'This Life' writer nets pounds 600,000 for debut novels

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AMY JENKINS, the writer behind the hugely successful television drama series This Life, has this week been offered pounds 600,000 for the rights to publish her first two novels, in the final stages of a frenzied bidding war.

The rival offers, which come from two of Britain's biggest publishing houses, are for publication of the two novels in this country and the Commonwealth. That such an astronomical fee should be offered raises the question of how high the bidding for the American rights might go. The eventual final deal could be worth very much more the sum so far offered.

Ms Jenkins, who submitted only a 2,000-word first chapter with an accompanying outline of her (as yet unwritten) first book to several British publishers, plans to decide by tomorrow morning which bidder she will sign up with. "I will not be choosing purely on the basis of money," she told the IoS. "I will give my books to the publisher that I think would be best for these particular books."

The first novel, called Honeymoon, is to be written from the perspective of a young woman, called Honey Moon, who goes on honeymoon with her new groom, only to bump into an old flame and his new bride. The couples eventually decide to swap partners in what appears to be a simple, if unconventional, solution to the problem.

"It is about what happens if a woman meets up again with a wonderful man, the love of her life, while she is on honeymoon with another man," explains Ms Jenkins. The author, who lives in Chelsea, said she was not fazed by the huge sums on offer for her work and that she was weighing offers from both Heinemann and Hodder and Stoughton. "I know it is a lot of money. But it is a two- book deal and so I don't think I will be swept away by it."

Sarah Lutyens, Ms Jenkins' friend and literary agent, said there had been unprecedented interest from every publishing house that was approached.

"It is extremely exciting," she said. "Amy has the ability to create a story which is very unusual and yet which is also a romantic page-turner. If you think of This Life, although it featured lots of complications and sex that was not always heterosexual, in the end all anyone wanted to know was whether Miles and Anna would get together."

The fact that publishers are now prepared to offer more than half a million pounds on the promise of a best-seller from a first-time novelist contrasts markedly with the publishing debut of F Scott Fitzgerald who earned the equivalent of pounds 40,000 for This Side of Paradise in 1920, although it was met with critical praise and reprinted 12 times.

Ms Jenkins' offer, generous though it may be, is dwarfed, however, by the price-tag on work by Nicholas Evans, who was paid pounds 2.3m for the American publication rights for his debut novel, The Horse Whisperer. Transworld later paid him pounds 350,000 to publish the book in Britain.

The infamous pounds 500,000 advance received by Martin Amis for The Information was not, it should be remembered, for a first novel. At the time he had been a working writer for more than 20 years.