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.