March 28: A mother who wrote a novel in the evenings after her children had gone to bed and “if there was nothing good on the telly” has beaten John Grisham and Danielle Steele to the top of the bestseller list.
Kate Long’s book, The Bad Mother’s Handbook, about an 80-year-old grandmother who shares a council flat in Lancashire with her daughter and granddaughter, was given only short reviews when it was released 23 days ago.
Yet, it has already sold more than 18,000 copies and Long, a teacher, has secured a four-book deal with Pan Macmillan, one of Britain’s biggest publishers, for “a considerable sum”, although they won’t say how much.
In the last week alone, the book sold 8,238 copies compared to 5,314 of John Grisham’s The Last Juror and 3,133 copies of Joanna Trollope’s Brother and Sister.
Long, 39, who lives with her husband and two young children in a small village in Shropshire, sat down to write the book after a day’s teaching and after her children had gone to bed.
She told The Daily Telegraph: “I can’t believe what’s happened — it’s amazing. I’m just a table scribbler, really. I wrote most of it in eight weeks, between 7.30 and 9 at night, depending on whether there was anything good on the telly. And then I spent a year revising it.
“My life is very noisy on account of my two young sons, so I settle down to write on my computer as a means of escape to some extent, like some people might paint or do a tapestry.”
Over the past 10 years, Long, originally from Bolton, Lancashire, has tried and failed to get two other novels published. “I have a stack of more than 20 extremely nice rejection letters.”
Peter Strauss, Long’s agent and the former publisher of Bridget Jones’s Diary, spotted the potential of The Bad Mother’s Handbook having been shown it by David Rees, a friend and magazine publisher.
Strauss hawked the book around a number of publishing houses and a fierce bidding war ensued, securing a “considerable advance” for Long.
“Going to Number One in a hardcover is pretty extraordinary,” said Strauss.
Edward Mitchell, the headmaster of Abbey Gate College in Chester, where Long has taught English for more than 10 years, said: “Kate always had a very acute brain. We knew she had a lot of talent in understanding how teenagers think and that shows in her portrayal of the granddaughter in her book.”
Mitchell was, however, not sure the book would make appropriate reading for his pupils — it begins with a graphic description of the granddaughter having sex with her spindly teenage boyfriend when her grandmother stumbles into the room talking about a horse.