Weidenfeld & Nicolson has triumphed in a three-publisher auction to snap up Clare Chambers' first work of adult fiction in over a decade.
Editorial director Federico Andornino acquired UK & Commonwealth rights (excluding Canada) to Small Pleasures in a deal struck by Judith Murray at Greene & Heaton.
Small Pleasures will be published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson on 9th July 2020 in hardback, export trade paperback, e-book and audio with the mass market paperback to follow in spring 2021.
"Set in 1957 in the south-east suburbs of London, Small Pleasures centres on the character of Jean Swinney, a feature writer on a local newspaper living a limited existence with her truculent mother," reads the synopsis. "But when a young Swiss woman, Gretchen Tilbury, contacts the paper to claim that her daughter is the result of a virgin birth, suddenly life opens up for Jean – in all sorts of unexpected ways."
Chambers said the idea for the novel came from an interview on BBC Radio 4 "Woman’s Hour" about a woman who had contacted the Sunday Pictorial in 1955 claiming to have given birth while still a virgin.
"I was engaged in other writing projects at the time but I knew this could be the basis for an interesting novel and I left the idea hanging up in my mind like a piece of flypaper to see if anything stuck," said Chambers. "Years later when reading about the history of my local area I came across an account of the Lewisham rail crash of 1957; I had been travelling regularly on this line for years without ever having heard of this major disaster. This was the fly that stuck. Around this framework grew the character of the reporter, Jean, tasked with investigating whether the virgin mother is a miracle or a fake. A single, childless woman of late middle age, in a society that prizes marriage and motherhood, she has very much missed this boat and accommodated herself to a limited life caring for her invalid mother. The miracle that unfolds is her awakening at the eleventh hour to the possibility of fulfilment. I am incredibly excited by the way the whole team at W&N have responded to this story and it has been no small pleasure watching them bring it into the light."
Andornino added: "Small Pleasures is many things: a novel of deferred happiness and second chances; a mystery and a love story; an exploration of societal pressures in post-war Britain. But mostly, it’s a stunning new book by a rediscovered master storyteller. It has the observational wit of Kate Atkinson and the heart of Maggie O’Farrell, it is both beautifully written and completely page-turning – it is, if you’ll excuse the pun, not a small, but a great pleasure to read."
Chambers is the author of six popular and critically acclaimed novels. Her début, Uncertain Terms, was published by Diana Athill at André Deutsch in 1992. Through BookScan, Chambers has sold 50,262 books for £307,360, with her bestseller 2005’s In a Good Light (Arrow) with 12,424 copies sold in paperback.
Photo by Anna McCarthy Photography