Bonnier signs feminist debut The Shelf by Helly Acton

Rights - Fiction Thursday, 13 June 2019

Topical feminist debut based on fictional reality TV show: real TV deal for The Shelf optioned


Sarah Bauer, senior editor at Zaffre, the flagship adult fiction imprint of Bonnier Books UK, has acquired two books by debut author Helly Acton after 'a competitive fast-paced auction' in a deal with Hayley Steed at Madeleine Milburn for UK and Commonwealth rights.

Rights have also been sold in France, Hungary and Taiwan. The Shelf, which has also been optioned for TV, will be published by Zaffre in July 2020 in hardback, ebook and audio.

The TV deal sees Monumental Pictures, the outfit behind Suffragette, Mary Queen of Scots and the adaptation of Caitlin Moran’s How To Build a Girl, optioning the rights to The Shelf for a multi-part series. In a statement Monumental said: "We’re thrilled to have added The Shelf to our slate, it's such an original and arresting premise, peopled with fantastic characters. It felt like a no-brainer for screen adaptation and we’re looking forward to turning it into noisy, column-garnering series."

According to Zaffre's acquisition statement: 'The premise of the novel couldn’t be timelier - Amy Wright thinks her boyfriend is surprising her with a dream holiday to pop the big question – they’ve been together for two years now so surely it must be about time? But the dream turns into a nightmare when she removes the blindfold and finds herself on the set of The Shelf, a Big-Brother style reality television show. WTAF?!

'Along with five other women, Amy is dumped live on TV in front of a studio audience and millions of viewers watching from home and now must compete to be crowned The Keeper and the chance to win a million pounds. This funny and relatable look at society’s obsession with settling down will strike a chord with anyone who’s been asked, "why are you still single?"'

Acton said: "I’m over the moon to have signed with the wonderful team at Bonnier Books UK and especially delighted to be working with Sarah, whose ideas, energy and empathy for the story stood out from the start. Huge thanks goes to the brilliant Hayley Steed at Madeleine Milburn, who has helped me navigate this exciting new world. I can’t wait to introduce readers to everyone on The Shelf."

Steed said: "The concept of The Shelf had me hooked from the moment it dropped into my inbox; the satire, the social commentary and the incredible voice that had me whipping through the pages. I’m so excited for Helly to have found such a brilliant home in Bonnier Books UK and cannot wait to see it published next year."

Bauer said: "I am thrilled to be publishing The Shelf. It’s the perfect combination of sharp and pacey writing with the crispest of storylines – and delivers a genuinely emotional impact. It’s a book that will make you laugh out loud, wince as you recognise awkward situations that every woman has found herself in, cheer the characters along and quite possibly sob – I certainly did.

"Helly’s fantastic novel is unbelievably timely, highlighting how so many of us live our lives under a microscope or behind a filter, and making us question why we’re doing so, and who we truly are. This fabulously feminist novel about the power of women when we support one another is like a breath of fresh air, full of real, relatable characters and an important message. The book is clever and empowering but, most importantly, incredibly fun. Helly is a huge talent and I am delighted to welcome her to the Zaffre list!"

Zaffre has been working closely with bookstagrammers to spread news of the announcement across Instagram over the past couple of weeks using #TheShelf2020, reaching over 26,500 users, as well as setting up a branded Instagram account @TheShelfUK. The launch next summer will be backed by major marketing campaign.

The author is a copywriter from London who has previously lived in the Middle East, Africa and Australia.

'Born in Zimbabwe, Helly and her family emigrated to the East Sussex coast when she was 15 years old. Here, she finished school and spent her holidays in Saudi Arabia, where her father had been placed with work. She studied Law at King's College London before following a more creative path into advertising. In her mid-twenties, Helly escaped the rat race and took a three-month career break to travel in Africa, India and Asia before landing in Australia.

'What was supposed to last one year ended up lasting six, and after a life-affirming break-up in Sydney she returned home to find herself the last of her single friends. Helly threw herself into the deep end of online dating in the city and uses her experience as a single woman in her early thirties, torn between settling down and savouring her independence, as a source of inspiration for her stories,' says the acquisition statement.

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