Vintage has acquired debut novel The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar following a 10-publisher auction as its debut fiction lead title for 2018.
Liz Foley, publishing director of Harvill Secker, acquired UK & Commonwealth rights from Karolina Sutton at Curtis Brown.
The book is set in 18th-century London and the publisher offered a six-figure advance.
Hermes Gowar studied archaeology, anthropology and art history at UEA’s Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts before going on to work in museums. She began to write small pieces of fiction inspired by the artefacts she worked with and around, and in 2013 won the Malcolm Bradbury Memorial Scholarship to study for an MA in Creative Writing at UEA. She won the Curtis Brown Prize for her dissertation, which grew into The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock. An early draft was a finalist in the MsLexia First Novel Competition 2015, and it was also one of three entries shortlisted for the inaugural Deborah Rogers Foundation Writers’ Award.
The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock tells the story of how two unlikely people – unforgettable courtesan Angelica Neal and widowed merchant Jonah Hancock – come together in extraordinary circumstances, prompted by the arrival of a mermaid to the city. The novel explores the commerce at the heart of a "vivid and opulent" world, as well asking questions about family, class and what happens when women disrupt their traditional societal roles.
Foley said: "We fell head over heels in love with Imogen’s writing – and her characters - from the first page and we’re completely thrilled to be working with her on her marvellous, moving, bawdy and clever book. She has such a flair for the telling detail and for elegantly leading her readers through tears to laughter and back. The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock is an incredibly assured and rich book and is going to be enormous fun to publish."