Cover Stories: Celebrity authors, Pop Idol, son of Steinbeck, plagiarism, gay travel

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The Independent Culture

Are there any "celebrities" left, alive or dead, who haven't yet written a book? This week brought news of three expensive signings. Sting once taught English, so perhaps he can write – which is more than can be said for whoever was responsible for Simon & Schuster's press release. The one-time Police-man and saviour of the rainforests has "a fabulous authorial voice, one with staying power", according to his publisher, who has seen but a handful of pages. At a rumoured cost of $1m, let's hope he delivers.

Also on the rock front: eight years after his suicide, 23 notebooks by Nirvana's Kurt Cobain, running to 800 pages, have been sold in New York to Riverhead (part of the Penguin group) for a reported $4m. Viking will publish in Britain this autumn. Cobain's widow, Courtney Love, has never read the notebooks in their entirety and apparently has no wish to do so before publication.

* Meanwhile, little, Brown is reported to have paid £750,000 for the life story of The Royle Family's star couch potato, Ricky Tomlinson. A working-class hero is indeed something to be.

* Not long ago, the nation was holding its breath, waiting to see which hopeful would win Pop Idol, a programme idea seemingly imported from Spain (though that country mustered more talent). On Monday, Carlton will publish Sian Pattenden's account of the series, featuring interviews with the judges and the winner, Will Young. Be still, my beating heart!

*As publishers around the world mark the centenary of the birth of John Steinbeck, his son Thomas, is preparing to make his debut with a novel, Down to a Soundless Sea, and a collection of short stories, due this autumn. Ballantine acquired world rights just this week and has yet to sell to a UK publisher, though a sister imprint at Random House UK must be an odds-on favourite.

* Plagiarism seems to be highly infectious. This week, Doris Kearns Goodwin, former secretary to President Johnson, asked her American publishers, Simon & Schuster, to destroy all copies of her book The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys, after she acknowledged that she had failed to "acknowledge scores of quotations or close paraphrases from other authors", an oversight which she admits stemmed from "pervasive sloppiness and inexperience". Goodwin had offered to pay costs, but S&S agreed to pick up the tab for the corrected reprint.

* Thomas Cook Publishing and The Pink Paper have combined to produce a new series of pocket-sized travel guides aimed at gay travellers. Out Around launched last week with titles on Paris, Amsterdam, Miami/Fort Lauderdale and Key West, San Francisco, New York and London, It follows the launch last year of Respect Holidays, the gay-specific tour operator. Informative and descriptive, each guidebook is by writers and photographers who work for The Pink Paper; they represent the first steps toward a truly international series.

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