Arts and Entertainment The Man with the 10 Stone Testicles

It's rude to gawk, but there's something worthwhile in these stop-and-stare documentaries

Real Life: Charming drawings, but where's the story?: Someone should have told Beatrix Potter that whimsy is no substitute for plot, says Brian Cathcart, sick of baffling and boring his children

LAST week, at an auction in Wiltshire, someone paid pounds 304,000 for 28 illustrated letters by Beatrix Potter. The buyer was a book dealer, so no doubt he expects to sell them for more.

BOOK REVIEW / Meeting God down the pub: The Acid House - Irvine Welsh: Cape, pounds 9.99

WHEN Irvine Welsh's splenetic frenzy of a novel, Trainspotting, was published less than a year ago, the praise was swift and extravagant. The realism of his garrulous, in-your-face prose style stunned critics. His cast of junkies, psychos, prostitutes and thieves, itching for a fight or a fix, blasted open the cosy image of the classless society, and of Edinburgh as a city of Georgian terraces and cultural festivals. Even if most readers were in no position to judge the authenticity of Welsh's account, we could not doubt the reality of his depiction of Edinburgh as the Aids capital of Europe. Where the novel's plot and characterisation wore thin, the sheer vigour of its language, meticulously transcribed from the street, drove you on. It was a hard act to follow.

Last call with Roald Dahl: Do children enjoy the books their parents give them? Jenny Gilbert asks two nieces of Roald Dahl

Phoebe Barran, 12, and Amy Barran, 9, are nieces of Roald Dahl. Amy goes to Pembridge Hall school in Notting Hill, London. Phoebe attends Godolphin and Latimer school in Hammersmith. Their mother, Veronica, is the sister of Roald Dahl's widow, Felicity. Two other daughters are at university. Mrs Barran is a solicitor; her husband, Marius, an architect. They live in north Kensington.

The Independent/Scholastic Story of the Year

THIS IS the last chance to enter our short story competition for new work for six- to nine-year-old children. The rules appear for the final time today and Saturday is the last day for entries.

Diary: Tell-tale bundle of the unexpected

A BUNDLE of papers belonging to the late Roald Dahl was supposed to be auctioned in Swindon today - and extremely interesting reading it would have made, too. One signed letter beginning 'Forgive the handwriting but I preferred not to dictate this to my secretary' is followed, according to the catalogue, by 'highly unusual arrangements for diverting funds from the film The Passage through an intermediary . . . contracts, the establishment of a Lichtenstein company, letters from the Inland Revenue, etc, etc.'

Children's Books: Wanted: the best children's story

The hunt is on for the best new short stories of 1994, stories that no six- to nine-year-old will want to put down. The reward? A pounds 2,000 prize and publication in the Independent for the winning entry. Two joint runners-up will receive pounds 500 each, and the top 10 entries will be printed in a specially produced anthology by Scholastic Children's Books, making these the top awards in this country for unpublished work for children. The invitation is open to professional writers, but we want especially to encourage new talent.

BOOKS / The Gremlin Man: Roald Dahl adored children, and they loved the grotesque world of his books - but that story-telling talent sprang from tragedy and bile. His biography reveals a tale of the unexpected

TOWARDS the end of his life, Roald Dahl claimed that if he walked into any house in the world where there were children, he would be greeted with excitement and delight. Throughout his 74 years he made numerous bids for glory, none entirely without substance, but often exaggerated to the point of fantasy. Here, however, he spoke with more truth than usual; it may well be that the subject of this new biography by Jeremy Treglown is better known than any other English-language author of the second half of this century.

Wanted: the best children's writers: Do children enjoy the books their parents want them to read? Jenny Gilbert asks a mother and son

THE HUNT is on for the best new short stories of 1994, stories that no six- to nine- year-old will want to put down. The reward? A pounds 2,000 prize and publication in the Independent for the winning entry. Two joint runners-up will receive pounds 500 each, and the top 10 entries will be printed in a special anthology by Scholastic Children's Books, making these the top awards in this country for unpublished work for children. The invitation is open to professional writers, but we especially want to encourage new talent.

Letter: Sources for Dahl

Sir: Christina Hardyment (Books, 12 March) is entitled to her opinions about Roald Dahl and about my biography of him. I would be grateful, though, if you would let me correct her suggestion that 'Dahl's best friends and closest relations' all refused to be interviewed by me.

BOOK REVIEW / The pink plastic dummy award: 'Roald Dahl' - Jeremy Treglown: Faber, 17.50

'Readers may ask the question I often put to myself when I began researching the book: should I have given up and gone away?' writes Jeremy Treglown in the preface to his unauthorised biography of the most popular children's writer of all time.

James Bulger: The death of innocence: There are no meanings to be found in James Bulger's murder, says Geraldine Bedell, except that it shows us hell

'THESE two monsters could have been your children,' screamed the headline in France Soir on Thursday. And this has been the fear that has gripped the imagination this past week: that those boys, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, with their smooth skins, their school uniforms, their soft mouths, could have been any children, given different circumstances. All children experiment, test out their power, wonder 'what if?'. Did James Bulger's murderers simply experiment too far? Did they find themselves caught up in an afternoon of destruction from which there seemed no escape but further, and more final, violence? Was the coming together of those three children at the Strand shopping centre in Bootle on 12 February simply an aberration? Or does it offer lessons that could prevent its ever happening again?

Books for Children / The Independent on Sunday bestseller list

----------------------------------------------------------------- BESTSELLER LIST ----------------------------------------------------------------- FOR UNDER 5s 1 The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle Puffin pounds 3.50 2 After the Storm by Nick Butterworth Picture Lions pounds 3.99 3 Where's Wally by Martin Handford Walker pounds 4.25 4 The Baby's Catalogue by Janet & Allen Ahlberg, Picture Puffin pounds 3.50 5 Old Bear Tales by Jane Hissey, Red Fox pounds 5.99 6 Funnybones by Janet & Allen Ahlberg Heinemann pounds 6.95 7 Spot Goes to the Park, Puffin pounds 4.50 8 We're Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen & Helen Oxenbury, Walker pounds 4.99 9 Spot Goes to the Farm, Puffin pounds 4.50 10 Where's Spot, Puffin pounds 4.50 FOR 6 - 11s 1 Jungle Book (Disney Series), Ladybird pounds 4.99 2 Matilda by Roald Dahl, Puffin pounds 3.99 3 The Animals of Farthing Wood by Colin Dann, Mammoth pounds 3.99 4 Esio Trot by Roald Dahl, Puffin pounds 2.99 5 The Minpins by Roald Dahl, Puffin pounds 4.99 6 Jurassic Park: The Junior Novelisation Red Fox pounds 2.99 7 The Animals of Farthing Wood (TV edition), BBC Books pounds 4.99 8 Dilly the Dinosaur by Tony Bradman, Mammoth pounds 2.99 9 Dennis by Jordan Horovitz, Fantail pounds 2.99 10 Dinotopia by James Gurney, Dorling Kindersley pounds 15 FOR 11s AND OVER 1 Only You Can Save Mankind by Terry Pratchett, Corgi pounds 3.99 2 Salamandastron by Brian Jacques Red Fox pounds 4.50 3 The Perfume by Caroline Cooney Hippo pounds 2.99 4 The Iron Man by Ted Hughes, Faber pounds 3.50 5 The Whitby Witches by Robin Jarvis Simon & Schuster pounds 4.99 6 The Beach House by R L Stine, Hippo pounds 2.99 7 The Hitchhiker by R L Stine Hippo pounds 2.99 8 A Warlock in Whitby by Robin Jarvis Simon & Schuster pounds 4.99 9 The Lifeguard by Richie T Cusick Hippo pounds 1.95 10 Wings by Terry Pratchett, Corgi pounds 2.99 ----------------------------------------------------------------- Compiled by Bookwatch -----------------------------------------------------------------

Books for Children / What, Holmes, no trace of us?: Anthologies

IF ANYTHING can be said with confidence about children and fiction, it is that they are repelled by the stuff which sets out to improve them. In choosing 44 of the 'best' original stories for children from the past 250 years for The Oxford Book of Children's Stories (OUP pounds 17.95), Jan Mark has selected 10 samples from the years 1749 to 1864, each of which fails on this count: in fact, 'The Ill-Natured Boy', 'The First Theft' and the other early stories turn out to be almost unreadable today, even by an adult with some social or historical curiosity. Their faults are prescriptiveness, bad writing and a sneaking antipathy towards the child audience itself. If these 10 really were the best stories from the mid-18th to the mid-19th centuries, one grieves for the starved imaginations of the young contemporaries of Jane Austen and Dickens.

Whatever you do, don't discuss Kafka on your first date

WELL, how far should you go on a date? This column has never shrunk from big topics, so we have hired an international agony aunt, Aunt Mildred, for some advice.

BOOK REVIEW / Bookshop Window: My year - Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake: Cape, pounds 8.99

What an odd book: a confessional journal for children. It's hard to imagine anyone but Dahl being able to hold anyone's youthful interest for long enough, but this diary is a remarkable document. It begins by exploring the contents of the author's tabletop - a baby seal carved out of whalebone, a steel hip, a piece of ambergris - and ends with Dahl wishing his readership 'a lovely Christmas and a super holiday'. In between is surprisingly routine treasury of garden lore: moles are nice because they eat 'all the horrid centipedes'; cuckoos are nasty because they are lazy. You keep waiting for a twist - the cuckoo hatches out an alligator, perhaps - but the benign tone rarely slackens. It's like a nature diary by Andy Warhol - what in other hands might be slight seems, in Dahl's hands, freakish and astonishing.
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