Books: Heroes and villains
Elton was greedy, Andrew sneaky, Beryl plucky and Orlando - gobsmacked. `The Literator' scans a year in books, and hands out bouquets and brickbats for 1997
Saturday 20 December 1997
Her long-awaited biography of The Royals appeared just two weeks after Diana's death. Kelley's relentless documenting of below-stairs tittle- tattle was as compelling as it was tawdry. Her revelations that, from the sainted Queen Mother on down, the House of Windsor is all fur coat and no knickers were widely applauded. A great pity there is no British edition. (qv Villains)
BBC TV's Bookworm survey revealed him to be the favourite author among readers under 16. Seven Dahl titles featured in the top 10, with Matilda at number one.
Every Man for Himself was shortlisted for the Booker, the Whitbread and the Orange. It won none of them, save for the category prize of the Whitbread. Throughout, Bainbridge remained the good loser.
While major publishers wrung their hands, doughty independent John Calder went to the High Court to fight for the Net Book Agreement against the Office of Fair Trading. A sure case of David taking on Goliath. This time, however, Goliath won. Calder branded the Publishers Association "craven, foolish, ignorant, suicidal".
At the British Book Awards, Fourth Estate's founder and managing director, Victoria Barnsley, proved that independent publishers can survive and prosper. Fourth Estate was named Publisher of the Year and their author Dava Sobel won the Book of the Year Award for Longitude.
The author collected no fewer than four prizes for A People's Tragedy, his history of the Russian Revolution: the Wolfson History Award, the NCR Award, the W H Smith Literary Award and the Longman/History Today Book Prize. The total booty was pounds 53,500. "Bloody heck!" Figes exclaimed, when the pounds 25,000 NCR was announced.
Constable, an old-fashioned independent that owes its health to vampirism - they published Bram Stoker's original Dracula in 1897 - enjoyed an upturn in profits. A family firm, its chairman was delighted to be voted best publisher in a survey of members of the Society of Authors. The morning the results were known, each member of staff received a pounds 50 note pinned to a thank-you letter.
Disappointed at the lack of literary Millennium projects, the Everyman publisher despatched a proposal to the Commission. The result was the Millennium Library Trust - pounds 4m from the Millennium Fund plus pounds 4m from Campbell - which will put a 250-volume Everyman Library in 4,500 state secondary schools.
VILLAINS Kitty Kelley (qv Heroes)
Having previously said he could happily "live off the ashes of the House of Windsor", Morton was castigated for doing just that when he announced that Diana was the source for his best-selling book. Diana: Her True Story - In Her Own Words was hastily reissued with a new introduction and with the Princess's words now in quotation marks. A "portion" only of its royalties go to charity.
Applauded for his exemplary performance at Westminster Abbey, rock's very own Queen Mum spoiled it all by immediately launching a bid to sell his memoirs for around pounds 10m. No buyer has yet emerged.
Piers and Hilary du Pre
The brother and sister of the late cellist marked the 10th anniversary of her death with a memoir that seems to have no other purpose than to knock Jacqueline du Pre off a pedestal that was not of her own choosing. Billed as "extraordinarily revealing", A Genius in the Family was nothing but a settling of family scores by two vastly less talented siblings. EMI have refused to license Jackie's recordings for use in the film of the book, from which the BBC have pulled out.
A M Homes
The American author was reviled as "depraved" and her "paedophile" novel The End of Alice as "debasing and repugnant". The NSPCC's call for a ban was ignored, though it put the novel on to the front pages. Despite that, sales were inconsequential.
Anthony Forbes Watson
After several years of torpidity following Peter Mayer's return to New York, Penguin finally started to flap its wings. The new chief executive, who moved from Ladybird, hired a new MD, Helen Fraser, whose brief was to give the old bird a makeover. Forbes Watson departed for holiday, leaving Fraser to take the flak for hirings and firings.
The departure of much-loved Sandy Grant from Reed Books and the appointment of the much-disliked John Holloran as chief executive in late 1996 signalled the end of the road for Heinemann, Secker, Methuen et al. Charged by Reed Elsevier with selling the division, he vowed it would be "sold not stolen". In the event, Random House paid a little over pounds 17m - less than a quarter of the price Virgin had offered the previous year.
Nicholas Byam Shaw
Having bought Boxtree in 1996 in order to acquire its founding MD, Sarah Mahaffy, whom he appointed as managing director of Macmillan, the group's chairman abruptly released her from her duties. No reason was given but industry observers noted that, while Byam Shaw had wanted her to breathe fresh air into Macmillan, he hadn't wanted a gale. In January, Richard Charkin takes over from Byam Shaw as chairman.
In just two years at W H Smith, the chief executive instigated a massive cut-back in its range of books, a decision which adversely affected many smaller publishers. He also sacked 1,000 staff in a massive restructuring. When the going got tough, Cockburn got going, joining BT. It's good to talk - and, fortunately, Smith's shareholders don't have to talk to him any more.
Read The Literator's `Inside Publishing', in the Independent's Media+ section every Monday
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