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During week commencing Monday 18th September, we will be hosting a series of themed pitching events on Twitter for unpublished writers looking for agent representation.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.
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.