A collaborative novel featuring five bestselling authors including Lucinda Riley and Alyson Richman, inspired by a recent blockbuster Guggeinheim exhibition of a previously little-known pioneering female abstract artist, has notched up advances of "well over $1m" in six territories in the run-up to Frankfurt.
The Friday Night Club is set in Stockholm in the early 1900s, and is a ficitonalised account of "The Five", a group of women artists led by Hilma af Klint, who meet weekly for "artistic and spiritual sustenance". The project was kickstarted by US author Richman (pictured) after she saw the af Klint exhibition. Af Klint was a mystic and artist, whose revolutionary abstract paintings predated the widely-regarded innnovators of the movement like Kandinsky, Malevich and Mondrian. Yet af Klint's work was largely ignored until she was rediscovered in the 1980s. Over 600,000 people saw the Guggenheim af Klint show, which concluded this April, the most-attended exhibition in the museum's 82-year history.
The idea for the book came to Richman after she read one of the painting's captions which said af Klint and her group would meet every Friday. "I was so struck by the beauty of this concept—five women yearning for knowledge, independence, and a deep sense of purpose, in the early 1900s—that I instantly felt it would be an incredible collaborative novel," Richman said. "One where the voices of Hilma and the other four women, who have since been banished into obscurity, could be brought to life.”
Agent Stephen Riley has sold translation rights into six territories, including to Goldmann (Germany) editorial director Claudia Negele, Mondadori Italy's head of foreign fiction Donatella Minuto and Xander Uitgevers' (the Netherlands) founder Sander Knol. The book has also been snapped up in Norway, Sweden and Brazil, while two other "major territories" are on the verge of being pre-empted. Sally Wofford-Giraud of Union Literary is hadling North America rights.
Welsh novelist Tracy Rees, New Yorker M J Rose and the Swedish author of The Red Address Book, Sofia Lundberg, are joining Riley and Richman in the project.
Riley has sold just over one million units for £6.1m in the UK and scored her first-ever British Mass Market Fiction number one in the first week of October with The Butterfly Room. She said: "The story of five women forming a club at a moment in time when women were shunned simply because of their gender, and the amazing spiritual connection they subsequently fostered was right up my street. I knew I had to write Hilma and agreed immediately."