William Heinemann has acquired debut novel King of Rabbits by Karla Neblett, about "how a little boy perceives the world and how his environment leads him on a path to manhood he doesn’t want to follow".
Publisher Jason Arthur acquired world English rights from Rebecca Carter at Janklow & Nesbit, calling it: "a hugely powerful debut".
The book's protagonist is Kai, whose mixed-race family on a rural council estate in Somerset consists of three older sisters, each with different dads, and a mum who is being led into crack addition by his petty thief father. Full of adoration for his friend Saffie and the school rabbit Flopsy, Kai has a natural optimism, and is full of ambition to be the fastest runner in Middledown Primary. But his life "drifts towards a tragedy from which it is hard for him to recover". The book's synopsis warns: "The refuge he seeks in his love of nature, and the wild rabbits who have made their burrows in the woods, may not be refuge enough."
Arthur said the book "shows a side of British life that initially seems familiar, but which is made wholly original in Karla's hands. Her vivid prose is haunting, tender and compelling; the fearless writing about family and about finding one's way in a world defined by chaos leaves a truly indelible mark on the reader."
Neblett, from Somerset, has an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University and has worked in schools helping children struggling with learning and behaviour issues, as well as working with children who misuse alcohol and other substances, and supporting children who are carers in their family. She said: "As I wrote the book, I began to love Kai. He'd be stunned that my editor and agent found him interesting enough to introduce to the world (especially the literary world, he hates reading!) Kai's story is inspired by so many special people. I'm just lucky I was able to tell it."
William Heinemann will publish in hardback and e-book in March 2021 and in Windmill paperback in 2022.