THE LITERATOR: INSIDE PUBLISHING

What's in a name?

One of the players in what's become known as "the War of Clinton's Penis" is allegedly a literary agent, no less. Usually, such people have no agenda other than a fat commission cheque and it's hard to imagine any of our own dear agents conspiring to bring down a Prime Minister. Be that as it may, Lucianne Goldberg, the woman who persuaded Linda Tripp to wire herself up in order to trap Monica Lewinsky, has been described as "a brash New York literary agent". Strangely, few British publishers appear to have heard of her, though Transworld's Patrick Janson-Smith dimly recalls meeting someone of that name at a party at an American Booksellers Association shindig in LA some years back. "She's never represented anyone of real consequence," he sniffs loftily. She has, however, handled the soi-disant literary career of Mark Fuhrman, the detective accused of racism in the OJ trial.

More intriguingly, she was called as "an expert witness" in the celebrated Joan Collins case against Random House US. You may recall that they were declining to publish La Collins' opus on account of its being "unsatisfactory," always a subjective judgement. The publisher lost - though whether it was due to the intervention of Goldberg it's hard to say. Asked to explain why a Collins' character, dying of terminal cancer, appears three pages later swimming happily off the Riviera, Goldberg smiled sweetly: "It's a miracle, of course, she told the judge. Or is it simply chutzpah?

On the shelf

Still with politics, the Westminster bookshop, Politicos, has polled its customers - who presumably include a fair sprinkling of Members - upright or otherwise - as to the best and worst political books of 1997. The top three favourites were Nicholas Jones's Campaign '97, Brian Cathcart's Were You Still Up for Portillo? and Gerald Kaufman's How to be a Minister, which I feel Robin Cook ought to read. The worst? Blair's 100 Days by Derek Draper and Anthony Selsdon's Major: A Life.

Sadly for Major, he also features in the list of worst books of all time with Penny Junor's fawning biography John Major. He is in good company, nestling next to Norman Fowler's Ministers Decide and - wait for it - The Downing Street Years by one M Thatcher. Oh well, as Howard Jacobson once quipped, "even to be remaindered is to be remembered".

A novel subject for TV

And still more politics - well, of a sort. Jeffrey Archer is preparing to publish what could be his last novel before duties as Mayor of London overwhelm him. The Eleventh Commandment, the editing of which occupied much of last summer for Stuart Proffitt at HarperCollins, is scheduled for May and is described by its publishers as "a stunning new thriller of immense quality". Indeed, so confident are they of those qualities that they are already referring to it as "the bestselling new hardback" - a touch presumptuous perhaps, though with no new Jilly Cooper this year at least he has an outside chance of the top slot. Incredibly, however, he is actually about to be taken seriously as a novelist: BBC TV's Omnibus is preparing a special.

Toujours Tuscany

Bantam are hoping that an American academic and poet will do for the Tuscany what Peter Mayle did for Provence. Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes is a celebration of "the voluptuousness of Italian life", "a sensuous book for a sensuous countryside", that has been a best-seller in the US. The book began eight years ago, with sketches and comments in a marbled notebook chronicling Mayes's first summer in Tuscany, restoring a crumbling villa in the middle of nowhere. Naturally, she uncovered faded frescoes, over-grown vines - and a scorpion under the pillow. Fortunately, as befits an academic, Mayes writes with far more style and engagement than Mayle who, prior to knocking out Toujours Provence, had graced the best-sellers with a vulgar little book entitled Wicked Willie - which could have been about the War of Clinton's Penis (see above). Sadly, though, it's likely to mean that Tuscany is soon overrun with unwashed hordes rather in the manner of Provence.

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