In February Little, Brown released its U.S. edition of Canadian author Claire Cameron’s The Bear, which was inspired by actual events in 1991 and follows two young children who must find their way home from a camping trip after their parents are mauled by a bear.
The novel was published simultaneously in the U.S. and Canada and, while it became a bestseller in the author's home country, has yet to break out in the States. In spite of its slow take-off here, the novel has received strong reviews and was also longlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction (formerly the Orange Prize). More recently, The Bear was optioned for film by Australian producer and director John Tatoulis.
This week PW talked with Cameron’s editor at Little, Brown, Sarah J. Murphy, about slow starts, movie adaptations and the tricks for turning critical success into sales.
Claire Cameron has written for a number of years. Were you familiar with her work before you acquired The Bear and what attracted you to the novel?
I was not familiar with Claire’s work before acquiring The Bear, because her wonderful first novel, The Line Painter, was not published in the U.S. I’ve since gone back and read it, which further confirmed for me that Claire is a master at creating narrative tension.
I’m glad to have come in blind, though, because The Bear is not your average literary suspense novel. What first attracted me to this book was Claire’s choice of narrator: we see the story through the eyes of five-year-old Anna, who faces a harrowing ordeal while camping with her family in the woods. Anna’s voice on the page immediately swept me away, and I did not look up from my computer until I reached the end of the book and found out what happened to her and her little brother, who is known as Stick.
The Bear was published simultaneously in the U.S. and Canada. Did you work together with Cameron and Random House Canada on the editing and design of the book?
I worked closely with both Random House Canada and Harvill Secker, Claire’s UK publisher, when editing the book. While it can be challenging to incorporate so many different sets of feedback, we were lucky in that we all largely agreed on our main editorial goals. When disagreeing on a point, which was rare, we’d present the case to Claire for her feedback. Ultimately, I appreciated collaborating with other editors, particularly on a novel with such a unique narrative voice—there’s great value in being able to run ideas or doubts by someone who knows the manuscript as well as you do.
As for the design, I owe a huge thank you to our art department for creating a home-run cover. Claire and the Random House Canada team loved it so much that they adopted it for their edition as well, and I think both sides benefited from sharing the same cover art.
Sales for The Bear have differed markedly between the U.S. and Canada, where Cameron’s novel was a #1 bestseller. Do you think a potential film can up the ante here?
A film deal certainly has the potential to up the ante and give the book even greater exposure, though we try not to get our hopes up about movie news until filming is actually underway. Having given my sensible answer, I’ll now add that it would be thrilling to have this brought to the big screen. The adaptation will require some creativity, but I think there’s huge potential for it to be an intense, suspenseful, and wildly entertaining drama. I doubt they’ll let me try out for the part of the Bear, so I’m hoping to sneak my way into a scene as an extra. Maybe I can play a tree.
With the exception of Alice Munro, who was awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize for Literature, and Margaret Atwood, it seems hard for Canadian writers to enjoy the same celebrity in Canada and the U.S. What has been your experience publishing Cameron and will you be doing others of her books?
It has been incredible to see the reception and success this book has had in Canada, where it was a #1 bestseller. This was Claire’s first book in the U.S., and I think it was a great start for building her name here. As you point out, barring exceptions like Munro and Atwood, it’s frequently a one-way street between the U.S. and Canada—with U.S. writers gaining celebrity more easily up there, while few Canadian writers are able to enjoy similar celebrity down here. That being said, we have actually sold more copies of The Bear than Canada or the U.K.—it just takes a larger number of copies sold to make it onto the bestsellers lists here. Regardless, a publishing relationship always comes down to the writing and the partnership for me. So when Claire recently told me she’s aiming to complete the draft of her next novel later this year, I told her that those were exactly the words I wanted to hear.