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Penguin wins auction for British Ghanaian debut

by | Oct 9, 2019 | News

A “stunning, shattering” love story is among titles Penguin will be talking up at the Frankfurt Book Fair (16-20 October).  Open Water is a debut novel by a 25-year-old British Ghanaian writer, Caleb Azumah Nelson that was the subject of a nine-way auction in London.  Penguin was successful and the novel will be published in hardback by Viking in 2021.  Nasher understands that Arabic rights have not yet been sold.

The novel is described as a “stunning, shattering debut novel about two young people falling in and out of love in contemporary South London”.  Both the main characters are black British, both attended schools where they struggled to belong, both are now artists – he a photographer, she a dancer – trying to make their mark in a city that by turns celebrates and rejects them.  The publisher says: “Open Water is first and foremost the story of a devastating love affair, but it is also a powerful exploration of racism and masculinity, as two people who seem destined to be together are torn apart by fear and violence”.

Isabel Wall, editor at Viking, acquired UK & Commonwealth rights from Seren Adams at United Agents in a “significant” deal following a competitive nine-way auction.  She said the novel is “an astonishing debut: intensely moving, tender and true. Caleb is a lyrical, soulful writer whose words are sure to resonate with thousands of readers. I’m thrilled to be bringing him to the Viking list”.

Seren Adams said: ‘The response to Caleb’s novel has been so exciting, and we are delighted to be working with Isabel and Viking. Having witnessed Caleb’s hard work on Open Water over the past six months, it is a pleasure to see his writing connect with so many. I can’t wait for readers to share this story, too.’

Nelson said “I’m incredibly excited for OPEN WATER to find a home at Viking, joining a wonderful list of writers I admire. I’m looking forward to working with Isabel to bring this novel into the world.”

With concerns over diversity still high among publishers’ thinking in the UK, the Bookseller magazine notes that there is an increase in books by black, Asian and minority ethnic authors among agents’ submissions for this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair.

Seren Adams said ‘The response to Caleb’s novel has been so exciting, and we are delighted to be working with Isabel and Viking. Having witnessed Caleb’s hard work on OPEN WATER over the past six months, it is a pleasure to see his writing connect with so many. I can’t wait for readers to share this story, too.’

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