Diary

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A DAUNTING 24 HOURS IN THE TOP TWENTY

This year sees the 10th anniversary of a celebrated book-selling wheeze. In 1983 the Book Marketing Council selected 20 of Britain's most talented, young (under 40) novelists and successfully promoted their works in bookshops up and down the land. Tomorrow Antonia Byatt, Salman Rushdie (one of the 20 in 1983), and Bill Buford, the editor of the literary magazine Granta, will name another score of promising young pens. Granta will publish all of them in March, as it did in 1983. Unusually for this sort of scam, the 1983 list was remarkably well chosen. It included Martin Amis, Julian Barnes, William Boyd, Ian McEwan and Graham Swift - almost all 20 have seen their careers prosper in the intervening period. But what, we wondered, became of Ursula Bentley, who made the 1983 list on the strength of her first novel, The Natural Order, subsequently published a second, Private Accounts, and hasn't been heard of since? We found her in Walton on the Hill in Surrey. Now 47, she says her early success 'was like being pregnant and being elected mother of the year. I felt rather daunted. It was lovely while it lasted, but it only lasted 24 hours. It was not really very helpful for the old creative crucible.' She has since parted company with her publisher, Secker and Warburg, and separated from her husband. But now, six years after her last work was published, Ms Bentley has an agent, custody of the children and alimony. She is getting to grips with her third novel and is looking for a publisher.

AT A MEETING of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, Leslie Wagner, the vice- chancellor of the University of North London, asked why the meeting's innocuous-looking agenda was marked 'Confidential'. That, replied John Ashworth, director of the London School of Economics, was the only way of ensuring it would attract any press coverage.

DAVY JONES'S JUNK

At long last the French government has released a list of 332 items recovered from the wreck of the Titanic in 1987 by a robot named Robin, operated by a Franco-American salvage team. Apart from an extremely out-of- date copy of the Southampton Daily and a pair of woolly socks, slightly damp, Robin found coins, jewellery, luggage and a host of intriguing items. Such as lot 215, eight corks; lot 219, 'fragments of cardboard box' and lot 209, a medicinal rubber bulb. Or even lot 217, 'a label fragment'. Address yourself to the French Embassy if you think you have a valid claim - a return half of a Titanic ticket would help. And you must pay for the recovery of the item.

LEAFING through the 1984 edition of the Almanac of American Politics, as one does, we stumble upon this entry under 'Governor of Arkansas': 'Clinton's background - Yale Law School, Rhodes Scholar, a lawyer wife who used her maiden name and had her own successful career - helped bring him to the notice of the national media when he first took office (some, absurdly, mentioned this 32-year-old incoming governor of a small state as a possible president).'

FROZEN ASSET

And welcome back to The Story Behind Great Moments In Art. Recall, if you will, Oliver Reed and Alan Bates's naked wrestling scene in Ken Russell's film of D H Lawrence's Women in Love. Russell has in the past suggested that Reed's reputation needed, how shall we put it, enhancing? 'There was some manual stimulation prior to that scene,' Reed confirms in next month's Q magazine. 'It was a freezing cold day and it was six o'clock in the morning. The open fire they had in the background didn't warm the place up at all. And we weren't sweating like you see in the film, that was cold water and glycerine. So, yes, something had to be done to increase the size of my inadequate winkle.'

ON ST VALENTINE'S DAY, Corgi is to publish a novel, Love Over Gold, telling the story of the coffee-drinking lovers in Nescafe's Gold Blend adverts. But how should this sorry tale end? With her pregnant and retching over a mug of coffee? Him sipping camomile tea at a meeting of Caffeine-addicts Anonymous? Suggestions, please, for the usual, rather more stimulating, bottle of Lanson champagne.

A DAY LIKE THIS

8 January 1839 Frances Anne Kemble writes from her husband's slave plantation in Georgia: 'In the hospital there were several sick babies, whose mothers were permitted to suspend their field labour in order to nurse them. Upon addressing some remonstrances to one about the horribly dirty condition of her baby, she assured me that it was impossible for them to keep their children clean; that they went out to work at daybreak, and did not get their tasks done till evening. I mentioned this on my return, and the overseer appeared extremely annoyed by it, and assured me that it was not true. This morning I found the poor woman Harriet crying bitterly. The overseer had flogged her for having spoken to me. His visit had preceded mine but a short time, or I might have been edified by seeing a man horsewhip a woman.'

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