W&N bags former bookseller's 'mind-stretching' debut novel

W&N bags former bookseller's 'mind-stretching' debut novel

Weidenfeld & Nicolson has acquired the debut of former bookseller Daniel O’Connor, launching "a startlingly bold new voice".

Nothing, described as a "mind-stretching, heart-touching, life-altering" work by O'Connor's publisher and as "a deeply humane portrait of a disintegrating mind" by his agent, is about a man who awakes from a coma believing he can imagine things out of existence. 

Lettice Franklin, editorial director at Weidenfeld & Nicolson, acquired UK and Commonwealth rights from Matthew Marland at RCW, while screen rights have already been snapped up by Kate Sinclair, the founder of Alchemy Entertainment and the executive producer behind the adaptation of The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton, a BBC and Masterpiece co-production. The deal for screen rights in O'Connor's debut Nothing was handled by Emily Hickman at The Agency on behalf of RCW.

Nothing introduces readers to Michael, who has just woken from a coma. The synopsis reads: "Michael cannot believe that the life he wakes to is his own, with its tedious commuter-belt marriage, two children and job in insurance. Michael does, however, believe that he can imagine things out of existence. That he can vanish everything from catastrophes befalling his children to his colleague’s eyeballs. As Michael’s hold on reality loosens, his sense of self and the world around him starts to fray at the edges."

Franklin said: "Daniel O’Connor takes the humdrum known world around us and fills it with wonder. He writes about the anxiety of parenthood, the disappointment of adulthood, the wonder of love, and makes each universal experience seem totally new. Admirers of Max Porter, Ali Smith, 'It’s a Wonderful Life', Kafka, the lyrics of 'Talking Heads', Mark Haddon and David Mitchell will all find something to love in this mind-stretching, heart-touching, life-altering debut."

O’Connor said: "Having my debut novel published by W&N feels unreal and I’m still waiting for the email that tells me it is. Nothing began on my lunchbreak at my job as bookseller: it was the day people were first voting for Donald Trump and I was thinking superstitiously about how, maybe, if you imagine the absolute worst things happening, then they can’t come true. Wondering – if you could erase all the accidents and mistakes from a life, all of its fears and heartbreaks, just by imagining them, what happens then? I didn’t imagine that four years later that we’d be here."

Marland said: "Nothing is a dark, unnerving domestic drama and an exuberant satire on the absurdity of contemporary suburban life, propelled by the daring inventiveness of its language. Irreverent, mischievous, and extremely funny, it is also a deeply humane portrait of a disintegrating mind, and a book that announces a startlingly bold new voice."

O’Connor is the author of Ted Hughes and Trauma: Burning the Foxes (Palgrave Macmillan) and Nothing is his fiction debut. Previously he worked as a bookseller in London and Liverpool, working at branches of Waterstones in Gower Street, Covent Garden, Piccadilly, Trafalgar Square, Hatchards and Liverpool One. He is now lecturer in English literature and creative writing at the University of Liverpool.

Nothing will be published by W&N in June 2021 in hardback, e-book and audio.