Cover Stories: The Jewel of Medina; Ellen Terry; Bulwer-Lytton Contest

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The Independent Culture

* Would Belgrade rush in where Manhattan feared to tread? When Random House US pulled Sherry Jones's novel about the Prophet Muhammad's wife A'isha, The Jewel of Medina, its decision ignited a global firestorm of controversy. For a while it looked as if the book was going to find an unlikely home in Serbia. The Serbian publisher BeoBook printed 1,000 copies. But BeoBook's Aleksandar Jasic has recalled them after protests from the Serbian Muslim community. Meanwhile, it emerges that last October Télémaque in Paris published Geneviève Chauvel's fictionalised biography, Aïcha: La bien-aimée du prophète. The outcome? Strong sales, debate with imams, but no fatwas and no riots. Vive la France!

* Not only was the heroine of his latest biography one of the first celebrities; she also invented the moonwalk, claimed Sir Michael Holroyd at the Edinburgh Book Festival this week. Theatre icon Ellen Terry, one of the subjects of Holroyd's forthcoming A Strange Eventful History, came up with a way of "floating" onstage whereby "you put one leg out, and before it hits the ground you move back". Learning of this, Holroyd's publisher said: "That's Michael Jackson!".

* The world's most painful literary prize has been awarded for the 26th time. Based at San Jose State University in California, the Bulwer-Lytton Contest rewards the worst opening sentence to an imaginary novel, in "honour" of Edward Bulwer-Lytton's turgid fiction. B-L it was who in 1830 began his Paul Clifford with: "It was a dark and stormy night...". This year's overall winner is Garrison Spik from Washington DC. His awful opener? "Theirs was a New York love, a checkered taxi ride burning rubber, and like the city their passion was open 24/7, steam rising from their bodies like slick streets exhaling warm, moist, white breath through manhole covers stamped 'forged by DeLaney Bros, Piscataway, NJ'." More hideous kick-offs can be enjoyed at: