Chatto buys memoir from James Tait Black winner Laura Cumming

Rights - NonFiction Thursday, 07 February 2019

On Chapel Sands probes the mysterious abduction of her mother from a Lincolnshire beach in 1929


Clara Farmer, publishing director at Chatto & Windus, has signed rights from Patrick Walsh of PEW Literary Agency to Laura Cumming’s 'astonishing memoir which uncovers the mystery of her mother’s disappearance as a child.' On Chapel Sands: My Mother and Other Missing Persons will be published by Chatto & Windus in July. Nan Graham at Scribner has acquired North American rights.

According to the acquisition statement: 'In the autumn of 1929, a small child was kidnapped from a Lincolnshire beach. Five agonising days went by before she was found in a nearby village. The child remembered nothing of these events and nobody ever spoke of them at home. It was another fifty years before she even learned of the kidnap.

'The girl became an artist and had a daughter, art writer Laura Cumming. Cumming grew up enthralled by her mother’s strange tales of life in a seaside hamlet of the 1930s, and of the secrets and lies perpetuated by a whole community. So many puzzles remained to be solved. Cumming began with a few criss-crossing lives in this fraction of English coast - the postman, the grocer, the elusive baker - but soon her search spread right out across the globe as she discovered just how many lives were affected by what happened that day on the beach - including her own.

'On Chapel Sands is a book of mystery and memoir. Two narratives run through it: the mother’s childhood tale; and Cumming’s own pursuit of the truth. Humble objects light up the story: a pie dish, a carved box, an old Vick’s jar. Letters, tickets, recipe books, even the particular slant of a copperplate hand give vital clues. And pictures of all kinds, from paintings to photographs, open up like doors to the truth. Above all, Cumming discovers how to look more closely at the family album - with its curious gaps and missing persons - finding crucial answers, captured in plain sight at the click of a shutter.'

Clara Farmer, publishing director at Chatto & Windus, said: "This is a memoir propelled by a daughter’s pursuit of the truth. Her tender portrait of her mother’s early life is transfixing – and fittingly for an art critic, the story is informed by visual clues that reverberate through the narrative. Laura is a magician of place and her atmospheric conjuring of the events On Chapel Sands makes for a very special book about the universal bonds of love and family."

Laura Cumming has been chief art critic of The Observer since 1999. Her book The Vanishing Man: In Pursuit of Velazquez was Book of the Week on Radio 4, Wall Street Journal Book of the Year and a New York Times bestseller. It won the 2017 James Tait Black Biography Prize and was published to critical acclaim (‘A riveting detective story: readers will be spellbound’ Colm Toibin). Her first book, A Face to the World: On Self-Portraits was described by Nick Hornby as ‘Brilliant, fizzing with ideas not just about art but human nature’ and by Julian Barnes as ‘that rare item: an art book where the text is so enthralling that the pictures almost seem like an interruption.’


Pictured: Laura Cumming (credit: Sebastian Barfield)



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