Friday 2 March 2007

No talking teeth and vegetables

"My heart sinks when I get a manuscript featuring a dragon."

Agent at SCBWI UK's Agents Party
You heard it first here, folks. Please no more talking teeth. Or talking vegetables and rainbows for that matter. Sarah Molloy of A.M.Heath apparently received not one but two submissions last week on the subject.

At last night’s Agent’s Party hosted by SCBWI British Isles, 45 very well behaved members (the invite amusingly warned: “Please . . . make this an event that won't scare agents away so that we can have it again next year!”), one illustrator’s agent and three literary agents. Aside: If you think the warning is over the top, read this and think again!

What is probably most striking about finally sitting just a few feet away from these agents is how human they all were. None of them attempted to bite someone’s head off, they did not spit at us or stamp on our business cards and they seemed genuinely to want to meet a writer they could publish!

For your researching pleasure, here’s who was there:

Tamlyn Francis, illustrator agent
31 Eleanor Road
London E15 4AB
Tel 0845 050 7600

Sarah Molloy, literary agent
A. M. Heath & Co. Ltd.
6 Warwick Court, Holborn
London WC1R 5DJ
Tel +44 (0) 207 242 2811
Fax +44 (0) 207 242 2711

Caroline Sheldon, literary agent
Caroline Sheldon Literary Agency
Thorley Manor Farm, Thorley
Yarmouth, PO41 0SJ
Tel +44 (0) 1983 760205

Janice Swanson
Curtis Brown Ltd.
Haymarket House
28-29 Haymarket
London SW1Y 4SP
Tel +44 (0) 20 7393 4400
Fax +44 (0) 20 7393 4401

Apart from the teeth warning, here are some interesting highlights:

- Agents do the whole submitting and waiting and waiting and waiting thing that we writers hate doing. Except it’s the main part of their job. Over and over and over again. And they get rejected too. Over and over again. And the editors still take their sweet time responding even when they're dealing with agents. One agent just got a response from an editor eight months after submitting the manuscript!

- Agents are looking for a new voice but they can’t tell you what that is until they see it. “Something I pick up and I get all spine-tingly and I want to read on. A page turner.”

- Apart from talking teeth, vegetables and rainbows, Agents are fed up with dragons. But they are persuadable if the writing is good. “My heart sinks when I get a manuscript featuring a dragon. Oh no, not another one! On the other hand, I am currently reading one that is un-put-downable. So it’s all in the writing.”

If there was just one thing one should come away with from the whole evening it has to be the point about a new voice. How do you find that voice? Can a fresh voice be learned?

The other day, pounding away on the computer, my words had begun to creak and turn all wooden and coated in hairy bits like the stuff one finds under the sofa. To freshen up I browsed my way to the list of YA books that have won honours from the Michael L. Printz Award (just the Oscar of YA writing in the States).

Amongst others (and I am only mentioning the ones I have read and in no particular order), there were Meg Rosoff (How I Live Now), Jennifer Donnelly (A Gathering Light), David Almond (Skellig), Jack Gantos (A Hole in My Life). I only had to rummage through my bookshelf and pick one of those books up to find out what a fresh, new voice sounds like.

Of course, the big problem is one’s voice has to be fresh and thrillingly new and therefore not at all like any of these great writers otherwise one might quite easily inadvertently and very dangerously commit plagiarism.

I rooted out How I Live Now, opened to the first page and hours later found myself sobbing over the final chapter and wishing that the book wouldn’t come to an end. Well. So that's it. That’s The Voice.

Now to get my pages to speak with it.


  1. Brilliant stuff! Thanks for this, Candy :-)

    By the way, do try and get hold of Looking for Alaska by John Green - read it last weekend - absolutely brilliant. It's not often I put down a YA and say 'Wow!'

  2. Candy- informative and educating as always. Thanks for keeping our fingers on the pulse.

  3. Thanks Candy for this information. I'm still in awe after your talk at the scbwi conference. You have so much information and are so generous with your time..cheers, cat
    (and see...I listened cos I responded!)

  4. thanks catriona! nice to meet you and hope to see you at some of the london events!


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