Cover Stories: Cultural exchange; Anthony Minghella's new project; John Lennon's biography; the Bin Ladens

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The Independent Culture

The British book trade will have a chance to demonstrate its solidarity with its Iraqi counterparts next month when a delegation from the war-ravaged country arrives at the London Book Fair. UK Trade and Investment, together with the British Council, are funding the visit. Representatives of Iraq's four university presses will be among the group, along with librarians and university figures "charged with setting up bookshop operations". Such a cultural exchange is most welcome, and it would terribly cynical to suggest that, while Bush, Cheney and their cronies get the lucrative rebuilding contracts, Blair has to make do with licensing agreements for school and university textbooks.

* The Cold Mountain and English Patient director Anthony Minghella has now chosen his next project for Miramax: an adaptation of the new book by the Bloomsbury novelist and Independent reviewer, Liz Jensen. The Ninth Life of Louis Drax, due in June, has impressed Minghella as "a remarkable suspense novel: tart, mysterious and wrenching". Sydney Pollack, his collaborator on Cold Mountain, will produce. As for Jensen, she "can't wait to see the film".

* Philip Norman was named in 1983 as one of Granta's Best of Young British Novelists on the basis of The Skaters' Waltz. Ever since then, he has dabbled in fiction but has really made his mark as a music biographer. Shout!, Norman's 1981 study of the Beatles, is a classic - affecting and well-written. He has also written lives of Elton John and Buddy Holly. Last week, in a deal negotiated by Michael Sissons (an agent more associated with huntin', shootin' and politicians than with rock'n'roll), he signed with HarperCollins for a biography of John Lennon, with the blessing of Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono. Already Norman has uncovered "the full account of how, at the time of his death, Lennon was envisaging a triumphal return to Britain, sailing up the Mersey on the QE2".

* Carmen bin Laden's book will surely be required reading. Inside the Kingdom, already a French bestseller, is "an insider's account of privileged Saudi life and the country's most notorious family", with enough detail to upset the Saudi elite. Carmen, in the process of getting divorced from one of Osama's many brothers, tells of envy and rivalry among the Bin Laden clan. Virago has snapped up British rights and will publish ahead of the third anniversary of September 11.