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In the same week that a team of Nepalese climbers became the first to scale K2, the world’s second highest peak, in winter, Penguin Michael Joseph has signed a mountain thriller by a former staffer set on a neighbouring mountain, Mount Manaslu, also in Nepal and the eighthvhighest peak in the world.

Breathless is by former Puffin editor Amy McCulloch, who has scaled Mount Manaslu herself and even wrote a few words of her novel at the 26,781-ft summit.  There has been a flurry of international deals on the title.  Penguin Michael Joseph publisher Joel Richardson acquired UK and Commonwealth rights from Juliet Mushens at Mushens Entertainment in a six-figure deal after a six-way auction. North American rights were sold at auction in a “significant” six-figure deal to Ed Kastenmeier, editorial director at Anchor Books, and Lara Hinchberger at PRH Canada, by Jenny Bent on behalf of Mushens. German rights sold in a six-figure deal at auction, and Dutch rights were pre-empted, with further sales already in Swedish and Russian.

The publisher says: ‘Breathless is the story of Cecily Wong, a journalist who finds herself on an expedition to climb one of the world’s tallest – and most dangerous – mountains. But Cecily soon realises that there could be a killer hiding in plain sight within her team – and when you’re this high up, there’s no place to hide.’

McCulloch, who was born in England but grew up in Canada, has already written a number of children’s books and a YA novel.  Breathless marks her adult fiction debut.  Before becoming a writer she worked for publishers John Blake, HarperVoyager and Puffin, which she joined in 2013 as editorial director for fiction.

An experienced climber in September she became the youngest Canadian woman to climb Mount Manaslu in Nepal. She also summited the highest mountain in the Americas, Aconcagua in Argentina, in -45C and 90mph winds.

Richardson describes McCulloch’s debut as “a really special thriller. It’s full of wonderfully claustrophobic suspense with a killer hiding amongst a small group of people, but that classic formula is made totally fresh by its extraordinary setting, which no one but Amy could have written”.

He added: “Meeting her on Zoom and hearing her stories from the mountain was genuinely fascinating, and I can’t wait to bring her brilliant books to the widest possible audience.”

McCulloch said: “I’m delighted to have found the perfect home with Penguin Michael Joseph – its enthusiasm for my debut adult novel blew me away. I actually wrote a few lines of Breathless in the death zone (at 8,053m to be precise) on Manaslu – because when inspiration strikes, you can’t ignore it! I can’t wait to offer the world a glimpse into the thrilling world of high altitude mountaineering.”

Mushens said: “Amy’s mountaineering adventures are always fascinating to hear about – so to marry the dangers of the setting (low oxygen levels, weather conditions, avalanche risks) with the discovery that there is a murderer on the mountain, makes for an incredibly gripping read.”

The book will be a lead thriller launch for Penguin Michael Joseph, publishing in hardback, e-book and audio in early 2022, with a paperback to follow.