A young Northern Ireland writer has landed a major book deal after a literary agent in New York stumbled across his work online.
Stuart Neville (36) posted a short story about post-Troubles Belfast to a crime fiction sharing website and thought no more of it, until Nat Sobel — the literary agent who represents LA Confidential author James Ellroy — sent him an email asking for more.
In a matter of weeks Stuart signed a two-book contract that will see his first novel, The Twelve, published in the UK and the US and translated into Japanese and French.
Stuart said: “It’s all come completely out of the blue. Never in a million years did I dream of this actually happening.
“I was formerly a musician, and my fantasy as a kid was that David Coverdale from Whitesnake would hear me playing guitar and ask me to join the band. This kind of feels the same.”
The Twelve is a gritty crime thriller set in 1990s Belfast, and follows the fate of a former paramilitary killer haunted by the ghosts of his victims.
They persuade him to avenge their deaths by hunting down the politicians and thugs who pulled the strings, pushing him to the edge of sanity and threatening to derail the fledgling peace process.
Stuart said the storyline was inspired by the time he spent in the city during the 1990s, and by a dream in which he glimpsed a man sitting at a pub table with his head in his hands.
Agent Nat Sobel described Stuart Neville as “a major find” and said the internet is beginning to provide a fertile hunting ground for fresh talent.
He said: “Editing Stuart from New York has been as easy as editing his work anywhere in the States, thanks to the web.
“A talented writer like Stuart Neville, who can take me into this world in exciting prose, is a major find.”
The Twelve, which is to be published in the US under the title The Ghosts of Belfast, has already won plaudits from established authors.
Veteran Irish writer John Connolly described it 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”.
Stuart admitted his overnight success felt “surreal”, particularly as he kept his writing secret from family and close friends for years.
“I was always a little bit embarrassed about it, maybe,” he said. “I suppose in anything where the chance of success is so slim you’re always going to feel a bit foolish to be wasting your time on it.
“When it came to start telling people about it I found it slightly nerve-wracking, but everyone’s been very impressed and they all want free copies.”
Stuart said he would stay on in his day job as a web designer in Armagh for as long as possible. He is now working on his second novel, a sequel to The Twelve which will tackle policing and politics in Northern Ireland head-on.