By Belinda Goldsmith
LONDON (Reuters) - A British writer whose debut novel about mothers at the school gate sparked a seven-way bidding war between publishers has attributed the overnight success of her book to striking a chord with women used to negotiating the politics of female groups.
The hype around "The Hive" led to Gill Hornby being described as publisher Little Brown's "most important new author of 2013" and NBC Universals' arthouse Focus Features snapped up the film rights even before the book's release on May 23.
Hornby said she was slightly bemused by all the attention for her book which hit the top 10 bestselling fiction list in the UK in its first week, drawing comparisons to the huge success of EL James's "Fifty Shades of Grey" series last year.
After all it is Hornby's first novel although she is far from new to publishing. She is married to Robert Harris, best-selling author of thrillers like "Enigma" and "Archangel" and her brother Nick Hornby wrote "High Fidelity" and "Fever Pitch".
Hornby, who has four children aged 12 to 22, said the book took her two years to write but was in her head for years.
"I've always been very conscious about the groups girls and women make but I was too busy living the life to write about it," Hornby told Reuters in a telephone interview.
"This book is based at a school but really it is about women and their relationships .. about ordinary, domestic life."
"The Hive" is based at a fictional school, St Ambrose Primary, in a smart English rural town, which has a new headmaster and a group of mothers committed to raising funds for his plan to build a new school library.
The fund-raising is led by the undisputed queen bee Beatrice while Heather desperately tries to be more popular and other mothers steer clear or unintentionally fuel the rivalries, one-upmanship and smugness that comes with mother-led school group.
As the cliques swerve the lunch ladder and car boot sale, the school year becomes the backdrop of various life-changing events from broken relationships, depression, to cancer scares.
Hornby, a columnist with the Daily Telegraph until 2010, said the characters were based on the six roles outlined in Rosalind Wiseman's 2002 book "Queen Bees and Wannabes" that dealt with girls' friendships and conflicts.
The six are the Queen Bee, the sidekick, wannabe, floater, target, and torn bystander.
"The book is not autobiographical and not revenge against anybody. I've always been an amused observer," said Hornby,
Hornby is working on her second book about another group of women in the same town who are 15 years older with departed children and downplays "The Hive" being hailed as starting a new genre for women who are the main buyers of fiction.
Publishers have been trying to second guess the next big trend among women readers after the phenomenal success last year of "Fifty Shades of Grey" which appealed to a wide group of older women no longer interested in the shelf loads of chicklit.
"After mummy porn, mumlit?" asked the Guardian newspaper.
"I do worry about people comparing it to "50 Shades" because there is no sex at all in my book," said Hornby.
(Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith, editing by Paul Casciato)