Heartwarming tales for Tyro Novelists Dept: somewhere in the depths of rural Yorkshire, an astonished schoolmistress [sic] and mother-of-two is holding a cheque for a million bucks and being nagged by transatlantic voices to get on with her second novel. Ann Victoria Roberts is her name; the book is called LOUISA ELLIOTT and tells of a doomed imbroglio between a married man and a single woman in the repressive purlieus of late-Victorian York. Roberts wrote it without a publisher in view; but she struck lucky when she wrote a fan letter to Rosie Thomas, mentioning her own modest creation. For Thomas, behind her nom-de-plume, is the wife of literary agent Caradoc King, who promptly called in the debut saga. In its raw form it was sold to Chatto & Windus for £15,000; then – sprayed with Marketability Factor No 5 – the paperback rights went this September for a startling £150,000. Things speeded up. At Frankfurt in October, translation rights were sold to Holland, Finland, France, Italy and Sweden. The Yanks came a-calling last week: seven of them bid at an auction, five dropping out as the figures passed the half-million mark. Two days later a winner emerged: the new American fiction house of Contemporary Books bid $900,000 and settled it. With agents like that, who needs book-prizes?