Media: The literator: Inside publishing

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A million for Major

John Major has ended months of speculation by signing a contract for his memoirs. In fact, like the date of the general election and its outcome, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion. As with Lady T, he has signed with HarperCollins, and the result - one volume only, you'll be pleased to know - will be full and frank. It will be published in 1999 and should earn the former PM around pounds 1m - more than enough to cover the mortgage on the townhouse he is buying in St John's Wood.

Major decided, on advice from his friend Jeffrey Archer, that he didn't need a literary agent. Negotiations were handled by Eddie Bell, HarperCollins's SNP-supporting chief executive. He has also decided that he doesn't need a ghost writer, though no doubt Lord A will be on hand to advise on matters of literary style. Perhaps Robert Goddard and Freddie Forsyth, also Major favourites, may be asked to chip in with a chapter. Anthony Trollope is sadly unavailable. Despite all that, Bell assures us that it will be "a gripping read".

His editor is Stuart Proffitt, whose relationship with the Blessed Margaret was cemented when, during a publishers' beauty contest, he joined her in a recitation of Victorian verse, notably Tennyson. They also discussed Locke and Hobbes, the 17th-century political philosophers who, along with Sir Keith Joseph, guided her thinking. With John Major he will presumably discuss batting averages.

Proffitt, Lancashire-born and Oxford-educated, has lately metamorphosed into an overgrown Little Lord Fauntleroy, all velvet suits and wispy beard. But they have one thing in common: both come from families that pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. Major's dad made garden gnomes. Proffitt's grandfather founded Radio Rentals.

'Tis written ...

A cheery range of stocking-fillers from Phoenix House - a series of Predictions mini-paperbacks is published this month, in which experts predict developments in their field over the next half-century, among them Felipe Fernandez- Armesto on religion, Robert Winston on genetic manipulation, John Gribbin on cosmology and Matt Ridley on disease. An expert on the book trade might well predict that John Major's memoirs will be a bestseller in remainder shops.

Pot-luck for Johann

The past couple of years has brought a larger than usual crop of off- beat bestsellers: Longitude, The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly and Fermat's Last Theorem. Now put your hands together for The Arcanum, by the art historian Janet Gleeson, the story of Johann Frederick Bottger, a German alchemist who, imprisoned in Dresden by Augustus II, searched for gold and found porcelain in 1708 - some one thousand years after the Chinese. Bantam Press publishes the book early next year.

Penguin man flies off

The end of the year at Penguin is ending as it began - with departures. This time, it is the long-serving and donnish Peter Carson, who has "elected to leave" after some 35 years with the company - most recently as publishing director of Penguin Press, the academic wing, but previously as editor- in-chief of Penguin itself. He will remain an editorial consultant but will, both literally and figuratively, be spending more time cultivating his garden. MD Anthony Forbes Watson paid tribute to his "varied legacy of books and authors" and assured everyone that he would be missed.

NCR checks out

The NCR Award (briefly the AT&T Award) for Non-Fiction is no more. The communications company has abruptly withdrawn its sponsorship of the UK's wealthiest non-fiction prize, which cost the company around pounds 100,000 and gave the author pounds 25,000. Its demise is a loss to the book world, for it has thrown up some wonderful winners, including Simon Schama's Citizens and Eric Lomax's The Railway Man, not to mention Wild Swans by Jung Chang. Perhaps another cash-rich sponsor will step into the void, for as Colman Getty, the company responsible for appointing the judges and handling PR reports, the administrative infrastructure remains in place.

Bring back the pen

As the word processor has made revision much easier for novelists, few of them now write in longhand. However, Parker Pens believes that a fountain pen can cure writer's block, "inspiring in a way that word processors never can". Thus, the company is putting pounds 5,000 into sponsoring the Romantic Novel of the Year Award, to be presented in April.

Murder by mace?

Peter Brooke MP, the former singing Northern Ireland Secretary, was guest of honour last week at the Crime Writers' Association awards, which saw Ian Rankin and Janet Evanovich walk off with the top prizes (gold and silver daggers respectively). Brooke suggested that the Palace of Westminster was a suitable venue for a good murder, and said that Cluedo weapons should be increased to include a mace and a whip.

He also recalled being a schoolboy in the days of Attlee's landslide. "One of the masters told us to plan a rail journey from Edinburgh to Marlborough without travelling through a single Labour constituency." Nowadays, the problem would be in finding enough usable track and rolling stock.