Patrick Redmond The lawyer with the write stuff

This solicitor has landed a £100,000 deal for his first novel. But why aren't more British lawyers like Patrick Redmond making waves in the literary world? asks Chris Fogarty.

While senior Denton Hall partners were plotting mergers in the boardroom last week, solicitors in the bowels of the building were toasting the UK's latest literary star.

Patrick Redmond, an unassuming 32-year-old assistant in the City firm's European Union and competition law department, has produced a novel publishers have paid £100,000 to get hold of.

Ironically, four of Redmond's colleagues in the competition department are among the few to have read this already heavily hyped book. Redmond asked them for comments on a draft copy of his supernatural psychological thriller, The Wishing Game.

Gillian Sproul, a Dentons' assistant solicitor and a friend of Redmond's since university, admits she was "a bit worried" when asked to read the manuscript, in case she did not like it. But in the end it was not a problem. "I couldn't put it down," she says.

For his part Redmond says: "I hoped that they would like it but if they didn't, that they would be diplomatic about it. Their criticism could only make it better."

With his neatly cropped copper-coloured hair and cautious but engaging manner, Redmond admits to being overwhelmed by the media attention his book has generated, although he clearly has not let it go to his head.

For a man who enjoys psychological thrillers, Redmond is neither intense nor moody. He comes across as a modest, good-humoured lawyer from the stockbroker belt, rather than a dark, tortured literary soul from Soho.

"I haven't killed anyone for months now," jokes Redmond.

His novel, based around two young boys' friendship at a public boarding school in the 1950s with an added superelement, will not be published until next June, but the industry buzz is that it is a very good read indeed. Staff at his publisher, Hodder and Stoughton, are reading the book for pleasure – not as part of their daily grind and negotiations for film rights could start by late autumn.

It would be hard for any solicitor to begrudge Redmond his success, since it is born of years of hard graft.

The son of a barrister and a lecturer in law, Redmond went to Felsted Public School (his novel is not autobiographical, he adds quickly), going on to study law at Leicester University.

He joined Lovell White Durrant in 1988 as a trainee, going to Canada to do an LLM in 1990. But by the end of 1993 he decided to leave Lovells and concentrate on writing.

Despite some interest, his first novel remained unpublished and in 1995 Redmond returned to the law, joining Dentons. Far from being dejected by the failure of his first book, Redmond says it was a valuable learning experience that helped him with plot, genre and structure.

So, undeterred, he began writing The Wishing Game.

Through a friend of a friend, Redmond contacted literary agent Patrick Walsh, who read the first few chapters and liked what he saw.

However, work at Dentons became increasingly hectic, the book stalled and it was not until six weeks ago that Walsh got the finished manuscript.

Two weeks ago Redmond spent an afternoon at Dentons taking phone calls from Walsh who was giving reports on a bidding war for the Commonwealth rights of his book which saw its worth soar to £100,000.

With a deal secured for a second novel, Redmond has quit Dentons, although he will not be giving the firm a two-fingered wave goodbye.

Redmond enjoyed being a lawyer "most of the time" and says that although writing is where his heart lies, studying law helped him achieve structure and order in his novel.

While his success has astonished colleagues and clients, perhaps the real surprise is why so few English lawyers have done it before.

In the Us you cannot walk through an airport without stumbling across the latest legal thriller from John Grisham & Co.

With the honourable exceptions of John Mortimer and Frances Fyfield, it is hard to name any British lawyers whose popular fiction has made them household names in recent years.

The demand is there for legal and medical thrillers, according to Walsh. To the public, the law has a certain mystique.

But both Redmond and Walsh agree that time constraints may be holding budding authors back.

"It is extremely demanding having to devote pretty much all of your leisure time to doing something like this," says Redmond.

But is there the material for the great British legal novel? Could Redmond turn his skills to a gripping tome on commercial or even competition law?

"Yes, Article 85 – the expose," he laughs, at what must be a competition lawyer joke. But characters, not the setting, are what drives Redmond as a writer.

"I think the [commercial law] deal as such is not sexy, unless someone's reputation hinges upon it, or the people are riveting."

The characters are there, according to Redmond, and the great British legal novel is "bound to be written", although you suspect that he does not want to be the one to write it.

Still, the plot of The Merger – a gripping tale of secret negotiations, hushed conversations in corridors, endless passionate sex, and the ruthless and evil legal journalists who try to expose it all – has a nice ring to it.

But before you begin belting out a best seller on your keyboard, a few facts to put Redmond's achievement into perspective. It took him two and half years from his first word to the final manuscript; there were Carmelite nuns who had a more active social life during that time.

Add to this the fact that literary agency Christopher Little gets between 20 and 30 unsolicited novels each week; of those, one may get published every six months.

Of those lucky enough to get published, fewer still will get anywhere approaching a £100,000 publishing deal.

Perhaps a last encouraging word should go to literary agent Walsh. "Good books will always find their way through – somehow."