Picador has won a debut novel by A J Pearce, Dear Mrs Bird, after a "passionately-fought" seven-publisher auction.
Francesca Main acquired UK and Commonwealth rights to Dear Mrs Bird in a "major" two-book deal struck by Jo Unwin at JULA – her first since Unwin established her fully independent agency.
Translation rights have been pre-empted in Germany (Rowohlt/Kindler), France (Belfond) and Italy (Sperling & Kupfer) and an auction is underway in the USA. Further deals are expected imminently, and Conville & Walsh will be concluding more at the Frankfurt Book Fair on behalf of JULA.
The book, to be a "super-lead" for Picador, is set in wartime London in 1941. The plot follows protagonist Emmeline Lake who, amid the falling bombs, dreams of becoming a Lady War Correspondent. However, instead finds herself employed as a typist for the formidable Henrietta Bird, the renowned agony aunt of Woman’s Day magazine. Mrs Bird is so resolutely against any form of Unpleasantness that she dismisses letters from the lovelorn, grief-stricken or morally conflicted in favour of those who feel their ankles are unsightly or have had trouble untangling a length of wool. But Emmy can’t bear to think of women with genuine fears and worries going unanswered, and soon decides the only thing for it is to write back secretly...
Main said: "I fell head over heels for Dear Mrs Bird, which is the perfect tonic for these troubled times – it’s warm-hearted, poignant and gloriously funny; an utter delight on every page. A J Pearce is a born storyteller and has written a love-letter to friendship, to acts of everyday heroism, and to letter-writing itself. We’re thrilled to welcome her to Picador and can’t wait to start bringing the unforgettable world of Dear Mrs Bird to life."
Unwin said: "Dear Mrs Bird is everything I ever want in a book – it’s funny, sad, and deeply touching. And A J Pearce is the author we all dream of: seriously good at what she does and ridiculously good fun."
Pearce said: "I am beside myself with excitement to be joining Francesca and the incredible team at Picador. Everyone has been lovely and I know I have found the perfect home for Emmeline and Dear Mrs Bird. Now I really must stop running around shouting PICADOR! at complete strangers."
Pearce grew up in Hampshire and studied at the University of Sussex. She has worked in magazine publishing and spent 15 years in home entertainment marketing. She now lives in the south of England and works freelance.
Dear Mrs Bird will be a "super-lead" fiction launch for Picador in Spring 2018 with an "extensive" marketing and publicity campaign.