It’s always exciting when a student from our creative writing courses signs a book deal on the eve of the London Book Fair. So congratulations to Janet Ellis (above) – our 16th alumnus to find a publisher – whose debut novel The Butcher’s Hook is sure to be much-discussed by the agents and foreign publishers currently flocking to London’s Olympia for the 2015 fair.
Janet, who was on Erin Kelly’s Spring Three-Month Novel-Writing course as recently as last year, has just signed a two-book deal with Two Roads. Curtis Brown literary agent Gordon Wise quickly spotted the potential in her writing. ‘I had the privilege of reading an extract just as the CBC class of Spring 2014 “graduated”,’ says Gordon. ‘And from even those initial several thousand words I had the same impression as when I first read Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites – shortlisted for the Baileys last year – which similarly inhabited an historical environment in which the characters felt completely contemporary.’
A Little Learning; Or, The Butcher’s Hook is a coming-of-age story set in late 18th-century London. Anne Jaccob’s powerlessness in the world is brought home to her when she is taken advantage of by her tutor – her father’s great friend – and along with other formative experiences, this paves the way for her future actions. Her saviour appears in the form of a butcher’s boy called Fub, and the rest of the book follows their story.
Some of you might be thinking that Janet sounds familiar, and yes, she’s an ex-Blue Peter presenter and mum to Sophie Ellis-Bextor (though some of us are more excited by the fact that Janet was in classic Doctor Who story The Horns of Nimon). Wonderfully, however, none of the publishers that Janet and Gordon submitted to knew it was her.
Gordon ‘suggested to Janet that we submit the book under a name other than her own, to be sure that editors’ motivation for reading and offering was based on the strength of the book itself.’ The result? ‘A three-publisher auction in the UK and a pre-emptive offer in Canada resulting in our first deals,’ says Gordon. ‘The winning British publisher has even committed to two books from the off.’
The buzz surrounding Janet’s book is incredibly loud already, but that’s not something which surprises Janet’s CBC tutor, author Erin Kelly. ‘That a novel I first saw in its rawest form (and loved even then) will be on my bookshelf this time next year makes me happier than I can say,’ says Erin. ‘It’s hugely exciting for me to see her make the step from talented but aspiring writer to professional novelist. Almost as exciting as when it happened to me.’
Janet’s first two books have been bought by Two Roads, an imprint of John Murray, and Gordon gave us an insight into why they snapped it up: ‘Several early readers used the phrase “early Sarah Waters”, and there’s also a concision and pace in the storytelling that is comparable to Deborah Moggach’s Tulip Fever.’
Looking ahead to what is sure to be a great career, he also said, ‘These elements I feel are going to be the hallmarks of Janet’s writing in the future rather than an explicitly historical badge.’
Janet Ellis’s The Butcher’s Hook was published by Two Roads in Spring 2016.
As well as expert teaching from published authors, all our selective three- and six-month novel-writing courses offer dedicated modules on submitting your novel to literary agents – and include sessions on writing a synopsis and preparing a covering letter. Click for more information or to apply for our creative writing courses.