Cover Stories: First novels; literary festivals; a bloke's guide to pregnancy

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The Independent Culture

We're always hearing about twentysomethings - even, occasionally, teenagers - who have hit the jackpot with a deal for their first novel. But it's much less common to hear about seniors striking it rich, in part because they tend to be less glamorous and promotable. How refreshing, then, that Faber's editor-in-chief, Jonathan Riley, has stumped up a very considerable sum of money for the 72-year-old Charles Chadwick, a former overseas civil servant, who has had postings in Kenya, Nigeria and Brazil. His debut, It's All Right Now, to be published next spring, is being described as "a very English response to John Updike's Rabbit Angstrom". Through the eyes of Tom Ripple, "a modern, bewildered Everyman and one of the most brilliantly realised characters in recent fiction", Chadwick chronicles the profoundly changing face of Britain over the past three decades.

* The feeling that spring is just around the corner is heightened by the advent of the year's first literary festivals. Tomorrow, the Bath LitFest begins its week of events centred on the theme of the writer's identity. If you can't make it to Bath, there's always Spit-Lit, the annual festival of women's writing, which runs for a week from 7 March at venues in the Spitalfields area of east London. Speakers include Dame Helena Kennedy QC, Joan Bakewell, Marina Warner and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.

* Although it's they who put up with all the inconvenience and morning sickness, women usually make a great deal less fuss about pregnancy than men. Perhaps it's just that the male of the species finds it impossible to imagination what's happening, let alone what lies ahead. As of next month, there are no more excuses, for Jon Smith, author of the children's novel Toytopia, has written The Bloke's Guide to Pregnancy (Hay House). Believed to be the first such book, it explains exactly what's going on, what to expect - even how to enjoy it. And it answers that most crucial question: will having sex harm the baby?