May 8, 2017
THE JOAN AIKEN FUTURE CLASSICS PRIZE
A.M. Heath and Lizza Aiken, Joan’s daughter, are launching a competition to find a standout new voice in middle grade children’s fiction.
Joan Aiken was the prizewinning writer of over a hundred books for young readers and adults and is recognized as one of the classic authors of the twentieth century. Her best-known series was ‘The Wolves Chronicles’, of which the first book The Wolves of Willoughby Chase was awarded the Lewis Carroll prize. On its publication TIME magazine called it: ‘One genuine small masterpiece.’ Both that and Black Hearts in Battersea have been made into films. Joan’s books are internationally acclaimed and she received the Edgar Allan Poe Award in the United States as well as the Guardian Award for Fiction in the UK for The Whispering Mountain. Joan Aiken was decorated with an MBE for her services to children’s books.
Joan Aiken took her craft very seriously – this may be why her books have become classics. She wrote:
“Really good writing for children should come out with the force of Niagara… children’s books need to have everything that is in adult writing but squeezed into smaller compass. Furthermore, as children read their books over and over, a book needs to have something new to offer each time. Richness of language, symbolism, or character may be appreciated for the first time at later readings, while the excitement of the story will only disguise failings at the first.”
The Prize will be judged by Julia Churchill, children’s book agent at A.M. Heath, and Lizza Aiken, daughter of Joan Aiken and curator of her Estate.
Julia Churchill writes: If I think of my childhood reading, it’s the classic 8+ novels that filled so much of my imaginative landscape. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Charlotte’s Web, The Borrowers, Goodnight Mr Tom, The Witches.
We are looking for a standout junior novel. It could be contemporary or magical, it could have the makings of a series, or be one crystalline stand-alone. We know we’re setting the bar high. We hope to find a book that will be in print in fifty years, as Joan achieved with the Wolves series – and many other books.
Lizza Aiken writes: Joan Aiken, if asked to come up with a winning formula for a children’s book, would say it must have three important elements: movement – a really taut narrative to pull the reader away from other distractions, mystery – to increase a sense of wonder, and a marvellous ending that surprises and also satisfies. An example she gave of superb storytelling was Beatrix Potter’s The Tailor of Gloucester, where the character of the enigmatic villain – the cat Simpkin – lifts the story from being a simple tale into a dynamic small masterpiece.
The winner will receive £1,000 and a full set of ‘The Wolves Chronicles’.
All shortlisted writers will have the chance to meet with Julia Churchill to discuss their work.
The Joan Aiken Future Classics Prize is open to un-agented children’s book writers resident in the UK or Ireland.
To get a good sense of the voice, concept and where the character is headed, we’d like to see the first 10,000 words PLUS a short description of the book (a few lines) AND a one page outline that shows the spine of the story. Please send this as a Word doc attachment to email@example.com
Entrants will receive an acknowledgement of receipt, but only shortlisted candidates will be contacted.
Submissions open on May 8th 2017 and will close on July 31st.
A shortlist of five will be announced on August 28th, and the winner will be announced on September 14th 2017.
A.M. Heath is running the prize in order to support new writing talent, and to find a debut star. We will offer representation if we find an author, or authors, whose writing we love.
Do follow @juliachurchill and @lizzaaiken on twitter for updates. And if you have any questions about submitting, or the prize generally, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org
April 20, 2017
On the Lookout
I’m lucky to represent very talented children’s and YA authors but I’m always on the lookout for an exciting debut to help break out. I’m looking for voice, storytelling and a concept and character that speak to me, whether in a picture book, a YA novel or anything in-between.
I can never predict where the next submission that blindsides me is going to come from, so with a big pinch of salt, here are a few thoughts on what I’d like to find in my inbox.
I’d love an animal story that pulls on my heart. From A DOG CALLED HOMELESS, to BLACK BEAUTY or WAR HORSE, the devotion found between child and animal is magic and evergreen.
I’m a huge fan Cathy Cassidy fan, and it would be great to see some fiction that nails what it means to be a 9-12 year old girl, about friends, families and feelings. Every family is unusual, every friendship has secrets. I want to know those quirks and secrets. I’m looking for freshness, something that isn’t in the world already. I’m looking for a new situation, a story that we all understand and yet we might not have experienced. THE WEIGHT OF WATER by Sarah Crossan sums this up for me. It’s the story of a Polish girl who comes to Coventry to find her missing father. It’s crystalline and spare, every word the right word, about what it means to be alone, on the outside, and struggling to find your spot in the world.
I’m looking for picture books. A great picture book has elegance. It’s so tough to tell a story, in so few words, that has meaning and resonance and doesn’t feel borrowed and stale. How do you make something come alive, with a beginning, middle and end, in 300 words, less?! I love the brilliance and simplicity of GOODNIGHT MOON, the originality and joyfulness of DON’T LET THE PIGEON DRIVE THE BUS, the irrepressible child-friendliness of POO BUM. I hope to find a new picture book writer who has a fresh and fun series character, or a magic stand-alone.
I’m interested in books that have a kind of cross-over, a slightly younger tone but an older, more worldly heart, like WONDER, about kindness and a boy with a facial disfigurement, or MY SISTER LIVES ON THE MANTELPIECE, about a grieving family. These books stretch, they’re for all sorts of readers, 10+, 12+, 14+, grown-ups.
I’d love to find a younger series for boys or girls or both. I daydream of finding a voice as mad and confident and spot-on as MR GUM. Or a character as resilient as HORRID HENRY or FLAT STANLEY.
And I’d love a fantasy series, the heartland of children’s fiction. THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE was the HARRY POTTER of its day. What is the HARRY POTTER of our day? I’m looking for world-building, playfulness, depth, a clever ‘what-if’ at the heart of the concept. I don’t often see 8-12 fantasy that feels fresh and springs from the page, but I believe in magic, and I’m sure it will come my way.
And I’m looking for a British YA talent to help break out. I don’t know if the next stand-out YA that comes to me will be a thriller, a fantasy, or a horror novel with the sharpest of teeth. Maybe it will be all of those things or none. I want to find a love story for young adults – contemporary, historical, futuristic. I don’t mind where, when, who, I just want butterflies.
I love big novels with the hum of a classic about them. A new Michelle Magorian, or Malorie Blackman, or Eva Ibbotson. Wouldn’t that be something?! And I’m keen to see submissions written by black, Asian and minority ethnic writers.
So that’s my wish-list, my cosmic order. If you’re writing for children or young adults, I’d love to see your work when it’s ready to share. What’s written above may give you an idea of what I’m looking for, but above all, there’s a lot of opportunity in not listening to what people are looking for, in not following trends, and in writing the book that only you can write. So if you’re writing that book, that’s what I really want to see.
February 22, 2017
Mario Reading: An Appreciation
I began working with Mario Reading in 2006 in a manner that can only be described as serendipitous. Luck and good timing are crucial in our business and in this case I was very much the beneficiary of both. Attending a summer picnic with other publishing types, I was introduced to Duncan Proudfoot who was working at Constable & Robinson. I told him that I was just starting out as an agent and looking to build my list and we had a very pleasant chat, the type you have at summer picnics on a lazy July evening.
Two weeks later I received a letter from Mario Reading. At the time he was published by Constable & Robinson, and was looking for new representation after the retirement of Anthea Morton-Saner, his agent of many years. Duncan remembered our chat at the picnic and suggested Mario drop me a line. I think I had two other clients at the time and I was incredibly flattered by Mario’s approach. While most of his work to that point had been bestselling interpretations of Nostradamus’ prophecies, he was keen to write more fiction. He sent through a manuscript he was working on called AFTER BARBAROSSA, a fantastic love story cum thriller set in France during World War II. I could tell right away that he was a natural storyteller.
We met over a coffee and hit it off right away. Mario was genuinely larger than life, with a booming voice and enormous charisma. You soon realised that his storytelling abilities weren’t confined to the page. He had lived quite simply an extraordinary life, which included selling rare books, studying dressage in Vienna, running a polo stable in Gloucestershire and maintaining a coffee plantation in Mexico. And he also had cancer, diagnosed as terminal in his mid-30’s. I met him in his mid-50’s and he looked as strong as an ox, something he put down to his love of outdoor pursuits and of course the care and love of his wife Claudia who would also become a good friend. Over the years I would stay with them in the idyllic Wiltshire countryside and even had a wonderful holiday in Majorca at Mario’s generous invitation.
We officially began working together the day after our meeting. I submitted AFTER BARBAROSSA, waited for the offers to roll in….and had no takers. Rave rejections but no offers. Bloodied but unbowed, Mario and I met up again to discuss strategy. I remember him saying, “Well, there is this other novel I have in mind. Nostradamus wrote 1,000 quatrains. 942 exist today. What happened to the remaining 58?”. This was at peak Mystery with History a la Dan Brown, so my eyes lit up. I ran back to the office to tell everyone about the idea. It just seemed like a winner with a pitch virtually gift-wrapped for an agent.
He wrote the first utterly gripping 100 pages of THE NOSTRADAMUS PROPHECIES and I submitted that partial manuscript both in the UK, US and abroad. And again, no takers in the UK. We did however have pre-empts in Germany, Spain, and a number of other translation markets. In fact before we had the UK deal I think we had 11 overseas deals, something which bemused rather than frustrated Mario. I submitted the finished manuscript 6 months later and after 42 – yes, 42 – submissions in the UK and a year and a half after I first submitted that partial manuscript, Ravi Mirchandani at Atlantic called to make an offer. And after that the rights sales which had been trickling in nicely, started flooding in. We ended up with 37 publishers and Atlantic put a huge amount of effort into their publication, hitting the bestseller list both here and abroad. We took the scenic route but the journey feels all the sweeter when you’re in good company.
THE NOSTRADAMUS PROPHECIES was in many ways the forerunner of Atlantic’s Corvus imprint and over the next 8 years Mario wrote five more novels for them. He loved coming into town to meet with his publisher Sara O’Keefe and would always incorporate trips to his foreign publishers on his many trips abroad.
My professional relationship with Mario taught me early on the values of patience and persistence as an agent. He was a dream author, always creative, inventive, and good humoured whether we were enjoying feast or famine. Perhaps the struggles he faced with his health helped him maintain a healthy sense of perspective. Ultimately, he knew that his contest with cancer would only have one winner as shown in this characteristically eloquent piece from The Spectator: I’m an old hand at cancer. I’ve had it nearly half my life.
After two difficult years during which his health declined and his muse was elusive – due to the huge amount of medication he was taking – Mario lost his battle with cancer. He died on January 29th.
As a friend, I will remember him as a gentleman, big hearted and generous, the model of stoicism. I’ll miss his company, and of course his stories, enormously.
January 26, 2017
Orwell: 1984 meets 2017
What a week for Orwell. 1984 went up to Number 1 on the Amazon US bestsellers list all day, Number 3 on the UK equivalent, and social media are throwing Orwell in Trump’s alternative -truth face. (Yes, we’ve contributed enthusiastically via Trump’s favourite weapon of Twitter.) Theatres worldwide are clamouring to license a production asap and enquiries for film rights are flowing in (sorry folks, not available)… Orwell is a unique political hot potato when politics go really sour. Despite the fact that the book was published in 1950, and he was writing about the immediate post-war and early cold war world, his vision of a world warped by the destruction of truth via the destruction of language, and the brazen way the power-hungry obliterate facts themselves, has never been superceded. And here we have, in front of our eyes, a new US President playing out the power games of Big Brother. To a far lesser extent, but just as sinister, our own Prime Minister, when all the facts of a financial crisis in the NHS are obvious to the entire population, is blithely ignoring the facts in favour of a completely fallacious narrative. So the obvious question: what would Orwell think about all of this? Well, we know. It’s all there in his great essays, such as Politics and the English Language, as well in his dystopian 1984. Look on his warnings and Despair (to paraphrase Shelley’s Ozymandias)? No, get out there and shout about it. Americans do; they’re really good at protest. And they will have a lot to protest about for the next few years.
September 7, 2016
Job Opportunity – Agents’ Assistant (Maternity Cover)
We are looking for a hard-working and enthusiastic person to cover the maternity leave of one of our agents’ assistants, starting in the first week of November, for a fixed term.
The job involves supporting two senior agents in their representation of authors and estates. Day to day this can include: reading and reporting on manuscripts, author care, diary management, drafting and checking contracts, tracking and chasing payments, manuscripts, publication dates – as well as many other kinds of general administrative support.
We are looking for someone who is efficient, organised, who communicates well and who uses their initiative. You will also need a keen editorial eye, and to be well-read across a range of genres, both fiction and non-fiction.
If you’d like to apply, please send a CV and covering letter to Victoria Hobbs at email@example.com
Update, 20th September: the deadline for applications is now 5pm on Friday, 23rd September.
April 28, 2016
Job Opportunity – Agents’ Assistant
AM Heath are seeking an enthusiastic, hard-working and organised person to support two senior agents in their representation of authors and estates.
Our ideal candidate will be rigorous, resourceful, intuitive, and have a great editorial eye. A keen interest in books is a must, and the successful applicant will be well-read across a wide range of genres in both fiction and non-fiction.
Responsibilities will include reading and reporting on manuscripts, database and schedule management, author care, diary management, and providing full administrative support. Strong writing and communication skills are essential.
Please send a CV and covering letter to Bill Hamilton at firstname.lastname@example.org by Friday 6th May.
July 29, 2015
Job Opportunity – A M Heath Rights Department
Are you keen to get into the publishing world and have a particular affinity for different languages and cultures? If so, the AMH rights department could be for you. We’re currently seeking a resourceful and organised person with good communication and administrative skills to support our dynamic translation rights team.
Our dream candidate will have an avid interest in books across a wide range of genres, some general knowledge of trade publishing and a particular interest in foreign markets. Dog lovers preferred. This would be a great first job for a candidate with some work experience or coursework within the industry.
Send CV and a good covering letter to Jennifer Custer email@example.com by Thursday 6th August.
June 3, 2015
An author-bookseller relationship
When we saw this great dual interview with our very own Mari Hannah – prize-winning author and Criminal Lines 2015 judge – and her local bookseller, Helen Stanton, we just knew that we had to share it on our blog.
You can read the original at http://indiebookshopweek.com/Blog/IBW/May-2015/An-author-bookseller-friendship-Mari-Hannah-and-H.aspx
Award-winning crime writer Mari Hannah and independent bookseller Helen Stanton: a symbiotic relationship, a formidable team.
Mari: When you live in a small village, as I do, you learn the mantra – use it or lose it – pretty quickly, whether you happen to be talking about the butcher, baker or candlestick maker, to quote the ancient nursery rhyme. To do otherwise would mean the local economy would collapse, businesses would die, residents would jump ship faster than a cabin boy on a sinking cruise liner. RIP Corbridge – nice knowing you.
Helen: It’s not often that a double murder on your shop’s doorstep is good for business, but so it proved with Mari’s blistering debut, The Murder Wall. In the opening pages, a body is discovered in a church that sits opposite our front door. It’s given us an excellent way to hand-sell the book. If a customer comes in looking for a particular crime novel it’s their lucky day because, even if we don’t stock it, we have Mari Hannah, our very own crime writer. Almost a thousand customers have left the shop with one of her titles and come back for more – hard to imagine she was first published as recently as April 2012.
Mari: Before I wrote one word of crime fiction, as a reader I appreciated a leisurely browse through Forum Books, the independent bookshop near my home. It was always my first stop shop for reading and writing materials and I worried that it might close as the owner neared retirement. My concern was unfounded. He wanted to sell the shop on as a going concern. It really mattered to him and the wider community that Corbridge kept its bookshop identity. But the significance of having an independent bookseller within half a mile of my office didn’t register until the business changed hands a few months before my debut was published.
Helen: At Forum we celebrate every book that Mari writes – and boy does she graft. She promotes relentlessly after publication, putting herself out to meet with readers at signings across the region. She’s also a regular contributor to crime writing festivals and library events. If she’s asked to take part in an event locally, the first thing she does is ask if they need a bookseller. If they do, she pitches Forum in the spirit of support and cooperation. This is not only mutually beneficial to us. It works for event organisers and libraries too. Books taken care of. Job done.
Mari: Never could I have envisioned such a close working relationship with a bookseller before I was published. But when the new owner of Forum Books arrived in the form of Helen Stanton, she had other ideas. Helen has worked in the industry for many years as a bookseller & buyer at Waterstones, and in sales & marketing for Headline & Canongate books. She knows her market. She’s passionate about books and readers. She understands what is required for independent booksellers to compete with larger stores and supports authors with flair and enthusiasm. She has a great rapport with sales reps and her interest in books is infectious. She does that word-of-mouth thing, recommending titles that are individually tailored to her customers’ varying tastes. Put simply, she knows what they like because she cares and puts herself out to get to know them in a way a librarian would. I could never have reached out to readers in the way that I do without her support.
Helen: Following swiftly on the heels of her debut, Mari’s books have taken us all over Northumberland, a county that is often overlooked. One would think that she’s not on the tourist board’s good books (no pun intended) with gruesome murders in beautiful churches, crime scenes close to Hadrian’s Wall, multiple deaths in the shadow of the Angel of the North, a rising body count on the sweeping sands of Bamburgh. But they’d be wrong because Mari, like Ann Cleeves, has put the northeast on the map. Edinburgh has Rankin, Aberdeen MacBride, and Mari’s name is fast becoming synonymous with this region in the same way that Colin Dexter and Inspector Morse are inextricably linked with Oxford. She really nails this place and brings the county alive. There is no mistaking her love of the region. As a Northumberland bookshop, why wouldn’t we promote her?
Mari: I’m staggered that more writers don’t follow our lead. If they are fearful of aligning themselves with one bookstore over another, they shouldn’t be. I have as close a working relationship with big retailers as I do with Helen. The excellent staff at branches of Waterstones are equally supportive, but in a different way, arranging cluster signings across the north, giving me floor space when new titles are launched. Both are in the business of promoting and selling books. In my opinion, they serve different functions. They coexist without treading on each other’s toes. To quote my literary agent, there’s room for all at the publishing bar.
Helen: It was serendipity that I arrived in Corbridge just before Mari’s first book was published. I’m lucky and grateful that she’s been so supportive of the shop, not just in terms of promoting her own work, but in coming in to help on days that celebrate writing: Books are my Bag, World Book Day or Independent Booksellers Week. Putting her writing aside, she’s been nothing less than a loyal, supportive and generous customer.
Mari: This is a difficult time for the publishing industry, more so for independent booksellers on the high street. There are now less than a thousand in the UK but, like a lot of indie bookshop owners around the country, Helen remains optimistic for the future, squirreling away behind the scenes, planning her next event or thinking of imaginative ways to sell her wares. Because of her excellent reputation, she’s able to draw big names to the region. For example Costa winner Helen Macdonald was a sell-out evening, and US crime writer Tess Gerritsen stopped by on her UK tour – a major achievement for such a tiny rural outlet. And, because Helen has a list of loyal customers who will come out and support her, her events are always a resounding success. Long may they continue.
Mari Hannah is published by Pan Macmillan in the UK and by Harper Collins/Witness Impulse in the US. Her latest book Killing for Keeps is out now. She can be found at marihannah.com or on Twitter: @mariwriter
Helen Stanton is the Owner & Manager of two independent bookshops in Corbridge, Northumberland: Forum Books & Forum Books Kids! She can be found at forumbooks.co.uk or on Twitter: @ForumBooks
Mari Hannah’s new paperback of her latest Kate Daniels’ novel Killing for Keeps is published in Pan paperback on 16th July.
May 21, 2015
Last year, for the Bridport Prize, I wrote a blog about the logistics of submitting – the do’s/don’ts etc. When they asked me to write another blog this year, I decided I wanted to get more specific about an important part of the submission – the pitch letter – as it is something I am always asked about. A good pitch letter is essential. It is the first impression that I get of you and your work, and your first opportunity to pique/kill my interest. Think of it as an application for a job interview. Of course, there is nothing you can do in a pitch letter that will persuade me to take you on if I am not keen on the work itself, but there are things you can do to make me more or less excited to read your book.
Some Do’s: find out the name of the agent and address the letter to them. Alert the agent to the genre into which your work falls. Include a short “blurb” – who, what, where. Comparisons to other novels can be helpful, particularly if you know what the agent likes. Tell us a bit about yourself – but not your life story. Do mention any relevant writing experience. Do check your grammar and spelling.
Some Don’ts: don’t ignore the submission guidelines (they are there for a reason). Don’t tell us that your book is a hybrid of every genre under the sun. Don’t confuse a “synopsis” with a “blurb”. Don’t try to be (too) funny. Don’t tell us how great your book is or what it is “about” – we don’t need to know what the symbolism means. Don’t include an A4 photo of yourself.
February 17, 2015
Criminal Lines 2015
Dust off your
pens laptops murder weapons… Criminal Lines is back for 2015!
Last year AM Heath in association with The Writers’ Workshop launched Criminal Lines, a crime-writing prize open to unagented, debut authors, born or resident in the UK and Ireland. We had lots of brilliant entries – from grisly historical murders and psychological suspense to alien abductions and Alaskan thrillers – and had a great (though difficult!) time reading and choosing the shortlist.
With debut crime writers already hitting the bestseller lists this year, we know the next big thing in crime is out there. Is it you? Only one way to find out – enter your novel for Criminal Lines 2015…
The nitty gritty
To enter, send the first 15,000 words and a synopsis (max 800 words) of your novel as word documents to: firstname.lastname@example.org
You can enter any kind of crime, suspense or thriller novel for the prize, although anything previously submitted to AM Heath is ineligible. Please remember that you must be unagented, debut, and born or resident in the UK and Ireland in order to enter. Your novel doesn’t have to be finished but the synopsis does need to show you have a clear vision for the book. Self-published authors are welcome to enter.
Submissions are open from 17th February 2015, and the deadline is midnight on 4th May.
A shortlist of five novels will be announced on 1st June, and a winner on 1st July.
We will offer representation if we find an author, or authors, whose writing we love. If you are offered representation by another agency while Criminal Lines is running, please tell us straight away.
You will receive confirmation that we’ve received your submission, but only shortlisted candidates will be contacted subsequently to that.
The judging talent
The prize will be judged by AM Heath agents Euan Thorneycroft and Oli Munson, and crime authors Harry Bingham, David Mark and Danielle Ramsay. Go to AM Heath’s website to find out more about the judges.
First prize: entry to The Writers’ Workshop Festival of Writing 2015, and £500
Second Prize: £500
All shortlisted writers will have the chance to meet with Euan Thorneycroft and Oli Munson to discuss their work.
For updates on twitter, follow
And join the discussion at #Criminal_Lines.
For any questions, email email@example.com.
The Writers’ Workshop