Cover Stories: Serpent's Tail; William Armstrong dies; Litvinenko

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*Many publishers were still on the slopes when Andrew Franklin, managing director of Profile Books, announced this week that his firm had acquired fellow-independent Serpent's Tail. The acquisition was the result of discussions initiated by Pete Ayrton, who founded Serpent's Tail in 1986. This most benign of takeovers gives the enlarged company a turnover of around £10m. Aside from allowing Ayrton to return to the editorial role he likes best, there will be no change to the activities of either. Serpent's Tail will become a stand-alone imprint, and will continue to plough its own, distinctive furrow. More than three-quarters of the list is fiction, around a fifth of it translated. Writers such as the Austrian Nobel Laureate Elfriede Jelinek, Michel Houellebecq and Walter Mosley owe their British careers to Ayrton's sharp eye.

*William Armstrong, former managing director of Sidgwick & Jackson - and father of the singer Dido - passed away before Christmas. A character from the days when publishing was full of them and S&J was a doughty indie with a varied list, he brought the likes of Edward Heath and Edna Healey into print, and launched Shirley Conran's career with Lace.

*This month, Islington-based Gibson Square Books issues Blowing Up Russia: The Secret Plot to Bring Back KGB Terror by the murdered spy Alexander Litvinenko, who wrote it with the US-based academic Yuri Felshtinsky. It was first published in the US in 2001, financed by oligarch Boris Berezovsky. Martin Rynja, Gibson Square's founder, believes it "an important book which deserves to be read"; and Felshtinsky's new foreword recalls his final talks with Litvinenko.

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