By Roger Tagholm
Canongate’s Jamie Byng has bought what he describes as “the most high concept novel I have ever come across”, a debut novel from J.J. Abrams, creator of Lost and director of Star Trek. Byng concluded the deal with Cathryn Summerhayes of William Morris Endeavour (WME) in London, with the primary agent being Jay Mandell of WME US where the book will appear in Little, Brown’s new Mullholland imprint.
As befits someone who enjoys unusual set-ups -– Lost arguably perplexed as many people as it transfixed –- the acquisition process was anything but conventional. It seems a series of watermarked proofs were sent out, arriving at editor’s desks -– in some cases their homes -– at the same as they received a phone call from WME’s office informing them that “a package should be dropping through your door right now”. HarperCollins’ Nick Pearson was one who received just such a call at work and rang home to discover that yes, a package had just been delivered. In the US, it seems each proof was slightly different –- with words missing on particular pages for example – all of this done so that, if anything was leaked, WME would know the guilty party.
And the book? A clear picture seems hard to gain. A novel involving a mysterious, Pynchon-like writer. A love story that takes place in the book’s marginalia (sic). A novel within a novel. There is no title, as yet, although Ship of Theseus has been mentioned on the aisles. Byng says: “It will be an international publishing event -– the ambition and quality of the writing is extraordinary. It’s a beautiful love story –- I was won over by the storytelling. He is reinventing what a reading experience can be, trying to do things that are not limited to the page.” Austin, Texas-based novelist Doug Dorst is set to co-write.
There is speculation that the book itself will be unusual as an object -– that it might be shrink-wrapped and contain photos, letters and notes. Publication is slated for 2012 in the US and 2013 in the UK and Byng feels he has acquired a unique property, one that will “work through all mediums, print and digital”.