Friday, March 6, 2009

No escaping the R word

Spreading the winnings: Natasha Mostert, centre, with her editor Selina Walker and Waterstone's Neil Jewsbury

There was only one subject on everyone's minds at the annual World Book Day party, held at the splendid 5th floor bar at Waterstone's Piccadilly (footnote: bookshops never used to be like this - we all take it for granted, but the venue, with its view across to the London Eye, is fabulous). That subject was the recession. Everyone was noting how it was Random's turn to announce job cuts that week - 5% - and how, when you open up your trade news bulletin in the morning, you never know who it will be next. Tough times for everyone.

On a happier note, the occasion was the announcement of the winner of the £5,000 Spread the Word: The Book to Talk About 2009 award (something of a mouthful). The World Book Day team had asked publishers large and small to submit books they thought 'deserved to reach a wider readership – most specifically those that would make good subjects for discussion, those that don’t merely entertain, but give greater food for thought'.

The winner was Natasha Mostert's Season of the Witch (Bantam Books), which provided some happier news for Random House and, specifically, for Transworld, which had lost two editorial staff already that week. To everyone's surprise, Mostert announced that she was donating her prize money to a charity no one in the room, outside of her editor Selina Walker, had heard of. CPAU, the Cooperation for Peace and Unity, is a Kabul-based organisation that is 'actively working for the promotion of peace, social justice and human rights and sponsors viable alternatives to war and violence. The "Fight for Peace" initiative is aimed at promoting the rights of women through sport - in particular boxing.'

Mostert said that she read about the body on a BBC News online article while researching her next novel, The Keeper, which is about martial arts. The South African-born author, who now lives in Chelsea and is a keen kick-boxer herself, said: "It touched me deeply to see pictures of Afghan women looking happy. Sport is outlawed by the Taleban. CPAU is teaching women how to be strong and confident, how to be empowered." She added that she will give a proportion of the royalties of The Keeper to the charity as well.

Waterstone's Commercial Director Neil Jewsbury made the presentation and noted that the Spread the Word website had received 40,000 visits from some 159 countries. "That reach shows that World Book Day really is about the world."

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