The Bookseller – Rights – Canongate pre-empts McMillan’s ‘magnificent’ debut novel

Canongate has swooped for poet Andrew McMillan’s debut novel in a “significant” pre-emptive deal.

Francis Bickmore, publisher-at-large, acquired UK and Commonwealth rights for Pity from Chris Wellbelove at Aitken Alexander. German rights have been pre-empted by Karsten Kredel at Ullstein, with French rights won by Grasset after auction. Canongate will publish Pity as a super lead debut in spring 2024.

Set in the former industrial town of Barnsley, the novel focuses on three generations of one family as it explores ideas of community, masculinity, sexuality and stories—what they’re for and who gets to tell them.

“In Pity the reader meets some of the men from the town, glimpsing their histories and seeing how they strive towards different futures,” the synopsis explains. “And also how they are perceived by the outside world. Through vivid scenes of the miner’s strike, online sex work, drag shows, shopping centers and the long-lost industry itself, McMillan’s novel excavates the nuances of narrative and experience that so often get ignored.”

Bickmore said: “Andrew McMillan’s first novel is short, daring and magnificent. Pity is both a lament for a lost way of a life and a celebration of resilience and the possibility for change. It looks at what political forces might make masculinity toxic and what personal forces might save it from becoming so. It is the kind of state-of-the-nation novel that we have not seen in the 2020s. That Andrew is an award-winning poet is evident here but he’s also proved that he’s becoming a major novelist too. Everyone at Canongate is over the moon to be publishing this.”

McMillan’s first collection, fitness (Jonathan Cape, 2015), was the first poetry collection to win the Guardian First Book Award. It also won a Somerset Maugham Award, an Eric Gregory Award, a Northern Writers’ Award and the Aldeburgh First Collection Prize. It saw him shortlisted for the International Dylan Thomas Prize, the Forward Prize for Best First Collection, the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award, the Roehampton Poetry Prize and the Polari First Book Prize. In 2019 it was voted as one of the top 25 poetry books of the past 25 years by the Booksellers Association. His second collection of him, play time (Jonathan Cape, 2018), won the inaugural Polari Prize.

He is a senior lecturer at the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University and is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. His latest collection of him is pandemoniumpublished by Jonathan Cape in 2021. His poetry has been published or is forthcoming in French, German, Galician, Norwegian and Slovak translations.

“I was raised to believe that the place you grow up in, your own voice and accent are worthy of literature,” McMillan said. “I’m really excited to celebrate, interrogate and perhaps even change some perceptions of my home town in Pity. I hope readers enjoy coming on the journey with me and are encouraged to challenge the given narratives that no doubt exist about where they are from too.”

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