Mazur, Kaplan high on ‘Society’

Pair acquire rights to bestselling novel

An unlikely pair has nabbed the film rights to “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society,” one of the most talked-about books of the summer.

“Nim’s Island” producer Paula Mazur and independent bookseller Mitchell Kaplan are teaming to bring the novel, written by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows and just published by Dial Press, to the bigscreen.

Book, described as a love story set in London and on the island of Guernsey shortly after WWII, became a New York Times and Publishers Weekly bestseller, appearing on the lists after just a partial week on sale — a rare feat for a first novel.

Writer-producer Mazur, who works primarily from books and plays and whose credits also include “The Vagina Monologues” and “Corinna, Corinna,” fell in love with the novel, which has a unique backstory.

Shaffer spent a career working in publishing — in bookstores, as an editor at Harper & Row and at libraries in the San Francisco area — but long wanted to write a book of her own.

Several years ago, she began work on the novel, drawing inspiration from a 1976 visit to the tiny island of Guernsey in the English Channel. When she became ill, Shaffer called on her niece Barrows, author of the “Ivy + Bean” kids book series, to help complete the novel. Shaffer died earlier this year.

Before making a preemptive strike on “Guernsey,” Mazur and Kaplan, who will together produce “Guernsey,” formed the Mazur/Kaplan Co., a partnership they had been discussing for years. They raised private financing for the deal, which was brokered by Amy Schiffman of Intellectual Property Group, with Shelley Surpin representing the producers.

“Guernsey” marks the first project for Mazur and Kaplan’s venture. The pair said they are in the hunt to option two additional books.

Kaplan, onetime president of the American Booksellers Assn. and owner of Books & Books in Coral Gables, Fla., was introduced to the novel by its Dial Press editor, Susan Kamil, at a bookseller confab in February. After meeting Barrows and reading “Guernsey,” he felt it would be the perfect book to make his foray into Hollywood with longtime friend Mazur.

“Having a bookstore and being a bookseller, I had an edge because I knew how customers felt about (the book),” Kaplan said. “For me, it’s important that the book resonates with an audience. We’re not just looking for material for a film, but we’re looking for things that have an audience based on its literary merit.”

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