10 Questions With… Sam Copeland

Hi everyone, and this morning on the blog I’m delighted to welcome Sam Copeland. Sam is a children’s fiction author, but in his day job he is a literary agent for Rogers, Coleridge and White Literary Agency. He answers my questions on all things writing, and challenging it was to try and find an agent.

Over to you, Sam…

1) As a literary agent, how was the jump to being a writer alongside your day job? Have you always wanted to write? NOT REALLY. IT WAS TOO MUCH A DISTANT DREAM, TOO WILD. BECOMING A WRITER HAS OPENED UP A TAP WHICH I CAN’T TURN UP NOW. 

2) I know you write children’s fiction. How do you come up with your ideas and why did you choose this genre? THE GENRE CHOSE ME. I COULDN’T IMAGINE WRITING ANYTHING ELSE. I HAVE NO DESIRE TO WRITE ANYTHING ELSE. AND HOW DOES ANYBODY COME UP WITH IDEAS? I PLUCK THEM OUT OF THE ETHER..

3) What comes first for you when you write? Is it plot, character or theme you would like to explore? EACH BOOK HAS A DIFFERENT GENESIS. SOME START WITH AN, SOME START WITH A CHARACTER. SOME START WITH A SENTENCE, SOME WITH A VOICE.

4) Was it daunting finding an agent for your work? How did you find the submission process? YES – INCREDIBLY. IT WAS SO DAUNTING I SENT MY SUBMISSION ANONYMOUSLY. I WAS TOO WORRIED ABOUT BEING A LAUGHING STOCK IN THE INDUSTRY.

5) What is your planning stage like before you start writing? A brief synopsis does it for me, but every writer is different. YES, I’M NOT SO GREAT AT PLANNING. OFTEN I START A DAY OF WRITING WITHOUT A SINGLE CLUE WHAT I AM GOING TO WRITE. SO, YES, THE BAREST BONES OF A PLAN BEFORE I START..

6) After your manuscript is finished and sent to your agent and editor, how do you feel? Can you describe it? SHEER TERROR WAITING FOR THEM TO GET BACK TO ME!

7) What is the post publication process like? How soon would you start writing the next book? THE PUBLICATION PROCESS IS HUGELY ANXIETY-PROVOKING, SO I TRY STARTING TO WRITE A BOOK AS SOON AS I HAVE DELIVERED A BOOK.

8) What was the last children’s book you read? What did you enjoy about it? I REPRESENT A NUMBER OF CHILDREN’S WRITERS, AND I AM LUCKY TO READ EARLY DRAFTS OF THEIR BOOKS. THE MOST RECENT IS THE LATEST BOOK BY JENNY PEARSON, WHO IS AN ACTUAL GENUIS.

9) As a writer, how has the pandemic affected you? I WROTE A LOT! I WROTE A BOOK COMING IN JANUARY WHICH WAS DEEPLY AFFECTED BY THE PANDEMIC AND IS ABOUT A GIRL EMBRACING FREEDOM AFTER BEING TOO TERRIFIED TO LEAVE HER HOUSE.

10) What is your music taste like? I prefer the classics and some standout seventies bands like Slade, Queen and AC/DC when I write. Do you listen to music when you write? I HAVE VERY DIVERSE MUSIC TASTE. HOWEVER WHEN I WRITE, I NEED TO HAVE SILENCE – OCCASSIONALLY CLASSICAL MUSIC, BUT MORE OFTEN THAN NOT, SILENCE!

Thank you for your time today Sam, it has been a pleasure to have you on the blog. All the best with your writing!

Bio: Sam Copeland is an author. He is from Manchester and now lives in London with two smelly cats, three smelly children and one relatively clean-smelling wife. He works as a chicken whisperer, travelling the world using his unique gift to tame wild chickens. Charlie Changes Into a Chicken is his first book. It was followed by the sequel Charlie Turns Into a T-Rex, and the third in the series – Charlie Morphs into a Mammoth – which was published in February 2020. His latest book Uma and the Answer to Absolutely Everything was released in January 2021. He has more books to come in 2022, including Greta and the Ghost Hunters in January 2022 and a joint novel with top author Jenny Pearson. Despite numerous legal threats, he is refusing to stop writing.

SERIOUS BIT: he is also a literary agent and director at Rogers, Coleridge and White and you can find out about that part of him by clicking here. You can follow him on Twitter here and on Instagram here. You can go to his Facebook page here. You can even go to his Goodreads page here.

An Interview With… Kevin Doyle

Hi everyone, and this evening on the blog I’m delighted to welcome actor Kevin Doyle. Kevin is known for the role of Mr Molesley in the smash hit ITV period drama Downton Abbey. He was kind enough to have a chat about some of my favourite roles of his and how his career began.

Over to you, Kevin…

1) How did you first become involved in the industry? Did you always want to be an actor growing up or did you have any other career plans for after you left school?

I come from a family with no connection to the industry and growing up in the north of England in the 1970’s it didn’t occur to me that it was an option in life. Up until I was 18 I had no real interest in acting. What changed was the fact that over a period of a couple of years I became surrounded by friends who were interested in acting and talked of drama school. I think the influence of friends at that age can’t be overstated. At 18 years old, I had no idea what I was going to do.

University wasn’t going to happen for me and so I guess I latched on to my friends dreams and worked really hard to make them a reality for me. I applied to the Guildhall School of Drama and they accepted me – that one afternoon in December 1978 literally changed my life. I was on a path that was completely unexpected and alien.

2) Your career has varied between film, television and theatre. Which of the three would you say is your favourite and why?

It’s a question I’m asked quite frequently and my answer has always been that I’m very lucky to be able to switch between them all and as a result I look forward to the changes and the challenges that each offers. In theatre you have to be responsible for so much more of your performance. It depends on whether or not you can be seen and heard, the timing of your entrances etc. But on a film set others take those responsibilities: the sound department, make up, costume etc. You just have to concentrate on your acting.

3) I first saw you as serial killer Geoff Hastings in Scott and Bailey, back in 2011. When you were offered the role, how did you go about your research on murderers? What was it about the character that jumped out at you?

I didn’t do research specifically for that role but I suppose I have over the years read a number of books on people who have done some pretty dark things or endured some trauma in their life (Killing for Company about the life of Dennis Nielsen was I think an extraordinary journalistic achievement).

I’ve played several parts where extreme violence has occurred and I think the thing I always try to do is to recognise the human being and not the acts they’ve committed. I don’t believe in evil, I think that’s a lazy way for society to pigeonhole people. I have to believe that anybody, under certain circumstances is capable of doing self- serving or abhorrent acts. I think by accepting that, I can then begin to try and understand their journey. An audience has to be able to recognise the humanity of someone no matter how terrible their crimes.

4) I have since seen you as Mr Molesley in Downton Abbey, written by Julian Fellowes. What attracted you to this particular role? Did you enjoy revisiting the character in the film version?

That part has evolved over the years. To start with he was a very withdrawn person whose pride in his job was being undermined by his new employer and he had to just take it on the chin. Over the years as Julian and I have lived with the character we’ve seen him grow and slowly become more confident. We’ve just finished filming the second movie which I’m hoping will see him flourish in new ways.

5) In the second series of Happy Valley by Sally Wainwright, you played DS John Wadsworth. What did you find about the character that drew you to the role?

I just loved the slowly increasing desperation of the man. Trying to remain calm to family and professional to work mates while becoming more and more ragged and out of control.

6) How did you find your current agent?

I was told when I was younger that changing agents was akin to leaving a romantic relationship and in a way it is. I’ve done it twice in 40 years and it’s a horrible process. Like leaving a partner it’s a slowly evolving awareness that things aren’t really where you want them to be and so eventually someone says something. The good thing however is that on the whole the agents recognise that it’s not personal, simply business. My agents who I’ve been with for 30 years now approached me while I was working at the Royal Shakespeare Company. They’d heard my previous agents was retiring and met me for a chat.

7) As an actor, how has the pandemic affected you? Is there anything that you miss about the day to day routines of being on a set?

Apart from about 3 months in 2020 when everything shut down, my work hasn’t really been affected. Obviously day to day working life is very different (and a hell of a lot more expensive for the producers -something I was on fairly recently required 14,500 PCR tests over a period of a few months – you can imagine how much that cost).

Because everyone is currently masked up on set, it’s difficult to have the same kind of working relationship with people – for a start if it’s early on in the production I’m never quite sure who I’m talking to and so friendships can’t evolve in quite the same way, and as half the enjoyment of going to work is the relationships you build with people, then that is a considerable loss.

8) What are you currently watching on television? Do you have a favourite programme that you watch religiously?

The same as everyone else – Succession, Curb your Enthusiasm. I always go back to Seinfeld.

9) What are you currently reading? Can you choose between fiction and non fiction? Do you have a favourite genre?

I flit between crime novels and History books. I’ve been reading a few books about the early Christian church – I’m fascinated by the extraordinary difference between what we know of the life of Jesus and what the established Church becomes. I’ve also just read a terrific book by Sarah Win an called Still Life. I heartily recommend.

10) In preparation for a role, do you sometimes listen to music to get you in your character’s mindset? As a writer, I feel that it sometimes helps.

No I don’t feel the need to do any of that. I just try and respond to what’s on the page.

Thank you for your time today Kevin, it has been a pleasure to interview you. I can’t wait to see the new Downton Abbey film!

Bio: Kevin is known to many as Joseph Molesley in DOWNTON ABBEY, the ensemble cast of which have received international critical acclaim – most recently to the tune of winning the SAG Award 2016 for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series. The hit series was recently adapted for the big screen and instantly became a box office hit. DOWNTON ABBEY 2 is due for release in spring 2022. Kevin has recently finished filming the second series of Netflix’ record breaking series THE WITCHER, where he plays the role of Ba’Lian. Kevin will soon feature in the much anticipated series SHERWOOD for BBC. Kevin played John Wadsworth in BAFTA winning British series HAPPY VALLEY, and starred in ITV mini-series PARANOID. He most recently tread the boards in the leading role of Orgon in Blanche McIntyre’s production of TARTUFFE at the National Theatre, FANNY & ALEXANDER at the prestigious Old Vic, and followed Headlong Theatre’s production of THIS HOUSE from its Chichester run to the West End’s Garrick Theatre.

10 Questions With… Louise Fein

Hi everyone, and this evening on the blog I’m delighted to welcome Louise Fein. Louise writes historical fiction and is based in Surrey. I was delighted when she agreed to answer a few questions. Links on how to contact her are below the Q&A.

Over to you, Louise…

1) Have you always wanted to write? When you were a child, did you have a favourite author?

Like many authors, I have always wanted to write. I wrote ‘books’ aged around seven, stapled pieces of lined paper, which usually involved adventures with ponies. My favourite author as a child was Enid Blyton. I absolutely loved The Famous Five series. I remember one of my teachers sniffily telling my mother I should be reading better quality books, but my mum told her she didn’t care what I read, as long as it was something! I personally think she was absolutely right – I came to the classics and other genres when I was ready.

2) What sort of fiction do you write? How do you come up with your ideas and why did you choose this genre?

I write historical or bookclub fiction, chiefly 20th century to date. I didn’t set out to write historical fiction specifically, although I do love reading and writing it! My interest is in exploring ideas, human psychology and behaviour, and what better source for these than history? My first two novels were inspired by issues which involved my family. In the case of my first novel, fleeing Nazi Germany as refugees, and in the second, the stigma of having epilepsy and the treatment of those considered ‘unfit’ in the 1920s. In both cases, my novels are entirely fictional, but they are based on, and true to, the sentiments and historical events of the time. My third novel is set in the early 1960’s and is about society’s unquestioned expectations of women, in particular mothers, and what happens when they don’t fit the expected mould.

3) What comes first for you when you write? Is it plot, character or theme you would like to explore?

For me, it is always a theme I want to explore first. I then look for an appropriate time in which to set the story and begin some preliminary research – lots of general reading around the subject and the time and place of the setting. That will be both non-fiction and fiction. As much as possible I try to read contemporaneously written work as it gives a better flavour and feel of the time, without any slant of hindsight. A nub of a story is usually swimming around in my head for sometime, and a basic idea of characters. Usually I know the beginning and end when I start to write, but not much idea of what happens in the middle when I start to write. My first draft is extremely messy, and really is just me finding the story. It is really only by the time I get to second or third drafts that it begins to take shape and I get to really know and understand my characters. At this point, I also have to do more detailed research, which as I drill down becomes more and more specific. I don’t recommend my method, it requires many drafts!

4) Was it daunting finding an agent for your work? How did you find the submission process?

I didn’t know any other authors when I started out, nor anyone in the publishing industry, so I was quite naïve, but also had little expectation that my book would find an agent. I thought I would give it a go, and if I was unsuccessful I would approach independent publishers directly, or self publish. My first round of submissions to perhaps eight agents resulted in rejections, although some were promising in the sense that they said there was much to admire about my work. This gave me hope, but also made me think I could improve my book. I therefore decided to get a report from an editor at a literary consultancy as I wasn’t sure what I needed to do to make it better. This resulted in another complete rewrite of the book followed by more editing which took around a year. I sent the book out again, and this time I received some requests for the full manuscript. Then everything went very quiet for a few months! A couple of the agents who asked for the full then went on to reject the book, but one said it was a close call and I should send it out more widely as I had only sent it to a handful. So I sent out another few submissions and the very next day, one of those agents responded, saying she had started reading the book and was really enjoying it. She finished it over the next couple of days and loved it. She is now my agent. The author/agent relationship is an important one as hopefully it will be long lasting and ideally will help you to build your career. I really liked the fact my agent came back to me so quickly and was so enthusiastic about my work. It is key that the agent loves your work.

5) What is your planning stage like before you start writing? A brief synopsis does it for me, but every writer is different.

I am absolutely not a planner! I wish I was because I think it would shorten the writing process, but it just isn’t how I create. The only way I can work out my characters is by writing them, and character and plot for me are so intertwined, the plot really doesn’t get worked out until I have my characters fully formed and real to me. All of it also depends on my research – ideas come as I’m researching, or equally, they might have to change because of something my research has turned up.

6) After your manuscript is finished and sent to your agent and editor, how do you feel? Can you describe it?

Relieved and terrified, in equal measure!

7) What is the post publication process like? How soon would you start writing the next book?

There is always a very extensive gap between submitting a book and publication date, plus edits to be worked on in the interim. I am usually thinking about my next book, even when writing the current one. For instance, I have a fantastic shiny new idea for my next book, even though I’ve not yet finished my current novel. The shiny idea can seem very appealing at this stage, because it is new and perfect, while the draft of my current work in progress is flawed and doesn’t (yet) match up to the shiny, wonderful new idea it once was. This is fine though, and part of the process. I now know that at some point, once I have begun writing it, that the next book will also become imperfect! It will improve with each round of edits. As soon as I send my current book off to my agent/publisher, I’ll begin work on the next one. I will have to stop and break for each round of edits, but my aim will be to get the bulk of the first messy draft done by the time the current book is published.

8) What was the last fiction book you read? What did you enjoy about it?

The last brilliant book I read was Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr. I loved his previous novel, All the Light We cannot See, but his latest novel is extraordinary and a masterpiece in my view! It is so far reaching, utterly beautiful in terms of prose and story telling and I savoured every single word. It is definitely my book of 2021.

9) As a writer, how has the pandemic affected you? Has your writing process changed at all?

I wrote my last book during lockdown which was a challenge as I was also homeschooling and suddenly had a houseful of five people, when previously I was used to having the house to myself during the day! I had to put in quite a lot of late nights and early mornings. With schools back, things are more normal in terms of my hours, but the travel restrictions have curtailed my favoured method of going to the places I am writing about. But we are also so lucky these days with the research potential of the internet. I have even had a zoom call with an American farmer, all in the name of research!

10) When you write, do you listen to music or do you prefer silence? Do you have a favourite band or artist that you like to listen to? Would you recommend them and why?

I can’t work to music, unfortunately. I have to have silence, which is a shame!! When not working though, I love jazz and reggae music which is relaxing and uplifting.

Thank you for your time Louise, it has been a pleasure to interview you!

Social media links: https://www.louisefein.comhttps://www.facebook.com/louisefeinauthorhttps://twitter.com/FeinLouisehttps://www.instagram.com/louisefeinauthor/

Bio: Louise writes twentieth century historical fiction, based around unheard voices, or from unusual perspectives. Her debut novel, People Like Us (entitled Daughter of the Reich in the US/Canada edition) was first published in 2020 into 13 territories and is set in 1930’s Leipzig. The book was shortlisted for the RSL Christopher Bland Prize 2021 and the RNA Historical Novel of the Year Award, 2021.

Louise’s second novel, The Hidden Child, was published in the UK in September 2021 and the US and Canada in October 2021, and will follow in other territories soon. This book is centred around the eugenics movement in 1920’s England and America. It is a Globe & Mail bestseller in Canada.

Louise, previously a lawyer and banker, holds an MA in Creative Writing from St Mary’s University and now writes full time. Equally as passionate about historical research and writing, she also loves to look for themes which have resonance with today’s world. Louise lives in the Surrey countryside with her family, and is a slave to the daily demands of her pets.

An Interview With… Imogen Pelham

Hi everyone, and today on the blog I’m delighted to introduce Imogen Pelham. Imogen is a literary agent for Marjacq Scripts. As well as chatting all things submissions and what she looks for, Imogen also gives some brilliant advice for writers who aren’t yet published. Read on to find out more.

Over to you, Imogen…

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

Full disclosure – my parents met in a publishing house, when my mother was a Publicist and my father was the Art Director at Penguin. I spent stretches of my school holidays in Macmillan’s offices, while my mum worked, reading, and at some point her colleagues would keep me busy by giving me YA manuscripts and asking me to let them know what I thought. It was a huge privilege to have insight into an industry which I know is often kept very opaque to so many. I only ever wanted to go into publishing – it was the only thing I knew!

I landed on wanting to be a literary agent aged 17; I liked the idea of working directly with authors on their work editorially and creatively, but that it would also give me the opportunity to be involved in the business side of things. I loved maths andI’ve always been interested in the mechanics of contracts. So I didn’t have any other career plans (though I worked in Art Insurance in my gap year and University holidays, which I really enjoyed).

2) What particular genres of novels stood out to you when you were younger? Do these tastes reflect your current list?

I would read any novel I could get my hands on. For a good few years I was obsessed with Goosebumps and Point Horror, and while I have a couple of authors in a somewhat similar vein (Jo Jakeman who writes brilliantly twisty thrillers, and Kylie Whitehead who does really smart contemporary body horror), it’s a shame I don’t have more!

The more marked difference between then and now is that I never considered I would ever represent non-fiction. To me, non-fiction was just fusty, lengthy biographies of someone long-dead. It was only when I started working in an agency that I realised the multitudes that term “non-fiction” contained and fell in love with it; now my list is about 50% non-fiction.

3) What would you say that you look for in a covering email? What would capture your attention in particular?

The main thing is predictable – a really great pitch. Whether that’s a really clever idea, an interesting protagonist facing a compelling problem, or something incredibly evocative. I think pitches get very associated with thrillers in particular, and authors sometimes veer off the pitch in the submission if they feel like their book isn’t very pitch-friendly. But no matter the novel, there should be some central tension which keeps us reading(even in a literary novel where perhaps, objectively, not that much happens!), and the pitch needs to communicate roughly what that tension is.

Otherwise, the main things are that it needs to be concise, courteous, and clear. Don’t overthink it. As long as the letter doesn’t set off any alarm bells (incredibly high word count; grand claims of author’s own genius; completely incomprehensible), it’s really all about the book.

4) What is it that initially attracts you to a submission? And what is it particularly that makes a submission stand out to you?

When I read a submission, I will very quickly read the email to get an overview, and in particulartrying to pick out the pitch (as mentioned above). In an ideal world that will already pique my interest, so that would hopefully be the first thing to attract me to the book.

I then open the material immediately, and start reading. I cannot overstate how important those first pages are. Again, like the pitch, you want to be setting up some tension or questions from the absolute outset. Regardless of the genre, you need to grab us with those opening pages and keep us reading. Why have you started where you have; is it the best point in time? Are you trying to answer the who/what/where/why for the reader rather than letting them uncover it or have some questions lingering? There’s often too much exposition, or relying on dialogue to explain the situation and recent past to the reader – resist those. Hone every sentence on those first few pages, and make sure every word has impact.

5) Do you have any advice for the unpublished author? How polished would you say their manuscript has to be?

I keep slightly jumping ahead to your following question in my previous answer! As above, the opening pages should be especially polished. But really, if you’re writing fiction, the whole novel should be of a polished standard. Related to your other question, my advice is that the writing of the book isn’t just getting roughly the “right” number of words down, some scenes, a bit of shape. A huge part of the writing is what comes after that, and I think you almost learn more about writing a novel – how to do it, what works and doesn’t work – after having written a first draft.

Other advice is to always be reading other contemporaneous books in a similar genre and to consider how they’re written. What tense and person do they use, where does the principal tension first get introduced, what does the author hide and what do they show and to what effect. I would also recommend trying to read your own work in a different format to how you work on it (so, generally speaking, that means not on a computer screen in a word processing programme). Reading a print-out, or even sending the manuscript to your Kindle to read there, allows for a little distance from it and you can hopefully see much more about what’s working and what’s not with a little more objectivity.

6) As an agent, how has the pandemic affected your job role? Is there anything that you have missed from the day to day routine of being in the office?

In the whole publishing ecosystem, other than authors, agents were the best set up for the sudden pivot to home working. So much of our work is on our own, anyway!

But a huge part of my job is in-person meetings with my authors and prospective authors to discuss their work, and also meeting and catching up with editors to find out what they’re looking for, and then with overseas editors at Book Fairs. It was difficult to go from having such a social rhythm of work to none, and I think it sometimes made it hard to feel like we were all fully abreast of the industry in quite the same detail as we normally would be. On the other hand, the wide adoption of Zoom has normalised virtual meetings with authors and editors further afield, which I think is really helpful for removing some of the London-centricity of the industry.

I’ve really loved working from home, and now use both the office and home to their strengths. It’s great to be able to bounce around ideas and discuss issues in the room with colleagues, but much easier to get a lot more reading done when I’m working from home.

7) In the commercial fiction that you represent, what are you looking for? What kind of novel would you be gripped by? And what would you like to see more of?

As I hinted at before, I would love to find some more brilliant voices in the thriller area, or even veering towards some smart, light horror. I love relatable characters, psychological twists, and contemporary issues. My dream would be to find a British Megan Abbott.

But I’d also love some more really smart women’s fiction, in the vein of Dolly Alderton, Daisy Buchanan, and Bella Mackie.

8) What is your guilty pleasure genre, that you wouldn’t normally admit to reading?

If you’d asked me several years ago, I probably would have said thrillers. I found they were great at getting me out of a reading rut, but I would perhaps not consider them part of my usual diet. But I now read even wider and I try not to consider anything a guilty pleasure. My list is primarily quite literary, and the non-fiction often tends to be relatively serious, so it might be a bit of a surprise that I like reading much more fun things, too!

9) What are you currently watching on television? Do you have a favourite programme that you religiously watch?

I’m currently watching the new seasons of Succession, Insecure, and You, and I can’t wait for the new season of Euphoria. I’ve religiously kept up with all of them across their seasons, and I think those four are a relatively accurate representation of the sorts (and range) of stories that I love most.. And unlike books, television is an area where I definitely still have guilty pleasures, but I’m keeping those ones close to my chest…

10) What is your music taste like? I favour the classics such as Slade, Queen, AC/DC and some standout seventies bands, but what do you like to listen to? And what band/artist would you recommend?

I’ve been listening to less music lately, which is something I want to change in 2022, but I mostly listen to electronic music of various stripes. Some of my favourites are Four Tet, Nils Frahm, andModerat. The album I’ve listened to most recently is Wake Up Calls by Cosmo Sheldrake, which uses recordings of endangered birds. It’s beautiful, and great to work to.

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

Bio: Imogen Pelham is a literary agent at Marjacq Scripts where she represents both fiction and non-fiction. Her list includes bestselling author of The Secret Lives of Colour, Kassia St Clair; Wellcome Prize shortlisted, Emily Mayhew; and multi-prizelisted Yara Rodrigues Fowler, as well as notable journalists such as Hattie Crisell, Sam Diss, Jimi Famurewa, and Marie Le Conte. She is interested in literary and upmarket commercial fiction, and a range of non-fiction, including history, memoir, psychology, sociology, culture, and food.

%d bloggers like this: