Friday, December 2, 2016

Ask the Industry Expert: Literary Agent, Jemima Forrester

It's time for another of Helena Fairfax's interviews with a publishing industry expert. This month we're delighted to meet Jemima Forrester of the David Higham Agency.

Thanks so much for stepping into the spotlight, Jemima!

Please tell us a little about the David Higham Literary Agency and how you came to be a part
of it. 
David Higham Associates is one of the most successful and well-respected agencies in the UK. Since its beginnings in 1935, the agency has represented and continues to represent some of the biggest literary names in the business – from Graeme Greene and Dylan Thomas, to Paula Hawkins and Bernard Cornwall. David Higham represents authors of fiction, non-fiction and children’s books, as well as illustrators and script writers for film and TV.
I joined David Higham as an agent in September this year and I’m looking predominantly for commercial and upmarket fiction, as well as some non-fiction. I come from a publishing background and spent the first seven years of my career as an editor, most recently as senior commissioning editor for fiction at Orion Publishing Group.
The role came about rather serendipitously. I’d often thought of agenting as something I’d love to get into, but never thought I’d be able to move across without starting again at the bottom. When Lizzy Kremer, an agent I deeply admired and respected (and who is particularly well known to the RNA), approached me about the role she was looking to fill at David Higham, I quickly realised what an incredible opportunity it was.
So here I am, a couple of months in and really enjoying it. I’ve already taken on a few very exciting new clients and I’m actively growing my list.

What do enjoy most about your job? And least?
I love the variety. I love that one day I can be holed up in my office, totally engrossed in an edit for a new author I’m working with, and the next I can be out and about meeting new people and attending events. It’s a real adrenaline rush when you stumble across a fantastic new writer or a book that’s so brilliant you can’t put it down. That’s a feeling I had a lot as an editor and one I imagine I’ll still have in thirty years’ time!
I don’t think I have a least favourite thing. It’s only been two months so perhaps I’m looking at everything through rose-tinted glasses! 

What is it you are looking for when a manuscript lands on your desk? Are there any specific plots or themes you’d like to see?
Within fiction, I’m looking for women’s fiction that’s fresh, funny and smart, as well as gripping crime, thriller and psychological suspense novels, and upmarket reading group fiction. I also like YA crossover, historical fiction and the more commercial end of speculative fiction and magical realism.
As you can tell, my taste is pretty broad! I’m really drawn to distinctive narrative voices and unusual narrators. I love a high concept and anything with a strong and original hook. I love stories about families and relationships. If you can make me laugh out loud as well as tug on my heartstrings, I’ll be forever yours!

Do you ever find authors outside the slush pile? If so, how? 
Yes, absolutely! A lot of the larger writing courses and MA programmes (like the Faber Academy or City University) hold readings and produce anthologies of the students’ work. The standard is often very high and it’s not unusual for graduates of these courses to receive a lot of interest from agents. There are also panels and one-on-ones at writing festivals and graduate days. I find these a really great place to meet and chat to prospective authors. It’s less relevant for fiction than it is for non-fiction, but sometimes social media can play a part. It’s a great way to keep on top of emerging trends and to discover and connect with new people.

What advice would you give someone submitting to you?  
Take a look at interviews like this or at my profile on the DHA website to see the sort of books I’m looking for and make sure that ties in with what you’re submitting (this goes for any agent you’re looking to submit to). Make sure you’re manuscript is in the best possible shape it can be. When you finish writing, go back and edit it or rework it until you’re completely happy with it. Sending your work off before it’s ready is just shooting yourself in the foot. Also spend some time writing your cover letter and (max. two-page) synopsis. If you’re not sure how to do these, look for guidance online. They are really important and a strong reflection of you and your book.  
Like most agents, I see an awful lot of submissions and, while I’ll give each one due consideration, I don’t have a huge amount of time to spend on each one. I have to make a decision quite quickly based on a relatively small amount of material, so it’s worth making sure that material is as smart, polished and appealing as it can be.

Do you think these days aspiring romance writers have a better chance of being published if they are planning a series? Are stand-alone novels more likely to be rejected by publishers and agents?
I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. I do think there’s a certain appetite for series fiction, especially in the very commercial ebook market, but I’m not aware of publishers prizing series fiction over standalone novels in the romance genre. I’d say they have equal footing when it comes to consideration and publishers will be far more focussed on characterisation and plot.

What benefits do you feel an agent can offer an author? 
There are lots of benefits! Agents and authors work together as a team (often throughout the author’s entire career) and it’s a nice feeling to know that there’s someone out there who is firmly in your corner and is rooting for you professionally. It’s obviously the agent’s job to manage the financial and contractual side of the author’s career and make sure the author is being published by the best possible publisher with the best possible deal. But beyond that, agents also help manage and direct the author’s career over the years, offer support and guidance and liaise between the author and the publisher when necessary. There are some conversations you don’t necessarily want to have with your publisher (you really hate the cover they’ve suggested, for example) and it definitely helps having a mediator in those situations.

What’s your favourite romance novel of all time?
I probably have to be really unoriginal here and say Pride and Prejudice. It was Jane Austen who first fuelled my love of books and Pride and Prejudice is one of the two novels I reread every few years (the other one is To Kill a Mockingbird). In fact, one of my last acquisitions at Orion was a sequel written by debut novelist (and RNA member) Terri Fleming, entitled Perception. It tells the story of the forgotten Bennet sisters, Mary and Kitty. If you loved the original, keep an eye out for it next summer!

Apart from your own authors, which book have you enjoyed the most in the past twelve months, and why?
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes – I was late to the party with this one, but I absolutely adored it. It was charming, witty and, ultimately, heart-breaking. I watched the film adaption recently on a plane and cried so much an air hostess stopped to check if I was OK. My husband was suitably mortified.
Little Lies by Liane Moriarty – I picked this up from my teetering to-read pile recently and devoured it in one sitting. It’s very cleverly constructed, deeply intriguing and she really brings her characters to life. 
The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon – if you haven’t read this novel yet, you must. Set in 1976 in a small suburban community, it’s part mystery and part coming-of-age story with a gorgeous child narrator at its heart. The writing is just beautiful.

What do you like to do in your spare time? 
I’m a real foodie and keen amateur cook, so I love trying new restaurants and throwing dinner parties for friends and family. To combat this, I’m also a runner and, when the weather permits it, I love jogging by the river in Hammersmith. As I get to read so rarely for pleasure I often listen to audiobooks when I run. I’m currently really enjoying the audiobook of Miss You by Kate Eberlen. On quiet evenings in, I love catching up on my latest box-set addiction. I’ve just finished the latest season of Game of Thrones and am now midway through Outlander.  

If you could describe your working-day in just three words, what would they be?
Varied, inspiring, tea-fuelled.

Thanks so much for your considered answers, Jemima. You've given us all food for thought. (And you've given me some new authors to add to my TBR!)

If you've enjoyed Jemima's interview, or have any questions at all, please let us know in the comments!

About Helena:

Helena Fairfax's engaging contemporary romances have been shortlisted for The Exeter Novel Prize, the Global Ebook Awards and the I Heart Indie Awards. Her latest release is a boxed set of romantic suspense novellas called A Year of Light and Shadows, now available on Amazon and from other e-book retailers.

Thank you, Helena and Amanda for a most interesting interview. The RNA blog is brought to you by,

Elaine Everest & Natalie Kleinman

If you would like to write for the blog please contact us on

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Festivals and Workshops: Essex Book Festival

Welcome to Elaine Roberts with another in her interesting series about literary festivals and workshops.

This month I have interviewed Rosalind Green from the Essex Book Festival. Welcome to
Sarah Perry
the RNA blog Rosalind.

Can you tell us something about your festival, how it came about and how long its been running?
Essex Book Festival has been up and running for nearly twenty years. It was originally set up and run by Essex Libraries. In recent years, however, it has evolved into a separate entity - an independent charitable organisation that hosts over 60 venues across Essex throughout March each year.
Who are your main speakers this year?
It’s still all under wraps in the Festival HQ but I’ll let you into a few of our secrets!
Essex-Born novelist Sarah Perry, who has just been short-listed for Waterstone’s Book of the Year with her fabulous novel The Essex Serpent, is going to be our Festival Writer-in-Residence.
We also have the ‘doyenne’ of Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour Jenni Murray launching our inaugural Science and Invention Day in Chelmsford. Most appropriate this Chelmsford is the birthplace of radio!
Plus we’re delighted to be welcoming crime-writer extraordinaire Sophie Hannah to take part in our Golden Age of Crime Weekend in Southend.
As our blog is for writers can you tell me how your festival would benefit our members?
We are running multiple creative writing workshops across Essex throughout March.
These extend from a ‘Crime-Writing Master-class’ as part of our Golden Age of Crime Weekend, a ‘Writing-the-Self Workshop’ led by The Guardian/Independent literary & theatre reviewer Lucy Popescu. Through to a ‘Wild Writing Workshop’ with nature writer and poet Chris McCully and a ‘Making A Start Workshop’ led by award-winning debut author Annabel Abbs.
These are just a few of our writing workshops on offer next March. More information will be popping up on our website over the next few months:
Is there anything to enter (maybe a writing competition), if so could details be provided?
We will be launching our second Crime Short Story Competition during our Golden Age Of Crime Weekend. Again, watch out for it on our website.
How about staying over for the whole event. Where can people stay?
Sophie Hannah
The Festival takes place right across Essex throughout March, and so unlike other Book Festivals there is no easy answer in terms of how and where to say. However, we thoroughly recommend that people book into the wonderful Park Inn Palace Hotel, ‘home’ of our Golden Age of Crime Weekend in Southend. The Park Inn Palace Hotel is at the end of the world’s longest pleasure pier so an amazing experience in it’s own right!
What does it cost to attend?
We do our very best to make our events as affordable as possible. The majority of our events cost £7 (£5 for Under 27s), while quite a few of our family events are free.
Do workshops/talks fill up quickly?
Our workshops fill up very quickly and likewise some of our more high profile events. For example, last year’s launch event with Grayson Perry sold out in a flash! We always advise that people book before coming...
How much time does it take to organise the festival?
We work on the Festival all year. That’s not entirely true – we try and take May off to recover from the mayhem of March.
Dates for this 2017 and possibly 2018.
The Festival always runs from 1st- 31st March.

Link to website:

Email for queries:

About Elaine:
Elaine is a member of the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme and is currently working on a family saga. She has sold short stories worldwide and enjoys attending RNA events such as the London chapter and our annual conference. Elaine is a great fan of writing retreats either week long by the sea with friends or one-day retreats with fellow writers in her home town of Dartford. Elaine runs a writing blog along with writer, Francesca Capaldi Burgess called WriteMindWritePlace.

Thank you Elaine. The Essex Book Festival looks to be an event worth visiting.

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Friday, November 25, 2016

Mary Wood: Dreams Do Come True

I’m thrilled to welcome Mary Wood to the blog today. An author I admire greatly who writes fabulous stories.

I was a wannabee author for twenty years before kindle took me to where I am today.
Like most authors, I wrote a lot as a child and had my head constantly buried in a book and dreamed
of being the one who one day would write the books

I was in my forties before I finally penned a full novel. I was nursing my mother and writing gave me a distraction. Of course, it was going to be the next best seller – film, even! I’m sure you know the feeling.

I came down to earth once the rejections plopped onto my welcome mat.
One agent told me that I was a great storyteller, but that I needed to learn the craft of writing as my characters were flat.  What did she mean?
I set out to find out. Unfortunately for me, I engaged a woman who advertised that she would appraise your manuscript, show you where changes were needed. Re-read after you had made them, and then, once up to scratch, she would help you to place your MS as she was a scout for an agent. A lot of money, and many edits later,  she finally declared me ready. Excitement built. This was it. Off my manuscript went. But shock horror, the agent slated my work. I complained, but was then told she suspected this would happen, but as I was so keen, she thought to let me submit was the only way of getting through to me that I wasn’t a writer and never would be.
Disappointed, and not a little angry, I dusted myself off and soldiered on.

It was when I bought a book called, How to Be a Damn Good Writer, by James Frey, that I had a lightbulb moment. Suddenly everything about characterisation, showing-not-telling, writing good dialogue etc. made sense. And all for just £2! By now the age of technology had crept in and I embraced everything it offered. I joined on-line writing sites where other authors critiqued my work, and I theirs. It was from there that I learned of kindle.

The first book I uploaded was the one the agent had rubbished! An Unbreakable Bond. It zoomed to the top of genre and stayed there for fifteen months. More books followed, and with the same success. I was happy. I had achieved most of my dream. But more was to come. Author, Diane Allen messaged me out of the blue. At the time Diane was manager of a large-print publishing company and was interested in my work. However, after a while, Diane rang me and paid me one of the biggest compliments I have ever had. She told me that she wasn’t going to offer for my books as she felt they deserved to be published and wouldn’t stand a chance to be if I’d sold some of the rights. How generous was that? But then Diane did something that was even more wonderful. She asked if she could send my MS to her agent.

Within days, I was so excited to receive a call from the great, Judith Murdoch offering to become my agent. But the shocks didn’t stop there. Not many days later, I found a PM on my Facebook from an editor working with Pan Macmillan. She had seen my books in the charts, become curious and had downloaded Time Passes Time, loved it, and wanted to sign me! From that, with the skill of my agent, and at the grand age of 68, came a seven-book deal! Two new books and my five backlist titles. I have since signed two further two-book deals, and am soon to see my sixth book in three years hit the shelves. I still pinch myself.

The moral is: Never give up, believe in yourself when no one else does. I am proof that dreams do come true. By-the-way, An Unbreakable Bond, (the rubbished one) made me a Sunday Times Bestseller! Ha, I think I had the last laugh.

Much love to all, thank you for reading. x

About Mary:

I am the thirteenth child of fifteen. We were poor, but rich in love. I spent most of my working life in various jobs from cleaning to catering, whilst bringing up my own four children. I ended my 9 – 5 with the Probation Service, after a 10yr stint.
My maternal great grandmother was a published author, and I am proud to follow in her footsteps. I live in Blackpool, but spend half of the year in Spain.

Book Blurb:

Two girls. One horrendous war. The chance to unite a family . . .
Edith and Ada run Jimmy's Hope House where they care for unmarried mothers, and where Edith, a doctor, offers free medical help to the poor of London's East End. Both are struggling to overcome trauma from their past. For Edith there is the constant ache and yearning for her twin girls Elka and Ania, from whom she was separated in 1918. For Ada there is the threat of her sister returning . . . As the Nazis strengthen their grip on Poland, sisters Elka and Ania are forced to make a difficult decision: travel to England to find their birth mother or stay and fight against an increasingly desperate regime?
In times of war, no choices are ever easy to make. But making the right choice could keep you alive . . .


Twitter: @Authormary

Thank you for telling your story, Mary. You are proof that dreams do come true.

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