Interview: HILARY DELAMERE, children’s literary agent and 2018 judge
We’re delighted to welcome Hilary Delamere as this year’s judge. Hilary is a leading literary agent for children’s authors and a partner at The Agency where her list includes Michael Bond, Raymond Briggs and Malorie Blackman alongside rising stars like Bath shortlisted Sophie Green.
Thank you for making time to judge this year’s award. What are you hoping to find with us?
Delighted to be judging the Bath Novel for 2018. I don’t want to jinx it –and I wouldn’t want anyone to try and write to order – I am being completely open minded – sometimes I would like a certain type of writer or topic as I think that is what publishers are seeking but I want something lasting and exciting and a voice that I cannot resist.
Can you tell us a little bit about how you came to be an agent?
I started in publishing many years ago in the Faber Rights department and received some fantastic rights and contracts training, which has stood me in good stead. I then went on and worked for various other publishing houses from small independents including Andre Deutsch, to middle sized The Bodley Head and Hamish Hamilton to large conglomerates and before I became an agent worked at Penguin as their Rights Director for their children’s books ; I then joined The Agency (formerly Lemon Unna & Durbridge) to handle all the Paddington publishing and build my own children’s book list.
How many unsolicited submissions does your agency receive in a typical week and how do you keep on top of it?
We get about 100 a week – and so we have had to close the list quite regularly – I think the numbers have increased with the ease of submission, no photocopying and posting… but there is no quick route around reading and considering.
When you read a submission what do you look for first and what makes a book shine out from the pile?
Really practical things first – don’t send material in a format which is hard to open or access; make sure you have proof read so that there are no jarring typos and inconsistencies – but like any reader I want to feel the text envelop me and draw me in – once I open that first page I don’t want to be able to put it down and feel desperate to know what happens next! The quality of the writing is important, coupled with a compelling plot. Many tales have been told but a fresh new voice makes it sing.
What do you look for in a synopsis?
Succinct – accurate – gives me some sense of the style and tone of the novel – this is not a blurb and you can reveal the ending. However, I would be more likely start reading the manuscript and then the synopsis…
Do you sign many new writers from your submissions pile?
Hardly ever – I did sign more initially but as your list builds there is less space and time to sign new clients. .. most time is spent on existing clients – but I am always looking for something exciting and new but also complementary in style to the existing list.
Congratulations on signing Sophie Green and placing her Bath Children’s shortlisted debut POTKIN AND STUBBS with Piccadilly Press…
I am delighted to be representing Sophie – I loved the voice and the premise: the unlikely duo; the wry humour and the noir- ish feel. Lil Potkin is all that I enjoyed seeing in a young heroine– inquisitive and fearless – a real independent thinker and gutsy without any hint of brag. Rather like the author I think.
Our word count is open for the Children’s Novel Award. What are your thoughts for middle grade and YA novels?
Again I don’t want to be prescriptive – but my advice to writers is if you want to write something exceptionally long or exceptionally short there has to be a very compelling and exceptional reason why – easier to stick to the more usual length word count for that age group – don’t study the market too closely but do be aware of it and where you might fit in. Don’t give yourself extra hurdles.
How would you describe your current list?
A cracking list of really talented writers and illustrators – all of whom I feel proud to be working with.
What children’s books have made your laugh or cry recently?
Three novels on my own list: Emma Shevah’s What Lexie Did which has just been launched on the Chicken House list – touching and funny and important with a big moral conundrum at the heart; and due out in November Alan Durant’s Clownfish (Walker books) – just re-read the copy edited version – and wept all over again…a tale of bereavement and mourning and renewal – and some fun. And Liz Laird’s Welcome to Nowhere a story of a family of refugees fleeing their home in Syria and finding themselves in a camp in Jordan – Liz writes with honesty and openness – bad things happen to human beings, not necessarily saints, and that makes it all the more real and powerful.
What books did you love as a child?
Narnia (which I have returned to many times through my children); Ballet Shoes (which I haven’t in the same way) – but also Cynthia Harnett’s Woolpack, and her other historical titles. In terms of illustrated books I loved the Nurse Mathilda titles but was initially drawn to them by Edward Ardizzone’s wonderful cross hatching black and white line illustrations – and then discovered the fun of Christianna Brand’s tales.
How do you feel about children choosing the shortlist?
I think this is excellent – children’s publishing is an odd one as there are so many adult gate keepers along the way not only in the industry: agents; publishers; booksellers; librarians but also parents and teachers and ensuring that children are very much part of this process is essential.
Any other advice for entrants?
Although the first page, the first chapter, the first half of the book is crucial – it draws you in and leads you on – don’t let it down by a rushed and flawed second half – work on both, and on the ending!
The Bath Children’s Novel Award is an annual international prize for emerging novelists
2018 prize: £2,500
2018 judge: Hilary Delamere of The Agency will pick the winning novel from a shortlist chosen by a team of Junior Judges readers aged from 7 to 17 years
Shortlist: introductions to literary agents and manuscript feedback
Longlist: the writer of the most promising longlisted novel will receive an online place worth £1,800 on Learn to Edit Your Novel the Professional Way from Cornerstones Literary Consultancy
Eligibility: open to unpublished and independently published novelists worldwide
Submissions: first 5,000 words plus one page synopsis of (completed) novels written for children or teens. There is no minimum or maximum word count for the full and novels may be in any genre. From funny to dark; fantastic to futuristic; fashionable to forever, our Junior Judges would love the chance to read your book!
Closing date: 2nd December 2018
Interview: Sophie Green, shortlisted for Potkin and Stubbs
“I had been querying for years and years with the manuscript for a first novel to no avail. And now, suddenly, agents were approaching me. Within minutes (literally, courtesy of Twitter) of the winner and shortlist announcements I had got my first request from an agency to see the full manuscript.
“I remember thinking ‘Wow! Agents really watch this prize,’ and the agency was a big one, based in New York, but there was already one that was at the top of my wish list.
“I had met Hilary Delamere years earlier and, although she didn’t make me an offer of representation back then, I felt like she really got my writing and where I was coming from, and for me that was going to be the most important thing. So I got back in contact, and this time the answer was a resounding ‘Yes!’ I signed with Hilary at The Agency a week later and she took Potkin & Stubbs along with her to meet editors at the Bologna Book Fair, and then to London.
“I felt more hopeful than ever because I knew I had people in my corner, and this started with the Bath Children’s Novel Award and the strong writing community that surrounds it; former winners, shortlistees, readers and judges (most especially the Junior Judges!) and people from the book industry, who all make the Bath Children’s Novel Award what it is: A competition run by people who are truly passionate about writing and writers, and for me, being shortlisted was the moment where everything changed.
“It’s every writer’s dream to be able to debut with the story they wanted to tell, just as they wanted to tell it, and I was completely thrilled to have this novel picked up so passionately by the wonderful team at Piccadilly Press.
“Potkin and Stubbs started as a ghost story, and became a detective noir steeped in comedy, but at its heart it’s a story about what it means to be believed in, and what it takes to believe in someone else.
Emma Matthewson, publishing director for children’s fiction at Bonnier Zaffre, negotiated the deal with Hilary Delamere from The Agency. Matthewson told The Bookseller: “Sophie’s writing won me over from her opening lines and had me in thrall until the very last ghostly page. Her stories are brimful of warmth, great heart and thrilling action. We are so proud to be welcoming Sophie to the Piccadilly list for this exciting new series.”
Sophie Green is a children’s stock librarian for Suffolk Libraries. Her children’s detective noir novel, Potkin & Stubbswas shortlisted for the Bath Children’s Novel in 2016. Bonnier Zaffre imprint Piccadilly Press will publish Potkin and Stubbs in March 2019 as the first in a trilogy, featuring “reluctant ghosts, wisecracks and an unusual investigative duo”.