Petina Gappah. Image from Guardian UK.

Last June, we brought news that Petina Gappah had completed the manuscript of her second novel and was shipping it to her editors. The manuscript, then titled The Last Journey of Doctor Livingstone (from the Interior to the Coast of Africa as Narrated by His African Companions), has now been picked by U.S. publishers Scribner and re-titled Out of Darkness, Shining Light. The North America rights deal, reports Publishers Weekly, included further rights to Petina Gappah’s 2016 short story collection, Rotten Row.

For Scribner, Kathy Belden took North American rights, at auction, to two books—a novel called Out of Darkness, Shining Light and a short story collection called Rotten Row—by Petina Gappah. The author, who was represented by Eric Simonoff at William Morris Endeavor, won the 2009 Guardian First Book Award for her novel An Elegy for Easterly. The novel, Scribner said, is about the last days of a Scottish explorer and missionary named David Livingstone, as well as the journey of his body from Zambia back to England. The publisher added that the book is “narrated by his sharp-tongued cook, Halima, and a repressed African missionary, Jacob Wainwright,” and tells the tale of “this harrowing 1,500-mile journey.” Out of Darkness is set for summer 2019.

Out of Darkness will be Petina Gappah’s fourth book and second novel, following the story collections An Elegy for Easterly (2009) and Rotten Row (2016) and the novel The Book of Memory (2015). Here is the post she made on Facebook announcing the deals.

You don’t get to head the Deals column of the US trade publication Publishers’ Weekly, complete with a picture of your beaming mug, unless the deal in question, is, well, a very big deal indeed.

I am delighted to say that Livingstone’s bones have found a wonderful new home in New York. After a truly terrific, and terrifying auction involving 8 publishers, my novel, OUT OF DARKNESS, SHINING LIGHT will be published by Scribner. I can’t tell you how happy I am.

And that headline: Gappah “Shines” Her Light on Scribner !!!!

I had a really amazing week where 8 of New York’s finest publishers pitched to me their plans for the book. It was very hard to choose between some incredible people. But in the end, the choice made perfect sense. I first met Scribner publisher Nan Graham at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2015, and she has been asking after the book since then. And my new American editor Kathy Belden has a storied history in publishing, most recently working with Jesmyn Ward.

They have committed to the novel in a really big way, the final bids all went over the half a million dollar mark before we stopped the auction. !!!

This is the kind of book deal that happens if you are a very very fortunate debut author, so for this to happen to a writer on her fourth book is just unprecedented. I am excited and grateful.

Scribner is also Stephen King’s publisher. Not only have his books punctuated my reading life from the time I was 12, I have been on record as saying it was Stephen King who taught me to write, or, at least, who taught me that writing is all about rewriting. I am not kidding. He gave me a private masterclass, him and John Braine, rest his bones, on how to write a novel. I always say to people that his wonderful and generous memoir ON WRITING is one of the most important books to me. One of my jokey conditions was that I had to meet him as part of the deal. They took it seriously enough that Kathy, Nan and I are going to Maine on a road trip, to visit Stephen King !!! I have to say that the gruesome scene in which the companions prepare Livingstone’s body for travel owes a lot to Stephen King, so I plan to bring to him that chapter heh heh.

OUT OF DARKNESS, SHINING LIGHT is also my literary agency WME’s lead title at the London Book Fair which has started this week. This morning, I woke up to generous offers from my Italian, French and Norwegian publishers. More are expected this week. It really looks like this will be one of the books of the Fair.

In June 2016, I quit my job in Geneva. It was a brilliant job. I miss it a lot. I had a permanent contract that, all things being equal, would have ended when I was 65. I enjoyed doing important work for more than 70 developing countries, in a convivial supportive atmosphere with wonderful, and gifted colleagues. I earned a tax free salary with a generous education grant for Kush. I walked away from all of that to live in Berlin for a year, because I knew that was what I needed to do to complete this book.

I knew I had to be brutally singleminded. I had a hunch that this was the book that would reset my writing career and take me to the stratosphere. That decision has more than paid off.

But that it paid off in such spectacular fashion is due to my wonderful agent Eric Simonoff. From the moment I read about him in 2006 when I was an unknown wannabe, he became my white whale. Over ten years I followed him from one agency to the next, each time being represented out of London by one his wonderful colleagues, but now, he is all mine  How Eric became my agent is another instance of my stubborn and relentless single-mindedness that I will narrate another day.

When he told me the news, Eric said how proud he is to be my agent. Well, I hope to make him and my agency WME proud. I hope to make all my publishers proud, and to make all of you, my family and friends, and my beautiful Zimbabwe, very proud indeed. Simudza mureza!

The inspirational Gappah was the 2016 Brittle Paper Literary Person of the Year and, for more reasons than that, we share in her joy. Congratulations to her!