Beachy Books has acquired ‘Arresting Beauty’ by Isle of Wight author Heather Cooper, an historic romance novel based on the true-life story of Mary Ryan, the maid and assistant of pioneering Victorian portrait photographer Julia Margaret Cameron.
Publisher Philip Bell acquired UK and Commonwealth excluding Canada publishing rights from Sarah Such at the Sarah Such Literary Agency. Arresting Beauty will be published by Beachy Books in the UK in hardback and e-book on September 30th 2023.
Based on true historic events, the novel follows the extraordinary story of Mary Ryan, who was found begging on Putney Heath at the age of ten by the celebrated Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron. Julia takes Mary into her magnificently bohemian household, to be trained as a maid and educated alongside her own sons. When Julia decides to move to Freshwater in the Isle of Wight, to live close to her great friend Alfred Tennyson, Mary—clever and rebellious—finds herself uncomfortably poised between two worlds—that of a servant girl in one, and in another, artistic assistant to Julia and befriending the likes of Tennyson, battling class and attitudes of the time to fulfil her own goals and perhaps even find love.
Philip Bell said: ‘I’m so excited to be publishing Heather Cooper’s latest novel as I love her writing. When I first read the story, through the authentic voice that Heather has conjured for headstrong Mary Ryan, I was immediately transported into her world and incredible true story of finding her own voice alongside her artistic and eccentric mistress, Julia Margaret Cameron. I also have a very special connection with the Isle of Wight where I used to live and still publish many Island authors and books.’
Heather Cooper said, ‘I am so pleased that Beachy Books has acquired my novel Arresting Beauty, particularly as Beachy Books has a special connection with the Isle of Wight, and this book captures a moment of Island history during its extraordinary Victorian heyday when Julia Margaret Cameron, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and their dazzling circle of friends lived and worked at Freshwater Bay. I am very much looking forward to my association with this exciting independent publisher.’
This book, affectionately known internally as ‘PV’ or ‘The Blue Book’ has been the passion project of Isle of Wight-born Phillip Armitage for some twelve years. In his own words, Phillip explains:
‘… I only stumbled across names at first. And then the names just came popping out of the blue. Some came from books I was reading on the Isle of Wight. I decided that there were so many names with an Isle of Wight link that it was worth putting together as a publication …’
And this was just the research and writing. It’s been a project on Beachy Books’s whiteboard for most of the year. It all started one rainy afternoon in February 2019, when an email from the author popped into the inbox:
‘Good afternoon, I see that you publish books related to the Island. I have assembled a file of information concerning 250+ folk who were either born on the island or lived there and had a significant influence on the wider world…’
And so, eight months later, after several drafts, weeks of editing and design Beachy Books is finally able to announce to the world that the author’s twelve years of labour is finally published.
Personae Vectenses: Isle of Wight Notables is a shiny blue volume filled with the famous and no-so-famous, those long gone, and others who are still active in their careers from Alfred Lord Tennyson to Mimi Khalvati, Robert Hooke to Elizabeth Meek.
Publisher, Philip Bell, is proud of Personae Vectenses, as he explains:
‘I’m very happy with the design of this one. I wanted it to have some imagery but have a fresher look than the typical local history book. The author loved the cover on first look and I’m confident the public will want to pick it up and buy it!’
Early signs of pre-sales on Amazon and an early set of copies all selling out at Blackwells bookshop at the Isle of Wight Literary Festival 2019 bodes well for sales of PV. Philip Bell adds:
I have such a good feeling about this one. I think it will chime with a lot of locals and those who are just fascinated with how many people have connections to this wonderful diamond. As well as the interesting stories, I think people will also like the Location Index so they can see who lived in or was born in their own town. I hope Personae Vectenses becomes a local Isle of Wight classic.
With the Season of Goodwill looming Beachy Books hopes Personae Vectenses: Isle of Wight Notables will be a popular Christmas book for anybody interested in fascinating historical biographies of people with connections to the Isle of Wight.
In the run-up to the publication there have has been some great local press coverage of PV on the web, social media and in print, including stories on On The Wight, Island Echo and Isle of Wight Observer who are running a give-away of two copies and reviewing in the local newspaper. More press coverage is expected in the coming weeks, including magazine features.
Obviously, with a book sub-titled ‘Isle of With Notables’ there is bound to be some debate about who was included, who was left out, but the author explains his criteria for including a ‘notable’ in PV:
‘They had to have lived on the Island for a reasonable amount of time, or have been born there. The most significant thing is, they had to have had an influence on the wider society.’
Incidentally, for those who are interested, Beachy Books enlisted the help of latin experts on Twitter to ensure the translation was correct, as the book was originally named ‘Personae Vectensis’. It was eventually confirmed that the ‘ensis’ ending is added to a place name to mean ‘from this place’, so ‘Vectensis’ means “person from Vectis”, however ‘Vectenses’ means ‘people from Vectis’. So, ‘Personae Ventenses’ was chosen as it is grammatically equivalent to ‘Notable people from the Isle of Wight’. Phew! Still with us!?
Personae Vectenses: Isle of Wight Notables retails at £12.99 and is available to buy on Amazon UK (and worldwide), and also at other online retailers such as Waterstones and WHSmiths. (Due to demand, if it says Out of Stock at any time, do not despair, just order away and you will get your book! It just may take a bit longer. Beachy Books are never truly out of stock and more are always printed upon order.)