Inside publishing

SCIENCE, it seems, remains sexy, at least if the pounds 200,000 advance paid to Steve Jones, Professor of Genetics at University College, London, is anything to go by. The sex and snail specialist (he collected 2,500,000 of them in the Seventies) is turning his attention to a book which, despite having been published in 1859, remains at the foundation of the science of evolution: Charles Darwin's Origin of Species. Or, to give it its full title, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.

Almost Like a Whale will update the Darwin original and Jones aims to write the book Darwin himself might have written were he alive today. Both agent and publisher, Peter Robinson of Curtis Brown and Ursula Mackenzie of Doubleday, believe the Jones version will be as read 100 years from now as Darwin is today; like Darwin (and unlike many scientists), Jones is an elegant writer. The book's own evolutionary process will be, if not quite snail's pace, certainly leisurely: publication is scheduled for the millennium.

SEVERAL hundred members of the Society of Authors got their first look at the new British Library last week. The occasion was the Society's annual prize-giving at which more than pounds 80,000 was given away, mostly to young (ie under 35) writers. One winner drew a particularly warm round of applause: Barbara Hardy, a youthful 73, won the pounds 2,000 Sagittarius Prize awarded to a novelist over 60. Her novel, London Lovers, "a richly textured account of a woman's search for sensual and social liberation", is published by the doughty independent Peter Owen, a man well in possession of his bus pass.

Guests - who included David Lodge, Nina Bawden, Hammond Innes, Deborah Moggach and Clare Francis - were denied red wine, since spillage would spoil the cream-coloured floor. Simon Brett, who presided over the proceedings, observed that if all writers were denied red wine their literary output would doubtless shrink, thus relieving the BL of its shelving crisis.

THE SPEND, spend, spend years of HarperCollins - think of all those multi-million-pound advances to Barbara Taylor Bradford, James Herbert, Jeffrey Archer and, of course, Margaret Thatcher - are taking their toll. The publisher worldwide made an operating loss of pounds 4.2m in the first quarter of 1997. Sales were down 18 per cent to pounds 93m. Commentators have long noted HarperCollins' creative accounting procedures. But every chicken must eventually come home to roost. Perhaps Rupert Murdoch, who paid more than pounds 400m for HarperCollins in those far-off boom days of the Eighties when publishing was seen as sexy and even profitable, will shortly decide to cut his losses and sell. But to whom? Eddie Bell, the portly cigar-smoking UK chief executive, is not available to answer the question: he's been keeping an uncharacteristically low profile of late.

SIR STEPHEN SPENDER was surely smiling in his heaven last week as the magazine Index on Censorship, a guardian of free expression in the world, celebrated its 25th birthday. Lord Palumbo wasn't in attendance but he paid for the bash, held at the Delfina Studio in Bermondsey, and among the many guests were Lady Spender, Tom Stoppard, Lord Hollick and his wife, Susan, chair of lndex, and Salman Rushdie, whose free expression forces him to live under the Ayatollah's fatwa. Harold Pinter was sadly indisposed with a bad back; Lady Antonia clearly stayed home to minister to him, while her mother, Lady Longford, sent a congratulatory message.

Lady Natasha recalled how she and Sir Stephen effectively launched the magazine one Sunday afternoon in response to an open letter in The Times from Pavel Litvinov. Ursula Owen, its current editor, quoted the old dissident toast: "Let us drink to the success of hopeless endeavours." Tom Stoppard noted that the lack of a microphone was a peculiarly English form of censorship. And Yang Lian read a poem in Chinese.

The current issue of the magazine is more than usually starry, featuring contributions from Umberto Eco, Nadine Gordimer, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Noam Chomsky, JG Ballard, Ariel Dorfman and Rushdie - as the Boston Globe once put it, "by-lines that Vanity Fair would kill for". Waterstone's will be promoting the magazine until the end of the year and presented each partygoer with a "Self-Censorship Kit" comprising a miniature notebook, pencil and eraser.

ONE MIGHT expect to find a new opus by Tariq Ali nestling among the radical chic of, say, Granta or among the merely radical of Verso, run by Robin Blackburn, who, like Ali, is a veteran of 1968 and all that. It's something of a surprise, then, to find his latest novel, Fear of Mirrors, sandwiched between the smutty poet Fiona Pitt-Kethley and Brodrick Haldane, the dandy society photographer (now deceased) on the Arcadia list run by the ever-fey Gary Pulsifer. Indeed, the very name Arcadia is surely inappropriate. For that Ali manned the barricades?n

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