Harper Lee has said she is “alive and kicking and happy as hell” with the reaction to her new book.
Cornerstone division William Heinemann announced on Tuesday (3rd February) that it would publish Go Set a Watchman, a novel written by Lee before she penned To Kill a Mockingbird and featuring some of the same characters, but never published before.
The manuscript for Go Set a Watchman was rediscovered by Lee’s lawyer and friend Tonja Carter in a bank safety deposit box.
The news of Lee’s Go Set a Watchman has been widely covered by the media, but concerns have also been raised about the re-emergence of the manuscript after so many years, and about Lee’s health. The writer, who had a stroke in 2007, lives in a nursing home and is said to now been mostly blind and deaf.
In an interview yesterday with Vulture, Lee’s editor at HarperCollins in the US, which will publish the book in North America, said he only found out about Go Set a Watchman on the day the news was made public.
“Other people have read it at Harper, but I haven't yet,” Hugh Van Dusen said. “The book had been a deep secret here, even to me.”
He added that he was told “that the book was in either a safe deposit box or a bank vault, and it was wrapped in a manuscript of To Kill a Mockingbird and nobody noticed it for all these years”.
There have also been accusations made in the past that Lee will sign documents put in front of her by her advisors.
In 2013 Lee settled a case with her former agent Samuel Pinkus, who she accused of duping her into signing over the copyright for To Kill a Mockingbird.
In response to the criticism, Arrow Publishing, another division of Cornerstone, tweeted what it described as a direct quote from Lee this morning (5th February), in which she said: “I’m alive and kicking and happy as hell with the reactions to Watchman.”
Cornerstone has also revealed there were 217,513 Twitter mentions of Harper Lee, with an estimated 1bn impressions, in the 24 hours after news of her second novel was announced. An impression means that a tweet has been delivered to the Twitter stream of a particular account, although it does not necessarily mean that the user has read that particular tweet.
The hashtag #GoSetAWatchman went from less than 20 tweets per minute to nearly 700 per minute in the first five minutes after the news of the book broke, said Cornerstone. There were then around 1,000 tweets per minute for the next three hours – with a peak of 1,254 per minute.
Sales of To Kill a Mockingbird have also “skyrocketed”, reported the Telegraph.
Amazon.co.uk told the newspaper that the book has sold 2,983% more copies than before the announcement, while sales of the 50th anniversary edition have increased by 2,466% and sales of the DVD of the film adaptation have gone up by 1,194%.