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The Independent Culture
ALEXEI SAYLE is the latest comedian to seek success in fiction. When Robert Kirby of Peters, Fraser & Dunlop circulated his proposal in preparation for an auction, Hodder & Stoughton - who last year launched Ardal O'Hanlon as a man of letters - came in with a pre-emptive bid that was too good to resist. Sayle's short story collection, Barcelona Plates, will be published in the spring and is described as "Alan Bennett meets Will Self". A novel, as yet still in his head, will follow.

AN ERA comes to a close next month when Julia MacRae Books publishes its final title - Sir Roy Strong's The Spirit of Britain which, like his The Story of Britain, is published in association with Hutchinson. JMB, founded by the eponymous Antipodean 20 years ago, was essentially a children's publisher, although MacRae always permitted herself the occasional adult indulgence. The two Strong titles were always aimed at the family bookshelf, and author and publisher have been devoted to one another through the long endeavour. MacRae believes firmly that publishing can be financially responsible without being market-led, and that talented authors should be nurtured. Among the talents MacRae herself nurtured were Raymond Briggs, Philippa Pearce and Anthony Browne.

THERE CAN be few readers whose bookshelves don't include at least one Wordsworth title - those pounds 1 classics that forced Penguin and OUP into a price war. This week, the two brains behind the venture, Marcus Clapham and Clive Reynard, received the biggest compliment of all: job contracts from Penguin, which once attempted to take Wordsworth to court. Their new brief is to draw on Penguin's gargantuan backlist to create a new non-fiction and reference list.

PARENTS WITH frayed summer nerves will be glad to hear of a children's reading festival at the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden. The event, running until 5 September, is part of the National Year of Reading, and features contributions from Nicholas Allen and Colin McNaughton, among others. There's performance poetry, a calligraphy course and the chance to help design a new LT logo. Details: 0171-565 7266.