Random House discovers budding author working in its post room

A series of lucky encounters brought a young employee to the attention of an editor and has turned into a five-figure deal. Katy Guest reports
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The Independent Culture

A few months ago, 28-year-old Dean Carter was a small cog in a very big machine. Hidden away in the basement at the grand old publisher Random House, he spent his days sorting mail sent by fans to such eminent writers A S Byatt and Tom Wolfe.

A few months ago, 28-year-old Dean Carter was a small cog in a very big machine. Hidden away in the basement at the grand old publisher Random House, he spent his days sorting mail sent by fans to such eminent writers A S Byatt and Tom Wolfe.

Now, after a series of lucky encounters, he is the recipient of a five-figure, two-book deal, has senior publishers saving his emails as collectors' items and could soon be considering film deals from the likes of Brad Pitt and Robert De Niro.

His first book - a novel for teenagers about a journalist marooned on an island with a serial killer - is set to be Random House's next big hit.

Mr Carter, who could could soon be sorting through sackloads of his own fan mail, always wanted to work around books. Three years ago he started work in Random House's post room, and began formulating plots in his mind as he delivered trade magazines to the staff.

He was so shy he never spoke about his hobby, but colleagues gradually came to notice that his global emails, complete with jokes, puzzles and a long-running soap opera about the fantasy lives of the staff, were more than necessarily erudite.

Charlie Sheppard, a commissioning editor for children's books, picks up the story. "I sat opposite him at the office Christmas party, and realised who he was," she says. "He's painfully shy and must just come alive when he writes. And that's what editors look for. I said, 'You must be a writer; you obviously feel the need to play with words,' and I asked him to write something for me."

Mr Carter showed her the first few chapters of Hand of the Devil. It was bold and bloody, and Ms Sheppard knew immediately the company had a genius in its midst. She took the manuscript to an acquisitions meeting and showed it to her colleagues, giving the new writer a pseudonym. "It's brilliant," they said. "We've got to have it." "When I told them who the author was they were amazed," she says. "They couldn't believe he hadn't approached anyone."

Since then, things have moved quickly for Mr Carter. International and translation rights are now being haggled over. Scouts working for film agencies owned by Brad Pitt, Robert De Niro and others are clamouring to see further drafts. But Mr Carter is still working in the post room. "We're taking him to our sales conference in Barcelona, but we have to clear it with his boss first," says Ms Sheppard, who now attends editorial meetings with her hot new signing in the basement in his lunch hour. "He'll probably do the festival circuit when the book is published but he'll have to take it as holiday."

Last week was an encouraging one for unlikely literary superstars. Michelle Paver has just sold the film rights to Wolf Brother - a book she began at university and consigned to her bottom draw in 1982. Ridley Scott has signed as the director and Paver has received a seven-figure sum. Last week also saw the launch of The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl, by the mysterious "Belle de Jour". The author claims to be a high-class prostitute who wrote between assignments in airport hotels. She received a five-figure sum for the memoir.

The news is bound to make literary scouts look twice in future at their postmen, PAs and pizza-delivery boys. And Random House has already been besieged by hopefuls wanting to replicate Mr Carter's success.

"Everybody's coming out of the woodwork," says Ms Sheppard. "I had one of the reps come up to me recently and say, 'Actually, I've written something.' It's a bit like being a doctor, now. You daren't tell anyone what you do."

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