The Literator: Inside Publishing

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The Independent Online
Waterstone's in the bag?

It is widely assumed that, by the middle of this week, EMI and Tim Waterstone will be able to announce that their bid to buy the Waterstone's chain from WH Smith has been successful. There are reports that Tim Waterstone has already taken to ringing individual shops to discuss plans.

Currently owned by EMI, the Dillons name will disappear from our high streets, even from Gower Street, where Una Dillon opened her University Bookshop decades ago, and the Waterstone's culture will be injected into those renamed stores which do not close. It is not yet clear how many closures will ensue, but it seems safe to assume that where Dillons and Waterstone's trade within a few doors of each other, as they do in Liverpool's Bold Street and in Bournemouth for example, Dillons will close. Only Hatchards, currently part of the Dillons chain, is likely to emerge unscathed; it is simply too venerable and celebrated to become another branch of Waterstone's. Besides, Waterstone himself is on record as saying that Hatchards, along with the American way of bookselling, was his inspiration way back in the early Eighties, so to acquire it now would be sweet indeed. Whether general manager Roger Katz who has greatly changed the culture of the 200-year-old Piccadilly store - prospers is another matter.

Many within both Dillons and Waterstone's believe that the endgame, pencilled in for some time around the Millennium, is to sell the whole kit and caboodle to US giant Barnes & Noble, who have temporarily shelved their plans to launch an outpost of empire in the UK, even as its rival, Borders, is moving full steam ahead with its plans.

Proffittable rumours

More intrigue at HarperCollins, where publishing director Stuart Proffitt has not been seen for a couple of weeks and is allegedly "working at home". A love of Victorian poetry helped Lady Thatcher decide that he, alone, should be her editor and he has since acquired her less illustrious successor and the man he appointed to wear the Governor's feathered hat in Hong Kong.

And there's the rub. Various rumours are flying about Proffitt, who recently shaved off his wispy red beard because he kept being told he looked like Robin Cook, though clean-shaven he now resembles William Hague. The one that is gaining credence is that Rupert Murdoch is unhappy over some of the content of Chris Patten's book, due for publication this autumn. It is thought to be critical of the Chinese, with whom Murdoch has numerous business dealings. Worse, according to one Sunday paper, the book is boring and Harper Collins is having its work cut out to find anything worth publishing.

Murder most famous?

Secrecy at Macmillan, where the new book by Gita Sereny, award-winning author of Albert Speer: His Battle for Truth, is being kept under wraps until its publication in a couple of months' time. The reasons for all the secrecy are not entirely clear since the book is believed to be about the Jamie Bulger murder case. When Home Secretary Jack Straw recently pronounced on the sentencing of the two boys charged, it was Sereny who appeared on Newsnight, a beacon of common sense shining light in the faces of numerous string-'em-up extremists. A little digging around reveals that, 25 years ago, Sereny wrote a book about Mary Bell, charged in 1968 with the murder of two children and eventually released into quiet anonymity to marry and have children of her own.

Macmillan reps are selling the book in "blind". Sereny's reputation is enough to guarantee orders.

Hollywood takes on Nature

As Robert Redford's screen version of The Horse Whisperer enters the final phases of post-production and heads towards a summer release date, author Nicholas Evans handed over the manuscript to his second novel. Set in Montana, The Loop is another tale of Man against Nature. Hope is a town threatened by wolves which, having been slaughtered in their thousands a century earlier, are now a protected species. Thus, the stage is set for a standoff between Helen Ross, a beautiful young biologist, and the brutal but charismatic Buck Calder.

The Horse Whisperer made headlines in autumn 1994 when, following a hotly contested auction, Bantam Press paid pounds 357,500 for the rights. US and foreign language editions also set records and Evans, on the verge of penury, suddenly found his ears assuaged by the honeyed tones of numerous Hollywood big-wigs. He chose Redford because he thought he'd be true to the spirit of the story. The novel has so far sold 10m worldwide, exists in 36 languages and has helped to create a wave of interest in the American West, an area previously colonised by the kind of authors whose books you wouldn't want to be caught reading. It has also spawned a number of "miracle cure" titles, not least Robert Mawson's The Lazarus Child which one industry wag has described as "The Horse Whisperer, in a wheelchair". Judge for yourself when it reaches the shops this summer.

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