First-time author becomes a million dollar man

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The Independent Online
A merchant banker, who used to be a diplomat, has secured book and film rights worth more than $1m (pounds 630,000) for his first novel

They were clinched by John McLaren, who two weeks ago announced Masterprize, a pounds 25,000 award to encourage composers to write new works for symphony orchestras.

What he did not reveal then was that he was in the process of clinching book and film contracts for his first novel, which he wrote in a matter of weeks while working for Morgan Grenfell, the merchant bank.

Press Send, as in the mobile phone button, tells how a computer genius takes revenge on his enemies from beyond the grave. Mr McLaren, 45, drew on his experience at a venture capital firm in San Francisco for the book, but it was his original training as a diplomat which helped him place it without an agent.

"I wrote the book last year and then I had to think how to sell it," he said yesterday. "I had no natural entrees at all and I didn't believe I could trust my book to the Royal Mail to be read.

"I sent it to a number of agents, all of whom showed complete lack of interest. Then I sent it to publishers, whom friends of friends had suggested, all of whom showed rather strong interest."

When it was clear they would bid against each other for Press Send, the banker decided to do the deal on his own. He had meetings with all of them and eventually signed with Simon & Schuster.

Unusually, his criteria was not who would offer most money, but which firm he most trusted. "Smart people don't rip people off, stupid people rip people off. As I trusted the people, I felt I could rely on a fair deal."

Mr McLaren then turned his considerable energies to getting a film contract.

"I thought that with a book you could possibly approach publishers, but with a movie I didn't think for a second that would make sense.

"I decided I needed ace agents, so I thought about any recent examples of a book by an unknown author which had been a stunning success."

The obvious one was The Horse Whisperer, by television producer Nick Evans, which was bought by Robert Redford for pounds 1.9m before it was even finished.

"I found out who had done that deal - Nick Marston at A P Watt, and Bob Bookman in LA - and a friend introduced me to Nick Marston. He read my synopsis, then my book, and was keen to work on it.

The two agents had an auction, and with interest from Disney, Columbia Tri-Star, Universal and, it is thought, Tom Cruise and Michael Douglas, Press Send was optioned by Universal for around $1m.

It is to be directed by Mike Nichols, whose past credits include The Graduate, Working Girl and the forthcoming film, Primary Colors. The book will be published next spring.

What next then from a man of such formidable talents? "Well," says Mr McLaren, "I have a two-book deal with Simon & Schuster.

"We're also putting a lot of energy into promoting Masterprize. But I am also going to cut back my hours at Morgan Grenfell."

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