Never make a promise you can’t keep or it’ll come back and bite you. That’s what I’ve learnt, having declaimed to a London colleague a couple of weeks ago that ‘When I sell THE BOY WHO FELL DOWN EXIT 43 I shall dance naked in the moonlight in the back yard, singing The Star Spangled Banner’. Yes, well, before you all leap into your vehicles and head over here to witness this particularly scary Rite of Spring, I shall move speedily on and distract you with the exciting details of my past two days.
THE BOY WHO FELL DOWN EXIT 43 (I’m a sucker for a good title, and this one charmed me from the getgo) and its debut author, Harriet Goodwin, crossed my path last Fall, in that strange limbo time before I crossed the Pond. Harriet was part of my transition as I unpacked boxes, wondered how to find the supermarket, and pondered the madness of ever thinking I could land in the USA and create a business from a standing start (thus testing out all notions of the American Dream). Let me tell you, Harriet is a top trooper and once again I put her through an editorial process roughly akin to the rack, that bone-stretching device much favoured by medieval British torture experts in dank dungeons. But Harriet never flinched, and gradually EXIT 43 developed and grew – and Harriet found her voice (in fact, I shall capitalize that – Voice) and her writing confidence. Her quirky premise took on new dimensions and we started to get excited.
The publishing industry can move the speed of a moribund snail, so we’ve done a lot of twiddling our thumbs and watching paint dry in the submission process. But Wednesday everything sprang suddenly into life; up popped two offers within minutes of each other, flashing from my Blackberry like beacons. A moment of total, utter sweetness as I stood there and knew that Harriet was going to be published; that a fantastic dream was going to come true. Now, two days later, the deal’s been finalized, and I’ve sold UK and Commonwealth rights to EXIT 43 in a two-book deal to Stripes in Britain. Stripes is the new fiction imprint (18 months old) of wonderful full-colour company Magi, and the sister company of the high-profile Little Tiger. EXIT 43 will be a lead title (illustrated with maps and line drawings) on the Stripes list in Fall 2009 and I know Harriet’s going to have a ball, not least with all the publicity they have planned for her. On the back of this deal I’ll be submitting later in the US, and we can now pick up the foreign interest that’s already come in.
THE BOY WHO FELL DOWN EXIT 43 is a middlegrade story with a great premise: 12-year-old Finn Oliver will never come to terms with the death of his father, but he finds a few minutes of forgetting as he joyrides over the moors in the family’s beat-up old car. The car slides out of control and Finn is catapulted – not to his death, but down Exit 43 into the Underworld. The Underworld is peopled with the Dead – funny, strange, crazy and downright scary – who tell Finn that their world is threatened by the rain and storms that batter the Other Side. Only an ancient prophecy can save them – that one day a mortal child will join forces with a child of the Underworld to rescue the fabled Firepearl. Finn is definitely mortal – and Jessie, a Victorian girl with a broken neck, is definitely dead. And now the scene is set for a particularly weird and wonderful journey to the centre of the Earth!
So I’ll be down in the back yard tonight, flitting like a wood nymph through the trees in a dance of celebration. Or maybe not. Maybe I’ll just crack open a bottle of vino and raise a glass to Harriet, who stepped into the Greenhouse when it had absolutely nothing to show for itself other than an airplane ticket and a computer in a box. Cheers to you, Harriet, enjoy your time in the sun, and many congratulations!