Boyd Tonkin: Mixing stardust and printer's ink

The week in books

You may know the old joke about the guy who cleans up after the elephants in the circus. Armed with bucket and shovel, he patiently scoops up the copious outcome of their presence week after week, year after year, without a hint of a grumble. How come you never complain? asks the clown one day. There's a downside to every job, answers the grizzled sweeper. But hey, after all - I'm in show business!

And so, it seems, are Britain's long-suffering authors. Many of them follow their own personal elephant with career-long devotion, seeking and receiving very little apart from modest advances (and the odd vat of elephant ordure distributed by disgruntled critics). Now, however, they often find that the agents who represent them belong in the big tent of "talent management" groups. Under these multi-media showbiz marquees, winsome boy-bands, motor-mouthed DJs, sullen tennis aces and simpering starlets don't merely count for more cash and kudos than the mere writers. They will in due course become the writers, their ghosted tomes adding fresh outposts to the empire of celebrity.

This week, Michael Foster – the big-cheese agent who represents Chris Evans and a mini-galaxy of familiar screen names from Davina McCall to Bear Grylls – took control of Peters Fraser & Dunlop when he merged his MF Management company with the literary agency. PFD, a divided house during the years of ownership by US sports-management group CSS Stellar, lost its pride of lions when the late Pat Kavanagh left in 2007 to found the rival United Agents. She took the bulk of her clients (from Robert Harris to Ruth Rendell and William Trevor) along with her. Incoming PFD chief Caroline Michel, with Andrew Neil (who has now left) as her business partner, found the cupboard almost bare. She has struggled to attract high-profile novelists, although the eclectic PFD non-fiction list surreally spans the chasm between Paddy Ashdown and Julie Burchill. Michel will stay, with the PR entrepreneur Matthew Freud as main outside investor.

Foster will not much like becoming the story; agents (with a very few large-looming exceptions) seldom do. However, his best-known client has already sketched him in bold colours. Chris Evans's enjoyably frank memoir It's Not What You Think has a riveting pair of chapters on the deal that the DJ and his agent struck with Richard Branson after Evans's BBC career imploded in 1997. Foster appears as "a very small Jewish man, as equally proud of his heritage as he is unphased by his lack of height". ("As equally"? "Unphased"? Clearly, Evans didn't hire a ghost.) He plays a hands-on part in near-farcical negotiations that involve a Concorde flight, lashings of Krug and even a walk-on role for the coalition's new propaganda tsar, Andy Coulson. Over the Atlantic, Foster prevents his "bleary-eyed" charge from signing who knows what (his soul?) away to the bearded mogul on a menu card. Will the PFD signature mean Champagne or Coke for its authors? This plot can only thicken.

Any barbarians-at-the-gate doomsayers should remember that PFD itself pioneered the integration of authors' agencies with mass-media representation. It was born when the venerable firm of AD Peters joined showbiz managers Fraser & Dunlop in 1989. This big-top approach to "talent" has been developing for decades, with mixed results. The name of the firm that Foster – formerly with management giant ICM and his own AR Group – will head tells its own tale about the reign of this cross-media model: The Rights House.

Does this sort of convergence achieve that much-hyped "synergy" between platforms? Or do the greedy celebs hog the trough, leaving starveling literati with the scraps? A multi-media strategy pays richer dividends to busy, versatile authors for whom film adaptations, TV slots, press columns and the like come easily. For focused literary types who simply want the best deal for their words, other agents still keep faith with books alone. Besides, in a digital domain of self-managed online careers, growing numbers of writers could do without agents – and even publishers – at all. Save for superstars, e-books will mean that 10 (or 15) per cent of not very much – the usual agent's bargain – becomes a fraction of next-to-nothing. But don't blame glitzy talent-managers for our reluctance to pay properly for culture in the age of "free".

Money talks, but history decides

When the BBC2 top brass commissioned a two-part adaptation of Martin Amis's Money as part of an "Eighties season" this spring, what did they expect would be happening just now? It could be that they – with many others – strongly suspected that the drama (which airs on Sunday with Nick Frost, right) would coincide with the brash first days of a triumphalist Tory regime, avid to get a Thatcher revival show on the road. Instead, a coalition Chancellor has just meekly signed up to hedge-fund controls in Brussels, while that not-quite-reconstructed banker-basher Vince Cable presides over the business world. History always writes the smartest plots.

Hail the spring awakening

Any bookseller who might be considering whether to order more copies of Brodeck's Report by Philippe Claudel, which last week took the Independent Foreign Fiction prize, should look at this week's charts. Astonishingly, translations currently account for 40 per cent of Britain's top-ten bestsellers. OK: Stieg Larsson's 'Millennium' trilogy occupies three slots, with the fourth taken by Carlos Ruiz Zafón's The Angel's Game. Mass-audience crowd-pleasers all - yet, not so long ago, conventional wisdom held that foreign authors stood an even slimmer chance of cracking the popular-fiction market here than they did with the literary niches. Whatever the books involved, this tally represents a singular event - and, who knows, even a precedent for a country with a half-Dutch, quarter-Russian, quarter-English Deputy PM? Against gloom-mongers at home and abroad who always cite the "3 per cent" figure for translations in the UK, we can now claim "40 per cent of the Top Ten" - even if it's only for one freak week in May.

b.tonkin@independent.co.uk

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all