12 JUNE 2004, Page 54

S peaking to the Poet Laureate on GMTV about his love

of Christina Rossetti's poetry, the Home Secretary allowed himself to lapse into what might be seen as a form of arch, Prescottian poetry. Reflecting on 'In the Bleak Midwinter', Mr Blunkett mused with enthusiasm on the way that poetry and music mesh in Christmas carols. 'People sing at Christmas even if they don't sing for the rest of the year,' he said, but added, 'They don't always remember what they are singing because at the time they're probably more than salubrious.—Indeed,' murmured the Laureate. 'They're "inebrious"! ' concluded the Home Secretary with a guffaw.

T mentioned the other day that Arete maga1 zine had published a .1957 memo from Evelyn Waugh to the makers of a proposed film about Scoop. In it he wondered whether

the civil rights movement then being a political hot potato in the US — the novel might have to be set elsewhere than Africa: 'If, for the moment, niggers may not be treated as the subject for comedy, dagoes must suffice.' This is developing into a nice little row. Introducing the memo in the Guardian, Giles Foden remarked, 'The part of the memo which at once demands comment is the visceral racism of Waugh's suggestions... Even those familiar with the stamp of Waugh's writing will be shocked by his remarks in this business context — not least because they take on board early American moves towards racial equality, at a time of segregation and lynchings, and then explode them, with distasteful results.' Ann Pasternak Slater, the wife of Arete's editor Craig Raine, wrote to the paper to disagree: 'This is not the unconscious expression of a racist reflex but knowing mockery of American hypocrisy.' She points out that Waugh mocks discrimination in The Loved One and expresses 'warm feelings towards Hispanics ("dagoes")' in Robbery Under Law, and she argues that A Tourist in Africa is a 'sustained attack on the evils of apartheid'. The bit of her letter in which she describes Mr Foden as 'prejudiced and ill-informed' was cut out, presumably for reasons of space.

After his — let's face it — nearly completely bonkers first novel Timoleon Vieta Come Home (a tragicomic shaggy-dog story about a dog named after a volume of the encyclopaedia), Dan Rhodes announced to interviewers that he would never write fiction again. Now there appears a novel with a cover looking, design-wise, rather similar to Timoleon Vieta. The Little White Car boasts of being 'a feel-good buddy novel about two gorgeous French girls dismantling a car ... while an enormous dog sniffs around in the garden'. It is not by Dan Rhodes; but until the man himself comes out of retirement, Danuta de Rhodes, its 24-year-old New York City-based authoress, will have to do.

at is Susanna Moore, the American

novelist whose racy thriller In the Cut became what they call 'a major Hollywood movie', up to these days? She announced to an audience at the Sydney Writers' Festival that she has given up teaching creative writing in universities 'because she got tired of giving students tips on how to get an agent'. Instead, she now teaches poetry in a homeless shelter where 'people don't even have paper '.

Abook flops wetly through the letterbox. Blimey. This one is truly intriguing. Knees Up Mother Earth is what it's called. The front cover shows what looks like a replica of the FA cup, or something like that, sculpted out of bottlecaps. The back cover shows a bald, bearded, intense-looking man wearing a black robe and a pentangle medallion, cradling a cartoon rabbit. The rabbit has a pierced ear. One of these two, we are allowed to assume, is the author, Robert Rankin. A coverline announces that this is 'the seventh novel in the increasingly legendary Brentford Trilogy'.

Harsin't That Been Done Before? departent. The Australian writer Elliot Perlman's new novel is called Seven Types of Ambiguity. Fortunately, since William Empson remains in copyright, Mr Perlman practises as a barrister. A spokesman for his publisher, Faber, says, 'You don't need permission to use the title.I wonder. In any case, by way of tribute to the literary-critical sage, the spokesman adds, the main character's dog is called Empson. Alex Garland's

new short novel, The Coma, incidentally, distinguishes itself from schlocky Seventies medical thriller Coma by the crafty addition of a definite article.

Less frightening than gun amnesties in Basra, Hackney and South Central Los Angeles, less effective against global human rights abuses than Amnesty International_ but an amnesty nonetheless. It's the Blackwell's Book Amnesty. The Charing Cross Road bookshop is doing its bit to solve the Library Crisis (all media outlets, passim) by offering people the chance to get those unreturned books off their shelves and off their consciences. Throughout this month, you're invited to hand in, anonymously and without threat of a fine, your stolen library books at Blackwell's for the shop to forward them to the original library. (If you turn up there after the end of the month with a library book you've forgotten to return, presumably you can expect a staff member to make a citizen's arrest.) Anyway, I hope to report presently on whether anything comes of this well-meaning but daft stunt.

Han Kunzru, the promising young author of Transmission, seems to have the right idea about stardom. When his life is turned into a Hollywood movie, he tells the Independent, he'd cast Daniel Day-Lewis as himself. 'He'd have to method act me and do all my journalism and I would go on holiday.'

Mo sooner do I mention plans for the first 1"4 literary festival at Althorp than I'm reminded that next month sees another collision of books and country houses. The husband-and-wife-run Way With Words Festival is from 9-19 July in the arcadian surrounds of Darlington Hall, Devon. This year's attractions include Blake Morrison, Mavis Cheek, Sir Roy Strong's moustache, Kate Adie, Posy Simmonds, Clare Morrall and lots more. Tel 01803 867 373 for details, or online: www.waywithwords.co.uk.

If the Way With Words line-up — impressive but quite heavy on establishment names and the usual suspects — looks a bit stodgy for you, there's a younger and groovier crowd promised for the Port Eliot Lit Fest in Cornwall, from 30 July-1 August. Artists and musicians mingle with writers and hipsters. Harland Miller, All Smith, Christopher Logue, Ian Sinclair, Toby Litt and Hugo Williams are among those confirmed. The Situationist poet/critic Tom Payne is also expected. Details at www.porteliotlitfest.com