Transworld snares Kemp’s feminist retelling of Giulia Tofana’s life

Published: September 29, 2022

Article by The Bookseller

Transworld has snared a feminist retelling of the life of Giulia Tofana, the notorious and legendary 17th-century Italian poisoner, by Cathryn Kemp.

Alice Rodgers and Olamide Olatunji-Bello, commissioning editors, bought world all language rights for A Poisoner’s Tale and one further novel from Jane Graham Maw at Graham Maw Christie Literary Agency. It will be published by Bantam in hardback, e-book and audio in July 2024, and paperback in February 2025.

The synopsis says: “In 17th-century Rome, men are falling like flies and nobody knows why. Hidden within the alleys and shadows of the Eternal City lies a criminal magical underworld of witches, fortune-tellers and a mysterious circle of female poisoners working under the guise of an apothecary shop.

“Since her childhood in Palermo, Giulia has dedicated her life to helping the broken and abused – the wives, daughters and mistresses of Italy. It only takes a few drops of an undetectable lethal poison to murder each of her victims, which come to number a thousand men. In this compelling feminist retelling, the legendary figure of Giulia Tofana is given back her voice. Through the women she helped, the men she killed and those who wanted her dead, this is a tale of secrets, intrigue, revenge, sin and, ultimately, power.”

Kemp is an author and journalist with a prolific career ghostwriting celebrity, inspirational, true crime and nostalgia titles. Her personal memoir Coming Clean (Piatkus) won the Big Red Read Prize for Non-fiction.

Rodgers said: “I am thrilled to be publishing A Poisoner’s Tale. Giulia Tofana is a fascinating historical figure and Cathryn’s stunning writing brings the character and the compelling world of 17th-century Rome to life in a way that had me glued to the pages. Cathryn is incredibly talented and I am so excited to be working with her on this brilliant novel.”

Olatunji-Bello added: “It is amazing how little is known about such a fascinating time in history, but it’s not surprising based on how history often treats women that are deemed bad or unconventional. Cathryn is a brilliant writer and has done such an amazing job with giving Giulia back her voice, helping us understand the complexity of her world and motivations. I am delighted to be publishing A Poisoner’s Tale alongside Alice and can’t wait for readers to meet Giulia.”

Kemp also commented: “Writing A Poisoner’s Tale, and imagining Giulia herself, has been a journey through the darkest corners of 17th-century Italy. As a contemporary woman, it is hard to imagine the strictures and dangers of being female in an age when women were expected to marry against their will in many cases, or take the veil. Giulia and her circle chose to live outside the conventions and safety of society, and this fascinated me the most. Saying this, their plight will be recognisable to so many women today, even in an age as liberated as our own.”