Cover Stories: Cuts at Harper Collins;

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The Independent Culture

Nineteen months after the departure of Eddie Bell, staff at HarperCollins were in good spirits, boosted by the lightened atmosphere and the chart success of several titles (with Pamela Stephenson's biography of husband Billy Connolly at number one). Victoria Barnsley, who arrived with her Fourth Estate imprint as chief executive in July last year, was deemed a Good Thing. Last week, however, staff were informed that, despite good results, cuts were needed: 11 September and all that. HarperCollins is already pretty lean, and one might think further changes would be the prerogative of the new divisional MD, Amanda Ridout, who starts on 1 December. Barnsley intends to strike before then, and old HC hands are put out that Fourth Estate – which makes no money – seems set to emerge unscathed.

¿ Journalists continue to piece together biographies of the man behind all this trouble. Next week comes a book written with the co-operation of Osama bin Laden's family, which claims to offer unprecedented detail on his early life. Adam Robinson, who has reported the Middle East for many years, peels away the image of the pious fighter to reveal a man whose past is "laced with prostitutes, hedonism and lengthy periods of alcohol abuse", and a hypocrite "who condemns depravity while keeping a hand in the opium and heroin trade". Bin Laden: Behind the Mask of the Terrorist (Mainstream) also reveals an attention-seeking childhood riven by jealousy.

¿ Another, more familiar Middle East correspondent is hard at work. Jeremy Bowen of the BBC has signed up with Simon & Schuster for Six Days, about the 1967 Yom Kippur war which, literally, shifted the boundaries of Israeli politics. The book was started before events made Blair and Bush appreciate the need for a solution. When he's done, Bowen will join Simpson, Sargent, Alagiah, Oakley, and Ms Adie, and write his memoirs.

¿ The shortlists for the Whitbread Book Awards will be released next week. While the Booker committee casts around for a new sponsor, Whitbread has announced a larger purse. The prize money will now total £50,000, with each category winner receiving £5,000, and the Book of the Year £25,000.

¿ Another renowned prize – the John Llewellyn Rhys, for a first book by an author under 35 – has gone to Edward Platt for Leadville (Picador). His praised history of the A40 (or rather, of the folk who lived beside the west London pollution corridor) shows that fine "travel" writing doesn't need to move far. Then again, on the A40 you never could.

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