Picador have won a hotly contested 14-way auction for Elizabeth Macneal‘s debut novel The Doll Factory, which recently won the Caledonia Novel Award.

UK and Commonwealth rights were purchased for six figures by Sophie Jonathan, senior commissioning editor at the Pan Macmillan imprint, who described it as “one of the most heart-stopping, gripping books I have ever read”.

The Doll Factory is a tale of curiosity, love and possession.  It tells the story of Iris, a strangely beautiful doll-making apprentice who dreams of being a painter, and Silas, a lonely collector of morbid curiosities who dreams of building his own museum dedicated to his macabre obsessions. It brings to life the squalor, ambition and sweeping vision of 1851 London, a radical year of art and ambition that would change Britain and the lives within it forever. Central to the book is the theme of female empowerment. As a young woman, Iris’s dreams are constrained by society, but she is compelled forward by a dogged resilience and a tenacious desire to become the person she knows she is.

We were thrilled with the incredibly enthusiastic response to the novel from publishers across the industry, and are extremely excited to see Picador’s vision for the book come to life. This is a spectacular first step for Elizabeth’s career.

Agent Madeleine Milburn describes The Doll Factory as “a truly captivating story that will appeal just as much to historical fiction fans as people who don’t think they read historical. We also have a string of offers from US and international publishers who are equally enthralled by Elizabeth’s talent.”

A University of East Anglia graduate who runs a pottery in East London, Elizabeth has “been fascinated by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood for years, and their verve and wit has been a joy to bring to the page. While I started this novel relatively recently, I’ve been writing for over 10 years, and I’ve poured so much of my love of writing into the character of Iris and her pursuit of painting.”

The novel will be Picador’s lead debut fiction launch of 2019.