Cover Stories: Tatumkhulu Afrika, Helter Skelter, Scribbling, The Ab Fab Showbook

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The Independent Culture

Publishers are ever-eager to bag the debut novel by a new twentysomething Wunderkind. How refreshing, then, to hear of the eager acquisition of a debut by a man of 80 – a South African, and a poet, to boot.

Publishers are ever-eager to bag the debut novel by a new twentysomething Wunderkind. How refreshing, then, to hear of the eager acquisition of a debut by a man of 80 – a South African, and a poet, to boot. Bitter Eden, bought by the doughty independent Arcadia, is about ordinary male relationships in extraordinary circumstances. The author is Tatumkhulu Afrika, and it's not strictly correct to call him a debutant. His first novel, Broken Earth, was published by Hutchinson 60 years ago but the entire run was destroyed in the Blitz while the author was fighting in North Africa. Back home, he was imprisoned as an ANC activist, and finally found success as a poet in post-apartheid South Africa. Publication of Bitter Eden is set for next year.

Those serious about their popular music are frequently ill-served by publishers and broadsheets. Good news, then, that Helter Skelter, the country's only music-specialist bookshop, is launching a quarterly that it hopes will become "rock 'n' roll Granta". Edited by Peter Doggett, author of the well-received Are You Ready for the Country?, it will review books and provide a forum for serious debate. Issue one, available from select shops as well as Helter Skelter (helteratskelter.demon.co.uk) examines, among other topics, "the limits of biography". The late rock scandalmonger Dr Albert Goldman would presumably have said there are none.

Whether or not we have a book in us, we are all fascinated by the writing process. This evening, on BBC 2, Scribbling will give an insight into the writing lives of Minette Walters and Geoff Ryman, both of whom were trailed over two years as they took projects from conception to publication. It's chastening food for thought for all those who believe that writing a novel is simply a matter of having the time.

Fans of Ab Fab who broke open the Bolly for the series' return can also look forward to The Ab Fab Showbook. Due from Headline in time for Christmas, it is being written by Jennifer Saunders with input from all the cast.

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