Cover Stories: Ben Okri; Alexander McCall Smith; Guantanamo for kids; PFD Agency

* There was a time when Ben Okri graced the Jonathan Cape list. Then, a few years back, he signed with Rider, a sister imprint at Random House that leans toward the spiritual and the mystic, with Starbook, published last year. Forsaking once more the literary blandishments of Cape, Okri has now re-signed with Rider for Tales of Freedom: "a superb, lengthy novella surrounded by a necklace of smaller pieces" which offer "unusual, more transcendent ways of looking at our extreme, gritty world", revealing "the wealth of freedom beyond the confines of our perceptions".



* The prolific Alexander McCall Smith is a keen amateur bassoonist who plays regularly with Edinburgh's Really Terrible Orchestra, of which he is a founder member. With typical modesty, the author describes the band as "musically challenged" - a view disputed by Neville Moir, his long-time publisher. La's Orchestra Saves the World, a stand-alone novel due from Polygon in time for Christmas, draws on McCall Smith's experience under the baton to tell the story of widow La, who forms an amateur orchestra to dispel the gloom of World War Two. According to Moir, "it's a literary romance and like nothing he's ever done before".



* Children's authors and their publishers don't shy away from tackling difficult subjects and this week Puffin bought a novel which exposes the shame of the US forces' detention centre in Cuba. Guantanamo Bay by Anna Perera tells the story of 15-yearold Khalid, a Muslim boy born in Rochdale, who is abducted while on holiday in Pakistan with his family and held for two years without charge. Perera, wife of Dire Straits founder David Knopfler, is the author of five kids' books, including The Night the Lights Went Out, which confronts fear of darkness.



* Caroline Michel, agent extraordinaire at PFD, spoke recently in a Westminster debate on whether business could teach politics about ethics. Michel believes it cannot, but waxed lyrical about the importance of trust, integrity and ethics in business. As the agency buyout from her friend Andrew Neil was approved by CSS Stellar, the 60-odd PFD refuseniks now at United Agents may have been given pause for thought. Meanwhile, UA has received a boost: one of its number, Simon Trewin has been appointed to manage the world English language rights in the Ian Fleming titles and the Young Bond series.



* Irvine Welsh is doing nothing to counter stereotypes of his countrymen. Invitations to the launch of his new novel, Crime, last night, advised guests that "there is a cash bar onboard."

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