December 4, 2017
AMH Christmas Reads
December is upon us, which means it’s no longer permissible to complain about Christmas adverts, or carols being played in shops, or the sudden reappearance of Michael Bublé, or any other artefacts of pure joy. With this in mind and holidays decidedly around the corner, we polled the full AM Heath team for the books we’re most looking forward to reading over Christmas. Amongst them are the new releases we’re itching to read and the books that have been tantalizingly close to the top of the TBR pile all year. Happy holidays!
As a newbie at A M Heath I have got a list as long as Santa’s of wonderful books by agency clients to read, but outside of ‘work’ reading my choice is Autumn by Ali Smith. Heading towards the new year is always a time to take stock of the year gone by and globally and politically the last few years have been bizarre and somewhat terrifying. Although Autumn was published last year I am expecting the observations on Brexit Britain will be no less pertinent now as we hurtle headlong into the unknown. Also in my pile is Skipping Christmas by John Grisham, which is my book group’s Christmas choice!
I loved Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay, and this Christmas I’ll be reading her latest book, Hunger. It’s been so well reviewed and sounds honest, interesting and a little uncomfortable, about the author’s relationship with food and her body. For fiction, it will be Lincoln in the Bardo. I tried reading it a few months ago, but it’s experimental on the page which threw me and I didn’t get far. Since then so many of my clients have told me it’s hilarious and riveting so I’ll be settling down with it again over the holidays.
The top of my Christmas reading pile is Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, which I’ve never read, despite committing myself to the same trek that causes him such trouble and hilarity. For a more serious take on the same subject, I’m also looking forward to Robert Moor’s On Trails, another Appalachian thru-hiker whose goal ‘to live in a prolonged state of freedom’ is totally inspiring. I’m getting off the trail when it comes to fiction, lining up Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled, which has been strongly recommended by some of the Nobel-winner’s most admiring fans, and Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward, who has been compared to some of my favourite writers, including William Faulkner and Toni Morrison, but who I expect has a voice entirely her own.
I will be reading/weeping over We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
To cheer myself up I’ll re-read Seasonal Suicide Notes by Roger Lewis.
I just made the mistake of picking up Steve Cavanagh’s debut crime novel The Defence and now I can’t put it down. So I’ll be reading everything else he’s ever written.
Hoping to catch up on an enormous amount of reading, starting with Lincoln in the Bardo, plus some classy thrillers for the beach (ahem) and at least one classic.
We are lucky enough to have a beautifully curated Blackwell’s bookshop just by the AM Heath offices. The staff picks are always interesting and unexpected and I usually walk out with at least three books I hadn’t planned on buying, one of which recently was Muriel Spark’s The Ballad of Peckham Rye. Another slim volume lined up for Christmas is The Story of a Marriage by Anuk Arudpragasam. The story of two young people in the final days of the Sri Lankan civil war. It is not going to be a cheerful read but I have been told that it is an extraordinary piece of writing. Similarly, Jenny Erpenbeck’s Go Went Gone comes highly recommended. Clearly now is the moment to be reading a great European writer on the subject of race and nationality. Plus (my husband does all the cooking so I will have time for all these books), I have just roared through the first three Jackson Lamb novels, by Mick Herron, and am delighted to have numbers 4 and 5 ahead of me. Reserve titles: everything my colleagues have suggested because they tend to be right thinking people with excellent taste, plus Gary Shteyngart, Super Sad True Love Story and Paul Beatty, The Sellout. Enough.
Holiday HA! HA! HA! by Joanna Nadin. Oh Ho Ho Yes, my place will be very busy this Christmas, full of kids, full of food, presents, sweets so I will read all over again: Nicholas Allan, Pip Jones (The Chocolate Monster for sure as there will be few monsters around the house), Julia Donaldson, Amy Sparks and Holly Webb. And once everyone is fast asleep I will sneak out into my secret place to read: Steve Cavanagh’s The Liar – once you start reading one of his books you won’t stop until you finish them all; Lesley Downer’s The Shogun Queen, Tim Shipman’s All Out War and then 2018 I will start with… Conn Iggulden.
Traditionally I read the Booker Prize winner over Christmas but this year, thanks to a five month old baby, I’m not sure I’ll get much reading done at all. But we do have a couple of long drives planned which are perfect for audiobooks. I tend to listen to non-fiction rather than fiction and I’ve really been looking forward to getting into The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich. I was intrigued by the reviews and have heard nothing but good things about it. And as a devotee of Serial and other true crime podcasts, this first hand investigation into death row convict Ricky Langley sounds right up my street. Perhaps not the most Christmassy pick but anything to avoid hearing Driving Home for Christmas for the millionth time…
I can’t wait to read Jennifer Egan’s Manhattan Beach this Christmas. I loved A Visit from the Goon Squad and Look at Me – her writing is always so unexpected and brilliant, and I’m eager to see how she handles historical fiction. A recent trip to Spain also inspired me to pick up Gabriel García Márquez’s slim volume Chronicle of a Death Foretold, which comes highly recommended by a friend and will hopefully make up for the fact that I’ve never got round to reading One Hundred Years of Solitude. Also on my list this year is Zadie Smith’s Swing Time, which I started back in September but had to abandon in the midst of the Frankfurt Book Fair frenzy. So I’m looking forward to settling back down with that over the break.
I’ve always loved series; I find the thought of knowing exactly what I’ll be reading next surprisingly comforting. That’s why this Christmas I’ll (finally) be reading the much recommended Cazalet Chronicles by Elizabeth Jane Howard. If I somehow manage to finish five books in 12 days then I’ll go back to my historical roots and start Simon Sebag Montefiore’s captivating and apparently quite salacious The Romanovs.
I’ve neglected my non-fiction reading this year so over Christmas I’m going to treat myself to comedian Adam Kay’s memoir This is Going to Hurt, about his life as a junior doctor. I love anything medical and this is meant to be hilarious, heartbreaking and humbling and I’ve been saving it up so I don’t have to read it on my commute. And in fiction I’m going to read Rosamunde Pilcher’s classic Coming Home, which I embarrassingly have to admit to never having read even though a wartime weepy is one of my all time favourite things.
I’ve been itching to read Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng for a while now, having seen a lot of hype and a lot of claims that it deserves the hype. Celeste is one of those smart, funny writers I admire from afar on Twitter but have never read, so I’m especially intrigued to find out what she’s like on the page. The other thing I badly want to read in front of a fire with a glass of something is Emily Wilson’s new translation of The Odyssey. I’ll admit this one’s slightly time-indulgent, but it’s being touted as the first complete translation into English by a woman, and the few snippets I’ve read have felt completely contemporary and gorgeous and clever. The last big ticket item is Pullman’s La Belle Sauvage. I wept my way through His Dark Materials last month and I’ve been biding my time for the prequel. May this be the first hint to my mum that I would really like the hardback for Christmas…
It may not exactly be full of festive cheer, but at least I’ll be ready for the robot apocalypse! I’ll be reading Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence by Max Tegmark. On the fiction front, I’d like to read He Said/She Said by Erin Kelly about which I’ve heard great things and Tom Lee’s debut, The Alarming Palsy of James Orr.
I will be reading Maus by Art Spiegelman because nothing says Christmas like the remembrances of a Holocaust survivor presented in graphic novel form….it won a Pulitzer. That said, I feel people might think I will be spending Christmas immersed in one of humanity’s greatest tragedies so can I add I will also be reading A Canticle For Liebowitz by Walter M Miller, which is set in a post-apocalyptic world where a collection of monks attempt to preserve what remains of the world’s scientific knowledge. A lot more Christmassy, don’t you think?
August 28, 2017
JOAN AIKEN FUTURE CLASSICS PRIZE – SHORTLIST
After considering over 350 submissions, we’ve agreed on our shortlist for the Joan Aiken Future Classics Prize.
Says Julia: As we knew we would, we’ve had such a warm and enthusiastic reception to this prize. Joan Aiken has a special place in so many people’s imaginations. Our shortlist is made up of gritty stories with heart and voice, swashbuckling adventures with very different settings, and spins we haven’t seen before, and big ideas with confident handling. This is a very strong shortlist. I think judging the winner, in the next couple of weeks, will be a challenge.
Says Lizza: Yes, it is a fascinating list, and quite varied! I was looking for elements that Joan would particularly have appreciated – a use of images that come out of the story, dialogue that tells you more about the characters, and above all a gripping story that draws you in and makes you want to read more. The choices we have made all have different and very individual voices – and now comes the really hard part, picking just one.
We extended our shortlist from five to six, as we wanted to share the appreciation a little wider.
Susan Bailey-Sillick – Snow Foal
Tim Ellis – The Awful Orphanage
Nizrana Farook – The Thief of Serendib
Sophie Kirtley – Hartboy
Caroline Murphy – The Truth about Chickens
Nicola Penfold – Return to the Wild
Thank you to everyone who entered. If you haven’t been shortlisted, we may well be back next year, so please try again. You all made it a great competition.
August 16, 2017
Tell Us Your Story!
A.M. Heath is hosting a week of pitching events on Twitter for debut fiction writers.
During week commencing Monday 18th September, we will be hosting a series of themed pitching events on Twitter for unpublished writers looking for agent representation.
Each day will focus on a different genre of fiction, and authors are invited to tweet a pitch for their novel on the relevant day using the hashtag #TellAMH.
#TellAMH will run for five days from Monday 18th September, with themed events as follows:
- Monday 18th September: Crime/thriller/psychological suspense
- Tuesday 19th September: Historical fiction
- Wednesday 20th September: Women’s fiction
- Thursday 21st September: Children’s fiction (any age group)
- Friday 22nd September: Wild card (any genre)
A favourite from one of our agents or their assistant invites authors to submit directly to that agent via our website.
We will select one winning pitch per genre, to be announced week commencing Monday 25th September, and winning authors will receive a short critique from us on the first 10,000 words of their novel, within a month of submission.
Please tweet no more than once per event, but if your novel straddles multiple genres you may tweet once per relevant event.
Our agents’ Twitter handles are:
Julia Churchill: @JuliaChurchill
Oliver Munson: @Oliagent
Rebecca Ritchie: @Becky_ritchie1
Euan Thorneycroft: @EuanThorneycrof
Bill Hamilton’s assistant Florence Rees will be favouriting pitches for him: @FlorenceRees93
Victoria Hobbs’ assistant Jo Thompson will be favouriting pitches for her: @JoFThompson
Follow @AMHeathLtd on Twitter for updates on #TellAMH.
Our submissions guidelines can be found at http://amheath.com/submissions/.
Please mention in your submission letter that your tweet was favourited as part of #TellAMH.
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.