IT IS a thrilling saga of two beautiful, talented women - once friends, now locked in deadly rivalry. But this time, for sex-and-shopping novelists Shirley Conran and Celia Brayfield, the tale is not fiction but a real-life battle over authorship of the blockbuster Lace 2.
It came to a head last week with publication of Writing magazine, a self-help journal for aspiring authors, in which a curriculum vitae of Celia Brayfield was published claiming that she was the writer of Lace 2 - just weeks after she had given an undertaking to Ms Conran's lawyers to refrain from making such a claim.
The story began in the early Eighties when Shirley Conran, author of the bestselling housewives' manual Superwoman, wrote her first novel, Lace. Another bestseller, containing the legendary line, 'Which of you bitches is my mother?', it made Ms Conran - the former wife of Habitat founder Sir Terence and mother of fashion designer Jasper - a very rich woman indeed.
Then came Lace 2, the follow-up, with more steamy scenes of sex and mischief. Celia Brayfield was then a successful Fleet Street writer and a friend of Shirley Conran's. By 1987, there were signs that the two had fallen out. Ms Brayfield, whose own blockbuster, Pearls, was published that year, let it be known that she was responsible for many of the scenes in Lace.
The pair particularly fell out over who had the idea of introducing a live goldfish into lovemaking. Ms Brayfield laid claim to it; Ms Conran said on television that she got the idea from Sir Terence.
But earlier this year, another twist to the saga came about in that least erotic of arenas - the Birmingham Readers and Writers Festival. Until then Ms Brayfield's precise involvement in Lace 2 had been an issue of contention. When the festival organisers asked her to speak and read extracts from her latest novel, White Ice, a curriculum vitae was supplied by Penguin, Ms Brayfield's and Ms Conran's publishers, for use in producing a festival programme for people on the Birmimgham organiser's mailing list. Using the CV, the programme then attributed Lace 2 to Ms Brayfield.
At a time when the multi-millionairess Ms Conran was selling up in Monaco in a bid to simplify her life, this was too much for her. Solicitors were called in but it was too late to change the programme. Instead, Bernadette Brogan, the festival co-ordinator, preceded each of Ms Brayfield's appearances by an announcement informing the audience that Ms Brayfield had not in fact written Lace 2.
Ms Brayfield then agreed a settlement with Ms Conran's lawyers, the terms of which included a commitment to stop suggesting that she was the author of Lace 2, a book dubbed 'twice as passionate, twice as daring, twice as devastating' when first issued by Penguin in 1985.
But last week, the latest edition of Writing magazine hit the news-stands, puffing on its front page an interview with Celia Brayfield on writing with style. Inside, she explained to the interviewer, Judith Spelman, that: 'I had always wanted to write novels since I was about nine, but I did not think I was good enough. It was working with Shirley Conran that convinced me that I was.' Beside the barbed comment was Ms Brayfield's CV with the entry for 1984: Lace 2 - novelised a screenplay treatment written by Shirley Conran under the author's supervision.'
It was the same CV which Ms Brayfield undertook not to issue again after signing the agreement promising not to refer to Shirley Conran in her resume. Ms Conran's lawyers were taken aback to see it published again. Her solicitor, Razi Mireskandari, of Simons Muirhead and Burton, said: 'The CV is frankly misleading. She must surely have had ample time since the Birmimgham incident to ensure this didn't happen again. I am awaiting Ms Conran's instructions.'
Last week, Writing's editor, Richard Bell, was trying to discover just where the CV had come from. Ms Brayfield's agent, Andrew Hewison, said: 'I don't know anything about this. Ms Brayfield is on holiday.' A Penguin spokeswoman said the magazine deadline time was so early that the CV was sent in before the legal settlement.
But some in the publishing world predict that Ms Conran's response this time is likely to be 'twice as devastating' as before. Meanwhile, the original acknowledgement to Celia Brayfield 'for reading my manuscript', which was contained in Lace, has been dropped in the latest edition.
CELIA BRAYFIELD asks us to point out that her interview in Writing magazine, which caused complaint by Shirley Conran when it appeared in July/August 1994, was given before terms of settlement of an earlier dispute with Ms Conran were agreed in June and indeed before the dispute had even arisen (Independent on Sunday, 7 August).
Ms Brayfield had not sent the offending CV to Writing magazine and was not aware that it had a copy. We accept that she did not breach her undertaking to Ms Conran in June to refrain from issuing the CV again, and we apologise to Ms Brayfield for having suggested that she had.
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