HarperFiction publicity director Ann Bissell has made her first acquisition in her newly expanded role commissioning for Borough Press.
Bissell bought UK and Commonwealth rights, excluding Canada, to Layla AlAmmar’s debut novel, The Pact We Made, from Ben Fowler at Abner Stein, acting on behalf of Melissa Edwards at New York-based Stonesong.
The title will be published in hardback by the Borough Press on 7th March 2019, the day before International Women’s Day.
Kuwait-based AlAmmar was signed by Edwards as part of the agent’s open call for submissions by Muslim writers in February. The initiative was a response, made initially by a group of 12 American literary agents and later joined by many more, to President Donald Trump’s “travel ban”. Announced on the first anniversary of the presidential election, it is the first of the novels discovered through the open call to find a publisher.
The book tells the story of Dahlia who is staring down the barrel of her 30th birthday, the age when a “Kuwaiti woman from a good family is past her prime marrying years”. Dahlia straddles two worlds, says the publisher, one in which she’s a modern woman living in a modern city, and another where she can’t have male friends, or leave the country without her father’s permission.
A Borough Press spokesperson said: “Beautifully written, with shades of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, and woven through with reflections on Ariel’s story from 'The Tempest', The Pact We Made explores the duality of being a woman in Kuwait and ideas of freedom."
Bissell said: “I love The Pact We Made. Layla’s writing is beautiful; the characters are brilliantly formed and the family dynamic feels very real. Echoes of The Awakening and 'The Tempest' give the novel a literary quality, but ultimately it is a story of Dahlia’s search for freedom, and an exploration of the sacrifices required – and this is an almost universal female experience.”
AlAmmar said: “I'm thrilled to be signing this deal with Borough Press. It's an impressive imprint whose titles I love, and I am so proud to be working with them on my debut novel.”
She grew up in Kuwait and currently lives there. She has a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Edinburgh. Her work has appeared in Quail Bell Magazine, The Red Letters St Andrews Prose Journal and Aesthetica Magazine where she was a finalist for the Creative Writing Award 2014.