THE LITERATOR: Inside publishing

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As the Michael O'Mara, publisher of Andrew Morton's update on Princess Diana, ponders how to spend yet more millions, it is interesting to reflect that in one way and another his relationship with the Spencer family goes back a number of years.

It was at Weidenfeld & Nicolson that he first encountered the late Earl Spencer, Diana's father, when he and Raine wrote a book with the alliterative title of The Spencers on Spas. That supposedly sold 10,000 copies, but the Earl and Countess later claimed to be less than happy with the book's performance, and a subsequent opus, Japan and the East, all about their foreign adventures (Raine was a member of the British Tourist Authority), was self-published in 1986. The couple later described the publishing industry as "a friendly profession, so completely unjealous".

O'Mara wasn't put out, and anyway he'd soon moved on to found his own company, which launched with such titles as In Person: The Princess and Princess of Wales by the oleaginous Alistair Burnet and Robes of the Realm, which featured a foreword by the Prince of Wales himself.

As Andrew Morton was beavering away on the original Diana book, its publisher was talking to her old Dad, whom he recalled "takes a good snap". O'Mara told the Earl that the book was going to be a sympathetic portrait and that Diana's friends were talking. The Earl, O'Mara reported in June 1992 as the original controversy raged, had allowed Morton access to the family albums. As we now know, it was Diana who selected the photos and supplied the captions. Despite his chummy garrulousness, the late Earl could keep a secret, it seems.

Lining up for the millennium

Last Thursday, National Poetry Day, saw the launch at Middlesbrough's Writearound Festival of "a chain poem for the millennium". The 10-line poem will be added to week by week, 10 lines at a time, for the next two years. One thousand lines, one hundred poets. Whatever the result it will be published at the Writearound Festival of October 1999. As the festival organiser Andy Croft puts it: "It could turn out to be one of the longest bad poems in the English language, or it could be a unique collective expression of a shared turn-of-the-century sensibility. And, remember, wherever the poem travels, it started here on Teeside." Let's hope it doesn't all get lost in the post.

Read 'em and weep

Still with poetry, Hodder & Stoughton and Classic FM are joining forces this week to launch Classic FM's One Hundred Favourite Poems, chosen by listeners and broadcast on Mike Read's now-defunct breakfast slot. The pounds 5.99 paperback includes an introduction by the Cliff Richard lookalike, who also provides a brief biography of each of the poets. (Read, clearly in search of gravitas, has been working on a full-scale biography of Rupert Brooke, who has three poems in this collection.) An accompanying CD/cassette includes Nigel Hawthorne reading Betjeman's "Slough", Nichola McAuliffe with Frost's "The Road Not Taken", Sir John Gielgud with Lear's "The Owl and the Pussycat" and Ralph Fiennes with Wordsworth's "Upon Westminster Bridge". There is one contribution from Vanessa Redgrave, the heavyweight "Valediction: Forbidding Mourning" by Donne. Unfortunately, as with the 99 others, it is prefaced by Read's plonking tones.

Collective thinking

Next month Orion, who brought us that unlikely bestseller Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder, launches The Great Philosophers, a series "written for the general reader combining extracts from the work of the world's greatest thinkers with commentary from Britain's most distinguished writers on philosophy". Ray Monk and Frederic Raphael, are consultant editors and will preside over a glittering launch list: Oswald Hanfling on AJ Ayer, Christopher Johnson on Derrida, Terry Eagleton on Marx, Raymond Gottlieb on Nietzsche, Anthony Gottlieb on Socrates and PMS Hakcer on Wittgenstein, among others. Each of the 12 books is a pounds 2 paperback under Orion's Phoenix House imprint.

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