Hi everyone, I’m delighted to welcome Phoebe Morgan to the blog today. She kindly took the time out to answer my questions on her writing process. I loved her advice particular on researching agents.
Over to you, Phoebe.
1) As a child, did you have a favourite author? Was there a turning point with any particular book that made you go ‘Wow!’
As a child I read a huge amount of Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl – I think their amazing imaginations are the thing that stuck with me, and made me realise that reading really is escaping into another world. I’m finding that so useful now, as the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps the globe and nobody can travel – being able to lose myself in a novel is a wonderful privilege. I’m so glad that I was encouraged to read a lot as a child, as it instilled a love for books in me from a very young age. We didn’t have a television, so practically all I did was read!
2) Did you enjoy English at school?
I did, yes. It was my favourite subject, and probably the only one I was any good at, though I did enjoy history and art as well. I did an English degree at university, but I think I enjoyed English the most in high school; I had a particularly great teacher in Year 7 and Year 8 who made a big impact on me and showed me how important creativity is in writing. She was the first teacher to tell me that I had a good imagination, and it really stayed with me and encouraged me as I grew older.
3) How did you find your day job as a journalist and your one currently as an Editorial Director for HarperCollins? Do you find that your experience helps you when you are writing?
I was only a journalist for just under a year before I moved into publishing, and I definitely prefer my job now – I love working with authors on their manuscripts and being involved in all the parts of the process, from briefing the jacket design to looking at the sales figures and thinking about how to build an author’s profile. I do think my editorial experience helps when writing as I learn so much from other writers, primarily about how to structure a novel and I also find it very inspiring working around others who care so much about books – it makes me want to be a better author and spurs me on when writing feels hard.
4) What was your route to publication? How did you find your current agent?
I signed with my agent in 2015, or 2014 I think, so we’ve worked together for a while now. I just sent out my first three chapters, covering letter and synopsis to a range of agents and was very lucky when Camilla (Bolton, at the Darley AndesonAgency) agreed to represent me. She originally asked me to meet up and we discussed the book that would become my debut (The Doll House), and then I did a bit of editorial work on it before she actually signed me up. I was so thrilled when she emailed to say she was offering representation – I can remember I was sat in Foyles bookshop on Charing Cross Road, so very fitting really! After some more edits, Camilla sent the book out to publishers, and eventually HQ took it on. I did also face a fair amount of rejection, which is definitely worth saying – it wasn’t a super-easy path and I would say to anyone in a similar position that the most important thing is to take feedback on board and to keep going. You only need one yes!
5) Do you have any plan formed when you come up with ideas? How does your idea generation work?
I am not a huge planner – I often start with a setting or a character and then come up with the plot afterwards. For example, with my third book The Babysitter (out with HQ on 28th May) I wanted to set it in Suffolk where I grew up, but I also wanted it to have a holiday element so part of it is set in France and inspired by a gorgeous villa I stayed in a couple of years ago. I also often write about siblings and women, so I sometimes have characters form in my mind before the actual idea develops more slowly over time.
6) How many times, roughly, would you say, that you polish a draft before you send it off to your agent?
I now send my books to my editor and agent at the same time, so I will usually have gone through the manuscript a fair few times before pressing send. It depends on how much time I have, but I would hate to turn something in that was full of mistakes so I do try to be quite careful. That said my books do always need work and I know that there will be edits down the line – which I don’t mind too much, as writing the first draft is the hardest bit! So I would say I go through the manuscript somewhere between three and seven times before sending it – not always fully, but maybe I might go over certain bits like the opening more than others.
7) Do you have any advice for writers looking to send their work to agents?
Make sure you do your research! Think about what kind of genre you are writing in and find out who are the best agents in that genre. Follow their guidelines closely, and read interviews with them online if you can about what they might be looking for. Make sure your work is finished (if it is fiction) and that you’re happy with it before you send. Do send to multiple agents at once as it can take a while to hear back, so doing it one agent at a time isn’t the best approach.
8) What was the last book you read, and did you enjoy it? What did you enjoy about it specifically? Plot, character, structure, pace?
I loved LITTLE DISASTERS by Sarah Vaughan, a suspense novel about a woman who suspects her friend of hurting her baby. I loved the characters and pacing most of all – she’s a brilliant writer and I loved how the story developed, and the nuanced ways the characters interacted. It was a fascinating look at motherhood and female friendship – two subjects I find very interesting.
9) When you leave your desk on a Friday, what’s the first thing you do? On a Friday evening/on the weekend, what do you do to relax?
Hmm well I am writing this in lockdown, so not a lot! I’m working from home, so I do try to differentiate between the days and the evenings as much as I can – on a Friday at 6 I will get up from my desk (kitchen table!) and go for a run around the park. I am lucky to live close to a lovely park in London, and getting out once a day makes a big difference to how I feel. So I will usually do that, then come back and light a candle, have some dinner and maybe watch a crime drama or a film. I love crime dramas so I’m always after a new one to absorb myself in! I also try to read for pleasure at the weekends, but it is hard as I always have lots of submissions to read for work too.
10) If you had to choose between Rod Stewart and Freddie Mercury, who would it be and why?
I have to confess I know very little about either of them, sorry… I am awful at celebrity culture unless it involves 90s girlbands or Taylor Swift…
Bio: Phoebe Morgan is an author and editorial director at HarperCollins. Her novels The Doll House and The Girl Next Door are out now, and The Babysitter, her third book, publishes with HQ on 28th May 2020. She is always on the look out for exciting new voices, and you can read her blog about writing and publishing here:www.phoebemorganauthor.com or find her on Twitter @Phoebe_A_Morgan.
Thank you for allowing me to interview you, Phoebe. It’s been a pleasure to have you on the blog today.