Books by Eleni Kyriacou, Elizabeth Okoh and Robert Hamberger have been acquired by Hachette following its first ever open submission scheme as part of The Future Bookshelf, an initiative set up to help discover unpublished authors from underrepresented backgrounds.
Chosen from a total of over 750 submissions, Kyriacou, Okoh and Hamberger and their works went through the normal acquisition process before being offered contracts and signing with their respective publishers, Cicely Aspinall, editor at Hodder & Stoughton, Francine Toon, commissioning editor at Hodder & Stoughton, and Kate Craigie, editor at John Murray.
As well acquiring authors from its open submission initiative, The Future Bookshelf will also be mentoring two aspiring authors who submitted their work: Suzette De Coteau-Atuah and Tara Nabili.
Nick Davies, chair of The Future Bookshelf, said: “ We’ve been overwhelmed by the response to The Future Bookshelf from our colleagues, from the wider industry and, of course, from the 757 debut writers who submitted their work. It has been a privilege to read so many fresh and diverse new voices. Congratulations to Eleni, Elizabeth and Robert. This is just the start for The Future Bookshelf and these three writers embody what a more diverse, inclusive and exciting place publishing can be.”
Eleni Kyriacou and Robert Hamberger
Kyriacou, a freelance writer and editor, who has completed a Curtis Brown Creative course, was snapped up her story of a Greek Cypriot immigrant that was inspired by her parents. Entitled Five Days in December (tbc), her novel is set in the fog-bound streets of London in 1952. The book's protagonist Dina is working hard to build a better life when she meets the mysterious and alluring Bebba and is forced to take a new and dangerous path. Her new publisher, Hodder, called it “a dark and poignant tale about the adventures and dangers of life in a new country, and of friendship and family and what can happen when those bonds are tested to their limits”.
Kyriacou, now represented by The Good Agency, said she was thrilled her tale of Cypriots trying to survive London in the 1950s was going to be published. “We need all our experiences reflected in culture, otherwise we’re invisible, non-people, forever explaining our tricky surnames with brief potted histories before the questioner loses interest. I’ve never read a story about coming here as a young Cypriot woman, as my mother did, so I had to write it,” she said.
London based, Nigerian writer and photographer Okoh [pictured right] holds a certificate in novel writing from City University and was meanwhile signed by Hodder for The Returnees. It tells the story of an adventurous 25year-old British Nigerian woman who has not returned to the country of her birth for many years; when she does, she must confront the secret behind the paternity of her child.
"The Returnees is a story that bolted into my life and I immediately knew it was a story I was called to tell. I was ecstatic when I found out that there was someone else who got the story and loves it as much as I do," said Okoh.
Toon, the book's editor, said it was Okoh's voice and command of plot and characterisation that really stood out. "I love how she whisks the reader away to Lagos and examines the nuances of British Nigerian experience, bringing poignancy, humour and surprises along the way. I am really looking forward to working with her," she said.Hamberger, a published poet of six pamphlets and three collections, is the first non-fiction writer who will be published through The Future Bookshelf.
His book A Length of Road, which will be released via the JM Originals list, was classed "part memoir, part travel-writing, part literary criticism" and described as "a poetic exploration of class, gender, grief and sexuality". Its springboard is the 1841 escape of the "peasant poet" John Clare from an asylum in Epping Forest, where he had been kept for four years, and his 80-mile journey home to Northamptonshire.
More than 150 years on, the book's author decided to retrace that route along the Great North Road over a punishing four-day walk. Hamberger revealed the book had been 23 years in the making through various "self-doubts and life changes".
His editor Craigie called it "a timely, deeply moving, genre-bending memoir" and said: "Finding a writer like Robert highlights how important it is that the publishing industry reach out to more diverse writers and communities, and I’m proud to have been a part of The Future Bookshelf team."
The Future Bookshelf was originally launched in March 2017 as part of Hachette’s Changing the Story diversity scheme with the goal of providing a creative writing hub, contributed to by a range of authors, editors and agents, to demystify the business of publishing. In December of 2017, The Future Bookshelf held an open submission for unagented and unpublished authors of fiction and non-fiction who felt they were underrepresented by the publishing industry. It asked for a personal statement as to why the author felt underrepresented be submitted along with a sample of the author’s work. The top five reasons why applicants felt they were underrepresented in the publishing industry were, in order: race, sexual orientation, age, disability, socio-economic status.
The open submission scheme saw 757 submissions and were read by 59 in-house readers from across Editorial, Marketing, Publicity, Sales, Audio, Rights, Contracts and Production who worked throughout 2018 to select submissions strong enough to go through the normal acquisition process. Two-thirds (66%) of the submissions fell into either SFF, Commercial, Crime/ Thriller or Women’s Fiction categories while most submissions came from the Greater London and South East England areas.
Extracts of all three of the authors’ work can be found on The Future Bookshelf website. Hachette has world English rights with the finished books all provisionally scheduled for 2020.
Although not an original part of The Future Bookshelf Scheme, as well acquiring authors from its open submission initiative it will now also be mentoring a number of aspiring authors with "potential". Selected mentees De Coteau-Atuah and Nabili will receive up to six hours of one-on-one mentoring, a package of creative writing books, a visit to Hachette for face to face meeting with their mentor and an informal presentation from members of the wider publishing team, and a free creative writing workshop with Helen Corner-Bryant the founder of Cornerstones Literary Consultancy and the author of On Editing.
The 2019 Future Bookshelf open submission will expand to include Hachette’s Orion and Little, Brown divisions. The 2019 open submission will invite unagented and unpublished authors to submit their work after the London Book Fair. Exact dates will be advertised in the New Year on The Future Bookshelf website.