Cover Stories: Ireland; Whitbread Book of the Year; Publishing News; Berlusconi

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The Independent Culture

Like newspapers, publishers can behave like sheep. Fifteen months or so ago, Hodder Headline and Penguin raced to announce plans for Irish operations. Penguin got theirs out first, though Hodder Headline had been longer planning a Dublin office. Now, HH having appointed the Edinburgh-based editor Bob McDevitt to provide a conduit for Scottish titles, Penguin opened the new year by announcing the appointment of Judy Moir as their woman north of the border. Moir was at Canongate from 1987-2003 and a key figure in reinventing the company and acquiring the Man Booker winner, Yann Martel. She has also worked for the Scottish Publishers Association and taught university publishing courses.

* Just as this column suggested in November, the Whitbread Book of the Year award will pit a pair of dysfunctional teen heroes against each other. D B C Pierre's Vernon God Little and Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time have duly won the category prizes for first novel and novel. D J Taylor's biography of George Orwell, Don Paterson's poetry Landing Light (see page 20) and David Almond's children's novel The Fire-eaters join an all-male final frame, as a jury that includes Meera Syal, Bill Bryson, Ralph Fiennes and chair Joan Bakewell (above) prepares for the showdown on 27 January.

* Trade weekly Publishing News has been made over, and marks its 25th birthday with a list of 25 figures who made a difference to the book business in that time. There are some usual suspects, among them Victoria Barnsley, for revitalising independent publishing at Fourth Estate; and Gail Rebuck of Random House, for "fronting" the assault on the Net Book Agreement. There are some overdue laurels, too: Michael Holroyd and Maureen Duffy for all their efforts to improve the author's lot; and Miranda McKearney of the Reading Agency, for "imaginative initiatives" to turn kids and non-readers on to books.

* Penguin's forthcoming biography of Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi comes from the Rome-based journalist David Lane, whose Economist cover story led to Tony Blair's best friend suing the magazine. Due in July, it will explain exactly how Berlusconi's vast fortune was amassed. Laterza, an old-established independent house, will publish simultaneously in Italy. Penguin Press publisher Stuart Proffitt says that Berlusconi is not yet aware of the book - though he surely will be soon.