Victoria writer Steven Price has scored an international book deal reportedly in the six-figure range.
American publisher Farrar, Straus & Giroux has purchased Price’s novel By Gaslight. The trade magazine Publishers Weekly reports FSG acquired it “for a figure rumoured to be in the substantial six-figure range.”
Price told the Times Colonist the rights have also been sold to Canada’s McClelland & Stewart and Britain’s Oneworld Publications, with translation rights going to Bompiani in Italy and Diogenes in Germany.
Other international rights sales are expected to be announced soon.
“I’m surprised. This is very unexpected. We’re obviously very pleased with it all,” Price said Thursday.
The 38-year-old novelist and poet declined to divulge financial details.
“The sum of money seems like it’s a notable thing. But I think what’s really exciting for me is the vote of confidence an American publisher would have in a Canadian poet. That they’d be willing to invest in a novel by a relative unknown.”
By Gaslight will be released globally either in 2015 or 2016. Set in London in 1885, the novel is about detective William Pinkerton and a thief called Adam Foole. Over two decades, it takes readers to the diamond mines of South Africa, the battlefields of the U.S. Civil War and the opium dens of Victorian London. Price’s first novel, Into That Darkness, was published in Canada in 2011. He is also the author of two poetry books: Anatomy of Keys (2006), which won the Gerald Lampert Award, and Omens in the Year of the Ox (2012), winner of the ReLit Award.
Price is married to novelist Esi Edugyan, winner of the 2011 Giller Prize and shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. They have a three-year-old child, with a second child due in a month. His family runs Price’s Alarms, the oldest privately owned security company in Canada.
Price said he was inspired to write By Gaslight after a conversation with a reclusive great-uncle. Late in life, this relative told a story about the novelist’s great-grandfather, an English gunsmith and locksmith who founded the Price alarm company more than a century ago.
“[My great-uncle] said something about how my great-grandfather had gotten in trouble with the law in London and fled England. He got to Canada and he kept going west, trying to make sure he wasn’t chased or caught.”
While Price said he isn’t sure whether the tale is true or not, he became interested in the notion of a literary character who is essentially a good person despite having a checkered past.
This led Price to researching the real-life William Pinkerton, “an incredibly dark figure” whose father, Allan Pinkerton, founded the famous Pinkerton National Detective Agency.
Price said he had no prospect of a book deal when he set out to write By Gaslight. He recalled going for a walk with his wife, who encouraged him.
“She said: ‘You know, if you don’t know whether it will be published, whatever you work on next, it really should be something you want to write.’
“So I just tried to sit down every day and write some pages that I would have liked to have read,” he said.