Virago has acquired the debut novel by Sharma Taylor, What a Mother’s Love Don’t Teach You, at auction as part of a two-book deal.
Described as "a powerful story of belonging, identity and inheritance", the novel brings together a host of voices to evoke 80s Jamaica’s ghetto, dance halls, criminal underworld and corrupt politics, and at its heart, a mother’s unshakeable love for her son.
The synopsis explains: "At 18 years old, Dinah, a Jamaican maid, gave away her baby son to the rich American couple she worked for before they left Jamaica. They never returned. She never forgot him. Eighteen years later, a young man comes from the US to Kingston. From the moment she sees him, Dinah never doubts—this is her son. What happens next will make everyone question what they know and where they belong."
Rose Tomaszewska, senior commissioning editor, acquired UK and Commonwealth rights for two novels from Hellie Ogden at Janklow & Nesbit UK in a hotly contested auction and plans to publish in July 2022.
Taylor is a Jamaican writer and attorney living between Jamaica and Barbados. She holds a PhD from Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, obtained on a Commonwealth Scholarship and has completed various writing courses, including at Arvon and postgrad courses at the University of the West Indies. She has been shortlisted twice for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize (in 2018 and 2020) and has won the 2020 Frank Collymore Literary Endowment Prize and 2019 Johnson and Amoy Achong Caribbean Writers Prize for emerging writers. Her short story "How You Make Jamaican Coconut Oil" won the 2020 Queen Mary Wasafiri New Writing Prize.
What a Mother’s Love Don’t Teach You is her debut novel. An earlier version of the manuscript was awarded second prize in the 2020 First Novel Competition (organised by Daniel Goldsmith Associates).
Commenting on the novel, Taylor said: "I am beyond blessed to be part of the Virago/Little, Brown family. I’m grateful for the tremendous support I’ve received in my writing from people who believe in my work. My agent, Hellie Ogden, has been a God-send. I wrote this book to showcase Jamaican culture and to explore the relationship between mothers and their children. I was captivated by Dinah’s voice the moment she came to me in the kitchen of my apartment in Barbados. I can’t wait to work with the delightful Rose, who is as passionate about these characters as I am, and as I hope readers will become."
Tomaszewska said: "From the moment I read the opening lines of Sharma’s novel in Dinah’s patois, I was hooked. When we met over Zoom I fell completely for her extraordinary creative force and love for her characters. She is a writer of voices, a ventriloquist who brings us into the real Jamaica, and her energy springs off the page. I am excited to launch her as a debut talent at Virago."
Ogden added: "The moment I connected with Sharma over Zoom, I felt inspired, excited and considerably happier too. She is a joy to work with, and her personality shines through on every page of this magnificent debut. It’s skilful, playful, but crucially it is deeply moving too."