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Christopher Little, Who Built an Empire Around a Boy Wizard, Dies at 79

Christopher John Little was born on Oct. 10, 1941, in York, in northeastern England, and grew up in Liversedge, a small town between Manchester and Leeds. His father, Bernard, flew Spitfires for the Royal Air Force in the Battle of Britain during World War II and became an officer of the Order of the British Empire. He later became a coroner. His mother, Nancy (Pickersgill) Little, was a secretary.

Mr. Little’s first marriage, to Linda Frewen, ended in divorce. They had two sons, Nicholas and Kim, who survive him, as do two grandchildren and his second wife, Gilly, whom he married in 2012.

Mr. Little left school at 16 to work for his uncle’s textile firm. He later worked for another textile company in France, and from 1965 to 1974 lived in Hong Kong and other Asian cities. He sold office supplies, worsted wool cloth and, eventually, mutual funds, developing a reputation as a steely negotiator. After returning to England, he opened a recruiting firm.

In 1979 Philip Nicholson, a childhood friend who had also lived in Hong Kong and knew something of Mr. Little’s deal-making skills, asked him to help sell his first novel, a thriller he had written under the pen name A.J. Quinnell. The book, “Man on Fire,” went on to sell 7.5 million copies and was twice adapted for film, most recently in 2004, with Denzel Washington in the lead.

Flush with his early success, Mr. Little opened the Christopher Little Literary Agency, though he maintained that selling manuscripts was just a “hobby.” It soon became more than that — in 1992, with a stable of about 20 writers, he shut down his recruiting business.

But he struggled to replicate that first win. His office near Victoria Station, in central London, was cramped with towering piles of manuscripts. One of his writers called it “near-Dickensian.”

Mr. Little submitted the manuscript for “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” to 12 publishers, and received 12 rejections in response, before selling it for just £2,500, or about $3,400 ($5,800 in today’s money). 

Mr. Little, who preferred to pursue thrillers and romance novels, initially dismissed Ms. Rowling’s submission, throwing it away without reading it. But its elaborate binding caught the eye of his office manager, Bryony Evens, who read it and, intrigued, insisted he give it a chance. Like her, he was immediately taken with the tale of wizards and muggles, of Dumbledore and Hermione and He Who Must Not Be Named.

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