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
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
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.

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine