Bids flow in for Pullman character to be named after Grenfell Tower victim

Bids flow in for Pullman character to be named after Grenfell Tower victim

A campaign to name a character in the second part of Philip Pullman’s The Book of Dust series after one of the Grenfell Tower fire’s young victims has helped raise more than £25,000 in just over a day.

Teacher James Clements had asked that the character in the companion series to Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy be called “Nur Huda el-Wahabi” after one of his pupils who died in the blaze. Authors such as Meg Rosoff, David Nicholls and Katherine Rundell have joined members of the public to support Clements’ bid to ensure el-Wahabi's name “would live on” after "a life that was so full of promise has been cut short in the most terrible way".

All 120 flats in the West London block were destroyed in the blaze last Wednesday (14th June), which killed 79, although the police have warned that the final figure might never be known.

The opportunity to name a character in Pullman's much-loved series -also known as "lot 369" - does not guarantee that the character will have a particular personality, but that it will have a "part to play in the plot." It was revealed last month that the first novel in The Book of Dust three book series would be called La Belle Sauvage. It will be published on 19th October by Penguin Random House Children's and David Fickling Books.

Fundraisers said: "The second part [of The Book of Dust] (not yet titled) will follow next year. The right to name a character doesn’t guarantee that he or she will be good, bad, beautiful or otherwise, but it will be a speaking role with a part to play in the plot."

Teacher Clements bid £1,500 for the opportunity to name the character in tribute to one of the victims, his pupil Nur Huda el-Wahabi.  His original bid was backed so many others that the campaign ended up raising more than £17,000 in just over 16 hours.

He posted yesterday evening (25th June): “I expect this will go for a lot more (and I hope it does), but here it goes: £1,500. It this is still the leading bid on Tuesday, I’d like to call the character Nur Huda el-Wahabi.

“The real Nur Huda was an ex-pupil of mine who lived in Grenfell Tower and didn’t make it out of the building that night. A life that was so full of promise has been cut short in the most terrible way. As well as raising some money, this would mean her name would live on. Plus Nur Huda is a pretty cool name for a character.”

He added: “Please outbid me by lots though – it’s an important cause.” Bids to support Clement's original pledge on the Authors for Grenfell Tower auction had risen to more than £17,000 by Monday (26th June) lunchtime. 

Nicholls said: “Just in case – please add £100 to James’ bid. Nur Huda is a fine name,” while Haddon, author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (Vintage) said: “Can I add £1,000 to James Clements’ bid on behalf of Nur Huda el-Wahabi.”

The online auction now features more than 600 donors at the time of writing, since it launched on 19th June. Altogether more than 3,700 bids have been placed and 75,000 people have viewed the site in a week.

Harriet Reuter Hapgood (above) organised the initiative, alongside Molly Ker Hawn

The initiative was organised by Molly Ker Hawn, agent at the Bent Agency, and Harriet Reuter Hapgood, journalist and author of The Square Root of Summer (Macmillan Children's Books) and there are 13 volunteers working involved in the auction team.

Reuter Hapgood told The Bookseller how she and Ker Hawn decided on the venture to help the Grenfell Tower victims. She said: "On 16th June I was on a train out of London composing an email to UKYA  authors I know about what we could do to help...when I saw Molly Ker Hawn tweet something similar." She emailed the literary agent at the Bent Agency to suggest a collaberation.

She said: "We set up a website, email, spreadsheet and wishlist of authors within an hour, Sara Barnard came on board that night, and by Monday morning we were up and running with about 30 lots on the site."

Reuter Hapgood said the pair have watched in "awe" as enthusiasm grew online. She said: "We sent it out on Twitter and watched in awe as it grew. We've been so inundated with emails, we didn’t really have to chase people — Philip Pullman emailed us himself, it wasn't us reaching out. We have no idea [how he came across us]...He emailed us out the blue a couple of days after the launch, asking how to go about donating."

David Fickling, publisher and editor of David Fickling Books, told The Bookseller that the gesture was "characteristic" of the author. He said:  "What a characteristically generous and thoughtful idea by Philip to offer to name a character in The Book of Dust to help raise money to support those who have lost their homes and loved ones." 

He added: "None of us ought ever to forget the tragedy at Grenfell Tower, but lest we do one of the best places to keep the memory always alive is surely in the pages of one of our greatest storytellers Philip Pullman.”

Ker Hawn said she knew the publishing industry would support the auction but was still taken aback by the response. She told The Bookseller: "I knew the publishing world would respond to this — we’re readers, and reading builds empathy. But I had no idea that everyone would respond quite this enthusiastically. I think we’re all furious that the residents of Grenfell Tower were failed so grievously by the state, and grateful to have a way to contribute to recovery efforts." Hapgood and Ker Hawn said they believe they will raise more than £65,000 for the London Fire Relief Fund.

Other prizes being autioned include the original manuscript of The Girl of Ink and Stars (Chicken House) by Kiran Millwood Hargrave and a Californian writer’s retreat worth more than $700. The funds go towards raising money for the British Red Cross London Fire Relief Fund, supporting victims.

There is also the chance to name a character in a future Katherine Rundell novel, a photoshoot by Ian Rankin, and Angie Thomas, author of The Hate You Give (Walker Books) is offering a Skype visit or editorial feedback from Penguin Random House Children’s fiction publisher Ben Horslen. 

La Belle Sauvage, the first instalment in The Book of Dust series, will be released on 19th October published jointly by Penguin Random House Children’s and David Fickling Books in the UK, while Random House Children’s will publish it in the US.

The auction closes at 8pm on 27th June. Visit authorsforgrenfelltower.wordpress.com to participate or follow #authorsforgrenfell on Twitter for more updates.