Media: The Literator

INSIDE PUBLISHING
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Who'd have thought it? MORI pollster Bob Worcester a jive champion? He and partner Nancy Lane, a Cambridge professor (Worcester himself is at the LSE) were praised for their rhythm and versatility at a competition aboard the TS Queen Mary, anchored in the Thames, venue for the launch of She's Leaving Home, the former Tory MP Edwina Currie's latest novel. Set in Liverpool, this story of a Jewish teenager struggling to get to Oxbridge to escape the confines of family and religion, and stealing away to lunchtime sessions in the Cavern, is clearly highly autobiographical. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent - though the novel is altogether more innocent than her previous bonkbusters.

As Currie - gaunt in a slim-fitting navy Lurex halter-neck, hair gelled into modernity - bopped to the beat, it was hard to imagine her as the polyester-clad, prematurely middle-aged matron whom we'd once reviled. What would Margaret have made of it all? A slow foxtrot is more her style. Meanwhile, Worcester loosened his tie and relaxed with a celebratory drink, delighted that his and Lane's nifty footwork had won them tickets to Smokey Joe's Cafe.

A major breakthrough! Women in Publishing, the group founded some 15 years ago by the likes of Carmen Callil, Liz Calder and Gail Rebuck, is to admit mere males to its meetings and socials for the first time, at the Pandora and New Venture awards ceremony in December. Said a spokeswoman: "Our policy until now has been women only for both speaker meetings and social events. Male partners and colleagues who have supported nominees in their work should be allowed to celebrate their success." The move is "a first step to a greater acknowledgement of the role men could play in WIP's goal, which is to promote the standing of women in publishing".

While WIP, particularly in its earliest days, provided excellent training programmes, its detractors would say that it has long since become a talking- shop, with meetings dragging on for hours as democracy runs rampant. These days you hear little about it, except when there's a falling-out among the sisterhood, as there was a few years ago owing to trouble at the Women's Press, owned by that well-known feminist Naim Attallah. Perhaps, like the Communist Party, WIP has decided it must evolve or die; while 70 per cent of publishing's work-force is women, only a fraction belong to the pressure group.

Few things are more depressing than the sight of publishers pretending to be trendy. I remember, for example, the quite ghastly launch of the notorious Madonna book, foisted on Secker & Warburg, a company more used to hosting a quiet drinks party for, say, Gunter Grass or a mildly populist event for David Lodge. This week Anchor, the soi-disant literary imprint of Transworld, launched itself with a party at Iceni, a Mayfair night- club. The invitation promised "pool, cards, films, sounds, dancers, tattooists and other exotica" - and the event delivered all, in ghastly abundance. No doubt it was intended to be ironic, the way things are these days.

Entry required having my hand stamped with something luminous as I paused by an anchor-shaped ice sculpture. On the first floor, the music was so loud that conversation was impossible. Lights flashed and I was inexorably reminded of the line from "The Oldest Swinger in Town" about how dentures glow in ultraviolet light, Anthony Holden, believing he'd come for a civilised night out after finishing the text of his tribute to Princess Diana, looked positively shell-shocked. Upstairs was marginally less noisy, perhaps in deference to the concentration required by the tattoo artist who practised his art on sundry booksellers. Staid publishers, meanwhile, queued up for a caricature. Booker judge Jason Cowley (the panel's token lightweight?) posed in the doorway in a pool of light, feigning literary erudition. Iceni, by the way, is the name of a British tribe that rebelled against the Romans in AD61 under Boudicca.

This week sees the unveiling of a life-size bronze of Dr Johnson's beloved puss, Hodge, whom he described as "a very fine cat indeed". And so he should have been, given that Dr J fed him oysters. Another famous feline is celebrated in a forthcoming book from Bloomsbury: Mrs Chippy, the mog who accompanied Sir Ernest Shackleton on his 1914 expedition to the Antarctic. Mrs Chippy was, in fact, male and he belonged to the ship's carpenter, Harry "Chippy" McNeish. His life is celebrated in Mrs Chippy's Last Expedition, the newly discovered journal of Shackleton's polar-bound cat, a charming book which bears the paw-prints of one Caroline Alexander. Beneath the imaginative surface, however, lies the real story of the Scottish tabby, apparently a hardy cat used to inclement weather, toughened up by years spent mousing in the local shipyards. Not surprisingly, he rather took exception to the team of huskies who joined him on board.

Cats have inspired thousands of books; every Christmas includes at least one feline fast-seller, as evidenced by Cats in Books by Rodney Dale. The publisher, the British Library, promises that "nine out of ten booksellers will say their customers prefer it." I assume that the BL has its very own hard-hat-wearing cat.

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