A “coming-of-old” début has been the subject of a string of deals on the eve of the fair, with HarperFiction sealing UK and Commonwealth rights after an “extraordinary” 10-way auction overseen by Madeleine Milburn.
Editorial director Martha Ashby saw off nine UK publishers to bag Beth Morrey’s The Love Story of Missy Carmichael from Milburn’s eponymous agency. The two-book, six-figure deal was one of a flurry of international deals, with the US sale closing on Monday (8th October). Garzanti snagged Italian rights for six-figures, and deals were struck in Sweden (Lind & Co), Russia (Sinbad) and Serbia (Laguna). The UK deal reunites the Ashby-Milburn team responsible for Gail Honeyman’s huge hit Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.
Set to be a lead title for HarperFiction in 2020, Missy Carmichael is “a life-affirming, deeply moving ‘coming-of-old’ story” that follows a woman who had a “fulfilling life with two children, a golden husband and a Classics degree from Cambridge”. But as she ages, she becomes estranged from her adult children and is left alone. Her past “threatens to shatter her existence rather than soothe, leaving her with no choice but to trust in the kindness of strangers and an adopted dog”.
Morrey is creative director of London-based production company RDF Television—where she helped create TV shows such as “The Secret Life of 4-Year-Olds”—as well as a former vice-president of the Cambridge Footlights, and a sketch writer. Milburn said she hadn’t “felt [so] strongly about a character since the day I met Eleanor Oliphant”, adding: “It was an extraordinary auction, attracting publishing teams from the very literary end of the spectrum to the out-and-out commercial. Missy is going to go far, and reach every type of reader. It has that magic formula.”
Ashby said: “Beth’s wonderful, thought-provoking novel is a powerful exploration of how a life can fall through the cracks of society with apparent ease—and how a community can reach through that crack and pull you back out again.”