I’ve just finished writing an appreciation for the Boucheron programme guide about Anne Perry, who’s International Guest of Honour there next month. I don’t know whether it’s the heat in London that’s so exhausting, or the effort of coming up with 1600 words.
Describing a 30-year writing career is hard. Partly it’s the agent’s paradox: the client comes first, so everything we say or do has to be about them, when it’s usually easier to talk about yourself. Partly it’s repressing the things I think are interesting about Anne’s career – things that wouldn’t be an asset in a programme book.
I started researching in parallel with Anne, so I could be useful to her. The more you know about a time or event, the more interesting things you can find to say about it. If we hadn’t gone to the museum of Paris, we wouldn’t have seen hastily-made Revolutionary dishes – which resulted in a heartbreaking scene in The One Thing More. This was the point where, after a childhood of resisting History, even though it was taught by the wonderful Miss Lanthier, I realised painfully that history is interesting.
Another low point in my own career with Anne has been the travel. I loathe travel, although I do it a lot. I ought to be grateful to have seen the golden light of the Bosphoros, and the WWI trenches that survive at Ypres, but I’m An Idiot Abroad.
The great thing is that working with Anne has been my education as an agent. I’ve learned (sometimes, unfortunately, by making big mistakes at Anne’s expense) a lot about editing effectively and sensitively. A big part of it is how to be encouraging (although Anne now sees through me when I say ‘You’ve given yourself a great opportunity to do X’ when this could also be expressed as ‘You idiot! You forgot to do X!’) A lot about how to give good news (use the phone, let the happiness in your voice ring out, celebrate with the client) and how to give bad news (use the phone, tell it straight, figure out beforehand what to do about it so you can discuss with the client how to make things better).
Mutual forbearance over a long working partnership is also important. Anne has no flaws, but she tolerates my tendency to tell the big news last, my inability to remember numbers accurately, and my liking for drawing a skull and crossbones on her manuscript if I find she’s lapsed into a neologism.
Whew, it’s still hot. I’m going to go and soak my feet in a nice cool thriller.