A Book of Secrets
by Kate Morrison
Kate Morrison grew up in London and Brighton and now lives in West Sussex with her husband and two sons. She studied English Literature at New Hall College, Cambridge and has worked as a journalist and press officer.

Kate won second prize in the Asham Award short story competition in 2011. In 2012 she received an Arts Council Grant to complete her first novel, A BOOK OF SECRETS, which is set in the print trade in 16th Century London. From 2012 – 2016 she was a Visiting Scholar at Bath Spa University’s ‘Book, Text and Place 1500 – 1750’ research centre.

A BOOK OF SECRETS tells the story of a girl from 16th Century Ghana hunting for her lost brother through an Elizabethan underworld of spies, plots and secret Catholic printing presses. It was longlisted for the Mslexia Unpublished Novel Award in 2015 and will be published in 2018 by Jacaranda Books.


"My little heart," I say to my baby. In his perfect ear I tell him what he is to me; my little heart, my little love. Holding him against me I feel my own heart beating slow and strong, counterpoint to the faster flutter of his own.

A Book of Secrets, is literary historical fiction set in late 16th century London and tells the story of Susan Charlewood, an African girl embroiled in the cut-throat, piratical world of illicit printing. The book explores the perils of voicing dissent in a state that demands outward conformity, at a time when England is taking its first steps into the long shadow of transatlantic slavery and old certainties about the shape of the universe itself are crumbling.’

Extract from the book
         Outside time runs on; snow falls and bells ring the hours of his first day. The men are in the print room, catching pages as they fly from the press. The tide of the Thames ebbs and flows and all over London people are writing down stories and recipes, proclamations, death warrants, sermons and ballads. Other babies are born and beggars clutch rags over their chests against the cruel wind.

         My child will never beg. He will never go hungry, he will never be cold. I will look after him as well as I did in the womb. I will always keep him as safe as he is here, in this small room where time moves slow as sleeping breath.

 Path to publication with Jacaranda
Kate first had the idea for this novel in 2003, when she left university. It’s been a long journey and sometimes a tough one, spanning a nervous breakdown and recovery in her mid-twenties. "Although this was a horrible time it actually brought me back to writing creatively – I had gone into news journalism which was completely the wrong job for me and I was pushing myself in the wrong direction. That period in my life gave me a much better insight into my emotions, greater empathy and understanding of suffering and has undoubtedly made me a better writer. So good things can come from dark times."

"I approached five agents in total, in 2013. Rupert Heath was agent for my mentor at the time, Ros Barber. Victoria Heath at AM Hobbs was recommended to me by someone. I pitched the idea for my novel to Clare Conville at a Brighton Fringe event where authors were able to talk about their ideas to an agent, editor and publicist. She liked the synopsis and asked me to send the manuscript to her once I had a finished draft.  Finally, I found Judith Murray because I was looking for the agents of authors I admire. Judith is Sarah Waters’ agent & I love Sarah Waters’ work. Everyone I approached read three chapters & then asked for the full MS." 

Judith came back very quickly and said she loved the novel and wanted to meet. They met for lunch and talked through changes Judith thought needed making and the fact Kate was four months pregnant and how that might impact her work. Judith then made Kate an offer of representation. Kate let the other agents know and Victoria Hobbs asked to meet and also made an offer. Having offers from two highly respected agents  - both of whom Kate felt she could work with well and who had strong ideas for where the book should go next - was an absolutely brilliant position for Kate to be in. She decided to go with Judith in the end because she was so passionate about the book. She clearly really loved it and  Kate had also heard good things about Greene & Heaton.

When it came to approaching publishers, "it was a classic case of pin the rejections above your desk, like Stephen King. We had I think 24 rejections in total. Of those, many said they loved or really enjoyed the book but it wasn’t for them. In quite a few cases this was because they were putting a lot of resources behind other historical fiction authors occupying similar ground and so didn’t feel they could take on anyone competing with that. That was an eye-opener for me as I hadn’t appreciated that side of marketing – how if publishers are backing one author in particular they don’t want competition in the same field.

“After all those rejections we agreed to call it a day for Judith sending the book out. We were both disappointed and I started work on some new ideas. I couldn’t let go of A Book of Secrets though, and in the end I sent it out under my own steam to a few more publishers. Jacaranda were interested and I went to meet them in October 2016 with my 4-week old baby in a sling and my mum to help out with the baby! I loved the team and it felt absolutely right that they should be the ones to publish the book (which tells the story of an African girl in Elizabethan England). Valerie is one of only a handful of Black women heading up publishing houses in the UK and Jacaranda is dedicated to publishing diverse books. They made me an offer and I then passed this to Judith to complete the negotiations. I could have signed the deal without an agent, which would mean not paying agent’s commission, but I felt this would be the wrong approach. Judith had contributed a huge amount to shaping the novel and I really felt I needed her expertise and the security of a good agency behind me (especially with a 2.5 year old and newborn keeping me busy)."