There was much merriment at Politicos, the political bookshop in Artillery Row, London, when the journalist John Sweeney, supported by the cartoonist Martin Rowson and the actor David Soul, launched Purple Homicide with a "re-enaction" of the battle of Tatton Heath which resulted in ignominy for Neil Hamilton and triumph for Martin Bell. Written in 18 days, the book recounts the day-to-day progress of what must surely be the century's most extraordinary campaign, and while both the victor and the vanquished had been invited to join Sweeney and the publishers Bloomsbury for a drink, only Bell turned up. "I understand the Hamiltons are in North Korea teaching the locals about democracy," Sweeney quipped.
The specially written three-hand panto was given three performances, opening in Tatton to rave reviews before the West End transfer. The audience were invited to hiss and boo, and most were particularly moved by Soul's performance, complete with peroxide wig, as Christine H. "I go to Tatton/To see Bell shat on," he trilled to warm applause as his dog Czechie, like Soul himself a veteran of the campaign, wagged his tail rhythmically.
Another former politician known for his love of slapstick also failed to show. Clearly, David Mellor, who conceded defeat at Putney with the memorable line "up your hacienda", was too busy examining the small print on the contract for his latest book. The lucky publisher is Tom Weldon at Michael Joseph, who is rumoured to have coughed up close on pounds 200,000 for the project, sold via the exotically controversial agent Sonia Land. Weldon describes it as "sharp, candid, funny, relentlessly honest" - which presumably means we'll hear the truth about what he was really up to with Senorita de Sancha.
The Mahler criteria
Musicians and scholars converged on the Savoy for the launch of Jonathan Carr's study of The Real Mahler published by Constable, a doughty independent. The event was hosted by Gilbert Kaplan, who long ago reconstructed the composer's Second Symphony. It was in Kaplan's New York apartment that Carr remembered "conducting the birds as they wheeled about over Central Park". An Economist staffer, he joked that his writing a book on Mahler - a lifelong obsession - was rather like "Elton John writing a book on monetary union". But he said that a narrative (rather than musicological) study was long overdue. Among the many guests were Lord Rothschild, Donald Mitchell, an already celebrated Mahlerian, and arts tsar and Bernstein biographer Humphrey Burton. He is about to start on a life of his friend Sir Yehudi Menuhin.
Cartland, embrace, swoon
A breathless press release has arrived from across the water. "Looking to establish itself among the top romance publishers, Canada's Commonwealth Publications proudly announces the recent signing of `the world's most published romance author of all time'." On Valentine's Day next year, the company will launch Dame Barbara Cartland's 24-book Classic Romances series, "twelve previously released classic novels and twelve new, previously unpublished, heart-warming romantic tales". Among them: her "critically acclaimed" novel Enchanted. The notion that Cartland could help "establish" a publisher - let alone one whose alleged intent is to showcase "young and talented first-time authors" - suggests Commonwealth is perilously out of touch. For years, even Mills & Boon has politely declined to publish Cartland, whose audience is to be found only in such places as China, India and Russia.
Another cracker from Roy
Sir Roy Strong, the fey historian whose diaries recently alerted the nation to the fact that, at Clarence House luncheons, the inevitable Ritz Crackers are offered direct from the packet, is hard at work on another tome. The Spirit of Britain will form a companion volume to The Story of Britain and will be a cultural history of our sceptre'd isle. With luck, it will be ready for publication in time for Christmas '98.
Adams shares the joke
A book from Gerry Adams is fast becoming an annual event - his last, Before the Dawn, made its debut last autumn to both controversy and fanfare. Next month comes The Quest for Peace, a collection of Adams's articles from The Irish Voice, a New York weekly. The book is the inaugural title for Mount Eagle Publications, the company set up by Steve MacDonogh, Adams's long-time publisher, following his departure from Brandon Books. It promises "not only a revealing chronicle of the peace process since 1993 but also an insight into his private life, and some surprisingly light and humorous moments", reporting on the struggle for peace with "remarkable immediacy". No doubt the book has been added to Mo Mowlam's teetering reading pile.
Missing money meter
October 8 is National Poetry Day, now seemingly an annual fixture. To mark the occasion, the Poetry Society and the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society have commissioned a poem from Wendy Cope, whose work is frequently quoted and anthologised without her permission, much less any fee. The aim is "to celebrate the popularity of poems but also make the point that poets deserve acknowledgment for their work, and when appropriate, recompense for public performance and publication". As Cope's poem says, "poets they need to eat supper, and poets they need to wear shoes/And You'll seldom encoun-ter a poet enjoying a luxury cruise". Over the coming year, the poem, "The Law of Copyright (After Kipling)", will be disseminated via the Internet and its journey tracked to see just how far a poem can spread. Cope has waived her rights for a year "so that the message can reach as many people as possible".