Between the Covers: 31/03/2013

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

Congratulations to James Naughtie, who has spent years interviewing writers on Radio 4 and has now written a novel of his own.

The Today programme and Bookclub host has previously written non-fiction books about The Making of Music, The New Elizabethans and The Rivals (Blair and Brown), but now he has sold his first novel to a new publishing imprint, Head of Zeus, and by all accounts it's pretty good. The Madness of July, which will be published next April, is a "sophisticated political spy thriller" set at the end of the Cold War, which interweaves the stories of three brothers – two of them spies. Says his publisher: "Working with a writer as observant and intellectually stimulating as Jim, a household name and hero to so many people, is not only a huge privilege, but also immense fun." Naughtie tells The Independent on Sunday: "This has been a long time coming. Like Radio 4 long wave, it comes and goes. The trouble is, I know that good political novels are difficult, but I can't resist having a go. Spies, ministers, the political world of the Seventies – to me, I'm a sad old thing, it's irresistible."

...

Congratulations also to Kate Tempest, winner of the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry for her hour-long spoken story "Brand New Ancients". Tempest is one of those people whom everybody claims to have "discovered", but in fact Between the Covers discovered her first when she kept selling out shows at the Battersea Arts Centre. Though Roots Manuva would probably say that he heard of her first, and Chuck D, the founder of Public Enemy, has counted himself as a fan ever since Kate Tempest turned up at one of his shows and rapped him a two minute-long question.

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The Oxford University Press is to publish a dictionary of Roald Dahl's words, after signing a deal with his estate. The Oxford Roald Dahl Dictionary will be aimed at children aged over eight, with colour illustrations of his fantastical vocabulary. Dahl scribbled long lists of words and combinations of syllables in his yellow jotter before finally settling on a neologism such as frobscottle – defined in The BFG as a delicious fizzy liquid whose bubbles travel downwards. Lovers of language should seek out a 2011 blog by the Oxford English Dictionary's Robert Hughes, on the genius and fun of Dahl's gobblefunk.

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Three cheers for the American author Judi Blume (if you remember her books from childhood, you'll love her; if you don't, it would take us too long to explain), who at 75 is an arch Twitterer. Her tagline: "Are You There, Twitter? It's Me, Judy."

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Here's a salutary thought for George Osborne as he breathes a sigh of relief after narrowly getting away with another Budget: Cambridge University has a higher credit rating than the UK government, according to Durham University's Professor Christopher Higgins, who was a keynote speaker at a recent bookselling conference, talking about the role of books in university life. It pays to be clever.

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