All go at the Greenhouse

March 13, 2009

What do you get when you take one very busy trip to London (including a talk to about 50 SCBWI members on ‘writing the breakout novel’), add an upcoming Bologna book fair (complete with schedules to fix and decisions to be made on work to be pitched), throw in a large pinch of eye problems (the eye doctor is now my best friend), season with a towering manuscript pile that has all delivered simultaneously, and then top everything off with some hefty contract negotiation. Oh, and did I mention the book deal? What you get is . . . absolutely no blogging. For three weeks. No, I didn’t vanish from the face of the earth – I just got a bit busy, and next week is going to be even more packed. (But did you guess that I love it all?)

The really exciting news is that both Julia and I have clinched deals in the past week – and very strangely, in similar genres and to the same house – Bloomsbury! The path by which one reaches a deal destination can be very long and circuitous, but it can also be fast and amazingly direct, and these two deals exemplify both.

I started working with Jon Mayhew some months ago. As soon as I saw his draft for MORTLOCK, a middle-grade Victorian gothic chiller, I knew he was on to something with great commercial potential. Quite simply, it’s gloriously, fabulously over the top in its evil and it romps along with a panache that is outstandingly child friendly. It’s all about Josie, an orphan who performs as a knife-thrower alongside her guardian, the conjuror known as the Great Cardamom. But Cardamom has secrets – many years ago he and his two friends, Lord Corvis and Mortlock, discovered the Amarant, a pulsating red plant that gives its possessor power over life and death. When three aged ‘aunts’ turn up at the house, kill the conjuror and transform into giant eviscerating crows (who are truly fantastic!), it becomes clear that the Amarant’s power is far from dormant – and that somehow Josie must destroy it. So off she goes – with her newly discovered twin Alfie, an undertaker’s ‘mute’ – on a terrifying quest that involves a circus of the living dead, and a ghastly encounter with the Amarant in a graveyard where Mortlock certainly does not ‘rest in peace’.

Here is a story that is high-concept, pacy, and very commercial – a great fit for today’s market. Lots of publishers really liked it, but finally we had a shoot-out between two houses that totally fell in love with the story, resulting in victory for Ele Fountain at Bloomsbury UK, who’s signed Jon in a three-book deal. A wonderful result, which will enable Jon really to develop as an author, backed by lead-author status and marketing campaign on a list that has so successfully built Angie Sage in the same genre. Congratulations, Jon!
This is a book with considerable international potential, and I’m looking forward to going out with it in the USA – plus we’re already getting interest from scouts for other territories. All great timing, with Bologna opening just over a week from now.

But hold on! Was that all our news? No, it was not – because Julia has been busy too over there in London. I’ll hand you over to Julia herself to tell you about it:

Exciting news from the UK. I’ve just tied up a deal for a chilling murder mystery for 10+ by Michael Ford. The Ghosts of Greave Hall is about a Victorian servant, haunted by her mother’s ghost, who is pitted against a sadistic housekeeper. Very creepy, with shades of JANE EYRE and THE WOMAN IN BLACK. Ele Fountain at Bloomsbury UK was the acquiring editor. It was sold on the strength of a partial manuscript and detailed synopsis, which doesn’t happen very often, and that’s testament to the quality of the author’s writing and concept. Michael is himself a book editor and one of those people with tonnes of great ideas, who are such fun to work with. I can’t wait to see how the novel grows in the next few months.

A bit more about the story: The year is 1856, and orphan Abigail Tamper lives below stairs in Greave Hall, a crumbling manor house in London. Lord Greave is plagued by madness, and with his son Samuel away fighting in the Crimea, the running of Greave Hall is left to the tyrannical housekeeper, Mrs Cotton. The only solace for the beleaguered staff is to frighten Mrs Cotton by pretending the house is haunted.

So when a real ghost makes an appearance – that of her beloved mother – no one is more surprised than Abi. The spirit has a revelation that threatens to destroy Abi’s already fragile existence: she was murdered, and by someone under their very own roof. With Samuel returned to England badly wounded, it’s up to Abi to nurse him back to health, while trying to discover the identity of the killer in their midst. As the chilling truth dawns, Abi’s world is turned upside down.

The Greenhouse UK juggernaut is on the road and we’ve just smashed a bottle of champagne over it! Cheers!

Back to Sarah: Yes, well, thank you, Julia – don’t get over-excited now with those ‘juggernauts’. But in honour of your first Greenhouse deal, and Bloomsbury UK, I’ve topped this blog post with a photo to remind us all of England . . . My husband was given these wind-up figures for Christmas by our nieces, and they always make me smile.

So, my office looks like a bomb has gone off in it. There’s a still unopened scanner sitting in its box in the corner, a ‘soft phone’ sent from our London office so we can speak direct through the internet (which of course requires copious voltage converters, adaptors etc), and paper everywhere. But I can assure you there is method in the madness and everything will (I think) be where it should be by the time I leave for Bologna a week Saturday.

Cheers, everyone, I’ll be writing again soon.