An Interview With… Juliet Pickering

Hi everyone, and today on the blog I’m delighted to welcome literary agent Juliet Pickering. Juliet works for Blake Friedmann Literary Agency and represents literary and commercial fiction. Details on what else she’s looking for are below the Q&A.

I was delighted when she kindly took the time to answer my questions on alongside what she looks for in submissions, how she started out in the publishing industry.

Over to you, Juliet…

1) How did you first come to be involved in the industry? Did you plan to be a literary agent? Did you actually have any other career plans?

I worked in Waterstones, and had no idea that literary agents existed. One of my fellow booksellers was a writer and I met his agent at a gig, realised agents are the middle man between authors and publishers, and loved the idea of all the reading!

I took two weeks’ annual leave from my Waterstones job to do work experience with this agent, then sent my CV to every agency listed in the Writers & Artists’ Yearbook, begging for a job. Luckily, A P Watt was looking for an assistant and called up to offer me an interview.

I had no real career plans after university; I was mostly hoping to avoid becoming a teacher, after doing work experience in a school as a teenager and finding it exhausting!

2) What was your experience moving from A P Watt to Blake Friedmann?

It was both nerve-racking and exciting. When A P Watt were acquired by United Agents, I discovered that my role would be diminished (I had a list of around 15 authors at that point, and UA seemed to want assistants rather than Associate Agents) so I took a massive gamble accepting redundancy and hoping another agency would take me on.

Every one of my authors stuck with me, despite not knowing where I would end up – and I will always be deeply grateful to them for their faith in me. I met with lots of different agencies – which largely reinforced my suspicions that this is one of the friendliest industries; so many people met me for informal chats and supportive advice – and when I met Carole and Isobel from Blake Friedmann, we hit it off straight away.

You have to go with your instincts a lot in this job. They welcomed my authors so warmly, and I’ve always been very grateful for their mentorship and encouragement.

3) What are you mostly attracted to in a submission? The character voice, the tone of the narrative or the freshness of a strong voice in an author?

All of those are key, but probably the freshness of a strong and convincing authorial voice is most appealing to me. I love to read something surprising in my submissions, and I get very excited by precise, engaging writing. There are definitely themes that I return to again and again – coming of age, identity, sexuality, love and friendships – but it’s often the writing underlying the story that convinces me that this is an author I want to work with on this book, and many more.

4) What are you currently looking for in submissions? From the sample writing, cover letter, or synopsis, what draws you in first?

I don’t think I’m alone in wanting to read a warm, emotional, fun novel to make me completely forget what is going on around us. They’re rare to come across, but something like Curtis Sittenfeld’s ELIGIBLE or Maria Semple’s WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE would be perfect.

I’m first drawn in by a persuasive cover letter, then I go and read the chapters/proposal before looking at the synopsis.

Sometimes you can tell that an author is going to be promising from the tone and style of the cover letter alone (I’ll always remember the cover letter for THE MERMAID AND MRS HANCOCK, which immediately stood out, even though traditionally historical fiction and mermaids wouldn’t be my thing! I loved that book.)

The first time you meet an author on the page is via the cover letter, and often it’s a reflection of an author’s personality and writing. But then, of course, the chapters are the really exciting part of the submission!

5) Can you describe the feeling of ‘I really want to represent this author’? How do you feel when you offer representation?

It’s a growing excitement as you read a submission, and often begins with a great cover letter, then continues as you read the first three chapters/proposal and ask for the full manuscript (if a novel).

If you finish the novel or proposal and know that you HAVE to work with this author, and are already envisaging which editors will be similarly excited about this book, which prizes it will win, all the opportunities you might be able to find for it, that’s the most thrilling feeling. When you offer representation it feels brilliant but you’re also a tiny bit nervous: what if they say no?! And we’re often competing against other agents, so I want to convey how much Blake Friedmann can offer alongside my own efforts: I work very closely editorially with my authors, and my colleagues and I cover US, translation, and film & TV markets directly in addition to the UK, and we collaborate closely with each other and with our authors, so a new author gets lots of champions here!

I always meet an author or at least have a chat to them before we might start our author/agent relationship, as I rely on my instincts about working with them. Both have to feel that this is a person they like, can trust, and can work with editorially. The hope is that you’ll work together for years and years, so it’s essential to ‘click’.

6) What are your views on the fiction market currently across the genres you represent? What would like to see more of, or what do you think hasn’t been done before?

I work with contemporary fiction across literary, bookclub and commercial, so keeping up with changes in the market keeps me busy! At the moment we’re all looking for that uplifting story with a lot of heart, whichever category that falls into, and I’d like to see more of those stories. I’d also like to read a bold, beautiful and rich love story between two friends; female friendship can be the deepest, truest love, and outlasts many romantic relationships.

I think it’s a challenging time for literary fiction, perhaps, and especially for literary authors who are more than a couple of books along in their careers.

I tend to think that most stories have been written before, it’s the way a new novel is written and what the author brings to the party, that has to be fresh and intriguing!

7) Can you name one fiction author that you like, and why you admire their style of writing?

One of my recent favourites is Elizabeth Strout. She’s wonderful at observing the most human behaviours, writes in spare, succinct prose, and her women are real, fierce and vulnerable. I worship her!

8) In lockdown, what are you currently reading? Are you finding that your reading habits are changing at all?

I’ve just finished Marcia Willett’s REFLECTIONS, which my mum read and loved, and recommended to me. It was a great escape to Devon, and I admired how she writes from several character perspectives and gives them all full stories; it’s quite rare to pull that off, and make each character as interesting as the others. I’ve just started James Baldwin’s GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN, for Blake Friedmann Book Club.

9) In lockdown, what are you currently watching on television? Are you finding that your habits are changing? Do you have a favourite drama that you enjoy religiously?

I watched Selling Sunset, Indian Matchmaking, The Duchess. I’ve re-watched a lot of comforting TV: Modern Family, Motherland, Grace and Frankie. Anything that was easy on the eye and the brain! I loved Crazy Rich Asians, which I watched for the first time, recently.

10) If you had to choose between Rod Stewart and Freddie Mercury, who would it be and why?

Freddie Mercury. Queen’s Greatest Hits was the first album I ever had, and his voice is just incredible. One of a kind!

Thank you for your time today Juliet. It has been a pleasure to interview you.

Bio: I worked for Waterstones as a bookseller and fiction buyer, before joining the agency A P Watt in 2003. I moved to Blake Friedmann in 2013, becoming Vice Head of the Book Department in 2017, and my authors have been shortlisted for Booker, Costa, and Guardian First Book Awards, won the Whitbread and Green Carnation Prizes, and the Prix Femina Etranger. I regularly visit literary festivals, courses and events, and enjoy giving talks and holding workshops for writers. I have been a judge for the Bristol Short Story Prize 2016/2017, and for the Manchester Fiction Prize 2016.

What I’m Looking For:

I am proud to represent a list of intriguing, conversation-starting, diverse writers, across both fiction and non-fiction. Many of my authors write contemporary stories, often led by themes of identity, coming-of-age, class, gender and sexuality, to name a few; for me, vital qualities to a good story include emotional depth, authenticity, an engaging voice and irrepressible energy. I want to be surprised, and to have everyday experiences and relationships told with nuance and colour.

I love to bring an under-represented experience to both editors and readers, and some of my most enjoyable moments have been campaigning for authors who have looked for a book to reflect their experience and, not having found it, have written their own to provide that space for others. I’m a proud feminist and love books that empower us, or that make us feel recognised and heard.

Favourite authors include Kate Atkinson, Curtis Sittenfeld, Elizabeth Strout, Shirley Jackson, Zora Neale Hurston, Nora Ephron and Elizabeth Jane Howard. I’m drawn to rich and multi-layered stories of women, families, friendships and relationships, and love small communities with a strong setting and lots going on beneath the surface; I prefer the small and intimate to the epic and world-affecting.

Alongside literary, book club and commercial fiction, I represent non-fiction writers across the board, including memoir, pop culture, social history, writing on issues of race, gender and class, and cookery and food.

In case it’s helpful to know what I don’t represent, I don’t work with the following genres: Young Adult or children’s, fantasy, supernatural, dystopian, sci-fi, thriller, horror or crime fiction. I tend to enjoy historical fiction only if it’s set after 1900!

An Interview With… Megan Finney

Hi everyone, and this evening on the blog I’m delighted to introduce to you my co ML for NaNoWriMo Liverpool.

Megan has been a real help to me and my fellow WriMos for the past three years and I’m delighted to announce that I am now co ML alongside her for this NaNoWriMo year.

I was delighted when she kindly agreed to answer some questions about how she got involved in NaNoWriMo, what the community is and how her writing is going.

Over to you, Megan…

1) How did you first become involved with the Liverpool NaNo community?

An old friend introduced me to NaNoWriMo in 2012. We both wrote for leisure in high school, and would often send each other chapters to proof-read. She messaged me one day, saying there was a website I “might be interested in”. She was right! I signed up but didn’t start attending write-ins until two years later, when exigent circumstances forced me out of the house more. I’ve made many close friends in the community, including my boyfriend and D&D group. It’s a great community, and I’m thrilled to be part of it.

2) How has it helped your writing?

Honestly? Discipline. Before joining, I never finished anything. I’d spend so long working on unimportant aspects of a project that I’d get bored and abandon it, and start something new. The time limit NaNoWriMo sets really helps me knuckle down and focus. It also taught me the importance of not editing as I go. NaNo is about getting words down – your first draft doesn’t have to make 100% sense, be grammatically correct, or even spelled right. You can always fix it later.

3. What does the ML role entail?

It’s mostly about cheering people on, and making sure things run smoothly in the background. During November, we arrange meet-ups for participants to gather and write together. We usually meet in-person – but for safety amid the current pandemic, everything is online this year. I also try to host more casual gatherings every month, so folks can socialise outside of crunch-time.

Keeping participants informed is another big role for MLs; we manage our regions’ social media accounts, to let people know about anything happening in the community.

4. What does the NaNo community do for writers?

Being part of the community brings a sense of solidarity. You’re working alongside similar minds, encouraging each other and sharing this grand artistic experience. It’s a positive space full of kind, creative people. It also builds confidence, I’ve found. You can get feedback on your ideas, voice your struggles to sympathetic ears, and seek advice on any writerly stumbling-blocks.

5. Do you have any advice for authors who are just starting out?

Something I often say to my fellow writers is: “progress is progress”. Any amount of words that you write today, is more than you had yesterday. And, as I mentioned earlier, those words don’t have to be perfect. Just get your ideas down; you can always smooth any rough edges later.

Also? Take breaks. Be kind to yourself, reward your accomplishments – no matter how small – and try not to compare yourself to anybody else but you. Everyone has their own style, and works at their own pace!

6. What are your plans for when you finish your current work? What routes are you looking at – traditional, indie, or self-publishing?

Right now, I’m tying up some old pieces of fanfiction that have sat unfinished for far too long. After that, I might return to my original urban fantasy series. It’s been stuffed in the metaphorical drawer for a while; I sent the first book some time ago to a handful of agents and traditional publishing houses, with no success. The rejections stung, but I think I’m almost ready to give it another shot. That’s another piece of advice, folks – don’t give up!

Thank you so much for your time today Megan. It has been a pleasure to interview you. All the best with your writing!

Bio: Alongside being co ML of NaNoWriMo Liverpool, Megan lives with her family in Widnes and is beavering away at her fantasy series of novels.

Twitter: @Liverpool_NaNo

10 Questions With… Amer Anwar

Hi everyone, and continuing my new combined interview approach, I am chatting to crime writer Amer Anwar about his writing journey and drafting process.

Amer took some time away from writing to answer my questions on how he started writing, his writing process and what happens post representation, once your manuscript is with an editor.

Over to you, Amer…

1) Did you always want to be an author? As a child, did you have a turning point with a novel that made you go ‘Wow!’

I always loved to read as a child and write stories but it wasn’t until I reached my teens that I knew I wanted to be an author. I’d just read a novel called “Magician” by Raymond E. Feist and when I finished that book, I really did think, “Wow!” It made me feel so many different things: happiness, sadness, excitement, fear, joy, etc. I just thought it was an amazing thing to be able to do – to make people feel all of that just by putting words on a page – and I knew right then, that I’d love to be able to do that too. Of course, back then I didn’t see many people like me being authors, so it wasn’t something I really saw myself actually doing, but the desire never left me and, 20 years later, I gave it a go. 

2) Did you enjoy English at school? Was there a set book you had to read that you loved?

Yes, I loved English at school, reading and writing stories to me was just so much fun – and writing stories was encouraged early on but in secondary school, the creative aspect was pretty much disgarded in favour of factual writing and essays, which wasn’t quite as enjoyable.
There wasn’t any set book to read that I particularly remember loving but then, by about the age of 10, I’d already moved on to trying to read adult fiction, horror novels by James Herbert and Stephen King. I didn’t always understand everything that was going on but I really enjoyed them all the same. I had a dictionary to look up any words I didn’t know, which helped me understand better and also did wonders for my vocabulary.

3) How did you find your literary agent? What was your journey like to becoming published?

Actually, I guess my literary agent was the one who found me.
When I started to write fiction again, as an adult, roughly 20 or so years after school, I began by taking writing classes. I’d had an idea for a crime thriller knocking about in my head for most of those two decades and during one of the writing courses, I had a go at writing the opening and didn’t think it was too bad. I’d heard of the Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger competition for unpublished writers and decided to enter the first chapter. I had nothing to lose and, if nothing else, I’d get my first rejection, something I’d have to get very used to on the road to publication.
Anyway, long story short, that first chapter actually won the Debut Dagger award and brought me to the attention of agents, including the one I signed with.
Getting published wasn’t as straight forward. Even having one an award and with a top agent, once the book was finished it went out to about 30 publishers, all the big publishing houses and imprints – and it was turned down by every single one. Not because it was a bad book – all the feedback was good. It had great characters, a great setting, great action, great dialogue, great plot etc. etc. but no one wanted to publish it. What it ultimately came down to, and what no one really wanted to say, was that the book was just too “Asian.”

The closest anyone came to articulating that was with the comment, “I could never visualise it breaking out to a broad audience.”
I disagreed. I’d written it very much to try and appeal to a broad audience, anyone who enjoyed a fast-paced, exciting crime thriller. So I decided to self-publish it because I wanted people to read it and see what the reaction would be. Turned out, it was very favourable indeed. I was hustling the book around at various events, and at one of these, I met my publisher. I’d run out of copies that evening but I told her all about the novel and she asked me to send it to her afterwards.

I did and she read it and, within a fortnight, I had signed a two book deal with Dialogue Books.
When ‘Brothers in Blood’ was published, it went on to be picked by both the Times and the Guardian as one of the thrillers of the year.

4) What is your idea generation? How do you think up your ideas?

I had about 20 years to work on the idea for my first novel, Brothers in Blood. It started with the location. The book is set in Southall, west London. I knew I wanted to set a book there, it’s a place I know well and a prefect setting for a crime thriller. In fact, I’d been wanting to read something like that but no one had done it, so I thought I would.

Next came the main character. Then I needed a story for them. The germ of that was provided by a news story. Once I had those elements, I worked on weaving them all together.
For my latest book, Stone Cold Trouble, I actually had two separate story ideas I’d thought up but they weren’t really strong enough individually, so I tried putting them together which worked much better.

5) When you first got your agent, how did you feel? What can a writer expect through the editing process?

It was a great feeling to sign with an agent. I’d read a lot about the whole publishing process and knew how hard it could be to find an agent, so I was prepared to go the submission route and wait for the inevitable rejections – only I managed to sidestep that whole part by winning the Debut Dagger.

I signed with one of the most well respected agents in the country, which was amazing. Getting an agent gave me a lot of confidence in the novel I was writing and it really helped to spur me on, knowing that she believed in it enough to have signed me.
But … I’d only written the first few chapters when I won the award and it took me another five years to write and rewrite it until I felt it was good enough to send to her. Well, I might have thought it was good enough, and there were many things that were good about it – but it still needed work.

With the feedback I received, I went through the whole book again, editing and rewriting. After that, it went through another thorough edit and then it was finally ready for submission to publishers.

6) Once the editing process is finished with your agent, what it is like working with an editor?

I’m very fortunate in that my agent employs a very experienced in-house editor so that, as I mentioned above, the first couple of rounds of major edits were done there. Working with the editor was a really useful and valuable experience. I really saw how a good editor can improve your writing, not by making you change things necessarily, but by showing you how you can cut and trim bits to make the whole book read better. I really learnt a lot from it.

When the manuscript was eventually bought by my publisher, there wasn’t all that much they wanted to change. There were some minor things and it went through line edits and copy edits to really try and get all the little detail right, which was all very painless. I have to say, I really enjoy the whole editing process. It’s the first draft I find the hardest part.

7) What is the publicity process like? How do you feel when you go on tours promoting your novel?

I love the whole publicity part of promoting a book. You spend so much time on your own when you’re sitting writing it, that it’s great to get out and meet people and talk about it. I was a bit nervous at first, as it felt quite alien to get up in front of lots of people and talk about myself and my work but I think I managed to get used to it fairly quickly and now I love doing events. I also have a fantastic publicist who really looks after things and makes sure everything is OK.

8) What is the marketing process like? Do you get given covers and titles to choose from for your books?

The marketing process was really inetersting. It’s really great to work with a team of people whose job it is to help promote your book. They really know what they’re doing and have great ideas.

I originally self-published my first book, briefly, before it was bought by my current publisher. The book went through edits with them and then got its new title, ‘Brothers in Blood.’ My publisher came up with the new title. I didn’t really have a hand in it – but, fortunately, I love it, and it fits the book really well. I was able to give some thoughts on the cover too.

With the second book, I came up with the title, ‘Stone Cold Trouble,’ quite early on, and everyone loved it, so it stuck and I had a little more involvement with the cover, thanks to my editor and the fabulous designer who worked on it.

9) When you sit down to write, what is your planning process? Do you have a set word count?

I didn’t have any plan or process when I started my first novel. About halfway through writing it, I found I needed to know what had happened and when in the story, so I wrote out a retroactive plan. That led me to roughly plan ahead for the rest of the novel, or at least, as far ahead as I could. I didn’t know what the ending was going to be. Fortunately, when I got to the end, I managed to come up with a way to tie everything together.

For ‘Stone Cold Trouble’ I decided to plan the things out from the start. It was a very loose plan though, only a sentence or so, for what I thought might happen in each chapter. Because it was so loose, I didn’t have to stick to it and just chopped and changed it as I went along. It also allowed me to work out some of the story beforehand, so I was a bit more confident during the writing process.

I try and aim for 1000 words a day when writing, though it doesn’t always happen. Some days I manage less and on others I can keep going past the target. I don’t beat myself up about it if I don’t make the 1000, just as long as I manage to get something done.

10) During lockdown, how has your writing changed? Are you currently working on a new project or editing your last novel?

I was actually in the final editing stages with ‘Stone Cold Trouble’ when lockdown happened, so it didn’t really disrupt my writing much in that sense. Once that was all done and dusted, I wrote a short story for an anthology, which was good fun. It was the first short story I’d written in about 10 years.

Then, I went back to work on a standalone thriller I’d started before ‘Stone Cold Trouble.’ Somehow I found I had less time to write during lockdown than I had before. I think maybe my routine and rhythm had been thrown off. Anyway, I was trying to make progress on the new thirller and then things came up around the publication of ‘Stone Cold Trouble,’ after which I found out that what my publisher really wanted next was another Zaq & Jags book.

So I’ve shelved the standalone again and am now working on ideas for the thrid book in the Zaq & Jags series.

11) During lockdown, what have your TV habits been like? Do you have a favourite drama that you watch religiously?

I think I have actually been watching a little more TV during lockdown. A lot of it has been catching up on stuff I missed while I was busy working on my books, so I’m quite behind on some things. I’ve always been a massive film and TV fan, and enjoy watching a whole load of different things. I really couldn’t pick any particular favourite show but things I’ve really enjoyed and am realliy looking forward to new seasons of include; Better Call Saul, Kingdom, The Mandalorianand most recently Cobra Kai.

12) When you write, do you listen to music or do you prefer silence? If you only listen to Rod Stewart, Freddie Mercury or Brian Johnson (AC/DC), who would you choose and why?

I need silence to write, so that my imagination can fill it with both words and pictures.

I listen to quite a lot of music doing other things though and especially when I’m thinking about writing but not during the actual writing itself. I tend to listen mainly to music without words though, so film scores, classical and now even video game scores, some of which are really amazing.

My go to radio station is an internet station called Cinemix, which plays film scores from around the world. I’ve discovered so much great music though it.

Thank you for your time this afternoon Amer, it has been a pleasure to interview you.

Bio: Amer Anwar grew up in West London. After leaving college he had a variety of jobs, including; warehouse assistant, comic book lettering artist, driver for emergency doctors and chalet rep in the French Alps. He eventually settled into a career as a creative artworker/graphic designer and spent the next decade and a half producing artwork, mainly for the home entertainment industry. He started taking writing classes in the evenings and wrote the opening chapters of a novel which he entered for the prestigious CWA Debut Dagger competition, in order to receive his first rejection – only to win the actual award.

Signing with an agent, he went on to gain an MA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck, University of London. Amer’s critically acclaimed debut thriller, Brothers in Blood,was published in 2018 by Dialogue Books and was picked by both the Times and the Guardian as one of the thrillers of the year. The eagerly awaited follow-up, Stone Cold Trouble, was published in September 2020 and was a Times, Observer and Living Magazine Thriller of the Month and a Sunday Times Crime Club pick of the month.

Website: http://www.ameranwar.com

An Interview With… Julia Silk

Hi everyone, and on the blog today, I’m delighted to welcome literary agent Julia Silk. Julia is a literary agent at Kingsford Campbell and previously worked at MBA Literary Agency and as an editor for Orion.

Along with a couple of questions about what she’s been up to during lockdown, she was kind enough to answer my burning questions on what she’s on the lookout for in submissions.

Over to you, Julia…

1) How did you first become involved in the publishing industry? Did you always plan to be a literary agent when you left school? Did you have any other career plans?

I first became interested in working in publishing in my final year at university, in the 90s. Then as now it was hugely competitive, and I spent several years working in academic publishing before I landed my first editorial job in a small trade publisher.

I then worked freelance for some bigger publishers alongside that part time job, as well as working in a bookshop two days a week for a couple of years (which was so much fun – I still miss handselling the books I love). I honestly don’t think I was even aware of agenting as a career option when I first started working in publishing – and then it was years before it occurred to me that it was something *I*could do.

But aside from wanting to be a vet aged 12, and then having no clue for the next decade, there was no career other than publishing that I ever considered.

2) You studied a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature. What was your experience like of the course and how has it helped you in your current role?

I’d been in publishing for nearly 10 years, getting shortlisted for editorial commissioning roles in bigger publishers so many times, it became very frustrating. So I looked at all the people who had been hired, and honestly asked myself what they had that I didn’t. And it turned out that was an MA. I have no idea really if that was why they got the jobs over me, but I decided to find out. I actually ended up really loving the MA for its own sake, and, as it happened I then did get a jobwith Orion at the end of that year. In terms of how it has helped in my current role, I think it made me more analytical, and I’m also very good at research, which is definitely a skill I strengthened during my MA.

3) You were an editor at Orion for 15 years. How did being an editor compare now, to being a literary agent?

I chose to make the move from editing to agenting because I was feeling an increasingly strong sense that I was on the wrong ‘side’. Ultimately, no matter how nurturing and sympathetic an editor is, they work for the publisher – they have the publisher’s interests at heart, and rightly so, but I found my sympathies and instincts always lay with whatever was in the best interests of the author, and so I concluded that I probably wasn’t in the right job! I also love the variety, whether it’s working on a project from inception, contract nitty-gritty or strategizing with my authors, I love it all. And I have a short attention span so it suits me to have so many different strands to my daily working life.

4) Where do you start with the submission package? The cover letter, the synopsis or sample writing? What would make you want to request the full manuscript?

A strong concise cover letter that speaks to my interests and tells me an author knows what they have written and has some market awareness will always pique my interest. But the voice is crucial. It can have the greatest hook in the world, but if the writing doesn’t appeal to me then I won’t want to read on. I also don’t tend to read the synopsis unless I’m dithering about asking for the full, as generally I don’t want to spoil the reading experience, especially if it’s a thriller. 

5) Can you describe the first initial phone call with a client? How do you feel when you offer representation?

I like it to feel like a natural conversation rather than a two-way interview, but ultimately the aim is to identify whether you share a vision for the project specifically and their writing and future career in general and think you would work well together. And very often there will be more than one agent who wants to work with that person, so I always say that the most important thing is to remember that it’s about who they feel is right for them, according to their priorities. Different agents have different strengths and approaches, so I talk with them about what they are looking for in an agent, and hopefully leave them in a position to make an informed decision. There’s definitely also an element of chemistry. Usually you quite quickly have a sense of whether you’re a good match. And I’ve learned not to be too attached to the outcome when I offer representation, because you can’t win them all.

6) What are your views on the crime/thriller market currently? Across the genre, what would you like to see more of that hasn’t been submitted before to you?

I’m a big crime and thriller reader and I think the genre is becoming more diversified and interesting every year. I like to see a bit of boundary pushing – my client Charlotte Philby is a good example of this, her central characters are flawed and ambiguous and she combines domestic noir and espionage in a way that you rarely see. What I’d also love to see more of is dark humour in the vein of Oyinkan Braithwaite’s My Sister the Serial Killer. She pulls off this incredible combination of over the top crazy in concept and elegant restraint in execution that I’m in total awe of. I also love upmarket true crime with something of the author in it –The Fact of a Body and I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, for example, are very human investigations into *very* dark corners of the human psyche. I’d love to see something like that, particularly if it’s set somewhere other than the US or UK.

7) When you leave your desk, on a Friday afternoon, what’s the first thing you do? On a Friday evening/the weekend, what do you do to relax?

Pick up my youngest daughter from school then come home and either cook for the evening, try to do some more work or relax with my children. Weekends are mostly taken up with family stuff, seeing friends and trying to cram in some reading. I’ve found this year I’ve had to take up regular exercise in order not implode, so I either run or do yoga (or both) most days and that means I’m actually capable of relaxing for brief periods, rather than being an irascible, jittery mess.

8) During lockdown, what have you been watching on television? Do you have a favourite drama that you watch religiously?

I love watching teen/YA drama with my oldest daughter – we are very into Ackley Bridge at the moment. She is obsessed with Stranger Things, which I introduced her to (all the tweens watch it round here – we’re very sophisticated in Lewisham). And Dead to Me and Schitt’s Creek have also been favourites over the past few months. (Please don’t tell the TV police, though – she’s only 11!) I’ve also been watching Harlots (not with my daughter!); I’m obsessed with Samantha Morton. I love TV – I would watch for hours a dayif I could.

9) During lockdown, what have you been reading? Have you found that your habits have changed?

Apart from the first couple of months of lockdown when I couldn’t focus very well, I don’t think they have changed that much, apart from the fact that I have been buying more hardbacks direct from independent bookshops and small publishers in an attempt to keep the industry afloat. Onehappy result of that was my discovery of the writing of Heidi James, when I bought The Sound Mirror straight from her publisher, connected with her on Twitter, discovered she was unagented and took her on. She is an astounding writer; The Sound Mirror has been my favourite read this year and I am beyond excited to be working with her. I’ve read a bit more non-fiction that I usually do as well – I fell in love with Hadley Freeman’s House of Glass, a memoir of her Jewish family, in which I saw some of my own family history. It’s a wonderful book, full of heart and the result of a decade of research, detective work and huge empathy, and I felt bereft when I’d finished.

10) If you could only listen to Rod Stewart, Freddie Mercury or Brian Johnson (AC/DC), who would you choose and why?

Is that a trick question? Errm, Freddie Mercury because my best friend at school and I used to listen to Queen’s Greatest Hits when we were 13 or 14 (it was 1986) and I am sentimental like that. But I do secretly quite like Rod Stewart. My aunt had a thing for him and he reminds me of her. Are you only asking Gen Xers this question? 🙂

Thank you for your time to visit my blog this afternoon Julia. it has been a pleasure interviewing you.

Bio: JULIA SILK was an editor for 15 years, latterly at The Orion Publishing Group, where she worked for nine years. She has an MA in Comparative Literature from UEA and loves to read stories that expose universal truths in new ways. She has broad-ranging taste and welcomes submissions of fiction across the spectrum from commercial to literary, particularly when they feature unpredictable characters making unexpected choices.

Julia is currently particularly keen to see reading group fiction with a strong hook, upmarket crime/thriller and narrative non-fiction/memoir. Please don’t send her children’s, YA, or SFF. She regrets that she is unable to respond to every submission but aims to be in touch within 8-10 weeks if she would like to take your submission further.

Her favourite recent reads include Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan, The Dry by Jane Harper and Lullaby by Leila Slimani.

An Interview With… Clare Coombes

Hi everyone, and on the blog this afternoon I’m delighted to welcome author and literary agent Clare Coombes. Clare founded the Liverpool Literary Agency in August 2020 and I was delighted when she agreed to answer some questions for me – one part as a literary agent, one part as an author on her writing journey.

Over to you, Clare…

1) How did you first come to be involved in the publishing industry? Did you have any other career plans?

I trained as a writer and editor first, and through this, I discovered inequalities in the publishing industry, and thought, what can I do? 

When I say, ‘trained as a writer and editor’, this can be different paths for different people – from beta reading to writers groups, short courses to masterclasses or formal education. If you look around, there is always some support, and I think this is getting even better now that more publishers are opening offices in the north. I was lucky that Writing On The Wall (WoW) has been there throughout my career, helping me to get published and giving me editing experience. They are the reason so many underrepresented writers and editors from Liverpool and the north get published and have creative careers.

2) What prompted you to set up Liverpool Literary Agency?

We were editors first, and our writers came from many different walks of life, with accountants, security guards, taxi drivers, labourers, sport scientists, NHS workers, hospitality sector workers, parents and retired grandparents among their number. But even those who had degrees in creative writing or literature-based subjects often felt that they have no real way into the world of publishing. We wanted to do something about this and then I saw the Common People: Breaking the Class Ceiling in UK Publishing report and many of the points it made, including this one, gave us the confidence to start up an agency: …there has never been a more vital point at which working-class stories and voices needed to be heard in mainstream culture… It talked about Imposter Syndrome as a big part of a working-class background, even through your parents and grandparents. We realised that through our experiences, we could help to address this within the UK publishing industryby acting as agents, mentees and delivering training to underrepresented groups.

3) You did a Masters in Creative Writing. What was your experience of the course like?

It was life-changing. I improved as a writer, and picked up so many skills, but it was also about friendships with other writers, connections and publishing industry insight. 

4) When did you have that moment with a book where you thought ‘Wow!’ Did you know that you always wanted to write? 

I’ve had so many wow moments with reading! Most recently was another local writer, S.E. Moorhead, with Witness X, when I was (nicely) jealous of how clever the plot and themes were. Being a literary agent now, I also have the chance to sign up and represent the books that make me feel like this. Working with the writers that I do, can be summed up in this JoJo Moyes quote from One Plus One:

“You know, you spend your whole life feeling like you don’t quite fit in anywhere. And then you walk into a room one day, whether it’s at university or an office or some kind of club, and you just go, ‘Ah. There they are.’ And suddenly you feel at home.” 

5) What is your reading taste like? Has it changed since you did your Masters?

I read all genres. I like to stretch my own reality when I read and write, going beyond my own world and experiences. That’s the best thing about writing – however difficult the subject is, you feel like you’re learning more about life as you go along. 

6) Do you have a favourite genre, or a guilty pleasure genre?

I love historical fiction, especially World War Two resistance stories. It’s where I found my voice as a writer. I think it’s because that period in history shows the life and death decisions people had to make, and raises that question of – what would you do? There are too many parallels of war, refugees and prejudice, between then and now, and I think writing in this genre can help to open people’s eyes. 

7) What is your drafting process like when you write? How many would you do before that final edit before sending it out?

I’m a plotter. I have a spreadsheet, colour codes and character sheets. I start each chapter with a short overview of what I want to do and extend that into bullet points, which I then start filling out.

I advise the writers I work with to put together a synopsis first (not a book blurb but an account of what happens with all the spoilers). It might change but having a plot outline makes such a difference and can be what’s needed for a book to get finished.

8) When you leave your desk on a Friday, what’s the first thing you do? On a Friday evening/the weekend, what do you do to relax?

There’s no leaving the office on a Friday for me anymore, but I really like having a more flexible way of working. I can choose my hours. Well, the kids choose first and then I do, but it’s so good to have the freedom to break up work time. 

I still read to relax (it’s the dream day job), going on family days out  – parks, farms, beaches, cafes – all the classics, but it helps you switch off. I talk about starting regular running again a lot, and one day I’ll go back to tapdancing. 

9) In lockdown, what are you currently reading? Are you going back to old favourites or reading new books?

I re-read Adrian Mole because I will never get bored of Sue Townsend’s books; she was a genius. I loved the political and social commentary, alongside how funny they are. The Mrs Thatcher poem is a great example: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/apr/11/5-political-lessons-learned-from-sue-townsends-adrian-mole-books

I discovered local writers Caroline Corcoran and Hayley Doyle, continued reading Andie Newton who has a new book out and found the brilliant Boy Parts by Eliza Carr.

10) In lockdown, what are you currently watching on television? Do you have a favourite drama that you watch religiously?

This Is Us. Best series ever. The way multiple storylines from different time periods are managed is amazing. I’m learning so much from it as a writer and editor.  

I also thought the new The Babysitter’s Club was a great interpretation, with some pertinent political and social points.

I’ve re-watched The Gilmore Girls and discovered The Marvellous Mrs Maisel

I’m working with a team on a TV adaptation of my book, We Are of Dust, following a grant from the Liverpool Film Office, so I’m studying a lot of what works in a popular series.

Thank you for your time today Clare. It has been a pleasure to interview you. I wish Liverpool Literary Agency all the best!

Bio: With more than 15 years’ experience of writing professionally, including the publication of my debut novel Definitions in 2015 and my second We Are of Dust in 2018, I have developed an in-depth knowledge of what commissioning editors and publishers expect to see from a submitted manuscript. I have been through the full process of drafting, editing, pitching, publishing and marketing a novel; using my background in PR and marketing to analyse what a book needs to get the attention of a publisher and reader.

My creative writing Masters and postgraduate teaching included how to pitch to agents and publishers, as well as good social media practice for writers. I have judged fiction competitions and spoken in schools and at high-profile events on writing as a career. I received development funding from the Liverpool Film Office in July 2020 to adapt We Are of Dust for TV, working with award-winning television drama writer, Roanne Bardsley, and award-winning creative producers, Julia Berg and Ruth Spencer, of Untamed Stories.

My commended short stories and novel extracts feature in a number of publications, competitions and journals. In my PR roles, I have worked on everything from art to astrophysics, used by national media, with nominations including ‘Breakthrough Story of the Year’ from Science News. I am a member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading.

An Interview With… Cara Hunter

Hi everyone, and today on the blog I’m delighted to welcome crime writer Cara Hunter. Cara is the author of the DI Adam Fawley series, featuring the bestseller novel Close to Home. I was delighted when she agreed to answer some of my questions for an interview on her journey to publication.

Over to you, Cara…

1) Did you always want to be an author? As a child, did you have a turning point with a novel that made you go ‘Wow!’

I didn’t have being an author as a clearly articulated ambition when I was a child, but I did always love reading and writing, and then read English at university, so books have definitely always been my overriding passion. The book that changed me most as a child was The Lord of the Rings. It informed my values at a formative age, as well as showing me what wonders can be wrought with words. So if I had a ‘wow’ moment, that was definitely it.

2) Did you enjoy English at school? Was there a set book you had to read that you loved?

Yes, yes, yes! I suppose we always tend to enjoy things we’re good at, but I can’t ever remember not loving reading (I learned at three years old!). Pride & Prejudice was a set book when I was about 13 – it was the first ‘classic’ I’d read, and it was just delicious. The style, the irony, the characters – everything.

3) How did you find your literary agent? What was your journey like to becoming published?

I’ve had my current agent for about five years. I suppose I was very lucky – we get on very well and she has excellent literary judgment as well as a strong commercial sense. The whole Close to Home experience was the stuff dreams are made of, if you’re an aspiring author. It ended up going to auction, and resulted in a three-book deal (since extended to six). And then it got chosen for Richard & Judy and things just went a bit crazy!

4) When you sent your book out for representation to a literary agent, do you have any tips for any authors looking to pitch to agents?

First of all do your research before you approach anyone. Make sure you know what types of books the agent is interested in, and have a look at who else they represent. Write a strong, concise synopsis (no more than a page), and make sure you bring out what makes this book different and eye-catching. And include the first chapter. An experienced agent will know within a paragraph or two if the book ‘has something’ so make sure you have a really compelling opening.

5) What is your idea generation? How do you think up your ideas?

I’m a bit of a magpie! I collect all sorts of bits and pieces – from true crime TV and books (my guilty pleasure), from the news, even from dreams. I just tuck it all away in my brain and eventually one snippet will come together with another and another, and a plot is born. At least it’s worked so far!

6) Your DI Adam Fawley novels have been bestsellers! I particularly loved Close to Home. What was the inspiration for the storyline?

Close to Home was all about the twist – if you’ve read it you’ll know what I mean but no spoilers here! The idea for the twist came to me on a holiday in the Caribbean in 2016, and after that it was about coming up with a convincing narrative that would lead up to that twist.

7) When you first got your agent, how did you feel?

Excited – in a word! It’s a great moment, because very few writers get published without an agent these days – at least in the conventional sense of ‘being published’.

8) What it is like working with an editor?

My agent is a great sounding-board for new ideas, and always has something useful to add at the start of the process. My ideas are always sharper as a result. Then once the new idea is reasonably fully developed I talk to my editor as well, and we agree the broad shape of the book. This usually means extending the ‘pitch’ into a lengthy synopsis – anything up to 30 pages. Then it’s head down for the first draft – always the most painful part, but as I always say, it’s more important to get that done than t get it right. Polishing comes later.

My editor and agent will look at that and give feedback, and we’ll then go through one or possible two more further iterations. Any sort of editing process always has its irritations and frustrations, as well as its plus points – I advise every new writer to grow a thick skin and get used to showing people their work, so you get accustomed to taking criticism on board.

9) What is the publicity process like? How do you feel when you go on tours promoting your novel?

Time-consuming! But I love it, so I don’t mind. Authors are expected to do a lot of the PR themselves these days, especially when it comes to social media, but there’s nothing nicer than engaging with people who’ve read your book, so it’s always a joy to do it. I love meeting other authors and readers at festivals and bookshops, and I’ve really missed face-to-face events over the last few months, though everyone has been very creative about using Zoom. But here’s hoping we can all ‘meet again’ next year.

10) What is the marketing process like? Do you get given covers and titles to choose from for your books?

I’m really lucky to have a fabulous marketing machine! There’s so much that goes into that, especially on the digital side. I always choose my own titles, but jackets are a different matter. The standard publishing contract provides for the publisher to show you the proposed cover, but you don’t have a veto. Obviously they would much rather you liked the design, but they’re the ones who know the market, so you have to trust their judgment.

11) When you sit down to write, what is your planning process? Do you have a set word count?

As I said I have a very detailed synopsis, which I gradually expend to a scene-by-scene plan. And 2,000 is a good wordcount to achieve on a day, but I don’t fret too much if I don’t meet it, as long as I’ve made progress and the book is moving forward.

12) During lockdown, how has your writing changed? Are you currently working on a new project or editing your last novel?

Like many writers, I found it hard to concentrate at the beginning of lockdown. Luckily I was in the last stages of finalising The Whole Truth, the fifth Fawley book, and that was a lot easier to do than it would have been to embark on something new. And now I’m planning to start the next one!

13) During lockdown, what have your TV habits been like? Do you have a favourite drama that you watch religiously?

I watch *loads* of true crime, and like many people I went back and watched some old favourite films and series in lockdown. Something comforting and familiar, even if the subject-matter was murder!

14) When you write, do you listen to music or do you prefer silence? If you only listen to Rod Stewart, Freddie Mercury or Brian Johnson (AC/DC), who would you choose and why?

I listen to music sometimes, but not that often. It’s all about what suits you – everyone has their own way of working.

Thank you so much for your time today, Cara. It has been a pleasure to interview you!

Bio: Cara Hunter is a writer who lives in Oxford, in a street not unlike those featured in her series of crime books. Close to Home, her debut featuring DI Adam Fawley and his team of detectives, was published by Viking in December 2017, and nominated for the Crime and Thriller Book of the Year at the British Book Awards. The four novels in the DI Fawley series have to date sold over 950,000 copies in the UK, and been published in 25 territories.

An Interview With… Megan Jones

Hi everyone, and this afternoon on the blog I’m delighted to welcome Megan Jones. Megan is an editorial assistant for a new northern based division of HarperCollins and is, like myself, from Liverpool.

HarperNorth is based in Manchester, and I was really excited when Megan agreed to answer some questions for me on her current job role, how she started out in the industry and her advice for anyone looking for jobs in publishing.

Over to you, Megan…

1) How did you first become involved in the publishing industry? Did you always plan to become an editor when you left school? Did you have any other career plans?

I graduated from the University of Aberdeen with my MA in English with Creative Writing in 2019, and it was actually in one of my creative writing seminars that editorial really clicked for me. I realised that I enjoyed picking apart and offering suggestions on pieces my classmates had written more so than writing itself. I regularly checked the careers service page and anywhere else for anything that could lead me to the publishing industry. Luckily one day the opportunity was right there: the HarperCollins Graduate Scheme. I applied for the scheme on a whim and after being told that there had been over 1700 applicants wondered how on earth I’d made it to the final 30. I was absolutely over the moon and couldn’t believe it when they told me I’d been selected. I started on the scheme in October of 2019 as one of only two grads, and after completing my first rotation in the role of Communications Assistant interviewed for the permanent position of Editorial Assistant for HarperNorth and here I am!

I never really had any firm plans to be honest, throughout my education I just followed what I was good at and what I enjoyed most. Reading and studying English at A-Level lead me to my degree, and my passion for books landed me where I am today.

2) You completed an MA at the University of Aberdeen. What was your experience of the course like and how has it helped you in your current job role?

I did indeed! I had an amazing time studying at the University of Aberdeen and was offered a really interesting range of modules to study. I think the combination of English with Creative Writing was perfect preparation for my role too. On the English side of my degree I chose modules such as Controversial Classics, Mind and Monstrosity in the Gothic genre, Children’s Literature and The Short Story as a literary form. Meanwhile in Creative Writing I looked at modules like Creativity & Craft and The Writer’s Voice. I read such a wide range of literature and worked hard at crafting my own writing with the help of my lecturers. So much so, that I felt I understood the dynamic between writer and an editor before starting in my role (which was super helpful).

3) What advice would you give to someone wanting to get into publishing?

Keep trudging on. I know it feels like an uphill battle but I promise that there will be light at the end of the tunnel! I also have 6 handy tips:
• Be yourself – because that’s who is coming to work everyday
• Do your research – really look into the company you want to be a part of
• Ask them questions – show them that you’re interested and clued up
• Acknowledge the fact that you don’t know it all yet – but emphasise how
eager you are to learn
• Use what you know – be savvy with the experience you do have
• Always apply yourself – to anything and everything industry related

4) What job would you be doing if you weren’t working in publishing?

Oh this is a difficult one! Potentially journalism, or maybe teaching? Now that I am in the role I’m in I can’t imagine doing anything else!

5) At HarperCollins, what is a typical day for you? Are you attached to a particular genre of novel that you work with?

This one is a little harder to answer; each day is generally quite different (I tend to have similar weeks rather than days). However, daily duties include general admin, taking minutes and also monitoring the general enquiries. I try and put set time aside for any manuscript reading and quite like the expression our Publishing Director Gen uses for my role: essentially I make sure that all the trains are running on time and are going to the correct places. I wouldn’t say that I am attached to a particular genre (I try to be as unbiased as possible when reading), but would say that I am attracted to an authentic voice and a sense of believability in characters.

6) Do you have a favourite genre you enjoy reading? Do you have a guilty pleasure book that you pick up and you can relax with?

I tend to read more fiction than non-fiction (I’m working on that though). I’ll read a wide range from poetry to murder mystery and women’s commercial fiction to gothic. I am a major fan of H.G Wells and also have a soft spot for Arthur Conan Doyle. I would say my guilty pleasure read is Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, because it’s a childhood favourite that never gets old.

7) When you leave your desk on a Friday afternoon, what’s the first thing you do? On a Friday evening/ the weekend, what do you do to relax?

Pop open the prosecco – I’m joking, only sometimes – and go for a wander. During these strange times I’ve been working from home, so I usually get up and debrief with my family after sitting at my desk for so long. Friday evenings I like to enjoy a girls night catching up with different groups of friends (via zoom). My school friends and I are currently running a book club so we like to chat about whatever we’re reading together. I like a good family movie night at the weekend too and then I’ll read in bed to wind down.

8) During lockdown, what have you been reading? Have you found yourself re- reading your favourites or starting new books?

I have read so many manuscripts! But, in terms of reading in my own time, my lockdown list consists of around 20 books so far. I won’t list them all but I’ll give you my highlights:
• Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
• Common People: An Anthology of Working-Class Writers by Various
Authors
• Natives by Akala
• Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi

At the beginning of lockdown I set myself a goal to read those books that I had gathering dust in my bedroom in Liverpool, but as always the ‘to read’ pile gets bigger with each impromptu purchase!

Of course, I always enjoy rereading old loves too for example Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.

9) During lockdown, what have you been watching on television? Do you have a favourite drama that you watch religiously?

Okay well, for years I’ve been told to watch Gossip Girl so I finally binged that. I also devoured I May Destroy You – if you haven’t watched it yet do it – all the good things you’ve heard are true. I don’t have any dramas that I am religiously watching, but I am a sucker for Only Fools and Horses reruns and never get tired of watching the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

10) If you could only listen to Rod Stewart, Freddie Mercury or Brian Johnson (AC/DC), who would you choose and why?

Easy. Freddie Mercury, because he is an absolute legend and one of the greatest frontmen of all time (also if I chose anyone else, I think my dad would disown me). I grew up in a household that played Queen, Pink Floyd, Prince, Whitney Houston, Abba and I could go on! The Jonesy residence is definitely appreciative of the greats.

Thank you for visiting the blog today Megan, and thank you for the opportunity to interview you! I can’t wait to see HarperNorth publish some brilliant books!

Bio: Born and raised in Liverpool, Megan is at the start of her career in publishing. After completing her English with Creative Writing MA at the University of Aberdeen, Megan applied for the HarperCollins Graduate Scheme in 2019 and was selected to be one of two graduates from 1,700 applicants.

During her time on the scheme she took on the role of Communications Assistant, but has since secured a permanent position in the company and is now Editorial Assistant for HarperNorth. Megan looks forward to being a part of the mission to increase regional diversity within the Publishing Industry.

First Drafts With… Kate Simants

Hi everyone, and this morning on the blog I’m delighted to welcome crime and psychological thriller author Kate Simants to the blog.

Although I’m fairly new to Kate’s novels, I was delighted when she agreed to answer a quick question or three about her writing process and how that all important first draft is written.

Over to you, Kate…

1) When you begin the next book, how do you go about it?

I tend to have a vague seed of an idea, though I couldn’t really isolate where they come from. Generally absorbed from the world, is probably the closest I could come to explaining that part!

Then there’s a series of ‘what ifs’. So, taking an example off the top of my head – the blood-chilling story that was in the news a little while ago about the policeman who was working undercover with the climate activists and ended up having a long relationship with one of the activist women who had no idea he was a cop. I’d fire a load of what ifs at that and see what sounded most interesting. What if another officer knew that woman personally, or they were a family member? What if a major climate event changed someone’s mind? What if the policeman killed someone during the undercover work; what if the activist did? What if one of the activists knew? What if they all knew?

I do this with as many questions as I can think of, even if they seem inane – no-one else is going to see this so it doesn’t have to be in any way well-written. Then it starts to coagulate around certain themes.

At the same time, I’m thinking about character. Personally I can forget a plot of a book I’ve loved in about a week, but memorable characters stay there forever. So I get thinking about what got my characters to where they are, what they want, what’s important to them, and most importantly, how they have to change.

2) Do you follow the same process as you did for the book before?

I certainly don’t have a rigid structure for how I go about writing but I suppose as creature of habit we’re likely to replicate previous patterns.

I do like to stress-test the initial idea and see what I can do to it to make it come alive, but it’s also very organic always. I do have to rein in the research a lot of the time though – I used to be a TV researcher so I have a tendency to get very deep into things. There’s a fine line between meticulousness and procrastination.

3) What is your research process, if you have one?

Both of my published books, Lock Me In and A Ruined Girl, contain a lot of research that I had done in my day jobs. Specifics of the police work in Lock Me In needed fact checking, but I had worked on Crimewatch UK and other police-based shows and so I’d already absorbed a lot of the feel and culture of the police.

A Ruined Girl involved children’s homes, which is something I’d done an undercover documentary on, so again, I’d been there, worked inside children’s homes, and that ticked a lot of the research boxes. The lead character in A Ruined Girl is a probation officer though, so I had to track down a source or two – but as it turns out I knew quite a few ex-probation officers who were willing to help.

You do have to be willing to put yourself out there a bit with research, making phone calls and asking for people’s time, but readers (especially, dare I say it, crime readers) expect you to know your stuff, so it all pays off!

4) How quickly after thinking or planning do you sit down to write?

Depends on the deadline! At the moment I’ve gone through a few outlines before settling on one, and I’m straight down to it. Like a lot of working parents I’ve lost a huge amount of time this year because of coronavirus so now the children are back at school, I’m glued to my laptop.

5) How does the draft form on the screen?

Once I have an outline, I make a chapter plan. I know loads of people who swear by software like Scrivener but I haven’t quite found the time to properly try it out, so I create this plan on a spreadsheet.

I do this partly so I can see the trajectory of it clearly and to make sure I don’t dawdle on the page – if a character has to meet another character and discover a piece of evidence within one chapter, I can allocate say 1,500 words to the scene and aim for that. It helps me with pacing.

I don’t necessarily plan out the chapters of the entire thing before I get started but I like to at least have a clear idea of what happens and when in the next handful of scenes.

Usually I go back and edit as I go, but I think that maybe takes too long, so the plan this time is to just write to the end and then go and make it sound nice! I think it’s part of the joy of it to experiment a bit with process too – how do I know I’m doing it right unless I try out other methods?

6) Where do you write the majority of the draft?

At my kitchen table. My house is tiny so there’s no real room for a desk just for writing, but my table has a view to my little garden and that’s fine.

In the last year or so I have forced myself to become a morning person – I’d tried for such a long time to write in the evenings after the kids were in bed but it never really worked, so now I use the other end of the day. I’m up at 5.45, which makes a huge amount of difference.

I make a cafetiere of coffee, start a session on my internet blocker (I use Freedom), put some music on, and get going.

Thank you so much for stopping by the blog this morning Kate. Finding out all about your writing and your draft process was really interesting!

Good luck with your writing! 🙂

Bio: Kate Simants is a writer of psychological thrillers and crime fiction. After a decade working in the UK television industry, specialising in investigative documentaries, police shows and undercover work, Kate relocated from London to Bristol to concentrate on writing.

She holds an MA in Creative Writing from Brunel University (2007) and another in Crime Fiction from the University of East Anglia (2018), where she was the recipient of the UEA Literary Festival Scholarship. Her first novel LOCK ME IN was shortlisted for the 2015 Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger, and is published by HarperCollins.

Kate won the 2019 Bath Novel Award with her second novel THE KNOCKS, which is published by Viper under the title A RUINED GIRL (released August 27th 2020). Kate’s agent is Veronique Baxter at David Higham Associates.

An Interview With… Nick Barron

Hi everyone, and on the blog today is a new interview for me.

Following watching The Deceived, a gripping thrillery twist filled Channel 5 drama, written by Derry Girls’ Lisa McGee (who I am a huge fan of), I was intrigued by the process of how screenwriters go through a similar process to authors.

I’m delighted to have the pleasure to introduce Nick Barron, Lisa’s agent. He very kindly took some time out to answer questions on how he became involved in the industry and what he looks for in a cracking good piece of television.

Over to you, Nick…

1) How did you first become involved in the industry? Did you always want to be an agent when you left school? Did you have any other career plans?

No – I didn’t know what an agent was until I was already working in the industry. When I was 11 and saw the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie I wanted to be a cheerleader or a buyer (‘it just sounds like a cool job – buyer, buying, to buy’). Then when I was 13 and saw Batman Forever I wanted to be a criminal psychologist like Nicole Kidman’s character and when I was 15 and saw Scream I wanted to be a screenwriter like Kevin Williamson. The psychology thing stuck and I did a degree in it until I realised that what I obviously wanted was to work in TV and film. So I got a job as a runner on factual shows like Wife Swap and Faking It, then went into drama as a runner at Kudos Film & TV where they were making Spooks, Hustle and Life on Mars at the time. That’s where I learned what agents are and what they do, so I got an assistant job at a brilliant literary agency and never looked back.

2) What are you looking for in a script? Do you look for a good character or is it the pace or plot that keeps you reading?

All of it really – compelling characters, a great story, natural and well crafted dialogue, subtext… It’s a bit hard to sum up in a hit list which I know is probably frustrating to hear, but really it’s more of a gut feeling.

3) You represent writers across a wide range of genres of television, film and theatre. What do you enjoy most about your job? Do you have a particular favourite out of the three?

I enjoy all of it. They’re very different in lots of ways, though the bulk of what I do is in television and I watch a lot of television and always have.

4) Can you describe the feeling of ‘I really want to represent this writer’? How do you feel when you offer representation?

‘Exciting’ is how I would describe that feeling. When you find a writer whose work resonates with you and who you feel really passionate about, it’s very exciting. And mostly when offering representation you feel hopeful that the writer shares your enthusiasm and that it’s the beginning of a long and productive relationship.

5) What is the editorial process like, working with your client on their material, once you have offered representation?

It varies from writer to writer as everyone is different.

I love the editorial side of what I do, it’s exciting talking to my clients about their ideas and their scripts and hopefully being a sounding board for them, someone who can offer them guidance and helpful feedback either before a third party is involved or alongside that process.

6) When you leave your desk on a Friday, what’s the first thing you do? On a Friday evening/the weekend, what do you do to relax?

Ha – well at the moment given what life has been like this year the first thing I usually do is walk into the living room to see my husband and kids. But once the kids are in bed there is usually a gin and tonic not far behind.

7) Through lockdown, what have you been watching on television? Do you have a favourite drama that you watch religiously or do you have any guilty pleasures?

I loved I May Destroy You and Normal People – and obviously my clients Lisa McGee and Tobias Beer’s brilliant thriller The Deceived. We’ve also watched a lot of RuPaul’s Drag Race in lockdown.

I had never really got involved until the UK version and now my husband and I are crawling back through the past seasons of the show – it’s good escapist fun after a long day.

I don’t have shows I re-watch endlessly but I have seen every episode of Buffy many times over and I can feel a re-watching of My So Called Life brewing – I’m a 90s kid.

8) If you could only listen to Rod Stewart, Freddie Mercury or Brian Johnson (AC/DC), who would it be and why?

None of them are my ‘go to’ but I would have to pick Freddie.

Thank you for your time today, Nick. It was a pleasure to interview you.

Bio: Nick began his career at RDF and then made the move into scripted, joining Kudos for 18 months. From there, he moved to The Agency, where he became a junior agent. In 2008 he left to join The Writers’ Company as an agent and eight years later took over the running of the business.

He joined United Agents in 2017 where he continues to represent writers, directors, producers and script editors working in TV, film and theatre.

10 Questions With… Ian Ayris

Hi everyone, and this evening I’m delighted to welcome crime writer Ian Ayris to the blog. Alongside crime writing, Ian is a creative writing mentor to unpublished authors. I was delighted when he agreed to answer a quick question or three on his journey to publication.

Over to you, Ian…

1) Did you always want to be a writer? Was there a turning point with any particular book that made you go ‘Wow!’

Growing up, I never had any intention of being a writer. I’d probably say – even after I’d had forty or so short stories published, a trilogy of novels, and a novella, it wasn’t until the brilliant Fahrenheit Press published a the trilogy in a single six hundred page volume did I sit back and realise it was me that hadn’t written it. In that moment of realisation, I came close to considering myself a writer.

2) Did you enjoy English at school?

Although I loved writing at school, unfortunately the English teacher I had when I was thirteen didn’t take kindly to my off the wall take on her story titles, putting me down to the bottom English class as a consequence. It took to my late thirties before I wrote anything again. Getting a first class honours degree in English Literature a couple of years became an oddly bitter-sweet achievement.

3) Are you a full time writer? If so, what was your ‘life’ before turning to writing full time?

Although I’d love to be a full-time writer, it remains but a dream. I work full-time as a Teaching Assistant in a junior school, am a supervisor in a counselling agency, and work as part of an Arts Council project teaching Creative Writing and mentor writers throughout the completion of their first novel.

4) What advice would you give to the unpublished author?

Never write with the sole aim of getting published. Write what makes you laugh, what makes you cry, what makes you scared, and angry, and sad. Write something that makes you feel, write it well enough, and someone somewhere who reads your writing will feel it too. Then send it out into the ether. It will land where it will. Now write something else.

5) Did you dream about being an author as a child? Did you often wander round bookshops thinking ‘That will be me one day’?

As I mentioned earlier, I had no notion whatsoever of being a writer. I don’t remember there being many bookshops around in Romford, where I grew up. Other than WH Smiths, I’m not sure there were any. For me, the library was the place I fell in love with books. I never dreamt I’d ever write something that might end up in a library, so to see my books there now is always a surreal feeling.

6) Outside crime fiction, what other genre do you enjoy reading?

Charles Dickens is my favourite. I also love the Russian writers, the likes of Dostoyevsky, Turgenev, Solzhenitsyn, Chekhov. Love Virginia Woolf, Stephen King, Tolkien, John Fante, Spike Milligan, Alan Sillitoe, Herman Melville, Victor Hugo, Jane Austen, and too many more to mention.

7) Through lockdown, what have you been watching on television? Do you have a favourite drama that you watch religiously?

Never been one much for telly. But during Lockdown was blown away by Mindhunter. I’ll watch something if it catches my eye, but television has never much interested me, to be honest.

8) Through lockdown, have you found that your reading habits have changed at all?

Through Lockdown, I have begun reading loads of non-fiction – particularly Roman history – for reasons I really have no idea about.

9) Can you name one fiction author that you admire, and why you like their particular style of writing? Why do their stories intriguing?

Although I love Charles Dickens, it is the books and writing of Solzhenitsyn that I read with absolute awe – particularly One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and The First Circle. Simply incredible books, so profound, so full of pain, the lives of characters examined and pulled apart with the simplest of words. Writing with no pretension, words behind which the reader cannot hide. Brilliant stuff.

10) If you could only listen to Rod Stewart, Freddie Mercury or Brian Johnson (AC/DC), who would you choose and why?

If I lived in a world in which I could only listen to Rod Stewart, Freddie Mercury or Brian Johnson (AC/DC), I would probably throw myself out of the nearest window.

Okay, at a push, Rod Stewart – but only for his cover of Tom Waits Downtown Train.

Thank you for your time this evening Ian, it was a pleasure to interview you. I wish you all the best with your writing and your next novel.

Bio: Ian Ayris was born in Dagenham, Essex, in August 1969. Having spent most of his childhood more interested in kicking a tennis ball about the school playground with his mates than actually learning anything, he managed to leave the public education system in 1985 with but two O’ Levels and a handful of C.S.E.’s. And a love of writing.

His academic achievements set him up nicely for the succession of low paid jobs he has maintained to this day. These jobs have included a three year stint as a delivery boy for an electrical company, five years putting nuts and bolts in boxes in a door factory, one day in a gin factory, and three months in a record shop, He then spent more than twenty years working with adults with mental health issues and learning difficulties. 

In the meantime, Ian qualified as a counsellor, and now supervises trainee counsellors at a counselling agency in Dagenham. He finally completed his English Literature degree in 2018, and has spent the last three years working as a teaching assistant in a local junior school

Ian’s love of writing resurfaced late in his thirties, in the guise of short stories, having his first story published in the legendary Radgepacket. He has since had almost forty short stories published both in print and online, as well as three novels and a novella.

Ian lives with his wife, Karen and dog, Kobi, in Romford, Essex, and is a lifelong Dagenham and Redbridge supporter.

Contact Ian –

Twitter: @ianayris

Website: http://www.ianayris.org

Publishers: Fahrenheit Press (Twitter @fahrenheitpress)

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