively's marvellous new novel, How It All Began. He wins a copy of the book, as does Dillian Mass, who also spotted Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are and says that "the wall isn't sage green, but light blue; and the tea isn't Earl Grey". We were reliably informed that the cover mirrors the book, in which the characters drink Earl Grey tea.We will take this up with the designers urgently.

***

Literary editors receive some strange messages – PRs misaddressing emails to the wrong newspaper, out-of-work writers demanding reviewing work with menaces, or authors wanting us to read their self-published conspiracy theories that no publisher will touch because they are "afraid of the truth" – but they're nothing, it seems, compared to the postbag of a literary agent. Andrew Lownie has been in touch, directing me to the website of his agency, which specialises in history and biography (not poetry and short stories, aspiring writers please note) and has a list of handy tips for authors wishing to submit their masterpieces. Among the tips are many we agree with, including: "My rule is that the longer the parcel takes to open, the quicker it is to discard. Anything with too much sellotape and staples suggests a mad person." Here at IoS Towers, the longer a book takes to unwrap, the less interesting it inevitably is. Another is: "Address the agent correctly." He's right: for a person who claims to be a writer or reviewer, for whom spelling and attention to detail are quite important, getting the addressees name right is particularly important. Mr Lownie tells us that he has recently been addressed as: Hello dear Andrew; Dear Mr Townie; Hello Angel; Dear Mr. Dolby; Top of the day to you; and Do your current interests include ferociously paced, commercial Tartan Noir? His correspondents have signed off, variously: In His Holy Name; PLEAS CONTACT ME FOR FUTURE TALK; Artistically Yours; If there's a zombie apocalypse, good luck!; and i need to get published man. hope to hear from you guys. Peace. If you have recently sent a submission to the agency including one of the above, then sorry, but it doesn't look like you're going to be published any time soon. Please, though, don't call us.

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