HarperCollins has bought a novella about Ebenezer Scrooge's ghostly business partner, Jacob Marley, and his sister.
The book, by historical novelist Vanessa Lafaye, picks up the tragic story of Scooge’s deceased colleague from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and introduces Marley’s sister, Clara Belle, "to step forward and tell the story".
HQ publishing director Kate Mills acquired world rights, including TV and film, for Miss Marley: The Untold Story of Clara Belle and her Brother Jacob Marley from Tina Betts at Andrew Mann Ltd. HQ will publish the novella this November as a small-format hardback.
Mills published Lafaye’s debut, Summertime at Orion in 2015, when it was chosen for the Richard and Judy Book Club and shortlisted for The HWA Goldsboro Debut Crown 2016. Orion published her second novel, At First Light, last year.
The Marlborough-based author has worked in academic publishing for a number of years including for companies such as Oxford University Press, Blackwell's and then Wiley, where she was associate director for innovation strategy until 2015. She was diagnosed with terminal cancer last year and has written about her illness in her blog, Living While Dying, which was later featured in a number of media reports.
Mills said: “Miss Marley is such a brilliant idea and as soon as Vanessa told me about it, it made me shiver. We all know Scrooge is redeemed in A Christmas Carol, but what did Jacob Marley do that was so much worse to justify that hideous punishment for all eternity? Dickens’ classic is a perennial festive favourite, but has few female voices.”
She said she “loved the idea” of Jacob’s sister “stepping forward to tell his story, and her own”.
Mills said: “Through Clara, we see how she and Jacob fell into the workhouse after a family tragedy, and how Jacob forged a way of out of poverty for the pair of them. But at what price? To do so, he must turn his back on those less fortunate, corrupting Scrooge and scuppering his sister’s chance of happiness along the way. I’m a huge admirer of Vanessa’s and her powerful historical narratives, and her love of Dickens and A Christmas Carol shines from every word."
She added: "Peopled with familiar faces, Miss Marley is a timely reminder of the importance of kindness.”
Lafaye revealed her fascination with Dickens’ story dates back years.
The Florida-born author, who relocated to the UK in 1987, said: “Over the years, I’ve became more focused on Jacob Marley. His death opens the tale: 'dead as a door nail'. He has terrible, important news - the most terrible and important of Scrooge's life - and yet only appears in one scene and then disappears. I became consumed by 'why?' Ebenezer did not start out as a monster – what happened?”
She added: “I invented a sister for Marley to guide us through these twisting lanes of imagination. I hope that Miss Marley may cast a new light on this beloved classic.’
Betts said: “We are delighted that Kate Mills and HQ at HarperCollins will bringing their trademark energy and vision to this exciting project.”
Dickens' novella, A Christmas Carol, was originally published by Chapman in Hall in London in 1843.