Cover Stories: Julie Walters; agents

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The Independent Culture

The memoirs of Julie Walters have long been on publishers' wish-lists. Having worked with her on a first novel, Maggie's Tree (due this autumn), Weidenfeld's Alan Samson was always a contender for the book. Last week he bought it - for a figure rumoured to be in excess of £1.6m. Author and agent (Paul Stevens of ICM) decided on Samson - not the top bidder - after an audition of publishers. The decision reflects Walters's own loyalty to Samson, who bought rights to Baby Talk, her account of motherhood, in the early 1990s. When her baby daughter was diagnosed with leukaemia, Samson offered to withdraw. Walters was grateful and promised she'd return. How nice that she has.

* Paul Stevens will probably make 15 per cent on the deal - a sum on which Walters would have to pay tax if Treasury plans come to fruition. For the Inland Revenue has decreed that, for authors, agents are a luxury on which they should be taxed. Opinion is divided as to whether Gordon Brown will get his way: most agents think it unlikely, believing that the agenda is to go after only the fattest cats. But some tax lawyers believe that No 11 has spotted a new revenue stream, from which it will seek to fill its buckets. As ever, any such move would penalise mid-list authors who could ill-afford the extra tax; a lot of smaller agents would go out of business. Once again, the proposal shows how woefully uninformed this supposedly arts-friendly government is. Many publishers no longer read submissions that don't come via an agent. Moreover, how could authors be expected to secure valuable foreign (export) deals without the help of an agent?

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