One Eye Open… A Q&A With Paul Finch

Hi everyone, continuing my new interview approach, I’m speaking today to Paul Finch about his upcoming novel, One Eye Open.

Over to you, Paul…

1) Where did the idea come from and how did you first begin to flesh it out?

The idea first came from a discussion I had with my new editors at Orion, and while they were very keen that I stick with the crime thriller format, for my first book at least, they wanted something that differed from the work I’d been doing for Avon at HarperCollins.

So, while I was writing the Heck and Lucy Clayburn books, I produced linear narratives with the emphasis on action and suspense, with this first one for Orion I wanted something that leaned a little bit more towards mystery. And also something that bounced back and forth in time, in other words something that was less linear. Inevitably, it also meant that, for this first Orion title, I wasn’t going to be writing a book involving Mark Heckenburg or Lucy Clayburn.

The discussion ranged far and wide, but I increasingly began to like the idea of putting a Traffic cop at the centre of the story. Road policing services get a terrible press generally because so many non-criminals (i.e. everyday drivers) fall foul of them, and subsequently, they almost never figure as key characters in cop fiction. I reckoned this would be very different from anything I’d seen before, and my editors agreed. I then started to think about the sort of situations that Traffic officers encounter during their work – they deal with more than their fair share of tragedy of course, and though not many realise this, they encounter quite a bit of crime. But the more I pondered it, the more I liked the idea that a Serious Collision Investigator (i.e. from Traffic’s investigative non-uniform branch) could be sent to deal with a car that shouldn’t exist lying utterly smashed alongside the road, after an accident no one saw, containing the half-dead bodies of two people who have no identities, while loaded with illicit cargo for which there is no explanation. The idea really grew on me that first night. I remember lying in bed, wondering how I could expand it. And before morning, a full tapestry had been woven in front of me, involving killers, crime syndicates, the lot.

I should add a footnote to this, by the way. My regular readers shouldn’t worry. Though I penned ONE EYE OPEN consciously trying to avoid the same kind of narrative that you’d find in Heck or Lucy Clayburn, there is still plenty of bone-crunching action. How could there not be? That is my meat and drink.

2) How did you create your main character Lynda? Did you enjoy writing her?

Other police characters of mine, Heck and Lucy Clayburn, are conveniently single, and having nothing and no one to go home to, are free to continue to investigate crime for long hours after they are supposed to have knocked off. With Lynda Hagen, I wanted things to be very, very different.

Lynda, I decided, would not just be a married woman, she’d be a mum as well. That meant she’d have to go home in the evenings and do Mum-type things. Initially when this struck me, I was hesitant. Was there a danger it might lessen the pace or reduce the jeopardy? Well … no, of course not. Because I’d be in charge and I’d make sure that it didn’t. On top of that, it seemed like an increasingly sexy idea to me that Lynda might once have been a top class criminal investigator, a divisional detective who dealt with serious crimes like robbery, rape and murder, but who had made the conscious decision to step back from that unique world in order to raise her family and be certain that she’d be there to make tea for her kids each evening and breakfast each morning. Would she miss that former life? Perhaps not at first, as she settled into her new one and found that raising a family can be as big a challenge as anything, but in due course, because of the kind of person she is, some yearning for what she’d lost might reassert itself. I also like the idea of marrying Lynda to Don, another former top cop, but who is no longer in the job at all – for different reasons, but who deeply misses it and is desperately struggling to make it as a writer. I’m not going to say too much more about that, except that it touches a little on my own experience of so many years ago, so I hope there’s quite a bit of authenticity there.

As all these characters fell into place, I realised that I had a very interesting and very different dynamic, something a world away from Heck and Clayburn, and something I could go at a hundred miles an hour.

3 How is One Eye Open different to your other novels?

Think I may already have answered this one.

4) What was your research process like? Did any of the research surprise you at any point? Did you refer to it during the process of writing?

For years I didn’t worry about research. I didn’t even need to research police protocols. As a former officer myself, I felt I knew what was what. However, time has passed since then, protocols have changed, the law itself has changed, and so I now have to do as much research as the next writer, particularly where road traffic offences are concerned.

All of a sudden, I’d moved away from the world of CID and into the Traffic division, which even when I was a serving copper, I only had limited experience of. But thankfully the law and police procedures are all laid out online, so I could look up what I needed to and, if necessary, make a few phone-calls to old buddies of mine who were still in the job or who had only recently left, without actually having to vacate my desk. More of a challenge was the geographical research required for ONE EYE OPEN.

In my Heck books, you may recall, my hero is part of the National Crime Group, which have a remit to cover all the police force areas of England and Wales, a kind of British FBI if you like. This meant that I could pick and choose where he went, and so was always careful to select districts I already knew. Lucy Clayburn, on the other hand, was part of the Greater Manchester Police, which was my old force, and on top of that she worked the fictional November Division, Crowley, so once again I was on home turf and had free rein. To get right away from both of those concepts, I had to shop around for a new part of the country in which to set ONE EYE OPEN. Again though, I didn’t want to venture too far away from familiar ground.

In the end, I put Lynda in the Essex Police and placed her on the Suffolk/Essex border. Those who know this area – Dedham Vale and the like – will recognise it as a very different region from anywhere I’ve covered before. This is Constable Country, a rolling pastoral landscape crisscrossed by bridleways and sleepy lanes, dotted here and there with ancient churches and picturesque villages. But the urban darkness is never far away anywhere in England these days, and even this scenic realm is now becoming known as the weekend getaway or even retirement land for older gangsters looking to lie low or go straight (and who, inevitably, find this latter very difficult).

Fortunately for me, I have in-laws in this area, and so made several delightful trips, weekend breaks mainly, to look around the country pubs and village greens, to check out the wooded paths and overgrown graveyards, to stand at high points and gaze down on Tudor manor houses that don’t look as if they’ve changed since Henry VIII’s day, and absorb the deep rural stillness. Each time, I came back to Lancashire with pages and pages of notes referencing the geography and culture of this most tranquil corner of Britain, but it was great fun gathering them. I can hardly complain about these research trips, can I?

5) How did your writing process for the Lucy Clayburn and Mark Heckenburg novels differ from the writing process for One Eye Open?

Because there are different timelines in this one, I think it required a lot of careful assessment at each new stage. Though separate, these timelines are parallel and need to marry up closely. So, particularly when I was editing and proofing, I had to be very careful indeed. Aside from that, I’m not sure there was a great deal of difference. My first draft is always dictated into a Dictaphone when I’m either walking my dogs or simply pacing around the exterior of my house. Back in the old days, I’m sure my neighbours thought I’d gone mad, but now they just assume I’m on the phone.

There’ve been all kinds of positive offshoots from this. It’s helped me keep my weight down while I work, and I have two of the fittest springer spaniels in the north of England. But on a more serious note, I find it much easier to concentrate once I’m out and about. I hate being cooped up in a stuffy office, particularly in summer. In contrast, when I’m out in the fresh air, even if I’m walking the roads of our town rather than country trails, even if it’s raining, I find the thought processes flow a lot better. I don’t use an app to type it up afterwards, I should add. That would be a disaster because my dictated draft is often a stream of consciousness, composed of broken sentences, most of them not even organised in the correct order. The actual first draft comes when I type them up myself and knock them into shape.

After that, the second draft is the one I enjoy the most, because by then I’ve already got a book on the written page and consider that I’ve broken the back of the physical work. I can then edit my way through it, nipping, tucking, tightening, changing, adjusting, prettifying everything. I usually play mood music in the background for this draft, to boost my creativity. The third draft, the last one before I send the book off to my editors is always the toughest. That’s when you go in line-for-line, word-for-word, doing everything in your power to iron out every last little error.

With ONE EYE OPEN, this was a particularly demanding exercise because, as I say, I had to ensure that everything matched, that every shared nuance between the timelines balanced neatly. Aside from that, though, as I say, I don’t think the time-honoured process varied very much.

6) Lastly, do you use Scrivener or MS Word? Which do you prefer and why?

I’ve always used MS Word and have no complaints about it.

Thank you for your time Paul, and for stopping by the blog to discuss your latest novel.

Bio:

A former cop and journalist, Paul was a writer for British TV crime drama, The Bill.

His next stand-alone thriller, ONE EYE OPEN will be published by Orion in 2020.

Paul wrote two series for Avon (HarperCollins). The ‘Heck’ series has so far reached combined sales of nearly half a million, and the Lucy Clayburn series shot him into the Sunday Times bestseller list.

Winner of the British Fantasy Award 2002 & 2007, and the International Horror Guild Award 2007, he has also written four Doctor Who audio dramas and his Doctor Who novel, HUNTER’S MOON, was published by Woodland Books in 2011.

An Interview With… Sarah Benton

Hi everyone, and today on the blog I’m delighted to have the opportunity to interview Sarah Benton. Sarah is the Deputy Managing Director for Orion Publishing Group, and she was kind enough to answer my questions on what exactly her job role entails, and what she is up to in lockdown.

Over to you, Sarah…

1) How did you first become involved in the publishing industry? Was it something you always wanted to do?

Publishing was definitely not something I planned on doing, knew anything about or thought was an option for me. I always loved books, and writing, but by the time I did my A-Levels, I’d settled on something much more normal: I planned to be a teacher.

I studied English at The University of Southampton with that goal in mind, until my final year when I did my dissertation on children’s books. It sparked something in me that I might be able to combine the two things I loved: working with children and books. A stroke of luck set the path to my future(as is so often the case). My dad worked in education for local government and had met a librarian who knew lots of people in children’s publishing. She offered to take me to a Children’s Book Circle event in London and I left university a week early to go. I met a publicist from Macmillan Children’s Books and managed to get some (unpaid, then) work experience that summer. I loved it from day one and knew I’d found what I wanted to do.

2) How did you work your way up to being a Deputy MD? Did it make a difference that you didn’t come from an editorial background?

I worked. I worked, really hard essentially. I always looked for opportunities to expand my remit, to learn more, to get involved in things around the companies I’ve work in. I’ve been in the industry 17 years, and it was 11 years before I became a Marketing Director. I think some of my best experience came from the years I was a Marketing Exec, or Manager (6 out of the 11). Getting to understand a huge variety of readers, authors, genres, campaigns, people – seeing what succeeds and what doesn’t. Experience really does count when you get to the top and people are suddenly asking YOU what they should do. I always say that life, and your career, isn’t a race. People move at different speeds: don’t look at them, just look at yourself. You are in control of what choices you make, and it shouldn’t ever matter what someone else has. It’s also no-one else’s responsibility to manage your career but your own. I’ve never been afraid of having difficult conversations with people if it meant I got to understand what I needed to do to progress.

When I started in publishing, I thought I knew two things: that I ought to be an editor and that I would never want to run a company. I knew quickly that editorial wasn’t for me. I liked the buzz of marketing and publicity: the reader contact, the working out what is the thing about this book that would make it appeal to the audience. I have always been driven by the reader, not by my own taste and I think that has served me well in such a senior role now. I can be very objective, and that’s what needed. I view being in a senior position now the way I did training for a 10k. I started off never thinking I could go that far, but each day you train, you get a bit closer and then one day, you’re doing it. I hope the fact that I didn’t come from an editorial background shows other people that it’s possible, and that there is no one route to the job you love.

3) What does your job role entail on a day to day basis? Has it been any different in lockdown?

The thing I love about my job, but also what makes it challenging is that literally no two days are ever the same. There are basics – key meetings like acquisitions or our cover art meeting, catch ups with my team and my boss – but other than that so much of my day is driven by what is happening. Someone needs your advice, there’s an author or agent that wants to speak to you or a sudden urgent, high-profile acquisition. You start your week with a plan, but so rarely does it turn out the way you think, so you have to adapt and be kind to yourself. I used to be driven by my to-do list but in a senior role I have realised that it’s impossible to work like that – I have a rolling list of things I need to do, and a daily list of urgent things. You have to accept you rarely get to the bottom of either list.

In a way, while it’s been more intense in lockdown, the fact that I am so used to adapting has put me in good stead. I thrive on things changing, so in a way I’ve found the last few months hugely fulfilling. On the other hand, particularly at the beginning, we have had to make decisions based on almost no certainties, and that was hard – you have to rely on some data, but a lot of gut instinct. In the end you can never know you’re making the right decision all the time, but you have to make the one you feel is right based on the information you have.When faced with tough decisions, I often think: what’s the worst thing that could happen? What am I afraid of? In fact, and ironically, the worse thing you could do is to make no decision at all.

4) Are there any limitations of your job role in lockdown?

I really miss my colleagues! Of course, we are making things work well with video meetings and phone calls but running a company often relies on lots of very quick decisions, which can sometimes be done by chasing someone around the office and having a very quick 5-minute chat. Life in lockdown is definitely a little slower – asking when people are free for a call, playing phone tag. In the office, Katie Espiner (our MD) and I thrive normally by bumping into each other, chatting through the issues of the day and making a quick decision on next steps (and we have a lot of fun while doing it!). I really miss that.

5) How have you found balancing your work with being a parent?

I returned to work from maternity leave during the peak of Covid-19, so it definitely wasn’t how I planned it! We were waiting on a nursery place but due to everything being closed we needed to think again. My husband is a writer, so we can be more flexible than most, but it’s certainly a challenge. I work in blocks of time, while my husband has the baby, and then we swap over. I fantasize about a full day just to work but that’s not where we are right now. We are making it work,but it’s a lot and there isn’t much downtime. Nursery is on the horizon though, so hopefully things will get easier soon. I am enormously lucky in that Hachette are hugely supportive of working parents. Even when my daughter is at nursery, I will work flexibly and set my own hours. Now we’ve all proved we don’t need to be in the office 9-5 we won’t go back to that way of working and nor should any of us.

6) What books are you most attracted to? Do you have a favourite genre? What would you look for, ideally, in a debut novel?

I would say there is no one thing, no secret ingredient – sorry! I read widely, across all genres mostly (I think it’s so important to do this in publishing). What I guess I look for most is a strong voice and – a feeling. The kind of book that you read a few pages of and can’t stop thinking about. I remember reading Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams in the first draft and knowing, extremely quickly, that this book needed to be published and would be very big – it doesn’t happen every time but it’s nice to occasionally be right! 

I also try to read as much outside my comfort zone as much as I can. What are the books people are talking about? What is in the bestseller list? I think it’s important to understand what books sell, what readers love. I have so little time for reading outside of my job at the moment with a baby, but I do love a pacey thriller – the last one I read is one we are publishing, Imperfect Women by Araminta Hall, coming this August. I got “the feeling” about that one, and I’m very excited about it.

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

Like reading, I watch quite a varied mix of TV! I love a hard-hitting documentary as much as a trashy drama. I am currently watching and loving Little Fires Everywhere (after adoring the book), but also David Olusoga’s A House through Time – it’s absolutely fascinating to think about all the lives lived under one roof. My guilty pleasure is Grey’s Anatomy – it’s my total switch off TV and much needed!

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

I currently only work 4 days a week, so Thursday is my Friday! My day comes to a hard finish at 5.30 every day when I give the baby a bath and put her to bed so it’s after that I get to relax. Normally, I come downstairs, have a quick check of emails and sit down for a moment of peace. My husband has developed into an excellent cocktail maker, so we will sit down with a drink and some food and go over what’s happened that week.

Relaxing with an 8-month-old isn’t super easy! Running is what I do to relax. It’s just me, my music and the park – it really clears my head. I do try to switch off from work at the weekend – it’s really important. I don’t send emails and rarely check them. Spending time with my family normally resets me for the week ahead. Being a good leader is as much about hard work as it is about self-care: if you don’t look after yourself, you simply can’t do your job.

Thank you so much for your time, Sarah. It has been a pleasure to have you on the blog today for an interview.

Bio: Sarah Benton is Deputy MD for The Orion Publishing Group. In her seventeen years in the industry she has worked at Harpercollins, Bonnier’s Hot Key Books and Pan Macmillan, in marketing and publicity across children’s and adult publishing.

The Lies I Tell… A Q&A with Joel Hames

Hi everyone! A different approach to interviewing this time, I hope you enjoy it? Instead of a First Drafts With interview, or an agent/author interview, I’m quizzing Joel Hames with questions that directly relate to his newest release, The Lies I Tell.

Over to you, Joel…

1) Where did the idea come from and how did you first begin to flesh it out?

I’ve always liked the notion of the hunter becoming the hunted. And then there’s the idea that certain people can’t seek help from the usual places. If someone’s coming for you or me, we might contact the authorities. If someone’s coming for a thief and a cybercriminal, they won’t be able to. They’re forced to fall back on their own resources and intelligence. This is what happens to Lisa, and everything stems from that. It also heightens the paranoia and tension when you think you’ve get everything sewn up, when Lisa thinks she’s completely safe, and yet somehow, her enemy is still getting to her. It means she has to question absolutely everything and everyone around her.
I’ll add the fact that we fell victim to identity fraud of the change-of-address variety around a decade ago and I’ve seen plenty of attempts at the invoice scam; when you add the “veracity” element of social media, the subject becomes irresistible.

2) How did you create your main character Lisa? Did you enjoy writing her?

I loved writing Lisa. I wanted someone you knew you should hate but couldn’t help loving, and I made sure I threw everything I could at the relationship she has with her son, and her own childhood, to put the scenes of her present-day activities into some kind of context. In particular, Lisa’s life in Leeds and her memories of her sister almost took over, and at times I felt I could write another book just centred around them!

3) The book is different from your Sam Williams series. What made you decide to tackle the subject you chose?

I felt like a change. I haven’t finished with Sam Williams – he will be back – but I wanted to write a psychological thriller, and I wanted a “villain” as the central character, and these things alone ruled out Sam. I’ve mentioned the interest in identity theft above – but at the same time I needed someone relatable, which meant a proper, developed back story and a person who felt real, likeable and hateable at the same time. Everything came together in Lisa.

4) What was your research process like? Did any of the research surprise you at any point? Did you refer to it during the process of writing?

I always research my locations pretty thoroughly, and I spent a lot of time discovering the landscape of Orford Ness so that I could describe it for Lisa’s final showdown. I had to do quite a lot of research for the technical element of the book, because getting things like the dark web and the deep web mixed up will really annoy people who actually know the difference, and cybercrime in general is such a big thing that getting it right was absolutely essential. I also spent a lot of time looking into blockchain for some elements that didn’t make it into the final edit of the book, but may well appear as a short companion piece at some point.

5) How does your writing process for the Sam Williams series differ from the writing process for The Lies I Tell?

The plotting and note-making was pretty similar, in that I am hugely thorough with my planning and always and up with 30 pages or so of plot skeleton to work with. There were, however, at least two significant differences: with The Lies I Tell I was dealing with dual timelines, which meant I had to ensure that the right revelations occurred at the right moments even more so than usual; and with Sam, I’ve got a fully developed central character and a host of others with existing back stories through the series, going right back to The Art of Staying Dead, the three-novel Dead North trilogy, plus two novellas. Lisa and her friends and family – and enemies – all had to be created from nothing.

6) Lastly, do you use Scrivener or MS Word? Which do you prefer and why?

MS Word. I tried Scrivener for a few months back in 2016 and did write Victims (a Sam Williams novella) using it, but I have my own set-in-stone ways of planning and plotting and making notes, and adapting my process from the combination of OneNote and MS Word to Scrivener seemed to be time-consuming with little reward. If I was starting my writing career now from scratch I’d probably give Scrivener another look, but for now, it’s Word all the way.

Thank you for your time Joel, and for stopping by the blog to discuss your latest novel.

Bio: A Londoner in exile, Joel Hames lives in rural Lancashire, England, with his wife and two daughters.
His works of fiction include the bestselling Sam Williams trilogy and the psychological thriller The Lies I Tell.
When not spending time with his family, Joel likes to eat, cook, play the piano, and make up excuses to avoid walking the dog. There’s the MMA thing, too, but he doesn’t like to show off.

Joel’s website can be found at http://www.joelhamesauthor.com where you can find out more about the writer and the books, and sign up to his email newsletter.

If you want to know what Joel has planned for the future, what he thinks right now, or just stalk him a little, you can find him on Facebook at facebook.com/joelhamesauthor or Twitter at @joel_hames. Joel has never seen the word “Joel” appear as frequently as it does right here, and wholeheartedly approves.

Book Review: Witness X by S. E. Moorhead

Witness X – sorry for the cat in the picture 😩

Blurb:

She’s the only one who can access the truth…

Fourteen years ago, the police caged a notorious serial killer who abducted and butchered two victims every February. He was safe behind bars. Wasn’t he?

But then another body is discovered, and soon enough, the race is on to catch the real killer. Neuropsychologist Kyra Sullivan fights to use a new technology that accesses the minds of the witnesses, working with the police to uncover the truth. Will Kyra discover the person behind the murders, and if so, at what cost? And how far will she go to ensure justice is served?

About the book – ‘Silence of the Lambs meets Blade Runner. S E Moorhead is the future of crime writing.’ Stephen Baxter.

My review – Where do I begin with this utterly amazing book?? Kyra, I think, is one of my favourite ever characters. Tenacious, fearsome and bloody determined are just a few of the adjectives I could use to describe Moorhead’s heroine.

When we meet her in the year 2035, Kyra is a neuropsychologist and has developed a technology that can access the minds of the witnesses of the crimes – but, as the technology hasn’t yet been deemed ‘safe’, she must tread very very cautiously.

I really really enjoyed this book. Moorhead’s ability to world build and completely grab the reader, throwing them headfirst into Kyra’s world, a retro futuristic London, was just WOW!! Kyra is such an engaging protagonist. She has her flaws, don’t get me wrong, but that’s what I love, above all, about her. Her relationships to other characters she interacts with – Tom Morgan, Jimmy in her professional line of work is a nice contrast to her relationship with her mother and her niece Molly. Everything about Kyra I loved. My only complaint was that the book wasn’t long enough!! I wanted MORE!! If you like a good serial killer thriller, with a good twist on it, you will not be disappointed! I give this book 10 stars!

Witness X is available to buy on Amazon and Kindle download.

10 Questions With… M. W. Craven

Hi everyone, today I’m delighted to welcome author M. W. Craven to the blog. Along with some really insightful and important advice for writers, he answers my questions on his writing process and what he’s been up to in lockdown.

Over to you, Mike…

1) As a child, did you have a favourite author? Was there any turning point with a particular book that made you go ‘Wow!’

My early introduction to reading was Enid Blyton’sFamous Five and Secret Seven series, but it was Watership Down by Richard Adams that was the turning point for me I think. It blew me away. I read The Hobbitshortly afterwards and had a similar reaction. I’ve been obsessed with books ever since.

2) Did you enjoy English at school? What were your set books and did you like them?

I did enjoy English at school, both Lit and Language. The books we read ranged from classics like Of Mice and Men, To Kill a Mocking Bird to more regional affairs like The Machine Gunners and A Kestrel for a Knave. I loved them all.

3) How did you find your experience firstly in the Army and secondly as a Probation Officer?

Both jobs shaped who I am today – the army through building character and, weirdly, encouraging my obsession with books. In those days, everyone read, and everyone discussed what they’d read. My 16 years in probation allowed me to see how criminals thought and how they justified their actions. When I was in senior management it also allowed me to see how a complex county like Cumbria worked. Where the real power lay, which agencies didn’t like each other.

4) What was your route to publication and how did you find your current agent?

I found my first publisher and my agent at the same place – Crime and Publishment, a crime writers residential workshop in Gretna. I met the CEO of Caffeine Nights in 2014 and my agent in 2015. Caffeine Nights signed me after I pitched to them and my agent signed me after I showed him the first book in the Fluke series.

5) Do you have any plan formed when you come up with ideas? How does your idea generation work?

I have a rough idea of how it will start and how it will end. I know the crime and I know who committed it. After that I trust my imagination will fill in all the gaps.

6) How many times, roughly, would you say that you polish a draft before you send it off to your agent?

I never edit as I write the first draft so the second draft is really a rewrite. The third draft is usually tightening up everything, often to get a more manageable word count. Draft four is me getting everything as I want it and draft five is when I change things that haven’t worked afterI’ve read the novel out loud. My wife and beta readers then get it and if I’ll make any amendments accordingly. So roughly six drafts.

7) Do you have any advice for writers looking to send their work to agents?

Same advice as my agent: get the book as good as you can get it. Don’t send something incomplete or too early in the process.

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

Fair Warning by Michael Connelly. And yes I did enjoy it, very much so.

9) On a Friday evening when you leave your desk, what’s the first thing you do? On a weekend, what do you do to relax?

It depends. Before the plague, on a Friday evening my wife and I would probably stay in and have a curry. Now during the plague, we stay in and have a curry . . .

To relax, I read or watch some of the decent dramas on TV. I walk the dog in some of the outstanding countryside we have here and, when allowed to, we go to the pub. Usually crime festivals are a big part of the year, as are going to gigs.

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

Either. I quite enjoyed Queen’s music and I saw Rod last year in Vegas. He’s the consummate showman.

Thank you for visiting the blog, Mike. It has been a pleasure to interview you.

Bio: Although he was born in Cumbria, Mike Craven grew up in the North East before running away to join the army as soon as he was sixteen. After training as an armourer for two and a half years (that’s an army gunsmith to you and I), he spent the next ten travelling the world having fun. In 1995 he left the army, and after a brief flirtation with close protection and bodyguarding, decided on a degree in social work with specialisms in criminology and substance misuse. In 1999 he joined Cumbria Probation Service as a probation officer, working his way up to chief officer grade. Sixteen years later, he took the plunge and accepted redundancy to concentrate on writing full-time, and now has entirely different motivations for trying to get inside the minds of criminals.

Between leaving the army and securing his first publishing deal, Mike found time to keep a pet crocodile, breed snakes, get married, and buy a springer spaniel named Bracken. He lives in Carlisle with his wife, Joanne, where he tries to leave the house as little as possible. Mike is also one third of Crime Ink-Corporated, a trio of northern writers who take writing out for the community and host events such as England’s first Noir at the Bar.

Mike’s first DI Avison Fluke novel, Born in a Burial Gown, was shortlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger Award. He is a member of both the Crime Writers’ Association and the International Thriller Writers’ Association.

His first book as M.W. Craven, The Puppet Show was published by Constable & Robinson in June 2018.

An Interview With… Diana Beaumont

Hi everyone, this afternoon I’m delighted to welcome literary agent Diana Beaumont to the blog. She very kindly answers my questions on what she’s looking for in submissions, as well as what she’s up to in lockdown. Details of how to submit to her are at the bottom of the Q&A.

Over to you, Diana…

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 didn’t have a clue to be honest. It was all quite organic. I studied English at university and tried out a couple of jobs – including working for an art charity – before I figured that my first love had always been books. I started working at an art publisher, Thames & Hudson, realised that I was better suited to a more general trade list and got a job at Hodder & Stoughton as an editorial assistant. When I started working the employment situation was more fluid than it is now, and internships/work placements weren’t so common. After Hodder I became a commisioning editor at Transworld then after about 8 years took a career break while I figured out what to do next and had my twin boys. In 2011 I started as a literary agent, working from home, and felt like I had found the right job for me not least because it allows you to be very autonomousbut also to work closely with authors both creatively and on the business side of things. I joined Marjacq in 2017 and it is a great fit – a boutique agency with supportive colleagues and no real hierarchy.

2) How did you find your 2012 experience of being shortlisted for The Rising Star by The Bookseller? How did it compare with the RNA shortlist in 2019?

When I was listed as a Rising Star [it wasn’t a shortlist] the year after I started as an agent it felt good, really encouraging especially as my career had taken a new direction, which was nerve-racking at times especially as I often had two crying babies in the background, even though I wasn’t new to the business. The RNA shortlist was very gratifying as a number of my clients write in this area so it felt like it celebrated them too.

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?

It tends to be a blend of all of these things. The voice is the thing that ultimately lures me in – the plot/structure can all be worked on.

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

My list is what I generally describe as smart commercial fiction and non fiction so anything in that area from social justice and lifestyle to crime novels and romantic comedies with a fresh, feminist take. I am also keen to read diverse voices that represent the world we live in. I do like a good, clear covering letter that describes what the book is, where is sits in the market and, preferably, has a good title and concept. Then, after that, it’s always down to the writing. A synopsis can be a helpful tool.

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

It is exciting – I have even felt a kind of ‘tingle’ go through me when I read something where the writing really resonates with me. I think about how I would pitch and market the author, who I would, potentially send it to and how I could help in an editorial capacity. Then you hope, of course, that you both ‘click’ and that they would be happy to be represented by you – which can be nerve-wracking. You have to be able to work well together.

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?

We are all trying to make sense of what’s going on at the moment. People are tending to want absorbing reads that aren’t too challenging right now rather than super literary novels that experiment with language and form, books that take them away from the frustrations of the lockdown although people are certainly wanting thoughtful, investigative reads in non-fiction. We also need to see books that are representive of society as a whole, including voices from those who have been marginalised. I’m a proud feminist and that tends to be reflected in the books I take on. I think there will be an appetite for the gothic at the moment an crime continues to sell well if it has a strong hook and clever twists. Ebook sales have boomed recently but obviously print has been a bit trickier but I hope that will pick up soon as bookshops open again (hurrah!).

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

Where do I begin? There are so many. I did love The Dry by Jane Harper and have eagerly read the two after that. The sense of place, in a small, remote community ravaged by drought, is so brilliantly alongside evoked alongside tight plotting and really accomplished writing.

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

I usually read for pleasure and relaxation before bed. And in the bath. I have been reading a bit more than usual during the day during lockdown. My habits haven’t changed hugely but, perhaps, like many others my concentration isn’t always the best at the moment so it has to be gripping. I’ve just finished Mrs Everything by Jennifer Weiner, which is both entertaining, thoughtful and timely. I’m now reading You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld. It’s a collection of her short stories and they are beautifully written: nuanced, thought-provoking and pull you right into the world she creates. I’ve had it sitting around for a while and so glad I picked it up. Next on the list is Half of A Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie which is one of those modern classics that I have never read so it’s about time.

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 have been watching a whole lot of series: Normal People (based on Sally Rooney’s bestselling novel) which I thought was stunning and very moving, Babylon Berlin, based on the German detective series set in the 1920s which was so rich and evocative, and more comfort tv than usual such as Father Ted (a go to for a much-needed laugh when things seem a bit much) and The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes which is amazing buildings in amazing locations, both of which we’ve watched together as a family – armchair travel at its best with adorable presenters. We also loved The Mandolorian – which took us to another galaxy!

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

Freddie Mercury all the way – I love the music, the passion, the drama, the outfitsand general fabulousness. Sorry Rod!

Thank you for visiting the blog today, Diana. It has been a pleasure to interview you!

Bio: Diana joined Marjacq in 2017. She started agenting with Rupert Heath Literary Agency in 2011 before moving to UTA. Before that she was senior commissioning editor at Transworld. Diana was chosen as one of The Bookseller’s Rising Stars of 2012. She was shortlisted for Agent of the Year 2019 by the RNA.

What she looks for in submissions: Diana represents adult fiction and non-fiction. She’s looking for upmarket women’s commercial fiction with depth and heart, accessible literary fiction, high-concept crime fiction and thrillers. On the non-fiction side Diana enjoys memoir, smart, funny feminists, lifestyle, cookery and is open to anything with a strong, original voice. She also wants to encourage submissions from writers who have been traditionally under-represented.

How to submit: Email the first three chapters along with a covering letter to diana@marjacq.com.

An Interview With… Rachel Mills

Hi everyone, today I’m delighted to welcome literary agent Rachel Mills to the blog. Rachel founded RM Literary Agency in 2019, and she kindly answers my questions on what she looks for in submissions.

Over to you, Rachel…

1) Did you see yourself becoming a literary agent after you left school? Did you actually have any other career plans?

After my A-Levels I went to dancing school! I loved dancing as much as books… but after a year realised I just didn’t have that total focus and commitment to dance above all else which you need. So then I went to my other love of books and studied English – and got my first job in publishing as a part-time job at Transworld, while I was doing my degree.

2) How are you drawn into a submission? Is it the covering letter, the proposal of the novel or the sample writing? What leaves you wanting more?

It depends on the kind of book; if it is a book where the writing is the most important thing, a literary memoir for example, the sample writing is most important as it really is your voice and use of language which will resonate, and that is a very personal thing. If it is a platform or expertise-led book intended to be ghostwritten, the author’s biography and forthcoming activities might be more important. If you can summarise your book simply and elegantly in a paragraph in the cover email, it’s going to stand out.

3) How do you know when you have connected with a manuscript? Can you describe that feeling of ‘I really want to represent this author?’

I love that feeling! It’s when you get shivers down your spine and cannot WAIT to tell everyone about it, and you can immediately think of all the editors who will love it.

4) Why did you choose non fiction work as your specialisation? What is it that attracts you to it?

I represent authors, not books – as in, it’s about the people. I love the huge variety of people from all walks of life you get to become involved with, I find it so creative and exciting to be able to bring their world together with the publishing world. I love fiction too, and of course novelists are wonderful and interesting people too, but there’s something about being able to read about someone in the news who is doing something incredible, and being able to call them and see if they’d like to do a book, which I really enjoy.

5) If you have asked to see a complete manuscript, what would make you reject the work and say it isn’t for you?

In non-fiction I very rarely do this, it’s more normal to sell on proposal.

6) Can you name one non fiction author you admire, that isn’t one of your clients, and say why you like their style of writing?

I loved Educated by Tara Westover as it was such a brilliant example of what you can do with memoir, her writing is incredible and the story so inspiring, gripping and moving.

7) Do you have one book that reminds you of your childhood? If so, which one and why?

Martha Graham’s autobiography Blood Memory. I think that’s what sent me to dancing school…

8) In lockdown, what are you currently watching on television? Are your habits changing? Mine are refusing to – I’m sticking to the crime dramas that I very much love and know.

I’m rewatching The West Wing and trying to imagine it’s the current White House! I loved the adaptation of Normal People aswell.

9) In lockdown, what are you currently reading? Are you going back to your favourite novels or finding new ones?

Both! Just reread The Debt to Pleasure which is an old favourite, and I’ve been enjoying travel writing in the absence of being able to travel – Chris Stewart, Laurie Lee. And nature writing – just read Wilding by Isabella Tree. I am loving my overflowing cookbook shelves, and in having to cook three meals a day at home, getting through so many interesting recipes and reconnecting with old favourites like Macella Hassan and Madhur Jaffrey, aswell as newer books by Diana Henry and Ottolenghi. I think I might have a classics phase next and read some Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen…

10) If you had a choice between Rod Stewart or Freddie Mercury, who would you choose and why?

Freddie Mercury, just love him. Imagine how great working with him on his autobiography would have been… very sad he didn’t have the opportunity (or desire!) to do one.

Thank you for visiting the blog today, Rachel. It has been a pleasure to interview you.

Bio:

RML was founded in 2019 by Rachel Mills. Rachel previously worked as Literary Agent at Furniss Lawton agency, within the James Grant Talent Group, and before that as Agent and International Business Director for Peters Fraser and Dunlop agency, where she was a member of the Executive Board. Prior to that she worked in publishing at Penguin and Random House. In the 16 years she has worked in the industry, Rachel has secured major publishing deals for a diverse range of authors including Jamie Oliver, Jeanette Winterson, Bear Grylls, Dr Steve Peters, Fearne Cotton, Bosh!, Catherine Gray,  Alice Vincent,  Marianne Power, Twisted, Dr Dani.

In 2015 she was awarded The Bookseller Rights Professional of the Year Award and in 2011 was nominated a ‘Rising Star’ by The Bookseller magazine.

An Interview With… Sam Eades

Hi everyone, and this morning I’m delighted to welcome Sam Eades to the blog today. She kindly took the time to answer some of my questions, mainly about how life for her in the publishing industry began, but also about her current role as a publishing director for Trapeze Books. Oh, and also what she is up to in lockdown.

Over to you, Sam…

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

I didn’t really know the publishing industry existed when I was younger! I studied English at university and spent the Summer doing work experience placements at schools, literary agents and publishers trying to work out what I wanted to do as a grownup. It wasn’t until I got my first job as a publicity assistant at Transworld that I realised exactly what the publishing industry was, and how lucky I was to be part of it!

2) What prompted you to become an Editorial/Publishing Director? Can you tell me a little about your role in the publishing process for the manuscript?

I worked as a publicist for seven years at Transworld, Headline and Macmillan which I absolutely loved. However I found myself wanting to be part of the beginning of the process of publishing a book, to determine how a book might be published and even what editorial direction to take. I initially joined Orion in a hybrid publicity and editorial role before finally joining new imprint Trapeze Books as a fully commissioning editor. Now I get my hands on every part of the publishing process! I read manuscripts and take them to acquisition. I acquire them through negotiations with agents. Then I work directly with the author on shaping the manuscript through rounds of structural and line edits. I make sure our publication runs to critical path, working with production and Ed management departments. I brief the cover, write retailer copy and back/front cover copy, and work with our digital, sales, audio, pr and marketing teams to devise a publication strategy so the book ends up in the hands of the reader in all its various formats.

3) How do you know that you have connected with a manuscript? What does an author do that leaves you wanting more?

At Trapeze I have a specific brief. I’m looking for books that start conversations, that hit the zeitgeist. If a submission is in that area I normally know I want to publish it after a few pages for me to get a sense of voice, style, story and feeling. I love authors who have something to say, where there might me two layers to the story, what’s on the page and in the spaces between the words.

4) What advice do you have for any writer looking to submit to agents and publishers?

Authors often want to circumvent the agent process and submit directly to publishers. For some genres, authors might be best served to work with publishers directly like the fantastic team at Bookouture. But having worked with some fantastic agents recently who have edited their clients work, nailed the publishing vision, and thought so carefully at submission stage, and worked so hard during negotiations – why wouldn’t you want a brilliant agent fighting in your corner? It might be time consuming finding the right agent – but ultimately they will help writers sustain careers.

5) For the author who isn’t published yet, would you recommend the traditional or indie route?

There are advantages to both! Hybrid authors like Rachel Abbott do it brilliantly, with a traditional and indie strand. I’m working with Michele Gorman who has self-published and she’s taught me so much I didn’t know about the promo side of the ebook market. I hope I’ve taught her a bit too!

6) What are your views on the crime and thriller market currently? In your view, is there a sub genre you think is in need of more representation?

I’d love to see more diverse voices writing in the crime and thriller genre. There is a fierce need for representation.

7) Do you have a genre that you read for pleasure? Is there any genre of book that you wouldn’t read?

Cosy crime. And I’ve become a much wider reader since reading for pleasure for nine months on mat leave. I still find westerns a struggle though!

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

I love Sharon Bolton, as she is so brilliant at creating atmosphere. Recently she transported me to the end of the world with her thriller The Split which is set in South Georgia.

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

I’m mainly reading emails 😂. I’ve found I’m much slower at reading submissions, but when I do get to them, I’m giving more thoughtful responses to agents.

10) 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 still watch lots of TV! I’m enjoying Schitts Creek, RuPauls Drag Race and Money Heist. So humour and drama!

Thank you for visiting the blog today, Sam. It has been a real pleasure to interview you.

Bio: Sam Eades is a Publishing Director for Trapeze Books. What she looks for: Books that start those all important conversations.

An Interview With… Katherine Armstrong

Hi everyone, and this morning I’m delighted to welcome Katherine Armstrong to the blog. Katherine first started out as a bookseller, before her current role as Editorial Director for Bonnier Books. She joined me for a few questions about what her role entails.

Over to you, Katherine…

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

As a teenager, I really wanted to be a journalist. I did some work experience at a local radio station and a local paper, but for whatever reason I just didn’t feel it was going to be quite right for me. I wasn’t sure after that what I wanted to do until my final year at university – the one where they assume you know what you’re going to do next!

I was doing a degree in English Literature (of course) and wondered about publishing. I did some research and applied for a MPhil in Publishing Studies at the University of Stirling, which I started in the October after I graduated from QUB. After Stirling, I worked for Waterstones in their smallest branch in Ocean Terminal, Edinburgh. I enjoyed being a bookseller and I learnt a lot about market trends and what sold – and what didn’t! – but I still wanted to get into publishing. I applied for whatever entry level positions I could and eventually got a three-month contract in the pre-press department at Faber & Faber in London.

From there, I applied for a six-month contract as Poetry Editorial Assistant and nearly eleven years later, I left my first job in publishing – where I’d work across poetry, non-fiction, literary fiction and crime fiction – to take up a Senior Editor role (a nine-month maternity cover) at Sphere. After that, I was lucky enough to get my current job at Bonnier Books UK where I am now Editorial Director, specialising in crime and thriller fiction. This all sounds quite straight forward and possibly easy when I write it out, but it wasn’t as clear cut when I was going through it and I would stress to anyone who wants to get into publishing: Keep at it. Perseverance is key; be useful; be pro-active and above all gain as much knowledge and make as many connections as you can! You will most likely have to start at the bottom but do that job as well as you would if you’d started at the top. Learn from every experience and get to know the industry as well as you can in preparation for that day when you might be in the one in charge and you’ll need to know how it works. Lesson over!

2) What prompted you to become an Editorial Director? Can you tell me a little about your role in the publishing process for the manuscript?

When I started in publishing my goal was to work in the editorial department. As with a lot of people, I really wanted to work with authors on their manuscripts. My current role as Editorial Director has come about from that wish, that original goal. I started as an Editorial Assistant, worked my way up through Project Editor, Editor, then Senior Editor. The title just reflects a level of seniority in terms of my career path. What I do, as opposed to say a desk editor, is that my job is to meet with literary agents and read and assess the manuscripts that they send me from their clients. I then decide if that manuscript is a) one I like; b) one I think fits on my list and c) one I think has commercial appeal. If it ticks all these boxes, then I try and acquire it from the agent and work with the author towards making it the best read it can be.

No editor can publish alone and I’m lucky to work with some great people in other departments – sales, rights, marketing, publicity, export, design, audio, digital – and as a team we work together to publish the book. But the editor is the author’s champion, both in-house and outside. They are the person who knows the book best, and it’s up to them to communicate the vision for the book to the wider team and beyond.

3) How do you know that you have connected with a manuscript? What does an author do that leaves you wanting more?

We read so much that you can tell quite early on if you’re going to enjoy a manuscript. There’s either something in the writing, or a character, that captures your attention. For me any manuscript that makes me feel like this is a book that I’ve bought in a bookshop, as opposed to something I’m reading for work, and that I want to continue reading is a manuscript that I want to acquire. A sales colleague put it brilliantly recently about a manuscript that I’m hoping to acquire (everything crossed!); he said that he resented every minute that he spent away from it and was thinking about it when he wasn’t reading it. That, to me, perfectly sums up what any editor is looking for! It’s that readability factor, that keeping you gripped, turning those pages into the wee small hours. What that is – that essence – is hard to pin down (sorry!). It can be anything from writing-style, to characterisation, to dialogue, just something that marks the manuscript and the author out as a potential acquisition.

4) What advice do you have for any writer looking to submit to agents and publishers?

Be patient. There are lots of apocryphal stories about authors who signed with the first agent they approached, who went from submitting to a massive publishing contract within minutes. It’s very easy for us to compare ourselves to others, but everyone’s writing journey is different. Yes, some people seem to find it easy to get the agent, get the publishing deal, but for every one of those people I can guarantee that there are twenty plus other writers who don’t; who spend years trying to get both.

You will be rejected. Publishing is a business based on opinions and decisions. What might be right for one editor, is not right for another. What any author wants is an agent and a publisher who gets their vision for their work, who are passionate about it, who want to continue with them on their publishing journey. As an editor, I want to take on authors who I think have a lengthy career ahead of them. For me and for the company I work for, that means I have to consider everything – do I love this book enough to champion it to everyone for a year, or more, before publication? Do I think this book can sell in the market? While I don’t make the publishing decisions alone, the viability of a manuscript is my decision – I am the one who decides if it’s right to present to the wider team. Sometimes I can see the potential of a manuscript, but it doesn’t appeal to me, it doesn’t grip me in the way that would make me want to take it on. There’s nothing wrong with it, but all literature is subjective, and I think writers, like all of us, have to get used to rejection butalso know that it’s not them that is being rejected – the rejection is an appraisal, not a judgement – the work just isn’t right for that specific editor, but there are lots of us out there, so you will find the right editor and publishing house for you!

Take on board feedback. If an agent or editor has taken the time to give you specific feedback, please do take it on board. They are doing it to genuinely help you develop the manuscript. No author can write a flawless manuscript and it’s very hard to edit yourself. Anyone who reads a lot of manuscripts and who is immersed in the market knows what sells and knows what makes a good read. There are also literary consultancies where, for a fee, you can get a trained editor to look and give feedback on your work before you submit. An agent or an in-house editor who give you feedback will be doing so for free and because even if your work isn’t quite right for them, they can see what needs to be done to improve its chances of representation. Not all agents and editors can do this as it does depend on how much time they have, so don’t expect it; but you can ask if they’re able to provide limited feedback (it might just be some bullet point notes) if at all possible. If they say they can’t, move on. Not to be preachy, but impressions are everything in this business and editors and agents do talk to each other a lot; and you never know when you might see that editor or agent again, so getting aggressive if they can’t provide feedback does you and your work no good!

5) Are Bonnier Books accepting submissions from unrepresented writers? Do you have open calls?

We aren’t at the moment, but that’s merely because of the volume of manuscripts that we receive from agents. We don’t currently have plans for any open calls on the adult fiction side at the moment either, but we’d announce anything like that on our Bonnier Books UK website or via our social media channels. If any potential writers meet editors at literary events, however, do talk to them. Don’t push your book at them as that can be awkward (sometimes we’re just there to support a writer friend!), but don’t shy away from saying that you are writing. I do know some editors who are happy to ask to see work from unrepresented writers that they’ve met at events and it’s something I’ve done myself on occasion. Again, it’s very much dependent on how much spare time an editor has as we all have authors already on our lists who will be delivering and publishing and then reading submissions from agents alongside that. Editors and agents are asked to attend readings from Creative Writing students and that’s another way for those writers to meet them. Literary festivals are another way to go as you’ll get the benefit of seeing already published writers and hearing their advice as well as potentially meeting other unpublished authors, editors and agents. Networking is a great way to not only build contacts but to connect with other writers in the same boat as you and they can provide a really great support network. Writing is such a solitary job. I think the best way I’ve heard it described is: ‘the great paradox of a writer’s life is how much time they spend alone, trying to connect with other people!’

6) What are your views on the crime and thriller market currently? In your view, is there a sub-genre you think is in need of more representation?

It’s going to be interesting to see how the current situation shapes the market. I don’t think we’ll see (or necessarily want) a lot of lockdown crime & thrillers in the next year or two, but I can imagine that a few years from now, that will change – the benefit of perspective! What seems to be coming back now is the locked-room murder mystery, as evidenced by the success of Ruth Ware and Lucy Foley, among others; and there’s a move, with Alex North, CJ Tudor etc, to mix crime thriller with horror and a touch of the supernatural, which has proven very successful. The wonderful Irish writer John Connolly has been doing that for twenty years and I highly recommend his Charlie Parker series as well. I think writers have the opportunity to play around with the genre more. Take a ‘traditional’ aspect and either subvert it or mix it with something else. Books are competing with readers attention from Netflix, phones, games, etc and we need to keep their attention once we have it. Readers want to see something ‘a bit different’ and this is a genre where you can do that, whilst still engaging them with the elements that they read the genre for.

7) Do you have a genre that you read for pleasure? Is there any genre of book that you wouldn’t read?

I’ve actually always enjoyed crime and thriller fiction. My gran got me into Agatha Christie from a young age and I loved Nancy Drew as a kid. I have a lot of crime & thriller author friends whose books I enjoy reading (quick shout out to Claire McGowan, Angela Clarke, Tom Wood and Rod Reynolds – I do have more friends though, just saying…) and I read around the genre anyway for work. I also enjoy reading group books and women’s fiction. I have a real fondness for books about books – set in bookshops etc. There’s just something about books! I’m not as keen on sci-fi; I’m afraid that I can’t get into it. Ditto dystopian fiction.

8) What was the last book you read, that wasn’t one of your clients, and if so, did you enjoy it?

I’ve almost finished The Girl Who Reads on the Metro by Christine Féret-Fleury and I’ve started The Murder Game by Rachel Abbott, both of which I’m really enjoying. The Féret-Fleury is a lovely, sweet, uplifting book and The Murder Game has a great concept and Rachel Abbott really knows how to build the tension. I’m very much looking forward to The Nothing Man by Catherine Ryan Howard in August, The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles (sadly not out till Feb), The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman (Sept)and The Readers’ Room by Antoine Laurain (also Sept).

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?

On a Friday I would sometimes go for a drink with colleagues after work, or meet friends for dinner, or I’d go home and put my feet up and watch TV with a glass of wine. Saturdays are usually (in normal times) reserved for boring life admin like food shopping, house cleaning, gardening, but also a run perhaps, definitely submission reading for work, meeting friends or having them over for dinner/drinks/BBQ, going for long walks, meeting at the pub, the cinema, the occasional pub quiz on a Sunday night. Trying to decompress before another usually busy week!

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

Hmmm. I guess that would depend on what sort of mood I’m in. If I wanted to go out dancing, then Freddie would totally be my guy. If I’m in more of a wood-fire and night-in, then it’d have to be Rod. I think on the whole though, Freddie, as I’m out most nights every week with friends or at work events and I think he’d keep the energy up and would certainly be entertaining!

Thank you for joining me on the blog today, Katherine. It has been a pleasure to interview you.

Bio: Katherine Armstrong has worked in publishing for over fifteen years and is Editorial Director for Fiction at Bonnier Zaffre, part of Bonnier Books UK. She has previously worked at Faber & Faber and Little, Brown. Her speciality is crime and thriller fiction. She was one of the founding organisers of First Monday Crime Nights in London and is programme consultant for NOIReland, a new international crime fiction festival in Belfast.

An Interview With… Gordon Wise

Hi everyone, this morning I’m delighted to welcome literary agent Gordon Wise to the blog. He was kind enough to answer my questions as to what he looks for in submissions.

Below the Q&A, you can find what he’s currently looking for.

Over to you, Gordon…

1) Did you see yourself becoming a literary agent after you left school? Did you have any other career plans?

I’d never heard of a literary agent when I left school! I only discovered publishing (as opposed to writing, or bookselling) existed when I was working in a bookshop when I was in my third year of university, and that agenting sat inside a series of Russian dolls within that. My childhood dream had been to be an architect, until I discovered you had to be good at and like maths (I threw in the towel on maths after calculus nearly killed me) and that it was a seven year course. Now I am told that the maths is all dealt with by computers. But then you have to like and be good at computers… So I think I ended up in the right place.

2) How are you drawn into a submission? Is it the covering letter, synopsis or sample writing? What can an author do to leave you wanting more?

It’s a synthesis of all three. I want the cover letter to invite me in and give a good reason to spend time on this book – it has to be an enticing pitch in itself. I’ll probably then fast forward to the sample writing, to see if I like the tone. Then if I like what I am reading I’ll wind back and look at the synopsis, to see what I’d be learning if I read further. I need to feel I’m going to enjoy and be excited by the experience of spending 3-5 hours reading the whole book, and have a sense that others would, too.

3) What do you consider a standout query letter? On the other, what wouldn’t attract you to a submission?

A good query letter will give me a great hook for what the book is about, why you’ve approached me (expressed originally, not just lifted from our website), who you think might enjoy it (perhaps a couple of authors you’d like your book to sit alongside – but don’t choose pretentious or incomparable ones – to give me a sense that you are aware of the market). I’d put down immediately something that got my name wrong, started with Dear Sir or Madam, or gave me any sense that just because you’ve written it, it’s special and that I’m obliged to read it. Win me over!

4) How do you know when you have connected with a manuscript? Is it prose, plotting or pace of the narrative?

Well, you’ve missed out character – that’s critically important. Obviously the prose must be good, but there’s many a successful book where the prose isn’t amazing. However, bad prose will be an impediment to understanding and enjoyment. Plotting is crucial, certainly in commercial fiction, but there’s no literary novel that isn’t going to benefit from having a good plot. Pace: well, get the plotting right and that should follow. In editing, you can address pace, and to some degree plot – but you have to have a good starting point, and the writer has to be open to feedback and take criticism on board. But it’s very hard to improve prose. So you do need to get your voice right.

5) Once you finish reading a manuscript submission in full, what prompts you to offer representation?

If I like the author, and I think they like and trust me, and that I think I can sell it. I see myself as a switchboard operator at that point: do I know the editors who will be the right match for this book and this author? If I can’t envisage that, then I’d need to stand aside. And if I can’t see myself working with that writer for the long term and for us to go the distance together, then we shouldn’t go forward.

6) What are your views on the crime and thriller market currently? In your view, is there a sub genre you think is in need of more representation?

Buoyant! And always looking for new voices. But the big brands are strong, so new entrants to the market really have to be offering something special to do business against the established competition. Diversity and inclusivity in all senses of those words needs far more representation in terms of setting, characters, voice. In books, we’ve still got an awful lot of catching up to do with TV in terms of not being self-conscious about this, and being confident about it.

7) Do you have a genre that you read for pleasure? Is there any genre of book that you wouldn’t read?

Books about architecture, design and gardens! An ordered antidote to the day job I suppose… I won’t read misery lit, and I find it hard, other than the classics, to get into sci fi and fantasy. Reality is interesting enough.

8) What was the last book you read, that wasn’t one of your clients, and if so, did you enjoy it?

Me by Elton John. By turns hilarious and self-deprecatingly frank.

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?

Walk home, and have a drink. Probably a stiff gin and tonic. The challenge is to get as far as taking your coat and shoes off first rather than stick your head straight into the fridge. Weekends are TV, newspapers, walks, garden, sea swimming in the summer (nothing very wild though), catching up on manuscripts and planning a few good meals. With wine.

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

Rod. I think that one-of-the-lads persona is very appealing; Freddie is almost a mythical figure and I just don’t know what it would have been like to hang out with him. Although one of my clients, Cleo Rocos, did – and even took Princess Diana to a gay bar with him!

Thank you for visiting the blog today Gordon. It has been a pleasure to interview you!

Bio: I joined Curtis Brown in 2005, but began working in the book industry in 1989 as a bookseller when I was a student. In between I was for nearly fifteen years an editor and, later, publishing director, at companies including Pan Macmillan and John Murray/Hachette. On the industry side of things, I’ve been Agent of the Yearat the British Book Industry Awards, President of the Association of Authors’ Agents, and featured in the Booksellermagazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in the publishing trade. A Guardianinterview, ‘How do I become a … literary agent’, explains the way in which I approach my work.

The catalogues on my profile page feature clients whose work represents the range of my current activities. I am assisted by Niall Harman.
CLIENTSNEWS

What I’m looking for: My tastes and expertise in non-fiction embraces history and biography, entertainment and the world of ideas. In the worlds of fiction, I focus on two strands: literary writers whose storytelling crosses over to reach beyond just the ‘literary’ reader; and both new and established terrific writers who happen to write crime.

To read more about what I am up to at the moment, read my blog at Curtis Brown Creative, and our submissions portal tells you what I am looking for right now and how to send it to me. I’ve got a reputation as a trusted collaborator, a developer of original ideas, an agent with an eye for reinvention and brand management, and a gift for editor-writer matchmaking.

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