Michael Joseph snaps up 'devastating' début inspired by convict ship

Michael Joseph snaps up 'devastating' début inspired by convict ship

Michael Joseph will publish a début novel inspired by the true story of a convict ship, on which female prisoners created a patchwork quilt. The book is being billed as "Orange is the New Black" meets Fingersmith.

Jillian Taylor, editorial director at Michael Joseph, bought world rights to Hope Adams’ Conviction from Nelle Andrew at Peters Fraser & Dunlop, in a two-book deal. Michael Joseph will publish the title in hardback in early 2021. US rights have been snapped up by Amanda Bergeron at Penguin (Berkley).

The publisher said: "Conviction is inspired by the true story of the convict ship "Rajah" and the female prisoners on board during a voyage to van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) in 1841. Under the guidance of Miss Kezia Hayter, a number of these women created an extraordinary patchwork quilt, which hangs today in the National Gallery of Australia."

The novel opens in London where, in the wake of growing crime rates, the government begins to issue increasingly severe punishments for minor infractions. "Thousands of men have already been sent to Australia, but now the government turns its attention to women of marriageable age," the synopsis reads. "These women have no choice, and most will never return to England. One hundred and eighty female convicts are to be transported on the 'Rajah'. After weeks at sea, peace is broken when a prisoner is mortally stabbed. Trapped in the middle of the ocean, with a killer on board, a fraught investigation ensues. But as the truth behind the convicts’ original crimes comes to light, one question looms large. If everyone on the 'Rajah' is guilty of something, can anyone be trusted?"

Adams revealed how a trip to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London’s South Kensington more than a decade ago sparked an obsession. "From the moment I saw the Rajah Quilt, as part of the exhibition of quilts at the Victoria & Albert Museum in 2009, I’ve been obsessed by it, and the extraordinary way it was created," she said. "I’m really excited to be bringing the story of Kezia Hayter and the convict women to readers next year."

Taylor said: "Conviction is a devastating and thought-provoking account of some of the most vulnerable women in history–women failed by society, their family and the law. The more we discover about these women and their lives before imprisonment, the more unputdownable the novel becomes. This is reading-group historical fiction at its most compelling–'Orange is the New Black' meets Fingersmith–tackling modern themes of guilt, innocence and female agency by exploring a remarkable real-life event. 

"Conviction is a deft piece of fiction that interrogates as much as it entertains; an absorbing, visceral read about female anger, subservience and ultimately, strength," Andrews said of the début.