Allen & Unwin scoops Oxford scholar's 'astonishing' debut

Allen & Unwin scoops Oxford scholar's 'astonishing' debut

Allen & Unwin will publish the debut novel by Sophie Hardcastle, a research assistant at Oxford University, exploring “the female ill-treatment at the hands of men”.

Senior editor Kate Ballard bought UK Commonwealth rights excluding Canada and Australia New Zealand to Below Deck, from Sharon Galant at Zeitgeist Media Group. Below Deck will be published by Allen & Unwin in May 2020.

The synopsis reads: "When 21-year-old Oli ditches an internship to sail with Mac, a benevolent old salty, and his best friend, Maggie, up the East Coast of Australia to the Coral Sea, the world blooms like a sea garden, flowering into colours Oli has never seen before.

"Later, in her mid-20s and fluent in the language of the sea, Oli is the only woman among five men on a yacht delivery from Noumea to Auckland. And in the darkness below deck, Oli learns. At sea, no one can hear you scream.

"Living now in London, Oli’s life at sea is buried deep beneath the earth. But when she meets John, the wind changes, and her memories are dust blown into shapes." 

The novel explores "the vagaries of consent, about who has space to speak, and who is believed," Allen & Unwin said.

Ballard said: “I’m not alone in having been blown away by this page-turning, shocking and unforgettable novel that leaves us questioning what it is to be a young woman making her way in the world today. We are incredibly proud to be publishing this astonishing book – and to bring Sophie’s remarkable, unique and edgy voice to readers here in the UK.

"I was captivated by Sophie’s voice in Below Deck and inhaled the novel in a single sitting. Her style is both poetic and unvarnished in equal measure, these qualities working together to startling effect and bringing to life Oli's experience in a truly compelling way. This novel feels to me incredibly timely – not only in its brutally honest depiction of female ill-treatment at the hands of men, but also in its sensitive and astute observations of the ways in which we interact with the natural world.”

Australia-born Hardcastle, 25, who works as a research assistant in the English Faculty of Oxford University, said: “Below Deck is my cry out into the dark for women everywhere. Our stories have been resting on the ocean floor, wrapped in coils of seaweed for millennia. Only now is the truth bubbling up. It means everything to me that Allen & Unwin UK are listening. I found my second home in the UK, here in Oxford where I've been for the past 18 months, first studying as a scholar, and now working as a research assistant."

She added: "I'm utterly thrilled that, thanks to Allen & Unwin UK, Below Deckwill now reach a British readership.”