Hard at work!

As some may have noticed, we’ve been a bit quiet on the blog front. We bought another agency back in April, and have been paddling hard like the proverbial duck while attempting to look serene.

The easiest part of the process was doing the deal with my agent friend. She was great and furnished me with all sorts of information: spreadsheets of current licences, contact details, email addresses of royalty departments and so forth. Granted, the deal was on the basis that the agency couldn’t accommodate a large number of new clients – not with the level of attention we like to give.

What I’ve learned in the process:

1. Agents carry a very large amount of information in their heads. You think you’ve put everything down on paper, but it’s a whole nother thing to come along as a newcomer to this information.
2. Some people need telling twice. Some people are still trying to send money to the old agency. There will be people I have to remind more than twice, I can already tell.
3. You have to take the time it takes to establish good relationships. This applies to the new clients as well as new co-agents and publishers. It’s well worth it.
4. Change makes everyone anxious. Of course.

We’ve worked out who needs what tax forms, who’s writing what and for whom, and what money hasn’t arrived. It’s also been important to work out the new clients’ preferences in style of agenting, from the ‘professional only and don’t ask me about my new dog’, to the ‘I’d quite like an opinion on everything I’ve ever written’, to the ‘I miss old-fashioned publishing lunches and I’ll be really happy if we can linger till four in the afternoon talking about old friends and bad books’.

A few things have gone by the board lately, which we should apologise for. We haven’t been as responsive as we’d like to submissions, in particular. But everything’s now getting back onto an even keel. Still paddling hard, though.

Description – the Cinderella of the writing world


Editorial notes concentrate rightly on plot and characters, but description is often neglected or taken for granted.  It can add so much to a novel or script that it doesn’t deserve to be a Cinderella.

In a script, (besides denoting the action) description consists of the crucial few words you use to tell a director what mood you’re after for a scene.

In a novel, description is where the author is also the director.  Besides the obvious need to ground the characters in a time and place, there are four other functions to consider:

1.  Tone/atmosphere

Your character is shown to their room a badly-run hotel.   You can vividly show this with the unpleasant hairs in the bath-tub, the sticky patch on the carpet, the television that receives only channels in Welsh.  The tone can convey whether the character is depressed, infuriated, or amused – and the reader picks up on that, entering into the mood.

2.  Sub-text

A woman brings her emotionally cold husband a Coke with too much ice.  That’s all the author needs to say, in order to drop this clearly but inconspicuously into the reader’s head.

3.  Pauses and passage of time

A character considers how to answer their companion.  The author can drop in a bit of set dressing here, while there’s a pause, rather than clogging up the momentum with it earlier on when action needs to happen.

4.  What’s going through the character’s head

A boy’s walking down the street with his girlfriend, but the description tells us about the graffiti on the wall.  What’s going on?  Clearly he’s so blinded by love that he can hardly bear to look at her.

Description is one of the most subtle but most powerful set of tools a writer has.

Down a deep well



MicroscopeFor a long time, I thought that all writers should be full-time.  Shame on a society whose economy doesn’t allow creative people to spend all their time on their art.

This doesn’t actually suit all writers.  Sometimes you talk to an author in the course of the day and realise they’re still in a different universe doing something else.  They call their agent on a pretext: what are their sales figures in France?  Has their book been submitted for some obscure award?  It feels like someone calling up from the bottom of a well they’ve got stuck down.  It’s dark here – is there anyone else up there?

Scriptwriters usually have it easier, working full time.  They get called into meetings.  They work on a couple of things at once.  Their script editor calls for a long conversation.  But book writers need to consider whether a job, even part-time, would keep them connected with the outside world.

I was talking to a trainee nurse once, who said she’d had a seminar on how to protect herself from the job.  That sounds like a wise thing for anyone with absorbing work.  Writers need to immerse themselves fully in the world of their story, and the characters, for it all to come alive.  But I wonder if they can get stranded in there for too long, and need some form of decompression, like a diver.

Lest I find myself in a glass house throwing stones, anyone listening to a group of agents talking about high discount clauses or turnaround provisions would say we probably need to get out more, too.

What this week’s been like


There’s nothing like a blog to demonstrate to an agent what writers go through regularly: the terror of the blank screen, waiting for words.

It’s both a very busy time and a weirdly quiet one – MIPTV this week, and the London Book Fair next week.  Add the end of the financial year, royalty statements arriving by the bushel, and HMRC’s new payroll software, and you can imagine the screams of terror around the office.

A number of directories must have been updated, too, since I’ve had a sudden flood of approaches from writers.  I’ve been a bit under the radar up till now, but the numbers are going back to what they used to be before I started the new agency.  It’s nice to be approached about stuff but there are two habits which make me have to repress annoyance so I can read the submissions with an open heart.

1.  Am I looking for new clients?  Actually, it’s very rare for an agent to be in this position.  A couple of agents I know seem to clear out their list and take on a fresh bunch of clients, as a poker player might cash in some cards, but I think they’re in the minority.  The usual answer to this is No, but an agent always make space for someone amazing.

2.  Does this sound interesting and will I get back to them if I’d like to see it?  Please don’t give me two jobs to do, when you can just give me one.  It doesn’t cost anything to attach a file to an email.

I’m off to buy a new handbag this weekend.  While I was having a smoke outside a professional do, I dropped my cigar into it when startled by a writer and set it on fire. I hadn’t ever thought this was also a hazard of the job.

Client news

Emma Adams’ latest play Freakoid finished its run last weekend to terrific reviews (‘you can tell your grandchildren you saw that Emma Adams before she was famous’) and an Offie for Most Promising New Playwright.  Reviews and more at Emma’s blog:  http://telltaleemma.blogspot.co.uk/

Mike Carey has delivered an outstanding novel based on his award-nominated short story, Iphigenia in Aulis.  The book is called The Girl with all the Gifts and is provisionally set for publication in November.  Meanwhile, the Arabian Nights-style novel he wrote with his wife and daughter, City of Silk and Steel, comes out on March 21.  He’s about to start work on a new film commission.  http://mikeandpeter.com/

Stephen Davis is developing original TV series for some L.A. producers.

Anne Perry is hard at work on her next book in the ‘Monk’ series after Blind Justice, which is published next month.  In this, Rathbone is a judge –and has to face the ultimate temptation of whether to abuse the law in order to achieve justice.


Simon Scarrow ‘s third e-novella is nearly out:  http://catoandmacro.com/ebook-series/

He’ll be appearing at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair (25-28 March) to promote his exciting new book, Gladiator: Son of Spartacus.  Young Marcus now works for Julius Caesar, but his mentor from gladiator school wants to mount a slave rebellion – and Marcus knows now is not the right time.

There’s more to come from Piers Bearne, Daniel Depp, Jo Drayton, Catherine Webb, and Tim Wilson, but nothing I’m allowed to reveal right now!

Proctologists of the Caribbean

One of the challenges of a digital landscape is being discovered.  Betjeman’s ideal of people standing around the water-cooler discussing what they all watched last night on the BBC is long gone.  There’s just loads of stuff everywhere.

A current buzz-word is ‘bundling’.  We’re used to this in music concerts, where they slip something obscure into a programme that also contains known crowd-pleasers.  Now, books, programmes and films are being also sold as bundles.

With books, we had the old 3-for-2 deal at Waterstones, where you could make your own experimental choice.  Where we’re offered bundles chosen by someone else, what will they choose for us?  And – as agents and writers – how can we get our cool but less-well-known stuff included?

Two possible answers are: write stuff that is quite like something else (‘If you enjoyed Pirates of the Caribbean, you’ll love Proctologists of the Caribbean!’).  Or, write something cult-y (‘We’ve got to sell this somehow!’).

This may be idealistic of me, but I think it’s got to come down to good writing.  If a producer, publisher, sales agent or retailer is going to think about what to bundle something with, they’re going to choose something they feel deserves a wider audience.

Time will tell…bundles

New essential kit for agents

New essential kit for agents:


1.       Agents have always needed hard-wearing shoes, but those still trying to hang on to their stilettos may have to surrender, as demonstrated by today’s film on how much walking is involved at the Frankfurt Book Fair (from the entrance to the international building where most of us do business):


2.       Of course, that film was taken without the usual throngs of people at the Fair.  Padded vests may be useful to avoid being stabbed too sharply by one’s colleagues’ elbows.

3.       Add a protective dog, in case of attack by angry author:


4.       Special fuzzing over the facial features, to block glare from inimical contracts.

5.       Authoritarian uniform, preferably blue (in some tests, apparently this signals honesty), for recalcitrant publishers and producers.