A week in books

Spring is finally sprung and the season is well underway. Not the Henley-Wimbledon-Ascot deb's delight season, but the publishing party season. In fact, publishing - like fashion - has two seasons, spring and autumn, and the feverish concentration of so many thousands of books into rather less than half the year inevitably leads to panic among editors who fear that their books will be the ones to go unnoticed. Hence the launch party, though it's equally true that many parties are organised solely to massage authors' fragile egos.

Neither factor worried Macmillan, Gitta Sereny's publishers. Cries Unheard has eaten away at space on the news, feature and literary pages, denying many other authors their few inches of fame. Nevertheless, a launch party for Sereny would have been a fascinating bunfight.

Still, social life for those on the books pages has not been dull; a beguiling array of divertissements have lately been on offer. At the annual awards lunch to announce the year's best romantic novel, assorted publishers and journalists - not to mention ladies in hats up from the country - were invited to sing `Happy Birthday' to a shamelessly unembarrassed Lord Archer. This was not the only occasion at which partygoers were required to burst into song. Terry Pratchett, whose Discworld series remains an acquired taste (even if it is sold by the juggernaut), was feted by his publishers with a 50th birthday dinner at The Ivy, where he was presented with a variety of eccentric gifts, including a Pratchett Toby Jug.

Then the Friends of Maya Angelou organised an intimate dinner for 500 in honour of her 70th birthday, with a black tie event at the Dorchester to raise funds for the NSPCC. Angelou is a huge presence, literally and metaphorically, who is revered as royalty. And she behaved accordingly. When a couple had the temerity to take to the dance floor during the London Community Gospel Choir's rendition of `Oh Happy Day', she and a minder wasted no time in hauling them bodily from it.

No singing was required when authors and agents gathered at The Emporium to celebrate the 40th birthday of Arrow Books. The invitation promised live music and dancing - which perhaps explains the absence of many of Arrow's most celebrated authors. Gail Rebuck, Chief Executive of Random House, of which Arrow is a part, made a speech in which she regretted not having invited Barbara Cartland, once a bestselling Arrow author. Heaven knows what she would have made of it, for the live music which followed was a vicious assault on genteel literary ears.

Inevitably, one's literary nightlife has had some rather more cerebral interludes. F W de Klerk and Sir Edward Heath were the star turns at intimate dinners hosted by their respective publishers, Macmillan and Hodder & Stoughton, at the Ritz and the Savoy. Both have written memoirs to be published this autumn, and both events were designed to persuade booksellers to order vast numbers of copies. Whether or not they succeeded only time will tell. But who cares? The wines were excellent.

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