THE LITERATOR: INSIDE PUBLISHING

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Sands are still shifting sales

Remember Dune, the 1965 novel by Frank Herbert that's now something of a sci-fi classic? Herbert's son Brian has just been paid a $3m advance by Bantam to write three prequels to the book, which has sold some 10 million copies world-wide. He will work with Kevin J Anderson, author of Star Wars and X Files novels, using notes and outlines left by his father, who died in 1986. The first of the books will be published in 1999. Herbert himself wrote five sequels to Dune, though none of them matched the success of the original. The last, Chapterhouse: Dune, shifted a respectable 5 million. The David Lynch film, released some 20 years after the original, was a box office disappointment but has since become a cult and camp classic.

I love New York

Jonathan Burnham, the Japanese-speaking, jazz piano-playing publisher of Chatto & Windus, is quitting his post and heading for New York, where he will join Viking/Penguin. Like Picador publisher Peter Straus, he is answering the siren call of love - though Straus has since returned from whence he came. Trained by the celebrated and notorious Carmen Callil, from whom he took over the list in 1994, he has been with the company for 10 years, working with such diverse authors as AS Byatt, Jon Savage and the late Georg Solti, whose memoirs were handily ready for publication just after the maestro's death a couple of months ago.

Double loss for Chatto

It was Burnham who acquired Gridiron by Philip Kerr and published it to great success. Too bad for Chatto that they have now lost both publisher and author, for Kerr has moved to Orion with his latest novel, The Second Angel, bought by the boss, Anthony Cheetham, with editor Simon Spanton for what's described as "a significant six-figure sum" from the agent Caradoc King, husband of the author Rosie Thomas. Screen rights have been acquired by Warner Brothers for $2.5m and the company sees the film as "the natural successor to their landmark futuristic thrillers A Clockwork Orange and Bladerunner.

The book's publication next autumn will be preceded by the release of the book in audio format - an industry first.

A nice little earner

Two of publishing's sleazier operators have been rolled into one. Smith Gryphon, which launched itself in 1990 with what it claimed was a diary kept by Jack the Ripper, has been bought by Blake Publishing, whose backlist includes such memorable items as the memoirs of fraudster Darius Guppy and Dicing with Di, a paparazzo's diary of his daily harassment of the late princess.

Smith Gryphon, run by Robert Smith - who, at Ebury Press, "invented" The Sloane Ranger's Handbook - had lately got itself into financial difficulties following "a steep decline" in orders from Smiths. John Blake, whose blond bouffant once appeared atop his Sun pop column, spotted an opportunity. His forward programme now includes the autobiography of Ronnie Knight.

Bridget Jones and the big time

The Indie's own Helen Fielding has yet more good news to celebrate - as if hardback sales of 30,000 and paperback of 350,000 weren't enough. American readers will soon be reading about Bridget's exploits, for Viking have bought rights for what's believed to be a high five-figure sum in a deal negotiated by the London agent Gillon Aitken. Editor Pam Dorman mailed a pair of expensive stockings to her new author by way of a welcome gift. Meanwhile, Working Title, the team behind Four Weddings and a Funeral, are working on a film adaptation.

Shark-infested waters

If you think it's safe to go back in the water you haven't read Meg, the debut novel by Steve Alten which Headline paid, er, megabucks for at Frankfurt '96 and publish this week.

Described by the Los Angeles Times as "Jurassic Shark", it is the tale of a giant rampaging shark, a prehistoric relative of Peter Benchley's great white, believed to be long dead ... But, following a number of attacks on US submarines, paleontologist Jonas Taylor is called in to investigate.

It's all terrific escapist hokum, and what fun the launch party was, held in the new London Aquarium in the bowels of what used to be County Hall, where former GLC Leader Ken Livingstone must have felt he swam in shark-infested waters. Meg - there but for a typographical error ...

Iron Lady makes an entrance

Lady Thatcher celebrated the launch of yet another book last week - The Co1lected Speeches, yours for a mere pounds 30. A lavish dinner marked its publication, hosted jointly by HarperCollins, Hatchards and the British-American Chamber of Commerce. The do took place at the Grosvenor House and cost pounds 85-pounds 95 for non-BACC members - and included booze, food and a signed copy of the book. (Edward Heath famously signed so many of his that they were worth more unsigned.) Naturally, the Leaderene gave her customary speech about How I Won the War and Made the World Safe for Democracy, but the most memorable thing about the occasion was her entrance: down a long staircase bathed in a spotlight, like that other faded star, Norma Desmond.

How do you spell Broadmoor?

Who'd have thought that the venerable Oxford English Dictionary had anything to do with a murderer who spent 38 years confined in Broadmoor - and was an American to boot? William Minor, a young doctor, had sustained severe injuries in the American Civil War and somehow ended up in Broadmoor, where he was befriended by Dr James Murray, a Hawick-born former schoolmaster and bank clerk whose learned papers on The Dialect of the Southern Counties of Scotland, published in 1873, led to his being appointed editor of the first OED five years later. He did not live to see it completed, dying in 1915, 13 years before its first publication, but undertook much of the groundwork, recruiting a network of researchers to peruse the publications of the day looking for new words or words that had changed their usage or meaning. Key among them was Minor, whose 30-year frienship with Murray led to the latter's campaigning for his release and repatriation. Their relationship is to be the subject of a new book by the journalist Simon Winchester, whose The Professor and the Madman has just been acquired by HarperCollins US. No word yet on a British publisher - Oxford University Press, perhaps? - but screen rights have been bought pre-emptively by Luc Besson, director of La Femme Nikita, among other films.

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