Saturday 25 May 2019

Gardener in ?1.5m book deal hailed as new JK Rowling

John Spain

DEREK Landy has washed his last cauliflower. The Irish writer has just signed a seven-figure contract with HarperCollins for a children's book, a coup that may see him quit his day job as a market gardener.

Landy, from Dublin, won the stg£1m (?1.5m) contract for a three-book deal after a frenzied bidding war between publishers.

His book features a wise-cracking dead magician called Skulduggery Pleasant and his assistant, Stephanie, a 12-year-old girl. The first book in the series is called 'Skulduggery Pleasant' and it will be published internationally on April 2.

There is huge excitement about the Skulduggery character because the final Harry Potter book appears this summer and Landy is being seen in the book world as the successor to JK Rowling.

Landy's life will be changed forever by this HarperCollins deal. A spokesperson for HarperCollins in London yesterday confirmed that the deal, which includes foreign rights, is for "a large seven figure sum in sterling".

It is the biggest ever global deal for a HarperCollins children's book.

The success means an end to the 34-year-old's days working on the family vegetable farm in north Co Dublin, where he has spent six years.

"I was looking after the cauliflowers," he says.

This is Landy's first book. A product of Drogheda Grammar School, he went to Ballyfermot Senior College to do animation in the mid-'90s but "they asked me to leave".

Since then he has been writing and has had some success with film scripts. He worked on scripts, he says, because "books were really, really long and filled with words" and they seemed like very hard work.

Scripts seemed easier because they were short, mostly dialogue, and "had lots of white space".

Two of his scripts made it into film, 'Dead Bodies' in 2003 and 'Boy Eats Girl' in 2005, a teenage zombie flick starring Samantha Mumba. "No one has seen either of them," he says, so he stayed working on the farm.

Lurking in the back of his mind all along, however, was the idea for the dead magician Skulduggery and when he finally got down to writing it, his script-writing experience was invaluable, making the book very cinematic.

Landy filled the book with all the things he likes best - martial arts, super powers, action, magic, horror, mystery, murder and revenge, all wrapped up in a cracking story full of his own deadpan, sardonic humour.

Publishers call it a truly genre-busting book best described as comic horror adventure with an irresistible main character. The wise-cracking Skulduggery is urbane, sophisticated and well-dressed.

He's a powerful magician with a particular penchant for fire, dirty tricks and burglary (all for the greater good, of course). He's also dead, which is why he needs his sidekick, Stephanie.

HarperCollins has already sold the foreign rights for the book to 20 countries, including the US, Canada and Russia. Discussions on movie rights are now underway between Landy's London agent Michelle Kass and studios in Hollywood.

Kass was already Derek Landy's agent from his script-writing days and just over a year ago he sent her "the first 30 pages of 'Skullduggery' and an outline of the book".

She offered it to publishers in London and the reaction was immediate.

HarperCollins is now beginning its biggest ever marketing campaign in the lead up to the launch of the book on April 2.

"Skulduggery Pleasant - he's coming. A little thing like death won't stop him," the posters in the campaign say.

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News