Picador has signed the "unforgettable" first book from prison philosophy teacher Andy West in a six-way auction, promising a compelling look inside UK jails alongside explorations of life’s most urgent questions.
Editor Kris Doyle scooped UK and Commonwealth rights from Sam Copeland at RCW. The currently untitled book, scheduled for publication in early 2022, was a hotly-tipped manuscript at LBF this year.
West, who works for the Philosophy Foundation, chats to inmates about their lives, ideas and feelings, offering new ways to think about their situation. Along the way he investigates universal dilemmas such as whether bad behaviour can be justified, do we have the right to forgive ourselves and are prisoners any less free than those of us with a mortgage to pay or a school-run to do?
“As his students discuss these knotty problems, West struggles with his own inherited guilt: his father, uncle and brother all spent serious time in jail,” the synopsis says. “Through this blend of memoir, storytelling and gentle philosophical questioning, the readers will gain a new insight into our justice system and, more importantly, into themselves.”
Doyle explained: “Moving, sympathetic, wise and frequently funny, everyone at Picador knew this elegantly written and unforgettable book was a ‘must have’ acquisition as soon as we read it. The book does many wonderful things at once, but most of all, Andy – who is as likely to learn lessons as his prisoner-students – shows us how talking, listening, thinking and understanding can change our minds, even transform our lives.
“It’ll delight readers of perceptive, resonant, literary non-fiction, such as The Examined Life (Vintage) or Being Mortal (Profile). I couldn’t be more excited to be publishing it.”
West said his job teaching in prisons had given him a unique outlook on the human condition. He added: “Going from visiting family in prison as a kid to teaching philosophy in jail has sent me on a personal journey that has made me rethink the nature of freedom, justice, luck, laughter, manhood, responsibility and pretty much every other subject. I write my book in that hope my readers will experience the same shift in assumptions and beliefs that I have.
“I feel immense gratitude for this opportunity – thank you to my students and everybody who has supported me in both my philosophical and writing practice.”
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