The Literator

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The Independent Online
MORE TROUBLE at t'mill. Picador publisher Jon Riley has suddenly quit the company just ahead of its 25th birthday celebrations. No reasons have been given, but speculation is rife that, as rock bands used to say, it's all down to "personality problems".

When his boss Peter Straus quit to follow his heart to the States last year, Riley was made publisher. Enter Clare Alexander, who'd flounced from Penguin following Helen Fraser's arrival just in time to receive an invitation to join Macmillan Picador's parent company, where the door had not been so much revolving as spinning.

Rumour had it that even before Macmillan big cheese Ian Chapman could announce her arrival, Riley had threatened to quit, having found Alexander too grand for comfort when he'd worked with her at Penguin. In the event, Queen Clare placated him over an expensive lunch. But onlookers predicted the truce wouldn't last, though at coming up to six months, they've done better than the worst cynics estimated.

Riley is the last in a line of high profile exits from the company that includes Matia Rejt, who discovered Minette Walters; Michael Alcock, Joan Collins' editor; and Sarah Mahaffy, acquired along with Boxtree and appointed managing director. Her brief was to breathe some fresh air into the Macmillan Group. Her mistake was to breathe too deeply. Now a Picador replacement must be found, but for the moment Straus - who was acting as the company's New York talent spotter - is minding the store.

BARNES & NOBLE, the most seductive of American bookselling chains looks set to launch a British operation. Though the company has consistently denied it has any British ambitions, all the signs are that staff are now being recruited.

In New York, at least, its Broadway stores are addictive emporia, offering discounts of 10 per cent on all hardbacks and 25 per cent on New York Times bestsellers - deeper cuts than any store in Britain is making across the board. In addition to the hectic schedule of in-store events, B&N has become something of an up-market pick-up joint, sensitive souls hanging out in the poetry section late into the night hoping to find a mate. It certainly beats dating over the frozen peas as characters did in Armistead Maupin's bestselling series of San Francisco novels, Tales of the City.

IT WAS Canadian "culturologist" Marshall McLuhan who first coined the phrase which best describes today's world - "the global village" in Understanding Media (1964). Its successor, The Medium is the Message (1967), sold a million copies and, said Brian Eno, "changed the world in one sentence". It was recreated with designer Quentin Fiore, as War and Peace in the Global Village in 1968. This month, HardWired, the book division of Wired Ventures, published digitally remastered paperback editions using the latest graphic design technology to enhance the quality of Fiore's images while maintaining the works' integrity. Teenagers and twentysomethings coming to them for the first time will be astonished by McLuhan's visions, futuristic even by today's standards. Small wonder Wired magazine adopted him as its patron saint.

HUMPHREY CARPENTER, the biographer who caused a few little local difficulties for the former Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie earlier this year, is currently putting the finishing touches to his study of the late Dennis Potter. But he has already signed up for his next project - a "group" biography of the Sixties satirists who gave us Beyond the Fringe, That Was the Week That Was and, of course, Private Eye. In an over-crowded market where biographers are always on the look out for meaty subjects, it's surprising that no one has attempted such an obvious project before now. Carpenter, whose canon includes studies of the Brideshead generation and Americans in Paris will begin work next year, hopefully giving Victor Gollancz a bestseller for the millennium.

MANY PEOPLE have enjoyed the fruits of late-onset writing careers - Mary Wesley and Patricia Angadi spring immediately to mind. But few are as late as Kansas-born Jessie Lee Brown Foveaux, who makes her literary debut with Macmillan in November at the rather grand age of 98. Any Given Day was begun as an exercise for an adult literacy class and, a memoir, it spans the years of Depression and War, contrasting an idyllic childhood with her marriage to a hard drinkin' son of a gun, and is described as a cross between The Little House on the Prairie and Lark Rise to Candleford. However well it does, or does not sell, Miss Jessie will never have to work again: in the United States, Warner paid $1m for it.

STUART PROFFITT, the mannered Publishing Director of HarperCollins whose knowledge of Victorian poetry so impressed Margaret Thatcher, is in purdah for the remainder of the summer, hard at work on a manuscript. No, it's not Chris Patten's book on Hong Kong - HarperCollins has signed it but he's yet to start writing - or even John Major's memoirs. Rather, it's the new novel by Jeffrey Archer, whose previous amanuensis, former Olympic fencer Richard Cohen, is too busy running his own small company to come to the aid of Archer. No clues yet as to its milieu though one might guess that it's a roman a clef about the decline and fall of the Conservative Partyn