Monday, February 25, 2013

Asperger's bestseller earns £1.2m advance for debut novelist

International publishers and movie producers rush to sign up Graeme Simsion's The Rosie Project
The Rosie Project by Australian Graeme Simsion
The Rosie Project by Australian Graeme Simsion tells the story of a genetics professor with undiagnosed Asperger’s.

A first novel about a man with undiagnosed Asperger's syndrome has become a publishing phenomenon, snapped up by publishers in more than 34 countries, from China to Portugal.
As a comic story of disability, it is an unlikely hit. But publishers believe that with its strong main character, the book will challenge perceptions of people with the disorder.
The Rosie Project tells the story of a socially challenged genetics professor, Don Tillman, who decides to look for a wife, drawing up a "scientifically valid" questionnaire to assist his quest for the perfect woman. Tillman lectures on Asperger's without realising that he displays its symptoms himself – in his use of language, difficulty in reading social signals and obsession with detail.
The novel is being described as a cross between Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, about a teenager with Asperger's, and David Nicholls's One Day, a bittersweet love story – both huge bestsellers.

Its author is Graeme Simsion, 56, an Australian IT consultant with a British father. He told the Observer that he was "flabbergasted" to learn of frenzied bidding by publishers worldwide. Until recently, he had never even dared to imagine that he had the ability to write a novel. Advances of more than £1.2m so far have already allowed him to become a full-time writer.

Penguin is due to release Rosie in April, and is flying Simsion to the UK for pre-publication events. Sam Humphreys, his UK publisher, said she had been "absolutely determined" to outbid rivals: "From the first page, I was hooked. It's such an instinctive and engaging voice."
Asperger's is a neurobiological disorder with autism-like abnormalities that affect an individual's social skills. People with the condition often have high intelligence and obsessive knowledge of narrow subjects. Many go undiagnosed for years, with their symptoms explained away as extreme awkwardness.

In Rosie, the condition informs Tillman's meticulous match-making questionnaire, which he describes as "a purpose-built, scientifically-valid instrument incorporating current best practice to filter out the time wasters, the disorganised, the ice-cream discriminators, the visual harassment complainers, the crystal gazers, the horoscope readers… leaving, ideally, the perfect partner".

In another passage, his character meets a girl at a singles party but fails to notice the obvious pick-up line when she complains about the wine and suggests that they go to a wine bar together: "I shook my head. The poor wine quality was annoying, but not critical."
Mary Simpson, chief executive of Spectrum, the charity supporting people with autistic spectrum disorders, said that according to the latest research one in 100 people were affected by the condition. She drew parallels between Tillman's struggle to find a wife and a real individual, who told her: "I've been to several pubs now and I haven't yet found a wife. 'Why hasn't that happened, Mary?' I said. 'Did you talk to anybody?' 'Of course not, Mary.' It's this oddness – total brilliance in other areas – but just this social naivety."
She welcomed the prospect of a book with a "more positive" look at people "who don't quite fit into the world" but who are part of "life's rich tapestry".

Simsion was inspired to tackle Asperger's through several personal encounters with people like Tillman over the years: "In Rosie, I set out to make Don a hero in spite of – or indeed in some ways because of – his different strengths and weaknesses, and certainly hoped that would translate to a broader understanding."
Rosie started as a screenplay. Having won a literary award for an unpublished manuscript, it was bought by Text, a Melbourne company, which published it last month. After three print runs, the novel is among Australia's top dozen fiction titles and film-makers from Britain, America and Australia are pursuing the rights ahead of publication elsewhere.

Asked about the reaction from readers with Asperger's, Simsion said: "It's probably been the single most gratifiying outcome. At a book signing in Melbourne, a man introduced himself as having Asperger's and then commented that he'd read the book and it had a fault – the term 'mathematically illiterate' on page 30 should be 'innumerate'. 'Otherwise OK?' I asked. 'Brilliant.' He and his partner were buying extra copies to give to friends to give them some insight and a positive perspective."
• This article was amended on Sunday 24 February 2013. Sam Humphreys is Simsion's UK, not Australian, publisher. Also, Mary Simpson said according to research, one in 100, not one in 56, people were affected by the condition.

Published originally (Jan.2013) by Text Publishing, Melbourne. I have featured this book five times on my blog so far,link here for one of those pieces.
I am not at all surprised at the worldwide attention the book is receiving.

No comments: