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Diary: Gene heads back West

He may have retired from acting, but Gene Hackman isn't about to go gentle into that good night. Since his final film, 2004's less-than-welcome Welcome to Mooseport, the star, now 80, has been at his desk writing. Hackman has announced that his first solo novel, a Western called Jubal's Bounty, is to be published by Simon & Schuster next summer.

The ex-actor has already co-authored three pulpy books since 1999, but the publication of Jubal's Bounty ought to scotch any doubts about his personal prose skills. The Western genre gave Hackman the greatest critical success of his later career onscreen, with his role as Sheriff Little Bill Daggett in Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven earning him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 1992. Of writing, he has said: "I like the loneliness of it, actually. It's similar in some ways to acting, but it's more private and I feel like I have more control over what I'm trying to say and do... I write every day for at least a couple of hours. I exercise a little bit. And then it's time for the old folks to go to bed."

* Justine Thornton, probable future wife of Miliband (E), won some predictably patronising plaudits yesterday for her high-street fashion makeover, yet beneath that "gamine" exterior may lie an electoral ruthlessness to match her man's. An accomplished environmental lawyer, she was co-chair of Labour's environmental campaigning group, Sera, during the mid-noughties. Since its 1970s beginnings, the group has remained staunchly anti-nuclear power. And yet, in 2007, Ms Thornton pushed hard to persuade her deeply reluctant fellow members to elect a staunchly pro-nuclear Miliband brother as Sera's president – which they duly did. That Miliband was named David. How times change.

* Yesterday we learned that David Simon, creator of The Wire, had been a awarded a $500,000 (£317,000) "genius grant" by the world-renowned MacArthur Foundation. Today I can report that the show's star, Dominic West, has been awarded a prestigious honorary degree for services to the arts – from Sheffield Hallam, the UK's 68th best university.

* Here's something to excite news-starved hacks, mischievous bloggers and gossip-mongers such as myself at the Tory conference in Birmingham this weekend. The Conference Pride gay night, a roaring success last year in Manchester, is making a comeback. Sunday's three-course dinner and reception at the top Birmingham gay club Nightingales will be hosted by former A-lister Adam Rickitt, and attended, says the Tory website, by "cabinet members and high-profile MPs". Messrs Cameron and Osborne are expected to turn up, but the Foreign Secretary William Hague – the PM's de facto party deputy – faces a conundrum. Following those recent revelations about his private life, and the non-revelations that preceded them, a Tory party source tells me he's "stuck in a catch-22 situation. If William doesn't make an appearance, people will inevitably say he's ducked out, but if he turns up it's bound to be considered a big story." Well, big enough for this column, at least.

* The 2010 line-up for The Apprentice includes some typically charming characters. Pick of the bunch (despite the presence of two investment bankers) must be the former marine Christopher Farrell, who last year pleaded guilty to the charge of possessing offensive weapons, after an extendable baton and a knuckle-duster were discovered in his Mercedes. "I was a sniper in the Royal Marines and I take that killer instinct across into business," Farrell, 29, had previously informed the BBC, which was unaware of his criminal past during filming. Sounds like a potential winner to me.

* The actor and writer Mark Gatiss, founder member of the League of Gentlemen and co-creator of the wonderful Sherlock, has said that cuts to television budgets will leave his fellow performers penniless, complaining that a "golden age" of star earnings has passed. "I have friends," Gatiss told The Stage, "who are getting less for a big part in a TV series than they got for their first job 30 years ago." I know just how you feel, Mark. But hey, things are tough all over.