Liza Klaussman | "It's hard to be your own cheerleader and your own critic"

Liza Klaussman | "It's hard to be your own cheerleader and your own critic"

The secrets of a wealthy East Coast family lie at the heart of Liza Klaussmann's début, Tigers in Red Weather, which was the subject of an eight-way auction in the UK, with Picador victorious. The novel will benefit from the imprint's "largest marketing, retail and media campaign of 2012", including Picador's biggest ever proof run; outdoor and press advertising; and events including the Edinburgh and Latitude literary festivals.

Tigers in Red Weather takes place over a series of summers between 1945 and 1969, moving from the glittering promise of the post-war years to the end of '60s idealism. The novel is narrated by five members of the same family; glamorous, brittle Nick; her fragile cousin Helena; Nick's headstrong daughter Daisy; Helena's troubled son Ed; and Nick's distant husband, Hughes.

Against a background of endless cocktails, jazz and parties—and under a seemingly perfect surface—family secrets fester, relationships crack, and loyalties are betrayed. Telling the story from five different perspectives is, says Klaussman, "an attempt to recreate the truth inside of a family, the true story of one family by giving the subjective perspectives of each important player".

Picador is positioning the book as a literary summer blockbuster, with a beautiful retro package that may catch the eye of "Mad Men" fans, as well as a traditional readership. Born in Brooklyn but now resident in London, Klaussmann spent her summers on Martha's Vineyard, on which the island in the novel is based. She drew inspiration from her own family for Tigers in Red Weather; notably her grandfather's unpublished memoir of his time in the US Navy during the Second World War, written not long before he died.

Further back in Klaussmann's family, however, there is an impressive literary connection; she is the great-great-great-granddaughter of Herman Melville. He's her only published relative, though, so writing novels can hardly be described as the family business—although Klaussmann was always keen, studying English and Creative Writing at Barnard College, Columbia University.

"I set off to Paris after I graduated from college with the same dream everyone sets off to Paris with, but you have to make money." She got "sidetracked" into journalism, writing for Variety and the New York Times, but one of the frustrations of the job was "all the parts of a [news] story you never get to tell. You suspect so many things but nobody will go on record to tell you, so you can't ever really tell the story you want to tell, and that I found really limiting."

Deciding to have a proper stab at writing a novel, she relocated from Paris to London to do the Creative Writing MA at Royal Holloway, and started work on the novel that would become Tigers in Red Weather.

Nine months after graduation her MA workshop group, showing great enterprise, organised an evening for agents—"reel them in with booze", she jokes—after sending out samples of their work. At that point Klaussmann hadn't finished writing Tigers in Red Weather but thought, if she was lucky, that the party might yield a contact or two: "I thought a connection would be nice, someone to send it to at the end, because I was only about a third of the way through at that point."

Assisting Motion

However, to her surprise, there was significant interest from a number of agents, and Klaussmann found herself in the enviable position of asking her MA tutor Andrew Motion for help on deciding which one to choose. She's represented by Caroline Wood at Felicity Bryan Associates, who has sold rights in 20 territories to date. Little, Brown will publish in the US, where the pre-publication tour alone will take her to five major cities to meet booksellers.

It's a fairytale path to publication that would be the envy of many aspiring novelists. Klaussmann admits the writing process was much harder than the business side of things, describing the "tightrope between being really self-critical—which you have to be while you're writing—and not discouraging yourself . . . it's hard to be your own cheerleader and your own critic."

Picador paid a six-figure sum for a two-book deal, and Klaussmann has already started work on her second novel, which, like her début, is set in the 20th century. The novel will be fictional retelling of the lives of Sara and Gerald Murphy, the wealthy American expats who lived on the French Riveria during the 1920s at the centre of an artistic and literary set that included Picasso, Hemingway and F Scott Fitzgerald.

Klaussman says of the second book: "It's a novel about family, again, and about how we make a family. These people led very strange lives before they got together, and in a way it was their way of recreating happiness and harmony in a post-First World War environment. And it's a story about America again . . ."

Personal file
1976 born in New York
1994–98 BA English and Creative Writing, Columbia University, New York
1998–2000 Editorial assistant, International Herald Tribune
2001–06 Paris correspondent, Variety
2001–11 Editor at DealBook, the New York Times' financial news service
2008–09 MA Creative Writing, Royal Holloway

Book data
Publication 2nd August
Formats HB £12.99/e-book
ISBN 9781447212058/065
Rights sold 20 territories including the US (Little, Brown)
Editor Kate Harvey, Picador
Agent Caroline Wood, Felicity Bryan Associates