Take to the hills, compadres

The publishing industry was this week taken aback by the news that Richard Charkin, the bruiser who not so long ago headed up Reed Consumer Books, has been appointed as the new chief executive at Macmillan. He replaces 63-year-old Nicholas Byam Shaw, a wily operator who has been with the company since he joined as a salesman 34 years ago. He said Charkin's appointment was the personal choice of Dieter von Holtzbrink, chairman of the German publishers which, two years ago, bought 70 per cent of Macmillan. Lord Stockton, grandson of Harold Macmillan and president of the family firm, was not consulted. Described by a former colleague this week as "pugilistic", Charkin, who once worked for Robert Maxwell, is on record as saying "There aren't any strategies in publishing - just guerrilla warfare." Macmillan staff will be looking forward to 1 January.

Life is sweet - and sometimes lucrative

Perhaps the half-million starting price for Van Morrison's memoirs and the pounds 5-10m reportedly required by Elton John is not so unreasonable after all. Each has a career spanning some 30 years. The American singer-songwriter Jewel has but two years' musical history and, arguably, at 23, she's a bit young to write an autobiography. But last week, HarperCollins US paid $2m for her memoirs plus a book of New Agey poetry. Eight publishers competed in an auction conducted by New York agent Sandra Martin. The deal follows hot on the heels of sister company Fox's signing of the hazel-eyed blonde to star in Ang Lee's movie The Ice Storm. Alaskan-born Jewel studied opera as a teenager (she told Mojo recently that she sings Fuccini and Monteverdi in the shower) and only began singing country-folk when, in her late teens, she lived with her mother in a mobile home in San Diego. Her first - and so far only - album, Pieces of You, released in 1995, has sold 6 million copies. No news yet on her British publisher - nor on Elton or Van, though publishers' formal offers are now on the table. I wonder if Elt plans to write about those days back in `67 when, penniless and recording his first album, he used to bed down at the Salvation Army HQ at 275 Oxford Street?

They also serve who only stand and wait

The seventh edition of Poems on the Underground has just been launched by Cassell. Poetry on the Underground - for once, a British invention - is now a worldwide phenomenon, and poetry posters have appeared in Moscow, Barcelona and Rotterdam, with Warsaw, Vienna and Santiago set to follow. A good idea, then. But if you want to read poetry that expresses your dissatisfaction with the Tube, then pick up a rival volume, Poems NOT on the Underground from Windrush Press, whose Gloucestershire offices are beyond even the furthest reaches of the Central and Metropolitan Lines. As the platform indicator shows you have a 13-minute wait, chuckle at such parodies as "Anthem for doomed commuters", and "The song of Hiawalthamstow". The parodist hides behind the identity of "Straphanger" and lives at the end of the Northern Line.

Pocket-sized joys

The Diagram Group has announced this year's winner of its annual prize for the Oddest Title of the Year at Frankfurt. Judging was difficult, with such books as Attractive and Affectionate Grave Design and From Coherent Tunnelling to Relaxation in contention. But the winner is The Joy of Sex: Pocket Edition, published by Mitchell Beazley.

Still with sex, Ross Gilfillan, who earns his daily bread at Galaxy Publications, whose roster includes Knave and Fiesta, is about to launch himself as a novelist. The title, The Snake-Oil Dickens Man, might sound dubious, but I'm assured by publishers Fourth Estate, where it was plucked from the oblivion of the slush pile, that it resonates with Gilfillan's passion for Charles Dickens and is "so much fun, so compulsively readable and such a joy, that its appeal is universal". At its heart is a young man, Billy Talbot, who sets off from his home town in Missouri to find his father, Charles Dickens, who has returned to America for a second reading tour in 1867. Since on a tour 25 years earlier, the novelist had become acquainted with Master Billy's mother, it seems the novel must, after all, include some sex...

Beat the Busby burglar

Margaret Busby - founder of Allison & Busby - was at the Hilton receiving a well-deserved "lifetime achievement" award for her services to Black British writing and publishing during the first Excelle/Write Thing banquet when thieves paid her home a less welcome kind of attention. She lost vital hardware and software (not covered by insurance), much of it relating to her forthcoming book Family Odyssey. Friends have launched an appeal to help her. If you want to support one of the few real pioneers in London publishing, make a cheque payable to Margaret Busby herself and send it to the Margaret Busby Appeal Fund, c/o Lawrence Scott & Jenny Green, 31 Trinder Road, London N19 4QS.