Sunday, March 28, 2004

Mother's debut novel outsells top authors in just three weeks
By Catherine Milner, Arts Correspondent
(Filed: 28/03/2004)

A mother who wrote a novel in the evenings after her children had gone to bed and "if there was nothing good on the telly" has beaten John Grisham and Danielle Steele to the top of the bestseller list.

Kate Long's book, The Bad Mother's Handbook, about an 80-year-old grandmother who shares a council flat in Lancashire with her daughter and granddaughter, was given only short reviews when it was released 23 days ago.

Yet it has already sold more than 18,000 copies and Mrs Long, a teacher, has secured a four-book deal with Pan Macmillan, one of Britain's biggest publishers, for "a considerable sum", although they won't say how much.

In the last week alone the book has sold 8,238 copies compared to 5,314 of John Grisham's The Last Juror and 3,133 copies of Joanna Trollope's Brother and Sister.

Mrs Long, 39, who lives with her husband and two young children in a small village in Shropshire, sat down to write the book after a day's teaching and after her children had gone to bed. She told the Telegraph: "I can't believe what's happened - it's amazing. I'm just a table scribbler, really. I wrote most of it in eight weeks, between 7.30 and 9 at night, depending on whether there was anything good on the telly. And then I spent a year revising it.

"My life is very noisy on account of my two young sons, so I settle down to write on my computer as a means of escape to some extent, like some people might paint or do a tapestry." Over the past 10 years Mrs Long, originally from Bolton, Lancashire, has tried and failed to get two other novels published. "I have a stack of more than 20 extremely nice rejection letters," she said.

Peter Strauss, Mrs Long's agent and the former publisher of Bridget Jones's Diary, spotted the potential of The Bad Mother's Handbook having been shown it by David Rees, a friend and magazine publisher.

Mr Strauss hawked the book around a number of publishing houses and a fierce bidding war ensued, securing a "considerable advance" for Mrs Long. "Going to Number One in a hardcover is pretty extraordinary," he said. "You can spend millions of pounds on a good marketing campaign but in the end it is word of mouth that is selling this book. It's simply a fantastic book. Kate is a born storyteller."

Edward Mitchell, the headmaster of Abbey Gate College in Chester, where Mrs Long has taught English for more than 10 years, said: "Kate always had a very acute brain. We knew she had a lot of talent in understanding how teenagers think and that shows in her portrayal of the granddaughter in her book."

Mr Mitchell was, however, not sure the book would make appropriate reading for his pupils - it begins with a graphic description of the granddaughter having sex with her spindly teenage boyfriend when her grandmother stumbles into the room talking about a horse.

He said: "A number of the pupils have been talking about Mrs Long's book but I'm not quite sure how suitable it is for them to read as it is quite saucy in places - which means of course that they'll almost certainly go out and buy it."

Because of the hefty advance she received, it will be some time before Mrs Long receives any royalties for her book, which sells for £12.99.

The biggest sales have been through Tesco stores, which sold more than 6,000 copies last week. It is also currently being broadcast as The Book at Bedtime on BBC Radio Four.

A salesman at Waterstone's in Kensington High Street, London, said: "Although it seems to be mostly women in their thirties and forties who are buying it, we have also had the odd husband as well."

Mrs Long says she was prompted to write the book after finding it hard to relate to other family sagas she had read. "Although some of them were quite funny, they weren't about the lower middle class kind of life I came from.

"They always seemed to be talking about choosing designer clothes, whereas the poshest clothes I buy are those from Marks and Spencer."

She has given up teaching. "Writing books is better," she said. "I'm going to spend the money on a new kitchen."

Mrs Long follows in the footsteps of other overnight literary sensations. Patrick Redmond, 32, a solicitor from Essex, sold his first novel for £100,000 in 1998, while J K Rowling's Harry Potter books transformed her from a penniless single mother into the richest woman in Britain worth £280 million.

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Telegraph | News | Mother's debut novel outsells top authors in just three weeks

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