Bookseeker Literary Agency

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A “very partisan review” of Elizabeth Mostyn’s ‘Wisp’

Wisp – a very partisan review, by a friend of the author…

Disclosure: Liz Mostyn is a friend of half a lifetime’s standing and I have loved Wisp since its first draft, when it was less polished than it is now; and have put some of my own energies into polishing it. I want other people to read and love it, too: I am not unbiased in the least.

That said, I do love Wisp, uncomplicatedly, as a reader; and I wouldn’t review a bad novel for any number of friends – not if I wanted them to remain friends!

One is supposed, in a review, to be orderly and tell the reader important things about the characters and plot – somewhere near the beginning, usually.  The publisher classifies Wisp as science fiction: strictly true, and it’s definitely a novel where science matters, although it doesn’t feel especially science fictional.  If I were shelving it, I’d lean towards mystery: it conforms to certain genre conventions; it’s story driven; there is a mystery to be solved, and a wrong to be righted.  Although it’s also decidedly a novel of ideas and human relationships, the literary novel of the same themes would be different.

The central character, then, is a middle-aged biologist, Ben, who has recently had some unusual experiences.  As we read, some questions emerge about his mental condition, and we notice some inconsistencies in his account of himself – there’s the odd quite jarring moment.  I often find this kind of thing queasy – have been known to want to defend characters from their serious and conscientious authors, and even from their authors’ good intentions.  Mostyn’s treatment is firmly rooted in the human and fundamentally feels fair[1] – it doesn’t require Ben to be either type specimen or counter-example, but allows him to be himself, perplexed by a present problem, and somewhat beset by others’ ideas about him.

Alongside Ben are his somewhat alarmingly effective niece, Christabel, whose purposes are a little obscure; Minnie, a pleasant friend of long standing and a psychiatrist; Jake, a hard-up neuroscientist and stage magician, whose life mostly revolves around work; and Felicity, an enterprising doctoral student in Jake’s lab.  Each has their own concerns, but they converge on the central problems of what is happening to Ben, and what possible interest the military might have in curing Parkinson’s disease – or what it is they’re really interested in.

I enjoy books with big ideas[2] and good stories; I have a strong preference for immersive fiction; I like to be taken somewhere unexpected; and I like to travel with characters who interest me.[3]  Wisp fulfils all those hopes.  The novels I love, though, have heart: Wisp has heart.  It isn’t an easy quality to define: unsatisfactorily, I know it when I see it.  BeckyChambers‘ work has it; Sybil Marshall’s novels have it; much of Terry Pratchett’s work has it – with Pratchett, it grew as he matured in his craft.

I can’t even say it rests on anything so fluffy as the author’s liking people – can you really say that Pratchett liked people?  But he thought they mattered.  You could say the same of Mostyn: while her fondness for her characters is clear (this is a first novel, after all: of its kind, a little lumpy in places, but lambent with long love and long living with the characters and their situation), she has a sharp and sardonic eye for human failing – and she takes for granted that people matter, failings and all.

This is a St Andrean novel – not an especially Scottish novel, not precisely a campus novel, but decidedly a novel set Here, not There, and among these (sometimes only too recognisable) people, not those.  There’s something reminiscent of Phil Rickman in the emergent sense of place: the way small, solid, mostly unimportant details of location support our sense of the undercurrents and self-conceits and long habits which create a local culture; and the ways people therefore behave and experience life. It’s not original to remark that the art of the novelist is to illuminate the universal through the particular (or vice versa); little’s as universal as human nature, although the curious blindnesses of human institutions might come close.

It happens that universities house people who have considerable talents and considerable opinions of their own talents, and for whom fascinating ideas are sometimes a little more real than their effects; from which flows the plot.  I have to admit that when it comes to people who know their own talents a little too well (I’m avoiding giving too much away, here), the idea Mostyn’s wrestling with occasionally overtakes the flow of writing.  Equally, there are some delicious moments and some delightful characterisation; and the story carries one along.

Wisp isn’t a funny novel, but it is one alive to humour – the odd, unobtrusive in-joke between reader and author, the odd tweaking of a tail which just begged to be tweaked (which does tip into indiscipline for a moment, although this reader quite enjoyed it anyway), the occasional gentle rightness.

Another quality I appreciate: the interplay of light and darkness.  There’s plenty of light here – it’s no spoiler to say that right prevails at the last, or that for right to prevail there must be wrongs to prevail against.  They’re pretty dark! although the author doesn’t rub our noses in the darkness for mere effect.

In particular, there’s the light and dark of the soul or psyche: this is an important theme, how psyche protects itself when injured.  Twinned with what exactly we do with the more mysterious promptings of the mind.  Ben’s promptings take the form of visions: are they mere hallucinations (are hallucinations mere?), are they religious phenomena (and if so, what on earth is an unbeliever to make of them?), what is their significance?  I like the author’s conclusion, and enjoyed how she led Ben to it.

It’s also, despite the occasional vagary of pacing, the sort of novel one stays up too late reading: somewhere between “I should go to bed fairly soon” and “heavens, I should have been in bed an hour ago”, 100 pages have happened.

All in all, Wisp is immensely enjoyable, it has heft without heaviness, and the deft clues (to what? it’s far too much of a spoiler to hint at) and clever, satisfying denouement[4] make it a prize. I hope you’ll love it too, or at least stay up too late over a rattling good tale.

Buy Wisp at P’kaboo PublishersAmazon (UK) or Amazon (US).

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1: I believe this to be true; and am aware that the majority of readers don’t share my peculiar sensitivities anyway.  That said, of all the things I say in this review, this is the one which has most potential to be tainted by my relationship with the author: I trust her to be on the side of her character and of my version of the angels, as I haven’t trusted many authors, even when I recognised their sterling good intentions. 

2: To borrow from John Scalzi, whose Big Idea series of author interviews I highly recommend.  

3: It’s decidedly possible that ‘interest’ is the wrong word.  Is ‘appeal’ the right word? It may be a matter of induced empathy – do I indeed ‘feel with’ this person, are their feelings and thoughts persuasive, do they carry me along? 

4: It’s a great pleasure, in closing Wisp at the end or in re-reading it (I’m not a careful first reader, but I am a serial re-reader of the books I love), to recognise the clues unobtrusively distributed through the text; clues to something one didn’t quite know needed to be resolved, but whose resolution is deft and deeply satisfying. It’s a subtle and poignant thread.

Elizabeth Mostyn, with her Bertone Gran Finale


Movie studio interest?

Is it too early to get excited?

No details for now, because that would be tempting fate, but we were recently contacted by someone from a major movie studio, who expressed interest in a client’s work. Not going to count chickens before they’re hatched, but – no – it’s not too early to get a little bit excited.

If anything comes of this, we’ll let you know.


Meet Beatrice Beaumont

image ©Sidney Wilson Washburn

I recently had the pleasure of meeting writer Beatrice Beaumont, who currently has two novels partly written. Although we haven’t yet struck a deal, I was very excited about what she had in mind – think the Kardashians in Regency England, for example – and I’m sure she and I will be talking more when the novels are completed. I’ll let you know…


Twisty thrillers and heartwarming women’s fiction!

image: Photofest, via Film Forum

Authors – can you write a “twisty thriller with bestseller potential” or “heartwarming women’s fiction?” This is precisely what a publishing house has asked us to find. We would like to hear from established, published authors, but newcomers will be considered too – everyone has to start somewhere! So if you have anything that sits squarely in either genre, please feel free to let us see it.


Joshua Gamon’s new graphic miniseries in production!

London-based Markosia Enterprises has picked up Joshua Gamon’s six-issue miniseries Evermore. The story is set during the Spanish Flu epidemic of the 1918-1920. After a young girl goes missing, her father enters a cursed book of fairy tales to find her. Within, creatures of folklore and figures from classic literature co-exist, uneasily, but the sudden appearance of the human child upsets that delicate balance into abrupt chaos. Now, her father must navigate through the mire of monstrous beings and vengeful queens to bring her home.

Joshua’s team is currently illustrating the scripts for a 3rd quarter release. This is exciting news, and we look forward to seeing the finished product. Meanwhile, publishers, don’t forget that Joshua’s excellent novel The Brothers Thanatos is still up for grabs!


‘The Brothers Thanatos’ available again!

Joshua Gamon’s thrilling fantasy adventure The Brothers Thanatos is available to publishers again! Due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control, Joshua asked to be released from the commercial publishing agreement we negotiated for him – totally his prerogative to do so, and we agreed with his decision – and so we are once again promoting the novel to publishers.

So, to any publishers who are reading this I would say that if you want to beat the rest and get your hands on one of the most innovative fantasy novels in a long time, don’t wait for our email! Get in touch with us and express an interest.

If you want to know more about Joshua, click on the book cover (either above or in the sidebar) and that will take you to the original interview we conducted with him.

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An exciting new client!

We here at Bookseeker Literary Agency are very pleased to welcome Jessica Secmezsoy-Urquhart as a client. In what is an unprecedented move for us, we have taken on a writer whose novel is not yet complete! We have broken this principle because we believe we have found someone unique…

Publishers – be prepared to hear from us!

Jessica is of Scottish and Turkish heritage, is an autistic and queer writer, PhD historian, and filmmaker. Their* first novel is called Life Goes On and will tell the strange-but-true story of their Turkish grandfather Aycetin. In the nineteen-forties and fifties, after his father died, Aycetin had to try to survive within the institutions and on the streets of Istanbul.

Life Goes On melds 19c realism with magic and fairytale, it opening a window onto early republican Turkey, from the point of view of a young boy.

Jessica has previously written for publications such as The National Student and Den of Geek founder Simon Brew’s Film Stories. They contribute videos on everything from autism to fire arrows for BBC’s The Social, have appeared on BBC Scotland’s Loop, and are in the post production stage of their first short film, ‘The Constant Companion’.

A self-proclaimed “wee angry goth,” they love to write in any fashion, do historical reenactment, and hang out with their German Shepherd Freya. They can be found at: jessicasuaka or their history blog Past Caring on Facebook, at @JessicasuAKA on twitter, or jessicaakas on Instagram. However, all communication regarding literary representation and/or publication should be directed via this agency.

Jessica mentioned, as an afterthought, “Oh I have a first from the University of Glasgow and a distinction in MScR History at Edinburgh too…”

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*This agency supports people’s right to use gender non-specific pronouns.

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Are you having problems with uploads to Amazon?

Are you a publisher, a publishing house, or someone who self-publishes. Do you upload your titles to Amazon? Many people do, because it is one of the first places readers go to if they want to buy a book on line.

Have you had any technical problems uploading to Amazon? We would like to find out. We’d also like to know how you managed to fix the problem or devise a work-round. Please get in touch, using the agency email address on the contact page.

Thanks

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Our position on Transgender rights

In the present atmosphere it has become necessary to make the following statement. Our position on transgender rights is clear: they are human rights. Our agency is a zone of safety and respect for trans and nonbinary people along with all other people whose identity comes within the LGBTQ+ matrix. We will not knowingly work with any person or organisation that does not give the same respect.

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Please note that any advertisements on this page are a feature of the platform and do not imply any endorsement by this agency.

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