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HarperCollins UK imprint Fourth Estate has bought a powerful work of narrative non-fiction about the fate of refugees trying to reach the UK.  My Fourth Time, we Drowned, by journalist Sally Hayden, is described as a ‘fearless, beautifully written and deeply moving blend of narrative nonfiction and investigative journalism that shines a spotlight on the structural and individual racism that allows the rich world to turn a blind eye to the outrages carried out in its name’.

Helen Garnons-Williams, Associate Publisher at Fourth Estate, acquired UK & Commonwealth rights at auction from Patrick Walsh at PEW Literary Agency in London.

When the Irish journalist Sally Hayden visited the ‘Jungle’ refugee camp in Calais, northern France, in 2015 it made a profound impression on her.  She interviewed migrants hoping to board lorries or trains to reach the UK, and met those who were hoping to make the dangerous crossing by water.

The experience led to her decision to leave her staff job at Vice magazine and go freelance, concentrating on the refugee question.  In 2018 she received a Facebook message which read “Hi sister Sally, we need your help.”  The sender was a refugee held in terrible conditions in a Libyan detention centre.

For the next nearly two years Hayden explored that initial contact, checking and corroborating everything she could, and gradually unearthing the shocking story of how Libyan militias and smugglers were colluding with European Union authorities to intercept refugees and migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.

Held in Libyan detention centres, many of those caught at sea were starved or denied medical attention; others were tortured, raped, sold for ransom, forced to become fighters and even used as human shields.

The publisher believes it is Hayden’s access to primary sources that is the beating heart of her book: ‘the voices of the people who reached out to her on social media from basement cells, where they were being tortured, from the aftermath of explosions, from rooms where hundreds of refugees crowded around one mobile phone wanting their stories to be told, their names remembered’.

Garnons-Williams says: “We are fiercely proud to be publishing Sally’s extraordinary book at 4th Estate. She tells a story that is both shocking and shaming, and one that opens our eyes and acts as a catalyst for change. A work of deep empathy and rigorous investigation, it brings into sharp focus the individuals who are the collateral damage of politics, power and greed.”

Hayden says: ‘I am delighted and grateful to be working with Helen and 4th Estate, who publish writers I admire a lot, including Michela Wrong, Valeria Luiselli and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The suffering Europe is inflicting to cement its borders, in the name of its citizens, should be known by everyone, and I hope this book will help with that.”

Now 30, Hayden contributes to the Guardian, the New York Times, the Washington PostTIME, CNN International, BBC, the Telegraph, and more, as well as holding a core position as a foreign correspondent for the Irish Times.  She began her career in journalism reporting from Africa for the Irish Times, and interning at the BBC, CNN International and the Financial Times.