What price should you put on integrity? Is allowing a potentially bestselling novel to be published, knowing that it’s not your best work, ‘selling out’? These are just two of the questions troubling critically acclaimed author Helen Owen as she prevaricates about handing in the manuscript she promised her publisher in return for a seven-figure advance.

Settled into the stylish North London townhouse she and husband, fellow novelist Malcolm Taylor, bought with the proceeds, Helen is torn between ensuring the ageing couple’s future comfort and protecting her literary legacy. Malcolm thinks the new novel is unworthy of her. Meanwhile, Malcolm’s latest novel, which he dismisses as a “cancer of a book”, is in consideration for the Man Booker Prize.

Enter Amy Winston, the brilliant yet capricious editor sent to convince Helen to deliver the manuscript. Having made her name turning a so-so thriller writer into a publishing phenomenon, Amy’s personal life is a mess, characterised by too much alcohol and random sexual encounters.

Written by industry insider John Purcell, The Girl on the Page (HarperCollins, 2018) ushers the reader behind the scenes of the publishing industry, examining the dichotomy between commercial and literary fiction and asking what it is that makes a great novel.

While unashamedly on the ‘commercial’ side of the divide, The Girl on the Page answers many of its own questions, proving that a novel can be both successful and smart.

By Ylla Watkins

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