4th Estate takes on 'haunting' literary debut

4th Estate takes on 'haunting' literary debut

4th Estate will publish an “exceptional” debut about survival against a dystopian, water-filled landscape from an environmental literature expert.

Helen Garnons-Williams, 4th Estate’s publishing director, acquired British Commonwealth rights excluding Canada to Doggerland by Ben Smith, on exclusive from Euan Thorneycroft at AM Heath, after working with the author on the manuscript. The HarperCollins imprint plans to publish the title in hardback in March 2019.

It has been lauded as an “exceptional” literary debut by Smith, a poet and academic, and billed as a cross between The Road, The End We Start From and ‘Waiting for Godot’ "but with a distinctiveness all of its own".

Doggerland is set against The North Sea, far from what is left of the coastline, where a wind farm stretches for thousands of acres. Two men are charged with its maintenance: the Boy and the Old Man. Supplies come every few months from The Company but there are never enough parts to keep all the turbines going, according to the blurb. Grey waves roll, the work is endless, land is a memory.

The Old Man dredges for treasures of the sea such as plastic, scraps, lost things. The Boy sifts for the truth of what happened to his father, the man who worked on the rig before, and whose disappearance meant The Company needed a replacement and so conscripted the next of kin. Then, from the limitless water, a plan for escape emerges.

Garnons-Williams knew Smith through another 4th Estate author and he approached her to ask feedback on his novel. Garnons-Williams told The Bookseller that "having read and loved his poetry I said I'd be very happy to read Doggerland". The pair worked on the manuscript before Smith sought representation from Thorneycroft, and then the novel was submitted exclusively to Garnon-Williams at 4th Estate.

“We are thrilled to have acquired Doggerland and to welcome such an accomplished, original and inventive novelist to the 4th Estate list,” Garnons-Williams said. “This beautifully crafted novel about loneliness and hope; nature and survival, is as haunting as it is compelling - and a very special debut indeed.”

Smith said: “It’s a real honour to have been taken on by such an esteemed publisher - I can’t believe that my first novel will be appearing alongside the incredible books on their list. It’s been an amazing experience working with Helen on the manuscript and it will be wonderful to have the opportunity to continue to work with her and the rest of the team.”

Smith is based in North Cornwall and is a creative writing lecturer at Plymouth University. His first poetry pamphlet, Sky Burials, was published by Worple Press and his poetry and criticism have appeared in numerous outlets. As an academic, he specialises in environmental literature focusing particularly on oceans, waste and the ‘Anthropocene’, relating to human impact on geology. One of the founding editors of The Clearing, a magazine about landscape and place, he also helps organise 'Crosscurrents', a project bringing together writers and marine scientists, and he helps engage local communities with the problems of marine plastics.

The news follows five 4th Estate deals reported last month including much-anticipated crime thriller The Plotters by South Korean writer Un-su Kim, won in a five-way auction by commissioning editor Anna Kelly.

All translation rights enquiries about Doggerland should be directed to Alexandra McNicoll and she can be contacted on Alexandra.mcnicoll@amheath.com.