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Last Updated: Friday, 6 April 2007, 14:37 GMT 15:37 UK
Faces of the week
Faces of the week

Our regular look at some of the names which have made the news this week. Above are IAN McEWAN (main picture), with BORIS JOHNSON, MEL B, NORA SANDS and NIGEL SHEINWALD.


Ian McEwan has been called many things in his 58 years. The "crown prince" of English fiction and "most beautiful baby 1948" are among the more flattering descriptions.

The less pleasant epithets include "Ian Macabre" and plagiarist; now he's been accused of stealing again - not words this time but stones.

In an interview with the BBC's Andrew Marr, the novelist confessed that while researching his latest book, On Chesil Beach, he removed a handful of pebbles from the World Heritage site in Dorset.

Unfortunately for him, a local by-law strictly prohibits the removal of even a single stone from the beach - which is regarded as a highly fragile environment.

It's perhaps a sign of his fame that so many people were at pains to point out that Mr McEwan could be fined 2,000 if prosecuted and convicted.

He's regarded as one of the heavyweights of English literature, always mentioned alongside Salman Rushdie, Martin Amis and Julian Barnes. When his historical novel Atonement wasn't short-listed for the Booker Prize in 2005 eyebrows were raised.

Ian McEwan holding copy of Amsterdam at the 1998 Booker Prize Awards
McEwan holds up his 1998 Booker Prize winner, Amsterdam
When Saturday came out in 2005, it prompted not only rave reviews in the newspapers but also items on TV news bulletins.

He's an author who's taken seriously and has won critical acclaim. His own website directs "students" to a guide of "essential criticism" of his work.

But he's also that rare thing - a literary novelist who's sold thousands upon thousands of books worldwide. His name is known, even by those who don't read novels.

A very public spat with his first wife over the custody of their children made headlines - as well as the recent story of his reunion with a brother he never knew he had.

His early works also made waves - largely because of their rather gruesome subject matter.

The writer has hinted in the past that the stories were related to a repressive, lonely childhood. I was "blowing the lid off a tin", he once said.

Ian McEwan was born in Aldershot and spent much of his early childhood following his army father around the world.

At 11, he was sent away to a council run boarding school - which he's said to have hated.


He read English at Sussex University and then became one of the first students to enrol for the creative writing course run by the late Sir Malcolm Bradbury at the University of East Anglia.

It was here that he first gave vent to his interest in the darker side of human nature. Bradbury conceded later that McEwan's early stories were shocking.

One of them, Homemade, contains a very detailed description of the 14-year-old narrator's plan to rape his 10-year-old sister.

But Bradbury insisted that even early on it was obvious there was more to the young Ian McEwan than gratuitous sensationalism. The aspiring writer was "working something out on a deeper level" he said in an interview a few years ago.

The early novels which followed were also rather gruesome - teenage incest in the Cement Garden; a double murder in the Comfort of Strangers; menacing evil in Black Dogs and an obsessive stalker in Enduring Love. In recent years he's lost some of his reputation for the macabre.

Close-up of Atonement
Atonement failed to win the Booker Prize
Atonement - regarded by many as his best work - was critically acclaimed despite not picking up the Booker prize.

However, last December he was accused of copying passages of the historical novel from a factual account by Lucilla Andrews of her experiences as a war-time nurse.

The author denied the he'd plagiarised her work and stressed that he'd acknowledged his debt to Ms Andrews at the end of Atonement.

Many other authors sprang to his defence, including the reclusive American Thomas Pynchon, pointing out that all novelists made use of original documents when writing historical fiction.

Some said the support had been organised by McEwan's publisher, others saw it as an indication of the high regard he is held in by his peers.

Is he among those authors whose books will still be read in fifty years time? It's impossible to say of course. But a few years ago the Independent printed a tongue in cheek list of the worst 100 novels of all time, suggesting that Ian McEwan was the most over-rated writer in the English language.

In a recent interview with Reuters the author himself dismissed suggestions of immortality. "All writers have to protect themselves against damning reviews," he told the news agency. "So I think you need to be equally inured to the superlatives."

Boris Johnson

The outspoken Conservative MP, Boris Johnson, is in hot water again, this time for saying that Portsmouth is "full of drugs, obesity and underachievement". His political opponents are demanding he walk barefoot to the city to eat a slice of humble pie. If he did, it wouldn't be the first time he'd made such a trip. Two years ago he was forced to apologise after an editorial in the Spectator, which he edited at the time, described Liverpool as wallowing in its victim status.

Mel B

Former "Scary Spice" Girl, Mel B, has given birth to her second child in Los Angeles. She drove herself to hospital after her waters broke and had a daughter weighing 5lb 4ozs. Coincidentally, the birth came on the birthday of actor Eddie Murphy, whom Mel insists is the father. The pair are no longer together and Murphy is demanding a paternity test. Mel B also has an eight-year-old daughter from a previous relationship.

Nora Sands

Jamie Oliver's favourite dinner lady, Nora Sands, who helped the chef in his campaign to improve school dinners, has left her job at a London school. Although her employers say she is leaving for "personal and health-related reasons", friends say she has become disillusioned at the lack of government money available to improve school meals. Irish-born Sands became a star of Jamie's School Dinners through her no-nonsense approach. Oliver says he is bitterly disappointed that she is leaving.

Nigel Sheinwald

Questions are being asked about whether a deal was done to free the 15 British service personnel captured by Iran two weeks ago. If anyone knows the answer it is Sir Nigel Sheinwald, Tony Blair's foreign policy adviser. He was entrusted with the 40 minute telephone call to Tehran which led to the end of the crisis. He's well used to such sensitive work; he's made numerous visits to the Middle East and has dealt with Syria and Libya.

Written by BBC News Profiles Unit's Helen Morgan-Wynne

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