William Collins lands Mustill's whale tale in five-way auction

William Collins lands Mustill's whale tale in five-way auction

William Collins has acquired writer and wildlife filmmaker Tom Mustill’s debut, How to Speak Whale, following a five-way auction.

Tom Killingbeck, commissioning editor at William Collins, bought UK and Commonwealth rights excluding Canada from Kerry Glencorse at Susanna Lea Associates in “a competitive auction”, the publisher said.

The book follows the experience of Mustill, a wildlife filmmaker, who was whale watching in 2015 when a Humpback breached onto his kayak and nearly killed him. A video clip of the event went viral and Mustill found himself inundated with theories about what happened.

“[Mustill] became obsessed with trying to find out what the whale had been thinking,” the HarperCollins imprint said. “He wished he could just ask it. In the process of making a film about his experience, he discovered that might not be such a crazy idea.”

How to Speak Whale is billed as “a lively, wide-ranging and personal investigation of the science of animal communication" spanning labs to AI start-ups, featuring the offices of animal rights lawyers and the ocean depths.

The synopsis reads: “With a kaleidoscopic cast of technologists, futurists, zoologists, ecologists, musicians and tribespeople, Tom will explore how close we really are to communicating with another species, and, if we were to make meaningful contact, how it would impact the world we live in.”

Killingbeck said: “At William Collins we’ve been having some great success with natural science books that tackle quirky and unexpected subjects of late, from The Hidden Life of Trees to Other Minds. This is an irresistible adventure of a book in that tradition, exploring some of the most interesting recent developments in the science of animal communication. Tom will show readers how some animals communicate in a far more complex way than was previously thought, what scientists are doing to decode those ‘languages’, and what the implications might mean for our mutual future.”

Th author said: “I have always had a fascination with stories where humans and nature meet and How to Speak Whale is exactly that: it explores the cutting edge of human-animal communication and its consequences. We are living through an extraordinary moment: technological advances are transforming our understanding of other animals and some offer the tantalising promise of being able to decode what they're saying.”

Mustill studied Natural Sciences at Cambridge, before becoming a conservation biologist and then a BAFTA winning wildlife filmmaker. His films have won numerous awards and been played to the United Nations and European Parliament. His most recent film is "Humpback Whales: A Detective Story" (BBC2).