Good afternoon folks, I’m delighted to welcome literary agent Camilla Wray to my blog. Here, Camilla chats about her journey to becoming a literary agent, advice for aspiring authors and her guilty pleasures of genre.
1) Did you see yourself becoming a literary agent after you left school? Did you actually have any other career plans?
I never really knew what I wanted to do when I was at school, just what I loved. I was very much an ‘average’ child but I absolutely loved stories. I was a huge reader growing up, but then I also loved fashion and learning about people. My A levels were in English Literature, Psychology and Textiles so this sums me up I guess! I had really low grade predictions though so I didn’t apply for anywhere when I was doing my A Levels, instead my mum and dad told me to give myself some space and to work as hard as I could away from the huge pressure of University applications.
I still had no idea what to do though so after getting my results I just followed my interests and decided to go to Cardiff University where they have an amazing Creative Writing department and you could do it as a Joint Honours with Psychology. I guess in a way I was hedging my bets!
Then in my last year of studying at Cardiff my friend and I decided to start a fashion label and we did this together for two years before my love of words wouldn’t leave me alone. She carried on and is now hugely successful and I decided to look into what I could do to join fashion and writing. This is when I did a Post Grad at the London College of Fashion in lifestyle and Fashion journalism. After this I worked at The Independent for a bit and then got a job as the assistant to the Fashion Editor of ‘S’ magazine. I really loved it there but it was only 4 days a week so I started looking for a job to do on a Friday. There was an advert on the University of Arts website for a admin role one day a week at the Darley Anderson Literary Agency, and this is how I was introduced to the world of being a literary Agent. Ten years on and I’m still at Darley’s and am incredibly thankful I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I am so lucky to have a job I adore and am very passionate about and I am determined to tell my kids to follow what they love, not what they think they should do.
2) Did studying psychology at university pique your interest in the crime genre as a reader?
I’d say it was actually Patricia Cornwell who got my really intrigued by people and crimes. I was obsessed with her books when I was a teenager and also loved the Point Horror books. Studying psychology at A level and then at university definitely built on this but the interest was always there I think. I’m incredibly nosey and love meeting new people and finding out all about their lives and worlds. Humans are equally fascinating and terrifying.
3) What do you recommend aspiring authors do before querying?
Read, read, read. This is key I think as when you find a genre / author you love as a reader then you need to sit back and really think about why you love it, what makes you react, what makes you unable to stop and why. Even if you don’t end up writing in this genre, what you’ve learnt as a reader is gold dust. So I’d say read as much as you can. Then once you’ve written your own manuscript go back to the authors and genres you love and read into who represents them, how they find an agent and use them as further inspiration.
4) What was the process involved in setting up Pitch An Agent?
I was very lucky as Adrian and Myles were instantly keen to set up Pitch An Agent and so it was a very smooth process. I just felt that there was a huge opportunity for new crime writers to have the chance to talk to agents about their work and not just receive a standard ‘no’. As an agent it’s very hard to be able to send personal feedback, I try as much as possible but I get 10-15 submissions a day and only take on average 1-2 authors a year so it is hard. With Pitch An Agent it means that for a couple of days we can meet authors and be fair, honest and hopefully kind about where they could develop their characters, plot, pace.
5) Is there something in the crime genre that you haven’t seen or read about previously that you think ‘I could see that in a book’?
What an interesting tricky question! To be honest with the crime genre ideas are so very rarely new, but it’s the characters you use, how you focus a plot, and an author’s own spin that have a big impact. I had been looking for a sliding doors thriller for years but as with anything there are now books with this as a concept coming out. I love high concept ideas though and I think there is something genius about taking classic concepts – such as the locked room mystery – and putting it in a very fresh, contemporary setting. I also have this very odd horrid recurring nightmare where I come home and my husband is asleep in bed so I try and be really quiet and sneak under the covers, only to find it isn’t my husband at all, it’s someone dressed as my husband wearing a weird latex wig (my husband has a shaved head!). It’s horrific as my poor husband is actually tied up under the bed. I guess the only good thing is neither of us is actually dead but it still isn’t overly nice or perhaps slightly worrying!
6) What is your guilty pleasure genre?
I love love stories so these are definitely something I adore. THE TIME TRAVELLERS WIFE is one of my favourite stories. I also love reading most women fiction books. I grew up reading a huge amount of Maeve Binchy and Jilly Cooper and I’m a huge Jill Mansell, Lianne Moriarty and Jojo Moyes fan. I read HOT MESS over the summer and loved it. Her dad character is genius.
7) What was the last book you read and did you enjoy it?
The last book I read was THE COWS by Dawn O’Porter and I absolutely loved it. It was fresh, funny, heart-breaking and shocking all in one.
8) Completely random – are you a Rod Stewart fan and do you have a favourite song of his?
Ha, ha, very sadly I’m not. In fact I couldn’t actually name you any of his songs. I’m so sorry! And it’s not because I’m cool as I am a bit Elton John fan, so maybe that’s why. Because I’d never want to cheat on Elton.
Thanks for taking the time out Camilla.