How many 28-year-old aspiring novelists dream of getting their first book giddily blurbed by Hilary Mantel, Kate Atkinson, and Tana French? Lauren Owen, who lives in Northern England, doesn’t only have blurbs drumming up buzz for The Quick, the chilling tale of a man who goes missing in a Victorian London overrun by sinister characters—she also has rabid fans on her team at Random House, jacket copy comparing her to Anne Rice, and a handful of glowing reviews in the trades (including a star from PW).
The Quick’s pub date is June 17, and Random House senior editor Noah Eaker, who purchased the book’s U.S. rights before it went on official submission in the States, is confident that readers will respond to the novel as enthusiastically as he did. “Two very different surprises are layered into the first 100 pages of the book. The first has to do with character—the second has to do with plot,” says Eaker. “An author who could deliver both so effectively was someone I had to work with.”
The Quick wasn’t Owen’s first attempt at a novel—she finished her first full novel at age 20 (but showed it to no one) and wrote fan fiction throughout her late teens and early 20s, which she says allowed her to share her writing with people and get feedback. She didn’t start the The Quick until she was studying for her M.A. in creative writing at University of East Anglia. After finishing her degree, she continued to work on the book in the evenings and estimates that, all in all, it took her about five years before she and her agent, Jenny Hewson (Coleridge and White), were ready to submit the manuscript.
Inspiration for The Quick came from the boarding school where Owen’s father worked when she was a child. “The school was based in an old building that used to be a manor and we lived in what had once been the gatehouse,” she says. “On school holidays, the atmosphere was uncanny—my dad used to joke that a monster lived in the big building.” Though Eaker says that the book speaks for itself, he also notes that Owen’s background does help to explain how she could pen such an accomplished debut at such a young age: “Her childhood suggests an old soul who understood the aura of mystery old that places possess—and her study of Victorian literature at Oxford was clear from how instantly she places the reader in Victorian London.”
When Owen describes her experience working with Random House, she uses the words “lucky” and “wonderful” a lot, and has the air of someone adjusting to a dream come true: “In May 2011, Jenny emailed me to say there’d been interest from Random House, and everything was settled by early afternoon. I remember feeling slightly dazed—that night my family and I sat around in the lounge drinking champagne and looking rather bewildered.”