Novelist makes dollars 3m debut

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A British author has become a millionaire overnight after selling the film rights for his first novel to Hollywood for a record-breaking dollars 3m, even though the manuscript is only half finished.

The deal over Nick Evans's book The Horse Whisperer came after one of the fiercest bidding wars seen in Hollywood in recent years, and was yesterday being billed as the biggest sum ever to be paid to a first- time novelist for feature film rights. It is believed to be the third highest amount paid for a novel, after Michael Crichton's Disclosure and The Chamber by John Grisham.

Mr Evans has sold his incomplete novel to Hollywood Pictures and Wildwood Productions, owned by Disney and run by the actor-director Robert Redford, who has agreed to produce and star in the movie. The deal was finally struck after a 45-minute conversation between Mr Redford and Mr Evans.

'It's very compelling and is a unique love story,' Mr Redford said in a statement, 'It has all the elements that I look for in a property. I'm happy that Nick decided to work with me.'

According to the Hollywood trade magazine, Variety, Mr Evans could stand to make even more money since he has also negotiated what is known in Hollywood as a 'backend deal', for a share of box-office income (5 per cent after break- even point). The book, which was marketed as 200 pages with eight pages outlining the unwritten remainder, is described by Variety as a tale of 'loyalty, compassion and infidelity', about a young girl who is seriously injured while riding her horse, but who fights to keep her beloved animal from the knacker's yard. Redford will take the title role of the horse whisperer, Tom Booker, a man with a gift for taming wild horses.

The manuscript came to Hollywood after Michael Lynton, president of Hollywood Pictures, received a copy of it through New York publishing contacts who heard about it at the Frankfurt Book Fair a fortnight ago.

Mr Rudin is thought to have made the first offer of dollars 1m, but that was quickly matched by Disney and a bidding war ensued.

Mr Evans, a former Newcastle journalist, two years ago directed the film Just Like a Woman, starring Julie Walters. But he is also a television producer and has worked on ITV's Weekend World and The South Bank Show and an adaptation of an Agatha Christie mystery.

The book rights for Horse Whisperer are also expected to break records for a debut novel. Following the Frankfurt book fair auctions are under way in a number of European countries. Bidding in Germany has reached pounds 300,000, while Bantam has secured the British rights for pounds 350,000 after a four-day auction between six publishers.