Stuart Neville

Markethill author's debut novel snapped up by top agent and publishers 

When Armagh writer Stuart Neville received a mysterious email from a stranger, he had no idea it would lead to contracts with major publishers and accolades from international bestselling authors.

‘I had a short story published on Thuglit.com in February of this year. On March 10th I checked my email and in my inbox was a message from Nat Sobel,’ Neville, 36, explains.

‘The name was familiar and in the email he mentioned that he was a literary agent and listed some of his clients. The first name was James Ellory, who’s my favourite writer - then I knew that this was something special.’

Sobel, a legendary New York literary agent, had read one of Neville's short stories online and was so impressed he got in touch to ask if he could see the novel mentioned in the author’s bio. Just days after receiving the manuscript for The Twelve, Sobel offered Stuart representation with his respected Manhattan-based agency, Sobel Weber Associates.

‘I never would have imagined this could happen,’ Neville says reflecting on his whirlwind success. ‘It came out of the blue - it’s all a bit surreal. It really is one of those dream scenarios. All writers struggle to get an agent and to get published but for me it happened the other way around – the agent came to me.’

Neville will be joining an illustrious stable at the agency, as well as LA Confidential author James Ellroy, Sobel represents the late FX Toole, whose short stories inspired the multi Oscar-winning Million Dollar Baby, crime writer Joseph Wambaugh, Pulitzer-winner Richard Russo, and the estate of fantasy novelist Robert Jordan.

London publishers agreed with Sobel’s assessment of the author’s potential - The Twelve was bought at auction by Harvill Secker, an imprint of Random House, in a two-book deal. Tokyo's Random House Kodansha quickly followed, buying Japanese translation rights, and most recently Soho Press of New York, who will publish the book as The Ghosts of Belfast in north America.

Set in post-conflict Northern Ireland, The Twelve is a dark thriller about a former paramilitary killer haunted by his victims. Among the first to read the novel was Ellroy, widely regarded as one of the world's greatest crime writers. He described The Twelve as, ‘One of the best first novels I've read in years. It's a flat-out terror trip.’

John Connolly, international bestselling author of The Unquiet, The Reapers, and The Book of Lost Things, has also praised The Twelve. He described the book as, ‘Not only one of the finest thriller debuts of the last ten years, but also one of the best Irish novels, in any genre, of recent times,’ and named it as a book to watch for 2009 in a recent Irish Times feature.

The Twelve is set for publication in July of next year – not that Neville, a partner in a successful multimedia design agency based in Markethill, has any intention of packing up the day job just yet.

‘I’ve only been seriously writing for two years… I have a two book deal with Random House so there will definitely be a follow-up to The Twelve and then after that we’ll just have to see how things go.’ 

Peter Geoghegan