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The Big talk at Hatchards' 200th birthday bash last week was: what is Princess Margaret drinking? While other guests at the black-tie do, held in the store at 187 Piccadilly, sipped bubbly, HRH clutched a tumbler-full of something amber. Try as she might to disguise it by wrapping a napkin round the glass, the suspicion remained: Maggie was on the Famous Grouse.

There was some surprise that Margaret was the star turn. After all, Hatchards' three Royal Warrants are from the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales. Surely, people whispered, the Princess prefers more sportif pursuits over literature? The very suggestion gave Roger Katz, Hatchards manager, an attack of the vapours. "Absolutely not. Princess Margaret buys more books than any other member of the Royal Family."

Among the many guests, it was Sheridan Morley who detained her longest. John Major got short shrift and it was surprising to see he had left Norma at home: she is after all, the author in the family. Leslie Thomas offered him congratulations. "On what?" the ex-PM replied. Naturally, Salman Rushdie was in attendance, as was Lady Menuhin, Elizabeth Jane Howard, Jane Asher and a trio of Longfords, Lady L, Antonia Fraser and Rachel Billington, who between them must occupy a fair bit of shelf space. From beneath her customary globs of eye make-up, Fraser recalled the thrill of seeing her first book, Mary, Queen of Scots, displayed in the window, way back in 1969.

John Hatchard, a former printer, opened the original store at 173, a few yards from the present site, with an investment of pounds 5. In 1891, the Hatchard family sold out, the first of several changes of ownership. In 1956, Sir William Collins bought it on behalf of Collins publishers, and in 1990 it became part of the Dillons Group which itself was bought by Thorn EMI in 1995. In its 200 years, Hatchards has featured in the writings of Sydney Smith and Virginia Woolf, among others, and in cartoons by Marc. The great and the good have signed their books, including a royal or three, but the best remembered is perhaps Bette Davis, who chain-smoked her way through a four-hour session. The moment she left the building, fans made a mad dash for the lipstick-covered butts.

YET another celebrity novelist is to be unleashed on us. Uri Geller, psychic and spoon-bender, has written a paranormal thriller, Ella, about a 14-year-old girl who discovers she has psychic, spoon-bending powers she cannot comprehend. She's not the only one. Headline is the eager buyer.

"A CROSS between Terry Pratchett and Kurt Vonnegut" is how the debut by 24-year-old Bo Fowler is being described. Not that you can read it yet - Dan Franklin is still working on the manuscript and Cape won't publish until next year. The Nihilist Evangelist is the novel's working title and it is narrated by a supermarket trolley in search of God, no less! Funny, brilliant and philosophical are adjectives that are being used to describe a novel that has at its heart a profound question: how can we believe in something we can't see? Like the end of the queue at Tesco perhaps...

EDITH PARGETER, better-known as Ellis Peters, creator of Brother Cadfael, best-selling medieval sleuth, is to be commemorated by a stained-glass window at Shrewsbury Abbey, backdrop for her score of Cadfael Chronicles and, in death as in life, the object of much Pargeter largess. Following her death last year, friends and admirers from around the world have contributed almost pounds 25,000 to a fund, and the memorial window will be in honour of St Benedict - Cadfael, of course, was a Benedictine. The window will be dedicated on 14 September - Holy Cross Day, a significant Cadfael date - at a service conducted by the Bishop of Shrewsbury.

AS LABOUR MPs busy themselves with the business of government, past and present Tory members are hard at work correcting book proofs. Ian Gilmour, who's already had a say in Dancing With Dogma, has penned another volume, One Nation's Decline and Fall, which Fourth Estate will publish in October. Julian Critchley, meanwhile, offers The Collapse of the Stout Party: The Decline and Fall of the Tories, a book that Victor Gollancz is pleased to publish. And Alan Clark, now reinstalled as the member for Kensington and Chelsea, has a second set of diaries due from Weidenfeld. Titled simply The Tories, it too examines the decline of Britain over the past 70 years. Could the decline have been halted, or at least slowed, if members had spent less time with their trousers down?n