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Australian writer hits the jackpot

10 May 2010

Every so often a completely unknown writer hits the headlines after years of trying to break through and the dream come true provides fresh hope for many others.

Recently it was the turn of Australian Rebecca James, whose new book Beautiful Malice was sold to Allen & Unwin, making her literally cry with joy. The timing couldn’t have been more propitious, as she and her partner had just closed down their struggling kitchen design business. This was just the beginning though. A week later Faber acquired the UK rights, then the German auction went through the roof.

As James said: ‘That’s when it went really crazy, big amounts of money. Hilary and I didn’t sleep for a week. It was like winning the Lottery... one minute you’re going: "Shall we sell our house?", "Shall we sell our car and buy bikes?", and the next there are these ridiculous amounts of money.' In November 2009 the Sydney Morning Herald published an article about how her novel had started ‘a worldwide bidding war which has pushed advances on her manuscript past $1 million and led the Wall Street Journal to wonder if she is the next J K Rowling’. Rights have now been sold in 35 countries.

Rebecca James has been through some difficult times though. At one point she was at home and struggling to get on with her writing whilst coping with small children. ‘I had four boys under four and I needed some head space, I guess, some creative outlet that wasn’t changing nappies.’

When she was ready to submit Beautiful Malice it was still hard going though, partly because the book is in that tricky territory between adult and young adult. She first approached seven agents in Australia and about 70 in the US, before turning to UK agents and eventually placing it with Jo Unwin of Conville & WalshSee Conville & Walsh listing.

And now the pressure is on to produce the second book - the kind of problem that more authors would like to have...