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Embla Books snaps up ‘page-turning and illuminating’ uplit fiction debut from Neil Alexander

Embla Books, the digital-first commercial fiction imprint of Bonnier Books UK, has acquired a page-turning “uplit” novel by debut author, Neil Alexander.

Publishing Director Jane Snelgrove took world English language rights from Rowan Lawton at the Soho Agency, along with a second work.

An absorbing mystery with a dual timeline, The Vanishing of Margaret Small shines a light on a little-known part of our social history, and introduces a memorable literary heroine. ‘Vanished’ to a long-stay institution for children with learning disabilities, aged seven, Margaret Small is now 75, plain-spoken and a Cilla Black super fan. Shortly after the death of her musical idol, Margaret begins receiving anonymous sums of money in the post – signed simply ‘C’. Convinced it is Cilla, Margaret must uncover secrets from her past to solve the mystery of her benefactor.

Jane Snelgrove said: ‘Neil’s unique and illuminating novel captivated me. As well as being a page-turning mystery with a glorious lead character, The Vanishing of Margaret Small is a fascinating account of how learning disability was viewed and treated in the past. I found myself reading widely about it as I flew through the book, and I am thrilled to welcome Neil to the Embla list. The combination of his experience at Mencap, and his prodigious talent and warmth as a writer and storyteller, are truly exciting. We believe his debut has the potential to be for learning disability awareness what Elizabeth is Missing was for dementia.’

Neil Alexander is a graduate of the Faber Academy ‘Writing a Novel’ course. Much of the inspiration for The Vanishing of Margaret Small came from the voices and stories he heard during the many years he worked as artist liaison manager for the charity Mencap. Neil has a Masters in English Literature from the University of Kent at Canterbury, and has had poems published in Magma, The Interpreter’s House and Southbank Poetry.

Alexander said: ‘The Vanishing of Margaret Small has been 15 years in the making, so I am delighted it has finally found a home with Jane and the wonderful team at Embla Books. Protagonists like Margaret are hard to find in commercial fiction, and I hope that her story will enlighten readers on the appalling treatment of people with learning disabilities, particularly in the early part of the twentieth century, when many were locked away in long-stay hospitals, hidden from society. Equally though, I hope readers will find some escapism in the book, and be swept along by the mystery, the heart, and the humour. At its core, this book is about families, about hope, lost and found, and about finding kindness in the unlikeliest of places. I can’t wait for readers to meet Margaret Small.’

The Vanishing of Margaret Small will be published in ebook and audio in October, with a second book to follow in spring 2023.