Cover Stories: Asylum-seekers; the Soham trial; Beatrix Potter

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The Independent Culture

Former rugby coach and Booker prize winner (for Schindler's Ark), Thomas Keneally was perhaps only half-joking when he remarked that Australia's World Cup defeat was a consequence of his country's moral decay, engendered by its hostility to asylum-seekers. The subject has long preoccupied him, providing the subject for The Tyrant's Novel, due from Sceptre. It was written as a counterpoint to Australia's demonisation of asylum-seekers, who "exercise craft, courage and indomitability". Keneally's belief that the Australian PM John Howard is "a dingo fuckwit", and the Labor Party betrayers of conscience, should provide good copy when he touches down here next month.

* Inevitably, at least one publisher will benefit from the Soham trial. John Blake Publishing, which has visited upon the world the memoirs of numerous cons and ex-cons, as well as James Hewitt, is publishing Beyond Evil by Daily Mirror journo Nathan Yates. We are promised "a lot of exclusive material" as Yates was "involved right from the beginning, when the girls went missing". Was it fair to splash this all over the Mirror just as the parents are trying to put the verdict behind them?

* No doubt lots of children found a Beatrix Potter title under the Christmas tree last week. If they were very lucky, there might even have been a boxed set of tales about Peter Rabbit, Squirrel Nutkin, Mrs Tiggywinkle and friends. Publisher Frederick Warne, part of the Penguin Group, has begun to commemorate the centenary of each Potter character. This year, Benjamin Bunny is due for the royal telegram. The original Benjamin was one of Potter's pets, "a very handsome, tame Belgium rabbit... extremely fond of hot buttered toast". To mark his milestone, the exhibition Beatrix Potter's Garden will begin a three-year nationwide tour. First stop in an itinerary which includes Portsmouth, Liverpool, Birmingham and Perth is the Museum of Reading. Information at www.readingmuseum.org.uk

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