Icon Books has signed Ben Aitken's story of spending lockdown as companion to an 84-year-old, described as "an intimate portrait of an unlikely friendship".
The indie acquired world English rights to There’s Something About Wendy, and an as-yet-untitled second book, in a deal struck by commissioning editor Ellen Conlon with Ed Wilson at Johnson & Alcock, for a "significant" five-figure advance.
Aitken has already published two books with Icon: A Chip Shop In Poznań: My Unlikely Year in Poland (July 2019) and The Gran Tour: Travels with My Elders (September 2020). The Gran Tour featured on ITV’s "All Around Britain" show and BBC Radio 4’s "Saturday Live" in December.
There’s Something About Wendy tells the story of two interwoven lives. The synopsis reads: "Ben (aged 34) and Wendy (aged 84), recently widowed. Ben moved into Wendy’s home in October 2020 where he offers some companionship, help with the Sainsbury’s trip and tips on the crossword. At the same time he learns a lot about her life: her father, who worked in the Treasury under [post-war prime minister Clement] Attlee and [Winston] Churchill; her son, born when she was 24, with cerebral palsy, currently ‘locked up’ in a nursing home; her 30 years working at the Tate; her health; her late husband… Like all housemates, they have their ups and downs. And in learning about Wendy, Aitken learns a lot about himself."
The book will be released in 2022.
Conlon said: "Ben manages to brilliantly capture the unexpected humour of everyday interactions, and the real heart and depth of human relationships, all within just a few sentences. His observations and portraits of individuals are just wonderful. Last year saw us all stuck inside our houses for months, but I bet Ben is among a minority in moving in with a stranger several generations above him, to become her companion. This will be an intimate portrait of an unlikely friendship, and a gentle learning curve, set with the backdrop of the events of 2020. Ben is the perfect example of the brilliant, young talent that Icon is very keen to commission, support and build a platform for, and I’m thrilled to be working on two more books with him."
Aitken added: "My relationship with Icon is proving happy and fruitful, as is my relationship with my new housemate, who has already taught me to heat the red wine in the oven with the plates, and to avoid television between one and four in the afternoon. May both relationships keep on keeping on!"
The subject of the second book is still to be confirmed, but is likely to be on a travel theme, and will hinge on travel opportunities post-Covid. It is anticipated the book will be published in 2023. "Ben is keen to take his Gran Tour further afield, but the specifics of what that will entail are still to be confirmed," Conlon said.