Nine publishers fought over a debut book by Fabulous magazine’s deputy chief sub Stacey Bartlett before Bonnier Zaffre triumphed as the winner at auction.
Historical novel The Familiars is based around the notorious Pendle witch trials, which took place in 1612 near to where Bartlett, former media editor at The Bookseller, is from.
Drawn from real-life figures, the novel tells the story of Fleetwood Shuttleworth, a 17-year-old noblewoman who finds herself caught up in the trials and risks everything when her friend and midwife Alice Grey is implicated.
Sophie Orme, editorial director at Bonnier Zaffre, bought UK and Commonwealth rights to the title and one other title following a nine-way auction in a deal negotiated by Juliet Mushens of Caskie Mushens. US rights to the book have also been sold to Kathy Sagan at Mira in a six-figure deal following an auction by Jenny Bent at The Bent Agency on behalf of Mushens. The title is also picking up interest abroad, with an offer pending in Italy and more foreign deals expected to close.
Bartlett, the daughter of market traders who grew up in Rossendale, Lancashire before moving down to London aged 21, has been fascinated with the Pendle Witch Trials – some of the best recorded in the seventeenth century - from an early age. They involved 12 women from the Pendle Hill area of Lancashire accused of the murders of 10 people by the use of witchcraft, with 10 found guilty and executed by hanging, with one found not guilty.
Bartlett told The Bookseller: "I grew up a few miles from Pendle and was always fascinated by the story of the witches. It was only as I got older I realised they weren’t hunchbacked hags with cauldrons, but real people, who were poor and illiterate and served a political purpose they had no control over. I knew I wanted to write about them, but wasn’t sure I had anything new to say. It was only when I visited Gawthorpe Hall in Padiham for the first time a couple of years ago that I realised you can see Pendle Hill – which is synonymous with the legend of the witches – from every window at the back of the house. That was when the idea came to me of writing about the events of 1612 from the perspective of a young woman living in the house, who was somehow connected to it all."
Bartlett began researching the book in summer 2016, writing it simultaneously and then taking a two-month sabbatical from work to complete it.
“I sent it to Juliet, who loved it, and I don’t think either of us could have predicted the response from publishers,” she said.
After turning down the first pre-empt overnight before the auction was called, Bartlett said Bonnier Zaffre “blew her away” with its pitch to win the deal. “I’m looking forward to what will hopefully be a long and happy career being published by them," she said.
Orme added that “the whole company has been bewitched by Stacey’s incredible talent for storytelling”. “We have huge ambitions for this novel and cannot wait to begin sharing it with everyone,” she said.
Pitched as reading group historical fiction for fans of The Miniaturist and Burial Rights Mushens said the work was “everything I want from historical fiction – rich period detail, compelling characters and a page-turning plot”.
She added: “Bonnier Zaffre have some incredible ideas to introduce readers to Fleetwood Shuttleworth and the Pendle Witch Trials and I can’t wait for readers to meet her.”
The Familiars is set to publish in spring 2019 in hardback and e-book, with a paperback to follow. For more information or to request an advance reading copy visit www.thefamiliarsbook.com.