The Literator: Inside Publishing

Jeanette Winterson is once again causing ripples, if not waves. The famously self-possessed author has quit oh-so-fashionable Granta Books, whose MD, Frances Coady, she followed from Random House, swearing undying loyalty to her. She has now returned whence she came, having succumbed to the siren call of the celebrated Caroline Michel.

As with Martin Amis, who lured HarperCollins into paying almost pounds 500,000 for what turned out to be a one-book contract and then returned to Random House, the crux of the issue is backlist. Cape, under which imprint Winterson was published, owns what's called the head contract to Oranges, Sexing the Cherry etc and thus it is they who license the paperbacks. Naturally, these are currently with Cape's sister list, Vintage, and Random House would very much like to keep it that way. Thus Granta or any other house seeking to acquire paperback licences would find the asking price set prohibitively high, as was the case with Amis.

Coady claims there are "no hard feelings", though the move is bound to add to the acrimony between herself and her former employer. Meanwhile, Cape publisher Dan Franklin is pooh-poohing industry gossip of a pounds 600,000 deal, saying only that the price for two books is "reasonable". The first of them is to be a collection of short stories.

A Fleet Street institution is to close at the end of the month. Simmonds, one of London's oldest bookshops, was founded in 1946 by Louis Simmonds, a presence in the cluttered, characterful shop until his death in 1994. The history of the tall, narrow premises can be traced back to the time of Henry VIII and it has at various times been a barbershop, a coffee-shop, a skinner's and a confectioner's. It escaped the Great Fire of London but was badly damaged in the Blitz - to be restored by Simmonds. Lawyers, judges and journalists have always made up a large percentage of its customers, and they will surely miss a shop that was very much a part of the Fleet Street "village". Always a family affair, Simmonds has for many years been run jointly by Louis' son and daughter, David and Judy, who are now bidding farewell to regulars who are practically friends. "They're all saying, `It's the end of an era'," says David.

A glance at the list of best-selling travel books suggests that most people prefer armchair travel. Figures for the 12 weeks ending June show that Bill Bryson outsold everyone else by a large margin. Notes from a Small Island, which boringly gathers every cliche-ridden idea about Britain between paper covers, sold an incredible 24,101 copies. At number three, The Lost Continent, the book that was plucked from the slush pile and which is Bryson's only truly funny outing, has notched up 7,532, while at number four Neither Here Nor There has shifted 6,143 copies. Pity Paul Theroux, a real travel writer, at number five with The Pillars of Hercules which could only manage 3,096. In case you're wondering, The Gardens of England and Wales was in second place with 11,601 copies. Are we to assume Scotland doesn't have any gardens?

Oscar Wilde continues to be big business for Fourth Estate, currently riding high with three best sellers, including Longitude, The Diving Bell and The Butterfly. They have signed up three Wilde projects. Wilde's grandson, Merlin Holland, is to edit a collection of letters, much expanded from the 1962 edition, which will be published to mark the centenary of Wilde's death in 2000. He is also to write a study of Wilde's legacy and the myths that have grown up around him. Finally, Holland will assemble a collection of photographs, The Wilde Album, which Fourth Estate will publish later this year to coincide with the release of the Stephen Fry film. Many of the photos have never been seen and they include shots of little Oscar in his pram as well as a deathbed photograph.

Over the next few weeks, numerous publishers will be wishing Shirley Hughes a happy 70th birthday, publishing new books and republishing old ones. The doyenne of children's illustrators was told by her tutors at Ruskin that she'd never make a living with her pen. While she would have preferred a career as a fashion designer, she's got no complaints and fashion's loss is the book world's gain.

Hughes was launched in 1960 with Lucy and Tom's Day, but it wasn't until the 1970s that she published her second book, Lucy and Tom Go to School. In 1977, Dogger was the big breakthrough and she has not stopped since. Now, daughter Clara Vulliamy is following in her mother's footsteps (her son Ed is a journalist on the Guardian) and Hughes' only worry is "living long enough to do all my ideas".

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