HarperCollins has bought two books including a “Poldark-esque” historical debut about corpses washed up on a Cornish beach for a five-figure sum in the fastest pre-empt literary agent David Headley has “ever seen”.
Wrecker by Noel O’Reilly is billed as a “gloriously gothic update on Jamaica Inn”. HQ’s pre-empt was sent with a page from the Sherborne Mercury of the 1800s tied to a Cornish hevva cake, promising safe passage for the manuscript and warning of the deplorable and lawless villains found in publishing.
HQ publishing director Kate Mills pre-empted world rights from Headly at D H H Literary Agency. Wrecker is set in a remote Cornish village in the 1800s where a young woman, Mary Blight, loots the corpses washed up from shipwrecks. Unlacing the boots of a drowned noblewoman, Mary finds herself the focus of rumour and suspicion when the body’s ears are discovered to have been bitten off, along with a pair of priceless earrings.
Mills said: “From the opening line of Wrecker, I was utterly entranced by this remarkable debut which reads like a gloriously gothic update on Jamaica Inn. Not only does Noel O’Reilly breathe life into the past, he’s got an amazing capacity to bring darkness and terror to it as well, weaving a world steeped in fear and superstition, where not conforming is the worst of crimes. Mary is a woman ahead of her time, vibrant, wily and cunning.”
Mills said that popular novels from authors such as multi-British Book Award-winning Sarah Perry show readers are enthusiastic about history. She added: “Recent bestsellers like The Essex Serpent [Serpent's Tail] and The Witchfinder’s Sister [Viking] show the huge appetite for quality historical fiction and we’re delighted that HQ will be publishing this as a lead hardback next summer.”
Headley said: “Wrecker is an impressive debut and the offer from Kate was the fastest pre-empt I’ve ever received. There was an immediate excitement and interest when the book went out on submission, which confirmed my belief that Noel had written a very special book and had created a memorable, spirited and shrewd character in Mary Blight.”
O’Reilly said: “Ever since I first breathed the magical air of Cornwall I've been back again and again. Writing Wrecker allowed me to return there for many intense months, this time in my imagination. I am thrilled that HQ is going to unleash my heroine Mary Blight onto an unsuspecting world.”