Bookseeker Literary Agency

Introducing authors and publishers.


Balbirnie Collective opening tomorrow

I know the opening of a Craft Centre doesn’t seem the kind of thing you would expect to find on the web site of a literary agent. Of course we do have an ulterior motive (a client’s books will be on sale there), but on the other hand it’s just a venture we support, and involves personal friends. Click the image below – it shows work by one of the Collective – to see an introductory video promoting the Grand Opening.

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Copyrighted image

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‘Fearie Tales’

PITLOCHRY WINTER WORDS LITERARY FESTIVAL

Each January “Scotland’s literary year gets into gear” (said The Scotsman) with the prestigious Winter Words festival in the Pitlochry Festival Theatre. There are performances and workshops in poetry, history, fiction, memoirs, there are stories of places and people, of travel and exploration, and so on. One of the most popular events is the reading each evening of macabre short stories, with a Scottish flavour. Lights are dimmed, voices are hushed, as these Fearie Tales are read by professional actors. Scottish actors Martyn James, Helen Logan, Deirdre Davis and Dougal Lee have done the readings, the current partnership being Helen and Dougal.

Dougal Lee

Dougal Lee

Fearie Tales is a competitive contest – contestants submit their stories to the Festival, and the winners’ stories become the highlight of each evening’s entertainment. Our clients Lucy P Naylor and Marie Marshall are invariably in that number, Lucy’s tales being a particular favourite of the Artistic Director, or so we have heard. In 2010 the climax of Marie’s story The Place of Safety drew gasps from the audience; and during the reading of Lucy’s darkly humorous Cold Feet the audience “laughed in all the right places”, she said. Lucy’s story Betwixt and Between, read by Helen Logan again, started the telling of tales in 2011.

Helen Logan

Helen Logan

In 2013 Marie and Lucy were amongst the winners again, with Lucy’s Knit One, Pearl One being featured during the opening weekend of the festival, and Marie’s On The Platform during the final weekend. Lucy’s story was one of her typically humorous ones, telling how close nightclub life is to a total zombie apocalypse, while Marie’s told of a ghostly encounter at a railway station late at night – but of the two people meeting, which one was the ghost?

In 2014 the whole festival was rounded off with Marie’s chilling story with a Shetland flavour, Da Trow i’ da Waa, in which an author with writer’s block rents a cottage on the island of Yell – a cottage made from stones taken from two haunted houses, but before that from somewhere even more sinister.

Some of Lucy’s and Marie’s short stories, including Lucy’s Betwixt and Between from 2011 can be found in an anthology called Mercury Silver, published by P’Kaboo. The collection contains stories in all kinds of styles by other writers too, and is well worth downloading for your Kindle…

Marie and Lucy compete in Fearie Tales every year, along with some of Scotland’s and the UK’s finest short-story writers. Winter Words is always worth a visit. Guests have included Michael Portillo, Brian Blessed, Sally Magnusson, Tony Robinson, and many other names from literature, politics, and the media. Why not have a mid-winter break in the Scottish Highlands, and combine it with a week of entertainment and culture? Authors and short-story writers should keep an eye on Pitlochry Festival Theatre in December and January to find out about this competition.

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Book for sale: Erica Emdon’s ‘Jelly Dog Days’

JellyDogDays coverI have a limited number of copies of Erica Emdon‘s extraordinary novel from 2009 Jelly Dog Days for sale. This is an unique opportunity for you to own a copy of this novel, as it is currently out-of-print. The cost is £6.99 including p&p. I’m afraid this is only available to purchasers in the UK. Payment may be made by PayPal (to bookseeker{a}blueyonder.co.uk), but please email first to enquire about availability.

About Jelly Dog Days:

I’m forty now. I’m not sure I’m recovered. I still feel like an outsider sometimes, looking in on the world from a stranger vantage point. Like I went to an alien planet and have come back, but no one understands what I saw. I suppose I will always be like that.

Growing up in a working-class family in South Africa in the 1960s and 70s, with her narcissistic and neglectful mother, Lizette, and her stepfather Piet, a construction worker who spends much of his time away from home, Terry learns early on that childhood, at least for her, is a matter of survival. Those who are meant to protect and care for her increasingly exploit her, and as she watches her mother drag herself to and from her job at Harry’s Dry Cleaner’s each day, then sink into alcoholism and eventually to relinquish all parental responsibility, it is left to Terry to become the caregiver and protector of her four younger siblings. The only real affection she is shown comes from the family’s nanny Sophie, with whom she forms a strong bond, and from Piet who, while proving to be the more attentive parent, nevertheless exacts a high price for his favours.

At twelve years old, Terry is unwittingly drawn into the student unrest of 1976 when Sophie’s son Rex disappears in the political tumult of the time, and she tries to help Sophie find out what has happened to him. At the same time she finds herself on a treacherous and terrifying journey of her own that she is powerless to control, and as she watches her family disintegrate around her, she has to dig deep to find the strength cope.

Terry’s intelligence, resilience, and fortitude make her the irresistible, heartbreaking heroine of Jelly Dog Days. Despite everything that the universe throws at her, she retains a passion for life and an innate optimism that are truly remarkable. Erica Emdon’s debut novel is a story of trust and betrayal but, more importantly, it is about survival and, to some extent, redemption.

EricaErica Emdon was born in Johannesburg, where she still lives with her family. She works as a public interest lawyer at a non-governmental organisation, focusing on children’s and women’s rights.


‘Walk Proud’ – Original Skinheads from 1969

© Jason Hue

© Jason Hue

Walk Proud is the title of a project being undertaken by ‘The Firm‘. The Firm is a group of people – none of them professional writers – who were urban teenagers in 1969, and who were among the first wave of the youth fashion/cult/movement which became known as the Skinheads.

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Young ‘mods’, late 1960s.

Skinheads fresh from school

Skinheads fresh from school

Who were the Skinheads really? Ordinary kids? A mob of teenagers out of control? The newspapers and the authority figures had their knee-jerk reactions and opinions. Some of these kids might have been the tail end of the Mods; for others the Skinhead scene was something all of their own, which grew up in the schoolyard. The Walk Proud project will produce a book in which people who were Skinheads at the time will tell their own story. On the way they will maybe bust a few myths, and maybe reinforce some as well. The Firm does not intend to gloss over anything, but to tell it exactly as it was. They will answer questions such as – Were the original Skinheads racist? Was violence really part of their culture? Was it all about boots and braces, or was there a sharp fashion of tailored suits, shined brogue shoes, and American sports shirts which needed money to maintain it? What is their reaction to later groups who have taken over their name and something of their looks? The book hopes to deal with the clothes that Skinhead boys and girls wore, the music they listened to, their brushes with the law and with the older generation, the places they went to enjoy themselves, the fun they had, their language, how the fashion spread from London across the rest of the UK and Ireland, and much more.

To some readers, Walk Proud will be a work of social history. For The Firm it will be a chance to speak with their own voices, and put forward the first hand evidence of a generation that was largely stereotyped and vilified. If anyone out there is from that generation and would like to contribute to Walk Proud, work is in progress and we would like to hear from you – photographs are especially welcome – so please feel free to get in touch via the agency.

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Grand Opening at Balbirnie Craft Centre

If you’re in Scotland on the weekend of the 1st and 2nd of June, you’ll find the Balbirnie Craft Centre well worth a visit, as the centre will be holding its Grand Opening. It’s off the B9130, in the grounds of historic Balbirnie House, in Markinch, Fife. We hope to have some books by our client Marie Marshall on sale there in the studio of creative arts partnership Aval-Ballan.

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We’d like to know a little bit about you for our files…

To start our web site rolling we thought we would interview someone. This is something we might do on a fairly regular basis. The interviewees won’t necessarily be clients of ours, just writers who catch our eye for one reason or another. First up is Steve Rushton – we owe him a favour because we promised to publicise the recent re-launch of his book, Sweet Sex Education Teacher from Chichester, but forgot…

So hello Steve Rushton. Tell us a little about yourself and your background.

© Lorrain Baggaley

© Lorrain Baggaley

Ex grammar school, ex art school, ex potato picker, ex potato and egg door to door seller, ex drummer, ex milkman (brief but formative period), ex book packer to the aristocracy, ex picture hanger for Royal Societies, ex performer in country house scenarios, ex curriculum area leader for arts and science, artist since 1983, art and design history lecturer since 1993, poet since 2003.

When did you start writing and when did you first take yourself seriously as a writer?

As an adolescent I loved writing stories, but chose art instead of literature after sixth form, went to art school, and that was it for the next twenty years, until as a cash strapped artist I retrained as an art history lecturer. Studying for my MA I realized I was no researcher, as my essays were more a way back into painting, and writing stories, and poetry. Thinking back on the way literature was taught at school, with an emphasis on study rather than making work – as art was very much about – I’m sure that influenced me. At one point I was going to do a dual degree in art and English at York, but think the jack of all trades master of none argument persuaded me otherwise.

What else have you written apart from Sweet Sex Education Teacher from Chichester?

Sweet Sex Education Teacher from Chichester is my first book. However, I have a project where I’m writing a series of four poetry collections and three verse novels, the first of which – sex, love & boring poetry, a comedy about a country house tour with a difference – is just finished. I like working in series. If I have lots of things going on, I can compare them more easily, work out what works and what doesn’t. It’s what I do when I make paintings, and I’m now using that method with poetry too.

…Teacher is such an eye-catching title. Tell us about the work, where you got your inspiration from, how it developed, and so on.

I wrote the following poem to answer – to myself – this very question

Who Is The Sweet Sex Education Teacher From Chichester Anyway?

She’s everybody ever tempted by something, who secretly dreams that

          repercussions could change their over-regimented lives

She’s an embodiment of space, between town and country,

          London and Chichester (“somewhere near Crawley?”[1])

She’s a manifesto for a new art – minimalism with sex,

          Lichtenstein inside the bubble, cubist collage without the collage,

          modern art without the art

She’s a manifesto for a new poetry – Dylan Thomas without the words,

          Charles Bukowski off the booze, bawdy seaside cards but not,

          children’s’ books with only a few words to a page. “Look said Jack”

She’s an art and poetry meeting, neither an illustration of the other

She’s “a perfect format for a witty poem”[2], a cliff-hanger,

          not a first person singular   (like so many other poems)

She’s a Ramones record, but shorter,

          a Chuck Berry song without guitar breaks

          a Beethoven sonata without the sonata

She’s “reviving the 7 inch single in book form”[3]

She’s someone starting as object, but finishing as subject, like us all

She’s tangible and lovely, single, and waiting for you[4]

Price £4.99p, from Shop 33, amazon .co.uk

And selected booksellers

This relationship between art and poetry is important for me – that a poem  can be something else – an object, cover2for sale, a shape surrounded by white space, a manifesto, lots of things, without limit perhaps.

Also, and most importantly, the Sweet Sex Education Teacher From Chichester is my wife, and the events in the poem are extrapolations from our early romance of train journeys between very different cities.

Sex education is one thing, but do you think it is possible to learn ‘creative writing’ as an academic subject?

Again, the relationship between art and poetry is interesting with regard to this question. We all use language – words, sentences – everyday, in a way that we don’t draw, or paint, or sculpt, to live our lives. So I think we need to study art more to become an artist, but this doesn’t apply as much to using writing creatively, because we are doing this everyday already, often without realizing it. And sometimes, before reading a poem to an audience, there is a preamble, which on reflection sounds more interesting, with its complicated rhythms, nuances and unforced intonations, than the actual poem that follows.

In your opinion, what is the purpose of literature? How would you define ‘literature’ anyway? Does it seem to you to have any obvious limits.

Literature, like art, is evidence of culture. I think that is its main context. The interesting thing for me is whether good literature, art, exists independently of context – and that is certainly an aim, whether it is achievable or not. And as for limits, no I don’t think so. The one limit that often gets talked about is the relationship with society – that society can change art and literature, but not the other way round. While I agree that society is the dominant partner in this, we have no way of knowing what future art and literature might be like, so how can we say it can’t change society?

Also, I like the idea that even if artists/writers who believe their work can change things are wrong, their work is better for their misbelief.

When you read someone else’s work, what qualities do you look for? What thrills you and gives you delight when you find it in someone else’s work?

I want imagination, intelligence, sex, a sense of humour
And not just a longing
For something that’s over

Give us your take on self-publishing. Is conventional publishing (along with literary agencies) doomed?

No, there will always be a need for benchmarks, hoops, barriers, agencies helping both the traditional and the non traditional, just as their will always be – and this is a terrible word – “creatives” who seek for whatever reason new ways to reach audiences.

The ‘Sue Lawley’ question – I’ve marooned you on a desert Island, you have the Bible and Shakespeare, should you need either, what one other book would you like to have by you?

I suppose my answer to this question would change every week, but in this week I would say, what I’m reading, looking at, at the moment – the complete etchings of Goya. Although I now write more than I paint, and however many favourite poets I have, will have, my first love will always be visual art, and I think – if there is anything slightly different in my work, it is down to that. And the great thing about this book is – the works are reproduced in their original size, and they’re black and white – so there are no bad colour reproduction problems, and all the images have accompanying original text, so this complex relationship between word and image that I’m fascinated by is played and replayed on every page of the book. And also, Goya is such a great drawer, with such a powerful vision, and sense of composition, and perhaps because his vision is so dark, it would cheer me up on my desert island – things can’t be that bad.

If you could meet one literary person past or present, real or fictional, who would it be?

I think Dylan Thomas, probably because he was the first poet I loved, because I still love him now, although a lot of his stuff I don’t, but I see him as an artist whose work – some of it – is trapped by context – his time, and doesn’t resonate today as much as perhaps it used to, perhaps as much as it used to when I first read it as an adolescent, and also, because I think a few of his works definitely do escape context, have become, free of context, good, great, whatever – Poem in October for instance, or Under Milk Wood – and also, because, I like a drink in a pub, as he did, albeit with some moderation, and prefer that to a dinner table conversation, apropos the who would you have round for dinner question, to which my answer would be – no one, I’m off to the pub.

Thank you Steve. Mine’s a pint. Straight glass.

 

[1] Hugh Baggaley
[2] Venetia Vyvyan, Heywood Hill’s Book Shop, Mayfair
[3] Jan Noble, Not Your Average Type
[4] New version of poem published in Nazar Look, Nov.2012

__________

The agency waives its right to insist on the terms shown at the foot of the contact page, in the context of this interview.


Guidance for writers and enquirers

author 1When we receive letters or emails from authors enclosing details of their novels, they often include what they consider to be a “synopsis”. Almost without exception, these synopses are more like blurbs or teasers. When we write back to them and tell them that publishers don’t want that kind of thing, but want something more like a dry plot summary, their reaction is often one of surprise and they comply rather grudgingly.

It’s easy to understand. They want to “sell” their cherished work, and feel that the plot summary doesn’t make it seem attractive enough.

Well, here is a direct quotation on the issue from a publisher’s website:

When submitting fiction, including children’s fiction, please post a hard copy of the first three chapters or equivalent and a synopsis of the work. The synopsis should not be a pitch or a blurb or a cover-style ‘teaser’ but a simplified explanation of the plot in one or two sides, listing the theme, setting and characters of your book, from the first to final chapter.”

Here’s a quote from Nicola Monaghan, writing in the 2009 Writer’s Handbook on the subject of trusting your agent:

Once you’ve established a relationship, there are no guarantees. I remember my agent telling me that things might not work out, despite the fact he was prepared to help and advise me as I wrote the novel; and I appreciated his honesty. Here is where there’s a difficult line to tread. Your agent may well want various changes to the manuscript you submitted and you might not agree with all of them. Do you roll over and play dead, changing anything that’s suggested to you as you strive for publication? Well, of course not. You need to keep your artistic integrity, remember what your work is about and make your own decision about changes. But I would urge the beginning writer to listen very hard to anything the agent suggests. She has years of experience in the publishing industry and understands how books work, and what sells. You do not know better! In my experience I have made one change in my entire career at the suggestion of an agent that I have regretted. These people are professionals and are almost always right!

Ours is not a big-time agency, but when we give advice we do so in the writer’s interest. I remember a writer whoauthor 2 came to us with a novel which I knew was very, very commercial. We were prepared to push it hard at targeted publishing houses, but I advised the writer that it was essential that someone went through it and put right the punctuation, grammar, and so on. The writer did nothing, and the result was we couldn’t go ahead with the project. A pity – the story was great, and would have sold. It would have made a superb film too!

The following advice to aspiring authors comes from Barry Turner, editor of The Writer’s Handbook, and is taken from his editorial in what was regrettably the final edition of the book.

“…Wherever you decide to start your bid for recognition be business-like. When corresponding with a publisher, you are dealing with someone who has not much time to spare. He neither has the energy nor the optimism to wade through a weighty manuscript which just may turn out to be the blockbuster of the century but more probably will not.

All that is needed at the approach stage is a synopsis, a sample chapter, and a letter of introduction saying who you are and what there is in your life that makes you peculiarly qualified to write this particular book. Previous publications should be mentioned but not, please not, compliments on your literary skills from friends (however influential) and family. Equally irritating to the recipient are those anticipations of sharp practice such as the bold © at the end of a submission specifying ‘First British rights only’.

The synopsis should begin with a line or two of what marketing people call the ‘unique selling point’ (USP). Who is likely to buy this book and why? It is not enough to claim that the author will reach out to the general reader. We all like to think that a mass audience is waiting for us but the reality is that each book has a core appeal on which sales potential will be judged.

Having settled on a snappy justification, the synopsis can be used to describe the book in some detail. It is impossible to specify length – where a single page may suffice for a beginner’s guide to beekeeping, a closely argued case got energy conservation might require several thousand words. An idea for a novel has sparked interest on the strength of one paragraph. What is essential is for the synopsis to be a clear and logical description of the book.

author 3It should end with a few pertinent details. What is the intended size of the book? This has an important bearing on production costs and thus on the sales forecast. The best estimate of size is the number of words, with the average book falling within the 80,000 – 100,000 bracket…

Submissions should be typewritten (with double-spacing for the manuscript) and free of messy corrections. Publishers, being human, are liable to be put off by a grubby file of foolscap patched together with sellotape…”

PT