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.