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.


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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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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Farewell Les Noble, an exceptional editor.

We have learned today that Les Noble, who has edited so many of our clients’ books, died on the 13th of March. It was an honour to be associated with him – his skill at spotting errors in manuscripts was enviable. He was also a good storyteller himself, and his fiction is still in print.

We have left this blog post as it stood, apart from an introductory paragraph, as a tribute to Les.

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Reviews, and news from Edinburgh Book Festival moving

Paul writes:

After several years writing event reviews for an Edinburgh-based organisation, I am now working as a freelance. I’ll be publishing my reviews on my occasional blog for light academic and other articles. But I’m also available if anyone else would like to engage me to write for their publication.

Also I’ll be moving my annual photo album of the Edinburgh International Book Festival from this site to the same place, so please feel free to follow the blog.

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This agency works hard for its clients, often going further than many established agencies go on their behalf. It is therefore very irksome when an established publishing house does not bother with the courtesy to reply to a letter, even though a stamped envelope was included for their convenience. How much time does it take to pop a compliment slip into an envelope?

Then there is the major publishing house that does reply, but has on three occasions sent us an identical letter in reply to ours. The letter is the standard one they send to authors, advising them to get an agent, ignoring the fact that it was an agent that wrote to them in the first place! What is more, they have ignored letters pointing that out. It is discourteous, and actually plain damned negligent. Thankfully there is only one publisher in the whole UK that does this. We’re saying no more for now, but next time we’re considering simply naming them!

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There have not been many updates here lately. This does not mean there’s nothing happening. We’re working towards at least one book launch before the end of the year, for example. Keep watching this space.


Meetings, greetings, and web-sitings!

Elizabeth Mostyn

This week I had the great pleasure of meeting, once more, our client Elizabeth Mostyn, whose novel Wisp is getting closer and closer to its date of publication. Elizabeth is a prolific author, and is working on more novels, which the agency will take a look at. Be on the look-out for Wisp when it appears – it’s a corker!

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I also travelled in to Edinburgh to meet Luka Vukos, who directed the prizewinning short Lose like a Human, all about artificial intelligence. We had a long chat about  possible projects for the future. Edinburgh has been much on my mind lately, because I have to arrange visits to events at The Fringe and the Edinburgh International Book Festival. I have all that to look forward to, but Time’s winged chariot isn’t exactly hanging about!

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Meanwhile, Lyz Russo has just announced on her blog that P’kaboo publishers in the Republic of Ireland have a revamped web site. It has a look of the old one, but it has now been made phone-friendly. Again, it’s a case of “Watch this space,” because P’kaboo will be launching a series of books very soon – mainly fiction, but one very important work of non-fiction. At least I’d say it was. More news as and when it happens.

Paul

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Please note that the appearance of random advertisements on this web site is a feature of the platform, and should not be taken as an endorsement by this agency.


James Tait Black Prize shortlist announced.

jtb-2019-fiction

This year is the centenary of the UK’s oldest literary award – the James Tait Black Prize. I had the privilege to be one of the readers for this year’s prize, and it was gratifying to see that one of the books I read and reported on, Murmur by Will Eaves, has been placed on the shortlist of four titles from which the winning book for the fiction prize will be chosen. I have to admit I was very hard on the book in my report to the judges, but I’m glad that they were able to support it. I’m looking forward to attending the prizegiving at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.


An uncompromising writer, an uncompromising subject, and a chance for a daring publisher!

It is unusual for the agency to flag up a book before it’s even written, but these are unusual times! And having said that, it’s a work of non-fiction, so bringing it to the attention of publishers whilst it is still a project is quite legitimate.

uwe schutte 1

Dr. Uwe Schütte

First of all, let us introduce the author, Dr. Uwe Schütte, Reader in German at Aston University. Already widely published in German and the author of more than fifteen academic monographs and trade books on pop music, he has recently made a foray into the English language market with W.G. Sebald, an introduction to the writer –  his PhD supervisor during his student years – in Northcote House’s ‘Writers and their Work’ series, now appearing with Liverpool University Press. His excellent introductory collection/edited volume German Pop Music: A Companion appeared in 2017 and he has also been asked by Penguin to produce a general introduction to Kraftwerk, the German pioneers in electronic music, which should be on the bookstore shelves in 2019.

In 2015, Uwe in conjunction with the artistic project Der Konterfei brought out a book in German about the alternative performer/artist/occultist/personage Genesis P-Orridge, and it is the English re-writing of this book that is the project for which we now want to give advance notice!

Screen Shot 2018-12-11 at 20.49.12Godstar: The twisted path of Genesis P-Orridge, will take hold of the reputed inventor of industrial music, adherent of Magick, and transsexual(?), and treat its subject to a critical appraisal that is certainly no hagiography. The writer finds Orridge uncompromising but not always convincing. The book traces that twisted itinerary from the extremist performance collective COUM, via Throbbing Gristle (the industrial band who managed to put at least one record in the collection of every unsuspecting punk in the late 1970s), via the band Psychic TV, via the foundation of the pagan sect Temple ov Psychick Youth, to the relationship with dominatrix Jaye Breyer and the invention of ‘pandrogyny’ in which Jaye and Genesis aligned themselves surgically into a single identity. If you are wondering why this update studiously avoids gender pronouns, that’s why! Jaye died tragically young in 2007, and Genesis is now terminally ill…

As noted above, this is no hagiography. Uwe is both deeply fascinated by and highly critical of Orridge, praising his unique and  uncompromising art but questioning personal attitudes, statements, and actions at the same time. Because of  this stance situated between worship and condemnation, the German version has sold and sold and sold. So we are looking for interest in advance from a UK publisher who is willing to be daring. Fans of Orridge and people interested in his involvement in Magick will buy it, even if they find the writer’s approach challenges them. As will everybody with an interest in industrial music and Crowleyian Magick, as well as radical art in general.

Bookseeker Agency would not handle this book if it were simply a banner-waver for Orridge, Magick, and so on. The fact that Uwe Schütte is prepared to take a bold and uncompromising line with a bold and uncompromising subject is what makes us willing to present it to publishers. We are delighted and privileged to represent Dr. Schütte.

So – will that adventurous publisher be you? Please get in touch via the email address on the ‘Contact’ page