10 Questions With… Paul Finch

Hi everyone, this afternoon I’m delighted to welcome crime writer Paul Finch to the blog. Here, Paul discusses his writing experience and his current writing process.

Over to you, Paul…

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

I’ve always had a love of books. I don’t think there is any particular title. My earliest memories of reading as a child were the Armada Ghost Books, which I found wonderfully scary, and then, when I was slightly older, the Narnia books, the Tarzan books, the Conan books. If there’s any book that really blew me away, I think it was the first adult book I read, which was Lord of the Rings. I was in my first year at middle-school at the time, and I remember my English teacher being very impressed when she heard I’d read it. The Wow moment probably came at the battle of Helm’s Deep. After a lot of scene-setting and character development, which, at that tender age I’d struggled with a little, Tolkien suddenly hit us with this tremendous action sequence, which went on for page after page. I remember my hair standing on end, I found it so exciting. But probably the real Wow moment in my literary life came when I was very young. My father, who was the one who’d later encourage me to read all these books, used to tell me stories when I was too young to read them myself, and one of the earliest I can remember was Beowulf and Grendel. The image of the snowbound Viking hall, which this terrible monster visited every night to kill everyone he found there purely for the pleasure it gave him, and then one night, this lone warrior was waiting for him in the darkness, burned itself into my mind. Even as a real youngster the dramatic power of storytelling was unleashed on me in that moment.

2) Did you enjoy English at school?

I wasn’t the most attentive pupil when I was at school. I wasn’t one of the bad boys, but all I wanted to do was play rugby league and listen to rock music. However, if there were two subjects I did enjoy it was English and History. History was a more scholarly exercise, involving lots of learning by rota, but I still found it interesting. But English just seemed to come naturally to me. I never really understood at the time that I had a creative bent, but my English teachers seemed to recognise this and encouraged it. So, I owe a lot to Miss Durkin and Sister Bridget (wherever they are now), who were very receptive to whatever undeveloped ability I had in those early days.

3) You first started out as a scriptwriter for The Bill. How did you find your experience?

Writing for television in my experience, and bear in mind that I haven’t done it for quite a while now, is a very different discipline from novel writing. Okay, in both worlds you’reselling your personal expression, so you’ve got to be interesting, relevant and entertaining. There is no room in either for slack work. But when writing for TV, and certainly this was the case with The Bill, a twice and sometimes thrice-a-week drama, which never took a break, speed and deadline were really important. This created intensive pressure, which wasn’t enjoyable and wasn’t always conducive to doing great work. That said, The Bill was the best cop show in British history, in my view, and while I don’t have fond memories of some aspects of working on it, what I would say is that, when I first arrived there at the end of the 1980s, I was very raw indeed – I’d only got through the door because I was a serving police officer – and yet I then found myself being coached in what was one of the best script departments in British television. My first few script editors were remarkable in what they managed to draw out of me. Everything I was able to do in later years, when writing television or film drama, short stories or novels, I pretty much owe to that hectic period in my life.

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

Getting an agent is very important if you are serious about writing, but I’m not the best example of how to do it. Because I’d approached The Bill off my own bat, and they’d found a policeman wanting to write for the show intriguing enough to give me a whirl, I got through the door without an agent. And of course, once I was inside, I had no trouble getting one. That would not have happened in normal circumstances and probably wouldn’t happen at all nowadays as British network TV produces less original drama generally.

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

The main plan is to ensure that the idea is noted down somewhere. I always, even when on holiday, have a pad with me or a Dictaphone, in case an idea springs to mind. I get it down ASAP, and then, when I’m home, add it to one of my ideas files. I have three of these now, and they’re all as thick as telephone directories. Some entries are nothing more than a page with a single line of text on it, but at least the idea has been recorded. That way I don’t have to clutter my memory up with them, and yet, if my agent calls at some future time and says everyone’s now looking for such and such a thing, or an anthology editor asks me if I’ve got anything involving this or that, I can go back to my files and flick through. 

If I say so myself, some ideas are so good that I feel they need to be written in full there and then, but that doesn’t happen much these days. I’m glad to say that I’m so thoroughly commissioned now that there is rarely time to write on spec. However, I do raid my ideas files before I sit down with my editors at Orion to discuss the next book. It’s always nice to be able to lay out 20 different thoughts. Almost invariably, at least one of them strikes gold.

How to generate ideas is a question often asked and yet very hard to answer honestly. I don’t think I’m speaking purely for myself if I say that I genuinely don’t know where the ideas come from. They can hit me at any time in any place, tripped off by who knows what. I think I’m just fortunate in that I’m receptive to this stuff. It helps of course, that since I turned full-time pro, I’m doing my dream job. I don’t really have working hours because I enjoy it so much. Hence, I’mpondering projects all the time. I even find it fun to have an ideas bash. I often do this with my wife, Cathy. Strangely, we’re particularly productive in this regard when we go out for dinner (at least that’s my excuse; it gets me a lot of dinners). Anyway, we bounce ideas around while we scoff, discussing what will work and what won’t. But the ideas themselves tend to germinate on their own. They literally just fly at me out of the blue. 

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

I’m very finickity. My wife, Cathy, would say that I’m too much of a perfectionist. I go over stuff repeatedly, trying to get everything right and even then, I never like it the moment it’s been published. But that’s my personal problem and something I have to overcome each time.

I suppose a straightforward answer would be that the process is as follows:

During the first draft, my priority is getting it down. Just getting a novel down in full, even if it’s not in refined format, is half the overall job. That means you’ve broken the back of the physical work. The second draft is the real writing: the refinement, the improvement, the cutting and tweaking. But you’ve done the heavy lifting by then, so it’s more pleasurable. I even find this part relaxing, so I often play mood music in the background. The third draft is the final read-through, and that’s where the ‘are you being too picky?’ thing comes in. You can waste hours tinkering. You can end up with paralysis by analysis. My advice on the third draft is dot every i and cross every t that needs it, and then get it out to whoever’s expecting it. Because there’ll be more drafts to come when they have their say.

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

Well, there are lots of literary agencies out there. They all have an online presence now, and some of them – not all, but some – will take on unsolicited submissions. That makes it easier to approach them than it used to be. But it’s still difficult because there are lots of people jockeying for their attention, so you have to hit them with your very best stuff.

It might also help catch their attention if you’ve got some kind of track record in terms of publication. In that – and I’m sorry if this is something that some folk don’t want to hear – I’m not really talking about self-published material unless it’s done very well. Being published by someone else, i.e. having already persuaded another editor or publisher that your work is of sufficient interest for him/her to invest in, will be a good sign to an agent. Even if you’ve earned next to nothing from it, even if your sale was ‘4theluv’, it also shows that you have finished material, which means that you’re prepared to put the work in. No agent, in my experience, is going to be interested if you’ve got great ideas but no written work to show them. On the other hand, if you’ve produced work that someone has already liked enough to give a showcase to, that’s prettyimpressive. It also helps if you’re still bursting with ideas andcontinuing to write hard, as they won’t be especially interested in a one-hit wonder. They’re not just looking for people who are good, but people who are good and willing to work.

They’re also looking for people who are prepared to take criticism and to refine their product accordingly. As a writing professional, I’d be completely turned off by anyone who thinks they are the finished article. None of us is. Unless you strive constantly for improvement and are prepared to take professional advice on board, or at least to consider it, your career will inevitably regress – and that’s not someone anyone wants to work with.

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

I read widely, my taste ranging across the spectrum from crime and thriller fiction (perhaps obviously), to horror, sci-fi, fantasy, historical and literary fiction. I usually read about a book a week, though on holiday it can be a book a day. I’m an avid reader, and I devour the writers I like, usually then reviewing the work in detail on my blog (https://paulfinch-writer.blogspot.com/). The last book that made a big impact on me was probably The Reddening by Adam Nevill. It’s a violent folk-horror set in Devon, and it’s terrifying. It’s a normal-sized novel but was a two-day read for me because I couldn’t put it down. Adam’s work is terrific in that regard. He’s a real page-turner.

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?

Weekends are a mixed bag for me. I often work them, at least during the daytime, especially at present because there’s not much else to do. I still like to have a weekend, though, if I can. I tend to finish on Friday late afternoon – say half-four or five – and walk my dogs up to the local, where I meet Cathy,and we have a few jars together and then bring a takeaway home. That to me is a perfect Friday evening, especially if there is something good to watch later on. Sometimes, if there are a few friends in the pub, it can go on all night, though hooking up with friends – everyone bringing a dish, everyone bringing a case of beer – is usually more a Saturday thing. That’s normally our summertime arrangement, though Heaven knows what’s going to happen this year. We also like going to the flicks and to the theatre. Cathy and I love to see other parts of the country as well. Britain’s full of dog-friendly hotels these days, so now that our kids are grown up, we get on the road a lot. We’ve got some favourite places, some real hideaways. You can’t beat that kind of weekend. At some point soon, I’m sure (hoping) it will all start again.

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

It’s an interesting question. Both rocked hard in their early days and were supported back then by bands in the form of The Faces and Queen who weren’t just mesmerizingly talented but served as progenitor heavy rock bands, much the way Led Zeppelin, The Who and Deep Purple did, so how could I not like them both? It might be tempting to say that Freddie was so energised that he burned out and died young without fulfilling all his enormous potential, but that obviously isn’t true. He was still at the peak of his power when we lost him, and terribly, terribly unfortunate. Rod, of course, has shown arch professionalism and staying power all his career, maintaining his profile, continuing to diversify and always putting on a show. I think, looking back on it, Freddie did the sort of stuff I love in music – giving high-octane performances, producing proper, gritty hard rock – more often than Rod did, though both were capable of it and neither did it all the time. So, I’d probably opt for Freddie, I guess. Tough choice, though.

Thanks for letting me interview you, Paul. Finding out about your writing process has been fascinating.

An Interview With… Jordan Lees

Hi everyone, this evening I’m delighted to welcome literary agent Jordan Lees to the blog. He was kind enough to answer a few of my questions as to what he looks for in submissions.

What he looks for is also detailed after the interview.

Over to you, Jordan…

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

I knew I wanted to work with books but I didn’t really know what a literary agent was until I started looking into publishing jobs. The more I researched, the more I found agenting the most appealing, so I focused on applying for internships at agencies. One summer I interned at Jonathan Clowes, which was a brilliant experience, and from then on knew I wanted to be an agent. The only other thing I considered was doing a literature PhD after my Masters but in the end felt more excited by publishing.

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?

I think the cover letter is important. It’s the first example of your writing we’re going to see so it’s worth putting time into it. It should quicklyaddress the most important questions. What genre is your book? What are some comparison authors or books? What it’s about? Why might I be the right agent for it? It’s best not to overload the cover letter, just hit the key points. You aren’t going to get an agent based on the cover letter but if it’s confused or badly-written it will raise some red flags. After that, I’d probably read the sample writing before the synopsis. Hopefully the cover letter will give me a flavour of the book without having to know the entire plot. Fromthe sample writing I want a strong voice and a grabbing opening, and I want to feel as though the writing is well-suited to its particular market. If I’m excited by the writing I’ll check the synopsis to get a better sense of the story, how original it is and how it might be pitched to a publisher.

3) How do you know that you have connected with a manuscript?

The most important thing is that I really want to keep reading it. When I’m not reading it, am I excited to go back and read on? Do I care about the characters and need to find out what happens next? Do I want to tell my colleagues all about it? These are the questions I’d think about when considering a manuscript, and help guide me when considering whether to take things further. The truth is I get sent a lot of technically good writing but if I don’t absolutely love it that’s a sign that I’m not the best agent for it – I really enjoy editorial work so I’d need to want to read it over and over, and if I don’t love it that’s going to impair my ability to sell it.

4) What, currently, are you not looking for? Do you mind if an author blends genres in their writing?

I’m open to a broad range of genres but I’m not really looking for women’s fiction, fantasy, sci-fi, YA or children’s, and that’s purely because I don’t typically read in those areas and so wouldn’t be the best agent for them. I’m interested in anything which blends genres but it’s tricky to do well – you’re trying to appeal to two different strands of readers who might have very different expectations about a book, so it needs a lot of care and thought to hit the sweet spot.

5) What would make you reject a manuscript, if you have asked to see the completed work?

There’s a lot of different reasons but the most common is simply that its hold on me fades as the book goes on. It might be that it becomes too slow and loses tension or intrigue after a strong opening. It could be that it becomes too confused and you lose sight of where the book is going or what the author wants to achieve. Perhaps the author hasn’t put as much care into the entire book as they have into the opening – that’s why it’s so important to have edited and honed the entire manuscript before sending out to agents.

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

Not so much a sub-genre but crime and thrillers from different backgrounds are still shamefully under-represented, whether that’s different ethnicities, classes or members of LGBTQ+ communities. But that’s likely true of all areas of writing, not just crime/thrillers. Generally, it’s still a dominant genre and there’s a huge appetite from publishers. I think police procedurals are tougher now because there’s so much out there and that space is dominated by some very big authors. Anything speculative or really fresh like The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle or the upcoming Eight Detectives is particularly exciting, I think, but there is still a lot of room for great crime and thrillers of all kinds.

7) Is there one book from your childhood that you still read now? If so, why are you still drawn to it? Mine is any of the Harry Potter series and the Horrid Henry books. I was a huge fan of the novels and my six year old self had nightmares about Voldermort.

I still read Alice in Wonderland every so often. I find the complete nonsense quite calming.

8) What are your views on book to film or television adaptations? Do you prefer the book or the film versions?

I guess it’s a mix. It’s hard when you absolutely love a book to enjoy the screen adaptation as much, I think. There will always be elements changed or removed that affect your enjoyment. I’m a big fan of Cormac McCarthy and I didn’t like the movie for The Road, but so much of what made that book beautiful to me was the writing itself. On the other hand, I didn’t love the book for No Country For Old Men but I thought the film was incredible.

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

When there isn’t a pandemic the first thing I’d do is my lengthy commute from Central London to Essex. Usually I read on the way home and then just relax with the family.

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

I’m not a huge fan of either but I’d probably choose Freddie because Rod Stewart is a Celtic fan and I come from a family of Rangers fanatics.

What I’m looking for:

He represents crime/thrillers of all stripes (whether commercial or literary) and detective fiction, dystopian/speculative fiction, literary fiction, true crime and smart non-fiction.

He is particularly drawn to writing with a real sense of atmosphere and has a soft spot for anything dark and strange. Some of his favourite writers are Patricia Highsmith, John Fowles, Cormac McCarthy and Gillian Flynn. Some recent books he has enjoyed are:

  • The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley
  • Lanny by Max Porter
  • Lullaby by Leïla Slimani
  • His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet
  • Snap by Belinda Bauer

He is not currently looking for sci-fi and fantasy, women’s fiction, children’s and YA.

Thank you for letting me interview you Jordan. It has been a real pleasure to have you!

An Interview With… Nelle Andrew

Hi everyone, and today I’m delighted to welcome literary agent Nelle Andrew to the blog. Nelle is a literary agent at the Rachel Mills Literary Agency, and previously worked at Peters, Fraser and Dunlop. She was kind enough to answer a few of my questions on what she looks for in submissions.

Over to you, Nelle…

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

I didn’t know what a literary agent was until I was 23! I decided I was going to be an author and I only got a job in publishing to supplement my income until this great moment was going to arrive. I started off working as a trade publisher and then and only then, did I find out about agents. It was Andrew Kidd, who I worked with, who first told me about them and when he changed careers to become one, I accosted him in his office to find out all I could.  I decided an agency would be a better fit and I worked there while writing my book and after I got published. But then in one of life’s little ironies, I discovered I liked agenting more than I liked writing. It was in pursuit of another goal that I ended up finding my true calling. 

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?

The first thing I notice is the pitch in the covering letter…if I don’t respond to it then I don’t read further. That may sound harsh but in a bookshop – when we used to be able to browse there – people pick up books and read the back and if that doesn’t suit them, they put it down. As an agent my first approach with submissions is to think like a consumer and if I can see myself putting it down, I move on very quickly. Then if that works I know from the quality of writing in the sample chapters. If by the first 3 chapters I don’t know what the purpose of the book is, who it is for or what it is trying to connect to, then I know it is not for me.

3) How do you know that you have connected with a manuscript?

I imagine someone else selling it in The bookseller and if I feel sick at the thought, I know it should be mine. At that point I get very very zealous. It’s a weird twisting feeling in my gut like a pull. I can’t begin to describe it but it’s always there without fail.

4) What, currently, are you not looking for? Do you mind if an author blends genres in their writing?

Honestly I am really looking for something fresh and engaging…I don’t really mind what it is, although my taste always leans to that sweet spot of commercial literary fiction – that is quality writing with a strong plot. I really need narrative but I also want to be transported. I want stories about people and life that teaches me something about the world while also making me reevaluate how I think about it. But mostly I am interested in people – their truths, however dark, however uncomfortable, however good. 

5) What would make you reject a manuscript, if you have asked to see the completed work?

If it veers off the rails spectacularly, or doesn’t fulfil the promise of its opening chapters. An opening to a manuscript gives one a sense of what the author is going to deliver and if the author doesn’t fulfil that, well then it’s done…I know that sounds vague but actually it’s very simple. Either you are writing for yourself or writing for a reader. The latter fulfils and the former, does not.

6) What are your views on the crime and thriller market? In your opinion, is there any other sub-genre in need of more representation?

Crime and thriller will always abound…I tend not to look at trends. I just want a damn good book. In terms of more representation – write the book you would want to read. If it doesnt exist, then make it exist

7) Is there one book from your childhood that you still read now? If so, why are you still drawn to it? Mine is Goodnight Mister Tom. I first read the novel in Year Six at the age of ten, and the film scared the living daylights out of me. But for me, that was my book that made me want to become a writer – that book was my turning point!

Omg. – I CAPTURE THE CASTLE and TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD…they are so insightful and transportive and they tug at the heart in a way that I can never resist. They make me incredibly sad and yet incredibly hopeful and that’s genius right there – to straddle these two paradoxes in the soul.

8) What are your views on book to film or television adaptations? Do you prefer the book or the film versions?

It depends on the book – I much prefer the LOTR movies to the books which – to my mind – are as dry as toast. I feel strongly that differing mediums are meant to do different things and shouldnt be slaves to one another. ROOM is a great book and a great film and while the essence and spirit is the same, it is clever in terms of how much its audience can take depending on the medium because it’s a different experience and it respects the story but also respects the audience. 

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

Ha – I work from home on Fridays anyway but I don’t relax. This is what my husband would tell you. I read and eat and hang out with my kid and friends (back in the day when you could do that) but I never switch off…half my mind is always on work. I don’t know why – I just cannot stop. I dont think I am built to stop and much as it grieves my loved ones, I’ve accepted that about myself. I just love what I do.

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

Haha! Random but OBVIOUSLY Freddie…that story is full of pathos and tragedy and I have always always loved an underdog/outsider. The person who does not fit but that difference becomes their strength as well as their downfall. And his pain is everywhere in his music, but told in a paletable way, with a wink and a nod because he knows you cannot take it but he hopes, just for a second, you might really see him and not shy away.

Bio:

Nelle Andrew joined RML in 2020. She previously worked as an agent at Peters Fraser and Dunlop for eleven years, and prior to that at Macmillan publishers. Nelle represents an array of internationally bestselling and award-winning authors across both fiction and non-fiction. Among those on her list are Sara Collins (winner of the Costa Debut fiction award), Jing-Jing Lee (a longlistee for the Women’s Fiction Prize and Walter Scott prize), Beth Underdown and Cecilia Ekback (HWA Goldsboro Award winners) and six Richard and Judy book club picks such as the bestselling Heidi Perks, Bryony Gordon and Elizabeth Day.

Nelle was a Bookseller Rising Star in 2016 and was shortlisted for Agent of the Year in 2018. Nelle also became a published author in her own right under the name Nelle Davy. She helped to build the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize for Unpublished Authors into one of the most eminent prizes for unpublished voices, and sat on the original board for The Sunday Times/PFD Young Writer’s Award.

Thank you for letting me interview you, Nelle. It has been a pleasure to hear about what you look for.

10 Questions With… Gina Kirkham

Hi everyone, and this morning I’m delighted to welcome Gina Kirkham to the blog. Gina is a retired police officer, from Merseyside Police and is now the writer of the successful Constable Mavis Upton novels. She was kind enough to answer a quick question or three about her journey to publication.

Over to you, Gina…

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

Enid Blyton was my favourite author as a child. I loved the Famous Five series, they conjured up such exciting adventures and even now when I read them to my grandchildren, it brings back the cosy glow of my own happy childhood. The one book that was a complete turning point for me was To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee. I read this as part of my school curriculum for English Literature. I was truly moved by the subject and devoured every word.

2) Did you enjoy English at school?

Absolutely! I loved it, closely followed by Art and History. English Language was fun, I had a great teacher who actively encouraged my imagination and the understanding and use of words.

3) I know that you are retired from Merseyside Police. How did you find that the job helped you in your writing?

I think only from the point of view that I was pretty good at paperwork and in particular statement taking. During my initial training my Tutor Constable was guiding me through the details of how to take a good statement for court purposes. She told me I had to paint a picture, so the court and a jury could see, feel and almost smell the incident I was evidencing. It made perfect sense because frequently I would be trying to put into writing the most horrific details that can sometimes be sanitised by the telling. Many years later they rolled out a new scheme called Victim Impact Statements. These were in addition to the initial evidential statements, where you could describe the emotional aspect and the psychological impact of a crime.
It was all excellent grounding for my writing. When you write, the story and characters are only in your head and you have to turn them into living creatures with a tale to tell. Your readers have to be able to see, hear, feel and smell your characters, to believe that they are actually there with them as the story unfolds. You give them all the senses through your words.

4) What is the best thing about Urbane Publications? Why did you choose them?

I loved their creative, proactive and personal approach to publishing. They are very author focused and encourage us to have a say in the process of getting our work out there. When I initially queried publishing houses with my first manuscript, Handcuffs, Truncheon and a Polyester Thong, I had two acceptances, Urbane being one of them. After speaking to their Publishing Director, Matthew Smith on the telephone, I had no hesitation at all, I loved his enthusiasm and just from reading the manuscript he was excitedly discussing how he could see the book cover. I’ve been with Urbane Publications for almost four years now and they have published all three of the Mavis Upton series.

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

Oooh, now that’s a bit of an awkward one. I’d love to say that I meticulously plan out a plot, draft chapter ideas, pin notes on boards etc., but I don’t. I’m really spontaneous and quite random in how I write. I’m lucky because I already had an established character in Mavis, and as she was based on me, I knew how she was going to develop and as some of the stories are true, that helped to keep the flow. I tend to sit at my laptop with a beginning a middle and and end scribbled on a jotter and then just write from the heart. I can hear the ‘conversations’ my characters have in my head, as though they are real and I just furiously type until I’m finished.
That’s the first draft……then follows weeks of moving chapters around, editing, rewrites, killing superfluous characters off and identifying spelling bloopers until I’m happy with it. You have to get it down on paper first in order to create it!

6) Can you name one author that you admire, and why you like their particular style of writing? What is it about their stories that you find so intriguing?
Peter James. I find his books extremely well researched and his writing flows. As they’re a series, it’s enjoyable to remain with the main protagonist throughout, to see how they and the storyline develops.

7) What is your approach to planning your novel? Mine consisted of research and note taking (lots of each!)

I’m a terrible people watcher so wherever I am, I study people, their mannerisms, dialect, accents, body language and character. In my latest book, Blues, Twos and Baby Shoes, Cora May Spunge and Agatha Hortensia Winterbourne are both based on two elderly ladies I met at a Women’s Institute talk. I just loved their interaction and innocent wit whilst they sat drinking tea.

8) What was the last book you read, and did you enjoy it?
Highgate by Shani Struthers. Although I write humour, I’m a huge crime and supernatural fan. Shani is one of my favourite authors for tales of ghosts, the supernatural and psychic investigations. I always enjoy her books, so much so I’ve just started her latest, Mandy.

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?

Being retired, I don’t have a particular structure to my days (or weeks), working shifts for so long meant I had already adapted to having ‘weekends’ in the middle of the week, so days and weekends just seem to roll along into one. I can just as easily be found in the Butterfly House at Chester Zoo with my grandchildren as I can be behind my desk, I love gardening, reading and I’m a huge Harry Potter addict, so if the weather is bad, I have duvet days watching every film back to back.

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


I do like them both but I think I’d have to plump for Freddie Mercury. He was such a talented man, his showmanship was exhilarating and that voice!

AUTHOR BIO & BOOKS
Gina Kirkham began her career in front-line policing as a single parent in her early thirties. During her time with Merseyside Police she received several commendations and in 2000 she was awarded Police Officer of the Year.

Her debut novel, the humorous HANDCUFFS, TRUNCHEON AND A POLYESTER THONG, was published in May 2017 by Urbane Publications. July 2018 saw the launch of the second book in the series, WHISKEY, TANGO, FOXTROT, and the third, BLUES, TWOS and BABY SHOES was published in October 2019. The series tells the story of single mum Mavis Upton, as she tackles everything life can throw at her in the funny but poignant account of an everyday woman who one day followed a dream to become a later-life police officer and provide for her child.
Gina is now retired from Policing and lives on the Wirral with her long suffering husband, two wayward, unruly dogs and the welcome distraction of three wonderful grandchildren and a weekly bottle of gin.

HANDCUFFS, TRUNCHEON AND A POLYESTER THONG (Constable Mavis Upton Book 1) Meet Mavis Upton.
As mummy to 7-year old Ella, surrogate to far too many pets and with a failed marriage under her belt, Mavis knows she needs to make some life- changing decisions. It’s time to strike out into the world, to stand on her own two feet … to pursue a lifelong ambition to become a Police Officer. I mean, what could go wrong?
Supported by her quirky, malapropism-suffering mum, Mavis throws herself headlong into a world of uncertainty, self-discovery, fearless escapades, laughter and extra-large knickers. And using her newly discovered investigative skills, she reluctantly embarks on a search to find
her errant dad who was last seen years before, making off with her mum’s much needed coupon for a fabulous foam cup bra all the way from America.
Follow Mavis as she tackles everything life can throw at her, and revel in Gina Kirkham’s humorous, poignant and moving story of an everyday girl who one day followed a dream.


WHISKEY, TANGO, FOXTROT (Constable Mavis Upton Book 2)
The laughter continues to flow in Gina Kirkham’s brilliant sequel to the
wonderful Handcuffs, Truncheon and a Polyester Thong.
Our hapless heroine Constable Mavis Upton is preparing to step down the aisle with her fiancé Joe, but has to deal with her temperamental teen daughter, as well as investigate a serial flasher on a push bike.
Throw a diva drag queen into the mix and readers can expect the usual hilarious Mavis mishaps that made the first book such a hit. Revel in Gina Kirkham’s humorous, poignant and moving stories of an everyday girl who one day followed a dream.

BLUES, TWOS AND BABY SHOES (Constable Mavis Upton Book 3)
Constable Mavis Upton is back, and this time she’s taking no prisoners –
which is never good for a police officer.
Mavis is pregnant, as is her daughter Ella. Facing the prospect of motherhood and being a grandmother simultaneously the last thing Mavis needs is problems at work. But a new sexist dinosaur of a Sergeant is more bully than mentor, and a mysterious case involving a blackmailer sending poison pen letters is baffling the police and tearing apart the local community.
Can Mavis juggle impending motherhood and her career, maintain a loving relationship with her other half Joe and deal with being a grandmother, all
whilst solving the case?
Well, this is Constable Mavis Upton…literally anything is possible

Thanks for featuring on my blog, Gina. It has been a pleasure to have you!

10 Questions With… Suzy Aspley

Hi everyone, and this morning I’m delighted to welcome Suzy Aspley to the blog. Suzy is a crime writer, and resides in Glasgow with her family. As a fellow subbing writer (where you are preparing your very much loved novel for agents), she was kind enough to answer a couple of questions for me.

Over to you, Suzy…

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

I’ve always loved stories and was a bookworm as a child. I loved Enid Blyton books especially the Faraway Tree and the Wishing Chair ones (was never really a Famous Five fan). I was also a pony mad child, so loved books by Christine Pullien-Thompson. I recall one called Three Ponies and Shannon about a girl who rode around the countryside solving puzzles with an Irish Wolfhound at her side. I imagined I was that character! I think books that made me go Wow came later when I went to university.

2) Did you enjoy English at school?

I loved English at school. I was always writing stories and reading. I remember I even used to write poems on my bedroom wall (my poor parents). My brain has always worked better with words and pictures, rather than numbers. That helped when I went to Northumbria Uni
where I studied modern and contemporary lit and came across books like One Hundred Years of Solitude, House of the Spirits, Beloved and Oranges are not the Only Fruit which changed my reading behaviour again. As well as crime fiction, I love to read books with a magical realist edge too.


3) Do you find that your day job helps you in your writing?

I spent more than 12 years working as a news and features writer on a newspaper, so that definitely helped. I’ve done a few jobs in PR too, although writing press releases is not quite the same. I’ve worked in the NHS for more than 10 years running a communications team and it’s a job I love, but a couple of years ago realised I’d lost touch with the creative part of me that loved writing. I started going to a night class which got me writing short stories again and my partner booked me on a crime writing retreat with some of my favourite authors in the Scottish Highlands. That was a turning point. I spent a brilliant week with Louise Welsh and Stuart MacBride, and Yrsa Sigurdadottir was our guest reader. That was the week I started my first book. An idea given to me during a writing exercise turned on a tap in my head and the book started to flow from that. I remember I was so buzzing with ideas that I had to stop the car on the three hour drive home to write some more of the story. I also made amazing friends that week and we’ve all been back several times together and support each other at events.

4) Are you on the lookout for an agent? If so, how is your submission process going?

Yes, I’m looking for an agent. I’m keen to take the traditional route. 2019 was an amazing year for me. I took part in a national tweet pitch in January and had quite a bit of interest from that. Then with the encouragement of brilliant friends including those authors mentioned, plus Mari Hannah, Alison Belsham and Susi Holliday in particular, I took part in pitching competitions last year. I pitched to Dragon’s Pen at Theakston’s Old Peculier last summer in Harrogate. I’d never done it before and was petrified. But I had such amazing response. The whole panel said they loved the sound of my book and asked to see it when ready. Jacky Collins (aka Dr Noir) gave me some wonderful chances to read at Noir at the Bar events and I then took part in Pitch Perfect at the Bloody Scotland crime fest in September and was stunned when I won it. The week after, my submission to the London Capital Crime Festival, was shortlisted as one of ten DHH Literary Agency New Voices. All of this gave me the momentum to submit, although to date, that has mostly been to agents and publishers who had requested to see my MS. I do need to start sending out to more agents in a more planned way and I’m hoping that this year, I’ll find the right agent.

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

I get ideas all of the time and in fact it’s become a bit of a joke that I see stories everywhere. Although not a planner, I do have a series of books outlined (mostly in my head) for my MC journalist Martha Strangeways. I’ve already started book two and have ideas for three and four simmering away in my head. I’m often prompted by everyday things. Someone I see on a train, a name that catches my attention, a story I hear about something that’s happened to a friend. My imagination takes over and often quite quickly turns into something dark.


6) Can you name one author that you admire, and why you like their particular style of writing? What is it about their stories that you find so intriguing?

So many authors it’s hard to choose. In fact I can’t! One of the first I read in crime fiction was Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s Thoraseries. There’s often an edge of the supernatural in her books, that ends being rooted in something quite ordinary and I love that, as well as the landscape and sense of atmosphere she creates. Mari Hannah’s Kate Daniels books take me back to my North-east roots and I can visualise all of the places she takes her characters to. I love Louise Welsh’s Plague Times trilogy, which seems very present just now and for a complete departure, I adore Katherine Arden’s Winternight Trilogy which is rooted in Russian Fairytales with a very dark edge.


7) What is your approach to planning your novel? Mine consisted of research and note taking (lots of each!)

To be honest, I find it very hard to plan, although I know it would probably make life much easier. Bizarrely, I find that doing tweet pitches is a place to start. If you can boil your idea into the length of a tweet, for me it’s like planting a tiny seed and it just grows from there in my head. I pitched another two ideas in the Xponorth tweet pitch in January again and had loads of interest. I may end up just releasing a book of tiny pitches! The downside is that I need to go back and do quite a lot of reordering and structural work if it’s not been all planned out.

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

I read a lot and recently loved Alison Belsham’s second in her Tattoo Thief series Her Last Breath. A breathless and brilliant read and can’t wait until The Embalmer is out too. A debut novel which I’d recommend is Eve Smith’s The Waiting Rooms published by Orenda. It’s a stunning book about a post antibiotics crisis, which has alarming similarities to how the current pandemic is playing out.

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?

I usually ask my youngest son how his day has gone and then take my crazy dogs for a walk in the local woods. The problem is, my main character finds the dead body of a teenage boy with a poem about crows written on his back in those woods, so depending how lonely it is down there it can be anything but relaxing..

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

Always Freddie. I was lucky enough to see him perform with Queen at Roker Park stadium in Sunderland in my teenage years and he had such an incredible voice and presence. A legend in every sense of the word.

Bio:

South Shields born Suzy Aspley started her book after a writing prompt, six human teeth in a matchbox, reminded her of a story she once covered as a reporter. She’s lived in Scotland for more than 25 years and was a journalist on a regional newspapers for more than a decade. After pitching successfully at Dragon’s Pen, she won Bloody Scotland’s Pitch Perfect competition, she was shortlisted as a new writer at the inaugural Capital Crime Festival in 2019. Her debut novel One for Sorrow is currently out for submission.

Thank you for visiting the blog today, Suzy. I wish you all the best with your submission process!

10 Questions With… Brian McGilloway

Hi everyone. This afternoon I’m delighted to welcome Brian McGilloway to the blog. Brian is a crime writer and English teacher, based in Ireland, and he was kind enough to answer a couple of my questions.

Over to you, Brian…

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


I’d had a few. I remember reading John Diamond by Leon Garfield, a mystery story set in Victorian London, when I was about ten and loving it. As a teenager, I was a fan of SE Hinton and The Outsiders in particular. Her novel That Was Then, This is Now had that wow moment where you feel like the world has shifted under you. The idea that someone could write their own book while a teenager made me want to write even more than I already had.

2) Did you enjoy English at school?


I loved it – and that’s possibly why I’ve become an English teacher now. I actually started studying Biological Sciences at university and managed it for about two months before transferring into English. It was the right decision.

3) Do you find that your day job helps you in your writing?

I suppose it does in that it’s a very social job and so you’re constantly meeting people and hearing stories which is only ever helpful to writers as we’re all magpies of a sort anyway. It also offers me a contrast to the silence and isolation of writing, so the two work as nice counterpoints to one another.

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

I was first published by Pan Macmillan under their New Writing scheme which was designed to find new writers. I found my first agent after he picked up a copy of my first book from a bookstore in London called Goldsboro books which has been a huge supporter of my work since Borderlands. Fittingly enough, the owner, Dave Headley, set up an agency himself a few years back and I’m now with him, so there’s a nice symmetry to that.

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

Ideas are everywhere so that’s not difficult. The hard part is picking ones which have legs to sustain an 80,000 word story. I normally allow things to float about in my head for a few months or longer until I’ve looked at them for all angles and worked out the patterns that could run through the story.

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


I do my first draft and then a second run through before I show it to my agent. It would get another check over then before going to my editor. I tend to do a fairly brutal self-edit between draft one and two so hopefully it’s in presentable shape by that stage to be seen by someone I trust. Normally a book will have had 5 -7 runs through it before it goes to print.

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


Don’t give up is probably the obviously one. You need to remember that agents will have their own tastes and interest and already have their own slate of writers, so if one passes on your work, it doesn’t necessarily reflect poorly on the quality of the work, but rather that its not right for that particular agent. Keep trying. Of course, if you’re getting the same feedback about specific aspects of your writing from a variety of agents, it’s probably best to take that on board.

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

I’ve been reading a lot of Irish crime recently. Jane Casey’s Cutting Place is a superb book and made me fall in love with police procedurals all over again. Andrea Carter’s The Body Falls is a really gripping, tense, atmospheric mystery set near where I live. And I’m just finishing Steve Cavanagh’s new one, Fifty-Fifty which is a page turner of the highest order that keeps you constantly on your toes and oozes confidence and skill.

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?


Friday night normally involves a takeway and sitting in front of the telly! I started coaching youth rugby a year or two back so that takes up Saturday morning. And if I can, I’ll manage a cinema trip at some stage.


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


I’d say Freddie Mercury as I grew up in a house where two siblings were Queen fans so I got a taste for their music too. I’m a big fan of Tom Waits though and Rod Stewart does cover some his songs, I suppose.

Bio:

Brian McGilloway is the New York Times bestselling author of the critically acclaimed Inspector Benedict Devlin and DS Lucy Black series. He was born in Derry, Northern Ireland in 1974. After studying English at Queen’s University, Belfast, he took up a teaching position in St Columb’s College in Derry, where he was Head of English until 2013. He currently teaches in Holy Cross College, Strabane.

His first novel, Borderlands, published by Macmillan New Writing, was shortlisted for the CWA New Blood Dagger 2007 and was hailed by The Times as ‘one of (2007’s) most impressive debuts.’ The second novel in the series, Gallows Lane, was shortlisted for both the 2009 Irish Book Awards/Ireland AM Crime Novel of the Year and the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year 2010. Bleed A River Deep, the third Devlin novel, was selected by Publishers Weekly as one of their Best Books of 2010.

Brian’s fifth novel, Little Girl Lost, which introduced a new series featuring DS Lucy Black, won the University of Ulster’s McCrea Literary Award in 2011 and was a New York Times Bestseller in the US and a No.1 Bestseller in the UK. The follow-up novel, Hurt, was published in late 2013 in the UK and Ireland by Constable and Robinson and was published in the USA under the title Someone You Know. The third Lucy Black novel was published in 2015 in the UK and Ireland as Preserve the Dead and in the USA, under the title The Forgotten Ones. Bad Blood, the fourth in the Lucy Black series, was published in May 2017. His tenth novel and first standalone, The Last Crossing, will be published in Spring 2020.

In 2014, Brian won BBC NI’s Tony Doyle Award for his screenplay, Little Emperors, an award which saw him become Writer In Residence with BBC NI. He currently has a number of screen projects in development with BBC NI.

Brian lives near the Irish borderlands with his wife, daughter and three sons.

Brian is represented by David Headley of DHH Literary Agency

Thank you for visiting my blog, Brian. It has been a pleasure to interview you!

10 Questions With… Claire Dyer

Hi everyone, this morning I’m delighted to welcome Claire Dyer to the blog. Read on for what authors have inspired her, her writing process and what she does to relax.

Over to you, Claire…

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

When I was little, I was a huge fan of Enid Blyton’s ‘The Famous Five’ series but then, as I got older, I fell in love with Jane Austen and the Brontës. I guess the thing they have in common is that they both deal with tension really well and tell good stories, but Austen and the Brontës are obviously in a different league! What I didn’t appreciate for a long time though is the humour in Austen’s work. The books poke fun at people’s foibles in a gentle, but relentless way. Then, when I was sixteen, I read ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee and it had a profound effect on me. I have read it every ten years since, each time drawing down new and valuable lessons from its messages and writing style.

2) Did you enjoy English at school?

Yes, I did. My A Level teacher, in particular, was very exacting and challenging and taught me to read between the lines of both poetry and prose. Doing French at A Level also helped, as reading another country’s classics in their own language makes you look at your own literature through a different lens.

3) Do you find that your day job helps you in your writing?

My day job now is writing, editing and teaching creative writing so I’m pretty much steeped in all things writing all day every day. However, when I was working (for an HR research forum in Mayfair, and before that, a Livery Company in the City of London), much of my time was spent communicating with clients and members through the written word, and so structuring a coherent and cogent argument and/or putting together a persuasive email, and/or producing written reports and papers were important parts of my roles.Having said that, there’s no better way to help your own writing than to teach others and/or edit other people’s work (which I do through my Fresh Eyes service (https://clairedyer.com/fresh-eyes/)), because it makes you look at your own writing in a new light. You can get lazy after a while, so being reminded of the guiding principles is a good thing!

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

Oh golly, my route to publication has been very complicated and very long. In summary, I wrote 4 novels before I signed with my first agent. I then wrote another 4 novels before that agent secured me a 2 book deal. I then wrote another 2 novels and changed agents and published The Last Day with my current agent. I have written 3 more novels since then, which we have been working on to get submission ready.

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

Most of my novels start with an outline idea and a cast of characters and the story unfolds from there. I do plot, but not forensically, and I do tend to know how the book will end, but try not to tell myself this too soon in the writing process as I like to surprise myself because I believe if I’m surprised, then my reader will be too! I also like it when my characters go off piste and take the story in a new direction.

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

About three times I think. However, what my agent is brilliant at is pointing out where the structure of the novel needs work and also where the emotional register of the book needs ramping up. So, when I send it to her, I expect to do more work on it once she’s read it.

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

Make sure the novel is finished, is edited and as polished as it can be and that you know what the book is about, its genre and what sort of reader it will appeal to. Treat your novel as a product you are taking to market because agents and publishers are in the business of selling books. Also, make sure you only send what the agent asks for, ie. the first 3 chapters, a synopsis and a covering letter. Do not pick and choose which bits of your book you think are the best. Also, a well-written synopsis will prove to the agent that you have a firm handle on your plot and that your plot makes sense! Also, following agents and publishers on social media will give you a heads-up about what sort of thing they’re looking for and give you the chance to get to know them a bit before approaching them. Avoid sending submissions while the Book Fairs are on (March or April in London and, for children’s books, Bologna, and October in Frankfurt).

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

I’ve just finished ‘The House at Silvermoor’ by Tracy Rees, which I enjoyed immensely. It’s the story of two young people at the turn of the twentieth-century and is about class and industry and family and love and secrets. It’s superbly written, with vivid characters and a great sense of time and place. I’m now reading an advanced reader copy (ARC) of ‘Another Us’ by Kirsten Hesketh, which is due for publication in May. Again, this is a super, bittersweet yet funny story about a mother struggling to cope when her son is diagnosed with Aspergers.

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?

In normal times on a Friday night, I will have a glass of wine and a takeaway with my husband if I’m not compering Poets’ Café (https://clairedyer.com/poets-cafe-2/). My weekends (again, in normal times) usually involve visiting my elderly parents, doing chores around the house and catching up on my reading.

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

Definitely Rod! I have loved his music (and stage presence) since the Seventies and am in awe at the way he has reinvented his career, how his voice has softened and mellowed over the years and how he seems both to reflect and determine the feelings of the age. Having said that, I have huge respect for Freddie too and, when it was released as a single, my sister and I used to sing Bohemian Rhapsody in full on our way to school!

Bio: Claire Dyer’s poetry collections are published by Two Rivers Press, and she has another forthcoming with the Press in February 2021. Her novels are published by Quercus and The Dome Press. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway, University of London, is a regular guest on BBC Radio Berkshire’s Radio Reads with Bill Buckley, and curates Reading’s longest-running poetry platform, Poets’ Café. Claire also teaches creative writing at literary and writers’ festivals and for Bracknell & Wokingham College, and runs Fresh Eyes, an editorial and critiquing service. Her website is www.clairedyer.com.

Thank you for visiting my blog today Claire, it has been a pleasure to interview you.

An Interview With… Ariella Feiner

Hi everyone, and today I’m delighted to welcome literary agent Ariella Feiner to the blog. Ariella is a literary agent at United Agents, and before that she worked for PFD Literary Agency. Read on to find out what she looks for in that all important submission, alongside what she gets up to on a weekend.

Over to you, Ariella…

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

I didn’t know that literary agents existed until I was at university, so it never occurred to me as a career option at school. Most people still don’t know what we do – it’s a fairly hidden profession and I’m constantly asked if I teach people literacy! I instinctively wanted to work with books and assumed that that meant becoming an editor. It was only once I applied for various work experience schemes at publishing houses that I heard of this as a job. I was fortunate enough to gain a placement on the work experience scheme at PFD and everything immediately slotted into place at that point. There are so many different, interesting and crucial jobs in publishing which don’t fit into the immediately obvious ‘editor’ bracket, and we should be better at explaining them to people.

2) How did you find the move from PFD to United Agents?

It was incredibly challenging, but also uniquely empowering. It brought the team together in a way that only a big shock to the system can do and also threw up all sorts of challenges and learning opportunities which I would never have had otherwise. I think it’s fair to say that we all grew a lot in that time.

3) What draws you to issue-led novels?

One of my favourite things about books is that they can not only transport you to a different place, but into the head of a completely different person. I want to feel myself grow a little as that character grows, to be carried along on their emotional journey just as much as they are. One of my favourite novels is My Sister’s Keeper. By the end of that book I completely connected with and understood how five separate individuals responded to one singular issue and it was an immensely humbling and powerful reading experience.

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

Tell me about your book in the first sentence – what makes it stand out, where do you see it in the market, why are you passionate about it? If you are able to write a wonderful novel you can definitely write an intriguing submission letter and it is important. I read everything which comes in, but I can easily receive at least ten submissions a day, so make your email count.

5) How did you find being nominated for The Rising Star by The Bookseller?

That was a very lovely moment and The Bookseller made it such a joyous occasion. We all had a tea together and celebrated and it felt like a good time to just take stock and enjoy it all.

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 adore my crime and thriller books. People often think that it’s easy to write them because they are ‘commercial’, but nothing could be further from the truth. 

It’s an interesting question. For an extremely long time the psychological thriller was all-powerful, and now we are moving very much away from that to other genres, such as uplit, reading group novels and so on. I hope we see more of a resurgence of brilliant crime books in general and whilst the genre does very much have its challenges, and it can be hard to sell new books to editors if they don’t have that killer elevator pitch, people will always want brilliantly written, twisty books which surprise and enthral them. It’s also deeply comforting to discover a new author with a wonderful backlist you can rely on to keep you going. I’m planning on using this awful time with the Coronavirus to get through as much of Elly Griffiths’ backlist as I can!

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

I have to read every night before I go to bed. I tend to read a novel and then go to a non-fiction book, and then back to fiction. I think that, overall, non-fiction is the strongest it’s ever been which is partly why people are turning to it more and more, but I couldn’t cope without my novels at the same time.

I don’t read any sci-fi, but otherwise dip into lots of different areas of the market. I love crime and thrillers, as well as uplit and reading group books, but then I’ve also read most of the professional memoirs out there and books such as Wild or Educated, about one person’s life experience, have stayed with me for years after I have read them.

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

I’ve just finished The Silent Patient, which I hugely enjoyed. It’s so cleverly constructed and an extremely original idea, which is no mean feat. I’m just about to start War Doctor and then I’ll move on to Heatstroke. I like to plan ahead!

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?

The best thing on a Friday is to just spend some quality time with my kids and on a Friday night I often love nothing more than to turn my phone off and curl up in my armchair with a glass of wine and a good book. When you’re a full-time working mum with two little boys, that’s pretty blissful!

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

It has to be Freddie, for me. The over-the-top drama of it all is fantastic. Having said all of that, nothing makes me happier music-wise than a bit of old school R ‘n’ B.

Bio: I started working at PFD in 2006 before moving to United Agents and I now represent many bestselling, critically-acclaimed, and award-winning authors across fiction and non-fiction, including Sunday Times bestselling books, Richard and Judy bookclub picks, million-copy selling authors and #1 New York Times bestselling books. In 2017, The Bookseller named me as a Rising Star.

One of the joys of being a literary agent is the range of books I can work on. I adore the rush of being the first to discover exciting new voices and the strategy of working with authors to shape their careers in the long term. I want manuscripts which make me sit up and take notice of them, whether it be through beautiful prose, a hugely original idea or, at their best, stories which make me sob.

I am always open to submissions and have discovered many of my most exciting authors that way. In fiction do send me crime and thrillers, issue-led books, character-driven stories, reading group books, high-concept tales, a great elevator pitch, novels with strong female characters, historical fiction with a twist, and anything like Room, The Help or The Time Traveller’s Wife, which breaks the mould. Recent fiction I’ve adored includes The LidoEleanor Oliphant is Completely FineThe FamiliarsThe Rumour, and Queenie.

On the non-fiction front, do be in touch with exciting non-fiction such as topics which feel untouched before now or are inspiring, expert-led ideas, mouth-watering cook books and empowering female tales. Non-fiction which has moved me enormously or made me laugh includes This is Going to Hurt, Wild, Educated, and Everything I Know About Love.

How to submit: For submissions please email a synopsis together with either the first three chapters of a novel or a proposal for a non-fiction book directly to me at afeiner@unitedagents.co.uk.

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

An Interview With… Ludo Cinelli

Hi everyone! Today I’m delighted to welcome literary agent Ludo Cinelli to the blog. Ludo is an agent at the Eve White Literary Agency and was kind enough to answer a few questions for me.

Over to you, Ludo…

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


I don’t think I knew what a literary agent was when leaving school. I think
I wanted to be a journalist and I spent a lot of time working on my school
newspaper. I knew I liked reading and writing, which is why I ended up doing an English degree and then a Creative Writing degree. Then in the nebulous post-university times, I had the privilege of trying out a few different work experience positions in publishing and enjoyed working at an agency
immensely.

2) How do you feel that your Creative Writing degree has helped you in your
current job role?


My job involves a lot of editing, as we have to give a manuscript the best possible chance of getting lots of offers of publication when submitting it. This editing isn’t so much on a line-by-line level, but more on a big-picture level like structure, character, and plot. I believe that giving feedback to my classmates during my degree really helped me gain experience
in this type of editing. I also believe it’s helped me to see the
submissions process from both sides, as I did submit some work to a couple of agents after I’d finished my degree. The latter pushes me to keep my
empathy when dealing with writers’ hard work.

3) What do you consider a standout query letter?

One where all the different elements required in a query letter align towards the same purpose. If we can know what you’re writing, why you’re
writing it, and what you’ve done to develop that writing thus far, and all these form a cohesive picture, it’s likely that you’ll have me hooked.

4) On the other, what wouldn’t attract you to a submission?

A hard sell. Don’t tell me that your book is incredible – it’s my job to
make that call. When writers submitting to us tell us how many millions of copies their books will sell, it reveals a few things: a lack of understanding on how many books actually sell, a probable lack of flexibility in editing and guidance, and a lack of understanding in how
competitive the market is.

5) 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 a strong market – it’s crowded and it’s hard to make something stand out, but there is always room for amazing new work that truly puts a new spin on things. The psychological thriller sub-genre remains the easiest to
sell across the world. Domestic suspense also can be very fruitful. Police procedurals are tougher and will really need to pull off something special to grab editors’ attention.

6) Do you have a genre that you read for pleasure?

My passion is in literary fiction – fiction that experiments with the limits of what fiction can do. Recently I’ve enjoyed work by Ben Lerner, Mary Gaitskill, Olga Tokarczuk, Rachel Cusk and Kevin Barry.

7) Is there any genre of book that you wouldn’t read?

I struggle with sci-fi and adult fantasy, unless it’s particularly radical or
experimental.

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

Boulevard Wren and Other Stories by Blindboy Boatclub. I enjoyed it immensely – this collection of short stories isn’t the most technically polished you’ll read, but it lives by the sheer quantity of mad ideas packed
into it and its willingness to follow through with them. Humour is so tricky
to pull off in prose, but every story had me laughing.

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?

I love to cook and I often try new recipes. At some point during the weekend I’ll usually stick a film on as I love cinema. I like to go on long walks in London, and I’m on a quest to find the best pizzeria in town. I’m also partial to good pub quizzes, board games, and more video games than I care
to admit to.

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

I find Freddie Mercury the far more interesting and mysterious character of
the two. Rod Stewart is an entertaining hot mess, but he’s too obvious. Can
I keep “Young Turks” though? I don’t want to throw the baby out with the
bathwater.

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

Bio: Ludo Cinelli joined Eve White Literary Agency in 2017, after various internships in the publishing industry. He assists Eve White on her list of clients as well as building and maintaining his own. He has an MA in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway, University of London. Regardless of their genre, the books he loves shine a light on unfamiliar people, places and things.

An Interview With… Laura Longrigg

Hi everyone, and today I’m delighted to welcome literary agent Laura Longrigg to the blog. Laura has been an agent since 1994, and represents both fiction and non-fiction. Read on for what she looks for in that all important submission.

Over to you, Laura…

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


Both of my parents were writers so spending my working life with writers seemed an obvious career path. But I worked for a theatre company before deciding my skills (at that point a history degree and fairly rudimentary shorthand typing) were better suited to a publishing editorial department.


2) In your view, how has the publishing industry changed since you became a literary agent?

Enormously. When I first became a literary agent we were still typing on word processors and sending faxes. There were many fewer literary agents and many more small, independent publishers.

3) What are the differences between representing a range of fiction genres? Are there any similarities?

I would say there are more similarities than differences: it’s a question of how connected you are to the people working in that genre. For instance I would not know where to start with a science fiction novel, but would feel confident about committing to a saga writer.

4) What immediately draws you to a submission? Or, what would make you reject one?

See my answer to 3) – a genre in which I am not comfortable. I am drawn to a submission – even from the initial email/letter of enquiry – if the author has a clear idea of what they are writing (including some realistic author comparisons), who their readership might be and most importantly a synopsis/blurb which makes me want to read the book.

5) 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?

Cosy crime seems to be less popular with editors/readers at the moment, but these things seem to be cyclical. Domestic psychological thrillers all look so alike, and seem to include the same algorithm-catching phrases, that they have become hard to tell apart. True crime, non fiction memoirs involving doctors, prisoners, soldiers – many of these have ‘thriller elements’ and are obviously very popular at the moment.I have always enjoyed historical adventure (Patrick O’Brian, Bernard Cornwell) and feel this is an area underrepresented by women writers, and perhaps in the hashtag MeToo era that could change.

6) Do you have a genre that you read for pleasure?

What I think one would call book group fiction – thought-provoking, character-led, really well-written fiction.

7) Is there any genre of book that you wouldn’t read?

I don’t have any reason to read children’s picture books at the moment, sadly.

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

I am reading OLIVE AGAIN by Elizabeth Strout (see my answer to 6) – I think she is terrific (both the character and the author).

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 the dog, listen to music, have supper (and a large glass of wine) with the family.

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

Freddie Mercury (although my first date with my husband was to a Rod Stewart concert). At the moment I am learning to play Bohemian Rhapsody. It is very difficult and completely wonderful.

Thank you so much for visiting my blog Laura. It has been a pleasure to interview you.

Bio:

Laura worked as an editor, mainly in the genre of popular fiction, for HarperCollins, Heinemann and Penguin. She became an agent in 1994, working with Jennifer Kavanagh and then joining MBA just before the millennium. Her clients’ work covers the whole fiction spectrum, from genre, including romantic comedy and saga, through crime and thrillers, to ‘reading group’ and literary writing. She also agents some non fiction, but would not be the right agent for science fiction, children’s, poetry or illustrated books. She founded and administered the Harry Bowling prize for unpublished fiction. Her clients have won literary prizes including MIND Book of the Year, Romantic Novel of the Year Award, James Tait Black Memorial and Encore Prizes; appeared on the Booker, Portico and Wingate shortlists, Baileys longlist and the Sunday Times bestseller lists and been adapted for TV, film and radio.

%d bloggers like this: