The dealing started early at this year’s London Book Fair with a number of titles drawing interest from multiple houses. Among the deals that closed, Simon & Schuster bought a debut novel for seven-figures and, just before the fair opened, paid six-figures for a nonfiction work by a hedge fund founder. There was also lots of interest from around the world in a debut novel by a young British novelist.
That debut is from Emma Healey. Strange Companions, which Curtis Brown agent Karolina Sutton represents, was being bid on in multiple auctions, in multiple countries, on Monday. Sutton said that, after one sale in Canada (to Knopf), auctions for the book were underway in Germany, Italy and France.
Healey, who is 28 and has written the book as E.C. Healey, is a graduate of the University of East Anglia’s creative writing program. The novel follows a woman named Maud who is looking for her best friend. The catch is that Maud has dementia. Offered no help from the police or relatives, Maud, who is still haunted by the disappearance of her own sister, decides to take up the search on her own. Elaborating on the book, Sutton said it “keeps the reader on their toes right until the last page” and that it’s “one of the most moving novels I’ve ever read.”
Sutton has also been fielding offers on the book in the U.S. and the U.K. She said that “pretty much everyone is keen in the U.K. having either bid already, or putting together a bid.” In the States it seems to be a similar situation, with an auction among U.S. houses scheduled to start, she said, “soon.”
The S&S fiction buy was for a 700-page debut novel by an author with an MFA in fiction from UC-Irvine. Marysue Rucci at Simon & Schuster bought North American rights to Matthew Thomas's We Are Not Ourselves from agent Bill Clegg at William Morris Endeavor.
WME's Elizabeth Sheinkman, who is representing the novel in London, confirmed that S&S bought the book after a two-day auction, and that the underbidder was HaprerCollins's Jennifer Barth. A U.K. auction for the title is currently underway, and "best bids" are expected by noon on Monday.
Thomas, an Irish American with an Irish passport, has a B.A. from the University of Chicago and also studied fiction at Johns Hopkins with Alice McDermott (in one of the school's Writing Seminars). WME said Thomas has been working on the novel for over ten years. Dubbed by some at the fair as "the Irish epic," the novel begins in a largely Irish neighborhood in Jackson Heights during the 1940s. There, the novel's heroine, Eileen, is being raised by an alcoholic mother and a union-employed father; she longs for more. The story follows Eileen through her adolescence and into her own marriage and motherhood, working up to her discovery of early-onset Alzheimer’s.
WME said the book, which already has blurbs from Chad Harbach and Joshua Ferris (among others), is a "sprawling portrait of a family that heroically weathers an extraordinary storm." At press time, offers on the book had also been made by publishers in France, Italy and Holland.
In a notable deal closing just before the fair got underway, Jonathan Karp and Priscilla Painton at Simon & Schuster bought North American and Canadian rights to a book by hedge fund founder, Bill Browder. The nonfiction work is called Red Notice, and Conville & Walsh's Patrick Walsh sold it for a sum rumored to be in the high six figure range. Painton said the book, though it's nonfiction, "reads like a thriller."
Browder's fund invested heavily in Russian companies, specifically in the oil and gas sector. While getting rich off of the investments, Browder began going public about corruption within the companies, many of which were partially government-owned. The book, which some at the fair described as having a fact-is-stranger-than-fiction quality, is something that Painton feels has the page-turning quality of a novel.
Elaborating on the book, Painton said it depicts "the harrowing journey of taking on corruption, and the moving transformation of a hedge fund manager into a human rights activist."