Harvill Secker has pre-empted for six figures a “gorgeously atmospheric and deliciously page-turning” Georgian-set debut by Susan Stokes-Chapman.
Publishing director Liz Foley bought UK and Commonwealth rights to Pandora from Juliet Mushens at Mushens Entertainment in a pre-emptive two-book deal, ahead of an eight-way auction. Rights have also sold in 10 other territories, including a five-way auction in Italy. The novel will be published by Harvill Secker in January 2022.
Pandora is billed as a novel “of secrets and deception, love and fulfilment, fate and hope”. The synopsis states: “In London 1799, Dora Blake is an aspiring jewellery artist who lives with her uncle in what used to be her parents’ famed shop of antiquities. When a mysterious Greek vase is delivered, Dora is intrigued by her uncle's suspicious behaviour and enlists the help of Edward Lawrence, a young man seeking acceptance into the Society of Antiquaries. Edward sees the ancient vase as key to unlocking his academic future. Dora sees it as her chance to restore her parents’ shop to its former glory, and to escape her uncle. But what Edward discovers about the vase has Dora questioning everything she has ever known, about her life, her family and the world as she knows it. As Dora uncovers the truth she starts to realise that some mysteries are buried, and some boxes are locked, for a reason.”
Foley said: “Pandora is a bountiful gift of a novel: Susan has given us gorgeous writing, wonderful characters, an atmospheric setting and a thrilling mystery at its heart. Unlike her namesake, Dora will unleash a great deal of pleasure and joy into the world. Georgian London, ancient Greek antiquities, forgeries, glamorous parties and murder at the docks (plus a charismatic magpie)—what more could you want!’
Hailing from the Georgian city of Lichfield, Stokes-Chapman is a graduate of Aberystwyth University’s MA in Creative Writing. Pandora was shortlisted for the 2020 Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize and longlisted for the 2020 Bath Novel Award.
She said: “I couldn't be more thrilled that Pandora has found such a fitting home with Liz and the phenomonal team at Harvill and Vintage. I was blown away by their passion and creative vision for the novel and know that Dora and Edward are in very capable hands. My sincerest thanks to Juliet for her stalwart support and turning a really rather miserable lockdown into something truly wonderful!”
Mushens commented: “As soon as Pandora hit my submissions inbox I was blown away by how polished and atmospheric it was—marrying a page turning plot with sumptuous writing and a vivid setting. When Susan told me she wanted to sign with me I was over the moon and I truly feel that we have found the perfect home with Liz and the team at Harvill Secker.”