Picador has won an auction to publish a short story collection about women, "the body and the bodily", plus a debut novel, from the White Review Short Story Prize-winning author Julia Armfield [pictured].
The deal is Picador editor Kishani Widyaratna’s first lead acquisition since she was promoted at the Pan Macmillan imprint in June. She has acquired UK and Commonwealth and exclusive European rights for a "profound, shocking" short story collection, salt slow, which explores gender and physicality, as well as an as-yet-untitled novel about a strange facility for women. The rights were won at auction from Sam Copeland at Rogers, Coleridge and White who described the 28-year-old Armfield as an "extraordinary talent". The Bookseller understands the books have also been sold in America.
Armfield’s story “The Great Awake” won the 2018 the White Review Short Story Prize in May and her story collection was longlisted for the Deborah Rogers Foundation Prize earlier this year, which is how Copeland first came across the author during the longlisting stage. She was also shortlisted for the Moth Short Story Prize 2017.
salt slow will be published on 30th May 2019, billed as “a collection of stories about women and their experiences in society, the body and the bodily, mapping the skin and bones of its characters through their experiences of isolation, obsession and love”. Throughout the collection, women transform into insects, men turn to stone, a city becomes insomniac and bodies are picked apart to make up better ones, a Picador spokesperson said.
The stories are described by Widyaratna as “full of feminine desire and acerbic wit”, while Copeland compared them to the work of Carmen Maria Machado and Angela Carter.
The novel will focus on a group of women in a strange facility, in which treatment may be taking a turn for the monstrous. As the women's stories unfold and their bodies become less their own, the reader gradually uncovers how each inmate came to be there and the price that may have to be paid for escape. The publication date is not yet known.
Armfield works as an education coordinator and assistant to the director at Inner Temple, one of the four Inns of Court in London. She is a fiction writer and playwright with a Masters in Victorian Art and Literature from Royal Holloway University. Her work has been published in Lighthouse, Analog Magazine, Neon Magazine and the Stockholm Review.
Widyaratna [pictured below right], who is also a contributing editor at the White Review, said: “To me Julia is one of those exceptional writing talents, she’s fiercely smart, daring, formally accomplished and hugely imaginative. Her stories form a renegade queer literature full of feminine desire, acerbic wit and the most monstrous body horror you could hope for."
Copeland said: “The minute I started reading Julia’s work whilst judging the Deborah Rogers Foundation Prize, I knew there was something special. She is a wonderful talent, a beautiful writer and her work is that rarest of things: different.
"At turns shocking, at turns profound, Julia’s stories remind me of Carmen Maria Machado and Angela Carter. For a writer of her young age, her talent is extraordinary, and I’m incredibly excited to be part of the journey at this early stage."
He is expecting a cluster of other foreign sales for the books.
The deal follows reports of supernatural themes making a comeback, with editors describing how the horror provides a framework to explore sexuality and gender politics. Horror is "transgressive, helping you explore a different point of view [tying in] with the concept of shape-shifting," Ellie Steel, senior editor at Harvill Secker, told The Bookseller last month. Meanwhile short story sales have also enjoyed a boom in sales, rising by almost 50% in value, to reach their highest level in seven years, it was revealed in January.
Armfield said: “I’m absolutely thrilled to have been taken on by Picador and incredibly excited to work with Kish, who perceives with such clarity the shape I have been hoping this collection will take.”
Widyaratna was previously assistant editor at Picador until her promotion to editor in June, having joined the publisher from Quercus two years ago.
She said: “It couldn’t give me greater pleasure than that I might be able to bring my White Review and Picador worlds together... both these places represent a passion for championing and supporting the most exceptional writers into lifelong careers."