THE LITERATOR: INSIDE PUBLISHING

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The Independent Online
After the most tumultuous week in their history, HarperCollins employees start this week not knowing quite what to expect. It was widely predicted that one or two sacrificial heads would roll, especially when Anthea Disney, "the angel of death" and the head of HarperCollins' international publishing operation, flew into London from NY last Thursday following the debacle over Chris Patten's book on the Hong Kong handover. She drove first to Fortress Fulham Palace Road where, to the surprise of many, she appeared unarmed and friendly. One staffer said she toured the building, "stopping to chat and giving us all confidence". Then Eddie Bell - at pounds 320,000 plus chauffeur the highest-paid chief executive officer in British publishing - also went walkabout, pausing to hug the inmates. "It was like a scene from The Godfather," quipped one.

It had been widely expected that Bell would resign, though despite what both insiders and outsiders agreed was his execrable handling of a difficult situation, few bore him any ill will.

Whatever, Rupert Murdoch, having said that HarperCollins screwed up, is now saying that everyone shares the blame for the farrago, whose swift conclusion was doubtless the result of Chris Patten's appointment of David "Spycatcher" Hooper as his lawyer. Everyone's hope now is that it will be business as usual and doubtless when HarperCollins opens the chequebook for their next book most of those authors who last week breathed fire and brimstone will happily sign on the dotted line.

The story in six months' time could be very different and anyway, it's soon time for one of HarperCollins' periodic restructurings. But it is also possible that this whole episode will lead Murdoch to the conclusion that owning a publishing house is more trouble than it's worth and if rival conglomerate Bertelsman is still interested in buying HarperCollins they may now find the price is right.

Meanwhile LittleBrown, publishers of Jonathan Dimbleby's biography of Chris Patten, The Last Governor, have mounted a cheeky ad campaign for the book. It quotes one Rupert Murdoch who said of Patten: "I have always been a bit negative about him".

More potential trouble for HarperCollins looms in the shape of a book by one Elizabeth Vickers. A pseudonymous psychotherapist, she has written a novel about a certain car crash in Paris on the night of 31 August, The Way of Gentleness. In it, we meet Princess Helena, "extraordinary, beautiful, magnetic, much-pursued", a son, Edwin; an estranged husband, Prince James, and his flame, Jessica Howes-Peters; and Milu, who tells Helena "everything is ready - the two cars have gone ahead and ours is ready and waiting".

Vickers says that Diana's death inflicted "a huge wound on the national psyche" which needed healing. Hence her novel, though of course she doesn't want anyone to think she is cashing in on the Princess's death. Publication is scheduled for 31 May, the nine-month anniversary of the crash.

This may seem strange, for Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington, biographer of Callas and Picasso and former consort of Bernard Levin, is not known for her wit. But she is putting the finishing touches to Greetings from the Lincoln Bedroom, a humourous book about how Clinton's White House allegedly offered B&B in exchange for hefty donations to the Democratic cause.

Now the Greek one is working overtime to add in a little Zippergate humour. The book will be published in the US next month (Playboy have extracts) but there's no word yet on a British publisher.

Meanwhile, film rights to Madame Cleo's Girls, the 1980s novel by Lucianne Goldberg, the "literary agent" who plays a key role in the Lewinsky affair, has been optioned by film director Jay Weston.

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