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


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.


‘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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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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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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Publishers! Tell us what you want!

Publishers!

Are you wondering where your next best seller is going to come from? Are you waiting for the next Salman Rushdie, Jean Rhys, or Margaret Atwood? Or even the next Dan Brown, Jeffrey Archer, or JKR?

This agency has access to a large list of authors working in many genres:
Children’s, crime, fantasy, historical, horror, humour, literary fiction, mystery, psychological, romance, satire, sci-fi, thriller, YA…

Just let us know what you’re looking for, and we’ll see what we can find for you – chances are we already have an author for you. Get in touch with us!

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Any advertisements below are the responsibility of the platform, and should not be taken as an endorsement by this agency.


We like to help…

… so if an enquirer sends round an email which, in our opinion, will put off potential agents, we tell them, politely. We don’t have to do this. It’s something we do as a courtesy, because we like to help writers, even if we can’t take them on as a client. Unfortunately this doesn’t always work, and someone emails us back like this:

Yes, we are lucky, lucky that most enquirers appreciate our help. We’ve only had this sort of response once. We won’t identify the person, we’ll just say, yes, we got over ourselves, and you’re welcome.

P.

[Edit: It turns out that the sender was someone to whom we had previously extended an ex-gratia service, so he knows we like to be helpful! Folks, we go the extra mile that other agencies don’t go, even when we don’t offer someone outright representation. Like I said, most people appreciate that.]

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Any advertisements below are the responsibility of the platform, and should not be taken as an endorsement by this agency.


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.


Launches and relaunches in Ireland and South Africa

By now you’re all well aware that P’kaboo Publishers has relocated from South Africa to Ireland, and is gearing up for big things. Amongst them is a writing contest for children between the ages of 8 and 18. So if you’re a young person living in Ireland, or you know someone who is, then take note and watch this space… because we’re watching their web site, and as soon as the rules are published we’ll let you know.

We do already know that amongst the prizes will be getting a story published in a book, along with all the other winning stories. And there will be a wonderful launch party in Cobh, Co. Cork.

Meanwhile, Pkaboo has retained an associate back in South Africa. Professional editor Les Noble, whom many of our clients have used, has taken over marketing and promoting their books in their ‘old country’, added to which he has started his own imprint – Noblest Publications. As you can see from the handbill below, he has planned a series of events in the city of Durban, including one that re-introduces Carmen Capuano’s excellent novel Split Decision.

poster-for-november-2018-launches