I joined the agency in 1995. Before that I was a talent scout for translation publishers and worked as an editor for various publishers. I studied English literature at Wadham College, Oxford. I love literary fiction and well-written genre fiction, including thrillers, crime, historical novels, gothic, clever horror (not too gory) science-fiction, fantasy, romantasy, rom-coms and epic love stories; and literary non-fiction including history, biography and memoir.
Books I have enjoyed reading recently include TOMORROW, AND TOMORROW, AND TOMORROW by Gabrielle Zevin, which our very well-read assistant Mia Dakin recommended to me. It took me into the world of video games, a world I didn’t know I wanted to visit – I love it when books do that. I also love novels about friendship, particularly unlikely ones, so Sadie and Sam and the ups and downs of their three decades of friendship really charmed me.
I love eeriness and weirdness in novels – explorations of the uncanniness and oddness (at times) of desire and how powerful our imaginations are – so Julia Armfield’s OUR WIVES UNDER THE SEA is right up my street. Armfield’s examination of the shapeshifting qualities of her characters’ imaginations and bodies is disquieting, wryly funny at times, and intensely moving. I still think about this novel – it was published a few years ago – it really got under my skin. And it reminded me of that other great modern novel of big ideas and bodily transformation, UNDER THE SKIN by Michel Faber. I love that novel. My favourite uncanny read of the last few years though was Susanna Clarke’s fabulous PIRANESI. Such incredibly intricate and magical world-building, and the most delightful and loveable narrator.
I also loved reading THE COLONY by Audrey Magee – she represents the voices of her characters so vividly and immediately – I can hear them all talking in my head. I’ve been wanting to go to the Skelligs, off the west coast of Ireland for ever, and now – thanks to Audrey – I sort of am there (her island setting is fictional but could be the Skelligs, I think). The factual news reports that intersperse the island chapters read like bleak poems. And she writes about art and the making of art so well too. Especially about how selfish and strong you need to be to make art. And I love her exploration of the idea of languages that are lost or about to vanish – she uses this theme to explore colonialism in such an interesting way.
I just read FOURTH WING by Rebecca Yarros and it was the most fantasy fun I’ve had since reading A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE – Violet is such a great heroine who succeeds with and because of her flaws and weaknesses, like all the best heroines – and the dragons were smoking hot. I now want to read Sarah J. Maas while I wait for IRON FLAME.
What I am looking for in a submission:
I want to find joy and inspiration in the submissions I am reading. I want to read about humanity being altruistic and courageous and visionary – and overcoming the terrifying challenges of our current world and changing our future for the better for all of us. I want fiction that helps me be optimistic and hopeful and resilient. But I also want to be distracted, and taken out of myself and my own head and away from my own fears and worries and tiny first world life problems more than ever. And I want a good laugh too sometimes. So I also want fiction that is fun and immersive and distracting, and makes me want to press the novel into the hands of all my friends because it will be
such a gift and a comfort to us in our troubled times. As you can see above, I like weird and thought-provoking too – I would like to find some horror that is uncanny, subtle, scary but not gory (a modern John Wyndham perhaps or LEAVE THE WORLD BEHIND by Rumaan Alam – so beautifully written and thought-provoking); and I would like more novels of ideas – whip-smart future-gazing and mind-blowing retelling of ancient myths, like my own author Temi Oh’s MORE PERFECT or Margaret Atwood’s THE HANDMAID’S TALE; I would like to find a classy, intriguing ghost story (“THE TURN OF THE SCREW” or THE LITTLE STRANGER); and I also am longing to find a returning crime series, with an unusual and beguiling detective (not a policeperson unless it is MARE OF EASTTOWN or HAPPY VALLEY’s Catherine Cawood) with whom I want to spend quality time (I am also thinking about the Jacksons, Brodie and Lamb and Mrs Judith Potts from Marlow). I never stop loving historical fiction but it has to be really clever (in terms of plot and/or form and/or how it is narrated – ie doing something ambitious and different). I am so jealous of my colleague Antony getting to represent the brilliant Laura Shepherd-Robinson and her gorgeous new novel THE SQUARE OF SEVENS, which pushed all those buttons for me. I also would love to find a big, muscular, high-stakes international thriller – like I AM PILGRIM or THE NIGHT MANAGER. I also love glossy, sexy, intricately plotted destination thrillers like those by my own authors Lucy Clarke and Sabine Durrant. And I am also still longing to find a big love story – something that sweeps me up and is unabashedly passionate and romantic – but sad too: like the utterly wonderful SMALL PLEASURES by my own author Clare Chambers.