John Murray's gamble on an acquiring editor's first signing has paid off after part-time bookseller Fiona Mozley's unpublished debut Elmet yesterday (27th July) made her the youngest author on 2017's Man Booker Prize longlist. The print run for the title has been upped to 5,000 copies from 1,000 ahead of publication on 10th August 2017 after the news was announced yesterday.
Speaking with The Bookseller, 29-year-old Mozley from York said she hadn't expected her novel to be published, let alone longlisted for the prize, and was "overwhelmed" by the "surreal" experience. Prior to writing the title, she had yet to finish a short story, and during the three years Mozley spent writing Elmet she kept it a complete secret from friends and family.
"It's really surreal. I didn't expect anything like this. When I got the call, I wasn't even up to date when the announcement was going to be; I didn't know Elmet had been submitted for it. It felt like only five minutes ago when the Booker Prize was last announced. It was a real surprise," she said.
"I kept it secret from almost everyone, even quite close friends and certainly all my family. I knew if I told people it would feel like it was real before it was actually real; it would be out in the world too soon. I really didn't know if I was going to finish it or what it was going to be. Or, even if I did finish, I had no particular expectation it was going to be published. When I got the publishing deal and I told my parents about it, they were just stunned and over the moon. Mainly that I had written a novel to be honest. Getting published was the icing on the cake."
Elmet, set in Yorkshire, is a lyrical commentary on contemporary society and one family's precarious place in it, as well as an exploration of how deep the bond between father and child can go, which Mozley began writing on a train from York to London. She had been visiting her family for the weekend where she grew up, and was returning very early on a Monday morning to get back in time for work at 9am. During her journey she completed the first chapter of the book, having experienced what she described as “a sudden of burst of creative energy”.
“I suppose it was the sense of the place I was leaving behind that morning I wanted to capture,” she said.
Mozley today (28th July) returns back to work at The Little Apple Bookshop in York, where she holds a part-time job while undertaking a PhD in Medieval History. "I did [get someone to cover my shift at the Little Apple Bookshop yesterday]," she said. "My friend and colleague managed to cover it but I couldn't tell him why. I just had to say something's come up and I'll explain. It probably sounded like something very urgent and bad had happened! They have [now] all phoned and texted to send their congratulations. They might even put Elmet in the window."
She added: "Independent bookshops are so important to the trade. In the bookshop I work for they're so incredibly knowledgeable and they put books in their shop they like and think are going places. As a bookseller, you can be a real bridge between readers and publishers and authors by making those judgements and pushing certain things. The people of York are very fond of that bookshop - it's been going for 20 years and that is no mean feat for an independent bookshop."
The "atmospheric and unsettling" novel is also John Murray assistant editor Becky Walsh's first ever acquisition, which she picked up last year while all eyes were on the Frankfurt Book Fair.
"It's pretty cool it's the first book she's taken an editorial lead on," commented Mozley. "I really feel like she improved the novel no end. I was very proud of Elmet when I first completed it and sent it off, but it was a lot longer. She would encourage me to cut a lot of stuff from the first half - we ended up almost cutting 20,000 words from the first half - and it's just made it so much more streamlined. That's not something I would have been able to do without such a daring editor, I think. I put a lot of things in her hands."
Walsh said: “JM Originals has only been in existence for three years, Elmet is Fiona’s debut novel and it was my first ever acquisition so this is an exciting time for us all! We established the list in order to nurture writers such as Fiona and by being chosen on the longlist, I am delighted that Elmet is getting the wider recognition that it deserves.”
JM Originals is part of John Murray publishers, which was founded in 1768 and will be celebrating its 250th anniversary in 2018. John Murray won Imprint of the Year at the 2017 British Book Awards.
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