Diary: Children's writers fight Cinderella

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The Independent Online
ENTERTAINING children is a precarious task: ask Rolf Harris, whose Cartoon Club has just been axed by the BBC after six years. There must also be some sympathy for the writers of children's books, who will be hoping one of their number, Anne Fine, will collect the Whitbread Book of the Year prize at a ceremony in London tonight.

If Ms Fine wins the prize for her Flour Babies, it will be the first time a children's writer has won the award since its inception in 1985 (not to mention the first time a woman's work has been recognised). Biographers have won the most times, with three prizes; first novelists and established writers are tied with two each.

Wendy Boase, editorial director of Walker Books, blames the 'Cinderella efect' of children's publishing. 'They just don't attract the money, the hype, and the advances that adult publishing does,' she says. A former children's category judge, Diana Hendry, believes there is 'something terribly light and terribly serious' about children's books. 'How can an adult possibly judge that?' she asks.

But one expert remains confident about tonight's result: 'Anne Fine is the best children's writer to have reached this stage of the competition. I hope she will win.' Mind you, if even Sally Gritten, who publishes Ms Fine, cannot bring herself to say that her own writer will win, who can?

DESPITE his sang-froid in the face of recent criticism from arts dignitaries, including Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, George Melly and Karsten Schubert - his reaction, he declared, was one of 'contempt and a giggle' - the patience of the Evening Standard art critic Brian Sewell is wearing thin. Hence the rather exasperated message on his answering machine: 'I feel as a result of the recent controversy that I am in the middle of World War Three; and in order to write I've had to switch off the telephone. Leave a message with your name and number, and when I stop for coffee I'll return your call.'


SOME enlightenment on the rumbustious debate on Sunday's World This Weekend programme on Radio 4 between Lords Healey and Parkinson. Lord H bet Lord P pounds 100 that, contrary to popular myth, he had never uttered one of the more memorable sayings attributed to him - that 'he would squeeze the rich until the pips squeak'. Lord P took up the challenge. Just to help him, may I suggest that he turns to page 369 of Lord Healey's memoirs, The Time of My Life.

'I never said that 'I would squeeze the rich until the pips squeak,' though I did quote Tony Crosland using this phrase of Lloyd George's in reference to property speculators, not to the rich in general,' Lord Healey writes. Admittedly, the phrase has subsequently been unfairly attributed to him, completely out of context, but to say he never said it? I trust Lord H is already writing the cheque.

INFORMED at the Marks & Spencer checkout (knickers department, Oxford Street) that her charge card was not working, a flustered Teresa Gorman, MP for Billericay, asked whether this meant going downstairs to resolve the problem. Or 'getting back to basics,' as she put it.


As they assume the presidency of the Council of Ministers this month, the Greeks have left not only their European colleagues but also themselves in confusion: they have appointed not one, but two presidents - the foreign minister, Carlos Papoulias, and the minister for European affairs, Theodoras Pangalos. Ring the Greek commission in Brussels for the name of the president, and back comes the reply: 'Well, it all depends.'

A NOTICE outside a presumably non-Scottish, and certainly unpoetic, delicatessen in Notting Hill Gate: 'Order your McSween haggis now for Burn's night.'


25 January 1961 J K Galbraith, just appointed US ambassador to India by President Kennedy, writes in his diary: 'After the meeting, Mac Bundy told me 'The Boss' (a new term) had been asking for me. I went into Ken O'Donnell's office and presently the President came through, grabbed me by the arm, and we had an hour- and-a-half chat which included a tour of the upstairs of the White House. We saw where Ike's golf shoes had poked innumerable holes in his office floor. When we left the office in the West Wing for the house proper, we went headlong into a closet. The President turned over furniture to see where it was made, dismissed some as Sears, Roebuck and expressed shock that so little - the Lincoln bed apart - consisted of good pieces. Only expensive reproductions. The effect is indeed undistinguished although today the house was flooded with sunlight and quite filled with flowers.'