Between the Covers 25/11/2012

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

JK Rowling may not have made the shortlist for this year's Bad Sex Awards, but there are plenty of familiar names in the frame, including Tom Wolfe, the BBC's Paul Mason, the poet Craig Raine, and Condé Nast boss Nicholas Coleridge. But who will present the prize?

Every year, the Literary Review finds a prominent figure to hand over the gong at a bash at London's In And Out Club (geddit?). Last year it was Barbara Windsor, and previous high-octane figures have included Courtney Love, Mick Jagger, and Dominic West. My mole at the dusty Soho magazine tells me they are in high level talks with General David Petraeus, who has more time on his hands since resigning as head of the CIA over extra-curricular rumpy. Other possibles are thought to include Dominique Strauss-Khan, Edwina Currie, and Hugh Bonneville, though the Literary Review refuses to be drawn when I call. Why not ask JK Rowling? She's probably so relieved that The Casual Vacancy won't be given the Bad Sex treatment – throaty actors reading out the sexy bits to roars of laughter – that she might even say yes.


Julie Burchill captured the zeitgeist of the 1980s with her steamy novel Ambition, about a thrusting female tabloid journalist desperate to get to the top. Now, as Rebekah Brooks is charged with making alleged corrupt payments, the book has a certain renewed resonance. So you have to hand it to Atlantic imprint Corvus, for spotting an easy publishing opportunity: they have bought the rights and plan to reissue the novel in May. "I read Ambition well over half a dozen times back in the 90s, so much so that I know bits of it almost off by heart," says Atlantic editor-in-chief Ravi Mirchandani. "It still seems as hilarious and as outrageous as it did back then, so refreshingly different from the tweeness and humourlessness of today's 'mommy-porn'." The book's protagonist, Susan Street, is deputy editor of a tabloid paper, and will do, er, anything, proprietor Tobias Pope wants in order to land the top job. "Writing Ambition was one of the most pleasurable and profitable acts of my long and lurid career," trills Burchill. "And even now, it makes Fifty Shades of Grey look like Anne of Green Gables."


You read him here first: Robert Macfarlane's first piece of journalism was a book review for this newspaper in 1999, when he was just 23. Now, the travel writer and fellow of Emmanuel College Cambridge has been named chair of the judges for next year's Booker Prize. Fortunately, Macfarlane is used to hearing a diversity of opinions. Though his first book, Mountains of the Mind, was widely praised and won the Guardian First Book Award, it went down less well within the climbing community. A spat ensued between literary types and climbers, which culminated with a letter in The Guardian from Colin Wells, literary editor of On the Edge magazine. He complained of Macfarlane's "lack of originality and the derivative nature of most of his book" and said his own reviewer was "more than adequately qualified to comment on the literary merits and factual inadequacies of Macfarlane's work." A useful lesson for Booker judging: You can't please everyone all of the time.