Korede’s gorgeous younger sister Ayoola has a nasty habit of killing her boyfriends once she grows tired of them. Covering up her sister’s crimes is bad enough, but life gets a lot more terrifying when Ayoola takes a liking to Korede’s love interest.
“I love the deal. I LOVE the deal. I mean to be an agent you have to love the deal. I love sending out a book and getting those emails 24 hours later saying ‘I loved it! Don’t let someone else buy it.”
It’s a sunny Tuesday morning and I’m chatting with literary agent Nelle Andrew in a coffee shop in Bloomsbury. We are opposite the offices of Peters, Fraser and Dunlop where she works as a primary agent, a ‘hunter-gatherer’ as she puts it, searching out and representing the UK’s brightest writing talent. Read More
Emma Paterson’s author list reads like a who’s who of influential people currently shaking up cultural discussions in the UK. Emma Dabiri (Don’t Touch My Hair), Otegha Uwagba (Little Black Book), Charlie Brinkhurt-Cuff (Mother Country), Bridget Minamore (Titanic), Panashe Chigumadzi (These Bones Will Rise Again), Funmi Fetto (Palette – a beauty bible for women of colour, out October 2019) are just a selection of her clients.
Paterson studied English at Cambridge then completed an MA in Gender Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies. Her first publishing job was as editorial assistant for an academic publisher. She moved on to an agents’ assistant role at the prestigious Wylie Agency, joined Rogers, Coleridge & White in 2013 and is now a literary agent with Aitken Alexander Associates. She was named the Bookseller Rising Star of 2018.
1. You completed an MA at SOAS then went into academic publishing before deciding you preferred fiction publishing. How hard was it to get an assistant position at The Wylie Agency?
The first time I interviewed for that position, I didn’t get the job. Some time after, because the first interview had gone relatively well, I sent the director of the London office an email and asked whether any new vacancies had opened up. Luckily, there was a new position available so I interviewed again and finally got the job in 2010 around the time of the ash cloud.
2. What do you enjoy most about your work?
The breadth of it can be very stimulating. On the surface, the job is editorially driven but it also requires keen business instincts; the energy to generate new ideas; an interest in international publishing and global trends; a sensitive and complex understanding of people and their tastes. Deep down, though, I derive the purest pleasure from working closely with authors. That is the most rewarding part of the job, creatively and intellectually.
Literary agents play a huge role in shaping what we see in bookstores.
Take a short walk with me and I’ll illustrate.
Let’s say you’re asleep one night when you’re woken by a voice calling your name from the darkness. After some investigation, it turns out that the voice belongs to God.
I know. Plot twist.
It’s the great I AM speed dialling you from Heaven and He orders you to sit down at your computer and start typing.
Several days and hundreds of pages later you finally finish and you’re shocked to discover that you’ve been inspired to produce The Bible: The Lost Testament.
What do you do next? Well, you’re gonna want to whisk that beauty into the hands of a publisher ASAP because it’ll be the most coveted thing since Harper Lee decided she had a little more to say about mockingbirds.
If you approached any of the Big Five (Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster) via their fifty million subsidiary imprints, despite holding (literally) God’s Word, they’d ask you to submit your masterpiece via a literary agent. You’d then have to toddle off to go hunt for a suitable literary agent, persuade them to read your new manuscript, get them excited enough to sign you, then wait for them to successfully sell your work to a publisher.
This is how most publishing deals work. Many publishers, big and small, will only consider a manuscript that comes to them via a literary agent. That’s an awful lot of power concentrated in the hands of a few. So, who are these people with so much clout dictating our reading choices and do they represent the UK population?
Well, in the UK right now, in the Year of Our Lord 2019, there are only three black female literary agents.
I spoke to two of them.
Emma Paterson and Nelle Andrews were kind enough to make time in their insanely busy schedules, to give me the inside scoop on what they do, how they became agents, how they select the authors on their lists, and how they feel the lack of racial diversity in literary agencies impacts UK publishing.
I’ve made it a two-parter.
I caught the podcast bug in 2014 when the world went crazy over Serial. Two episodes in and I decided that True Crime was not for me, but the show was a launchpad for discovering the multitude of other shows available.
These days I’m a badge-wearing podcast addict. I listen in the gym, on bus rides, during the weekly grocery shop, on flights, as I get dressed in the morning…basically whenever I have a few minutes free and I want to engage my brain. My Gen X heart grumbles that podcasts weren’t an option a decade or two ago. Talk radio in the 80s and 90s was a crowded field of the same middle-class, middle-aged, white guy sharing his views on every station. I wouldn’t have dreamed that a few decades later I would be able to curate a library of shows that reflected my life experiences and discussed topics of interest to me. The change is staggering.
There are tons of literary podcasts out there. Because sharing is caring, I have compiled a list of 9 excellent Black book podcast interviews I have loved and believe you will too.
If you spend any time with me, the conversation will probably veer onto books. From there it’ll take me about 2.5 minutes before I start talking about my desire to see more books by Black authors. The slide from ‘more Black books’ into a lament on the lack of joyful Black books then becomes sure and unstoppable.
Because I love joy. I love safety and peace and goals achieved and lives celebrated and love that fills you up until you glow.
Alas, it’s difficult to find joyful themes in Black UK books, to find hero(ines) that win the day and lives were things turn out well. That’s not accidental. The 2015 report, Writing the Future, concluded that the “’best chance of publication’ for a black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) writer was to write literary fiction conforming to a stereotypical view of their communities, addressing topics such as ‘racism, colonialism or post-colonialism’.”
Since then, I think the parameters have expanded somewhat, but the focus is still on struggle, dysfunction and pain.
Her first novel, The Hate U Give, topped the New York Times bestseller charts for over a year and birthed a star-studded film adaptation that achieved critical and commercial success. Her second novel, On the Come Up, hit store shelves in February and shot straight up the bestseller lists. Like THUG, it has been snapped up for a big-screen adaptation.
There’s no question that Angie Thomas is a powerhouse of a writer. Here are 10 things you should know about her.
1. She was born in Jackson, Mississippi
Mississippi has turned out a remarkable number of writers including Richard Wright, Mildred D Taylor and Jesmyn Ward. Thomas likes to joke that her home state is known for two things: writing and racism. “And I happen to be a writer who writes about racism.”
Thomas grew up in Jackson’s predominantly black Georgetown neighbourhood. “I grew up hearing about black people who were killed, like Emmett Till and civil rights leader Medgar Evers. Evers actually lived in the same neighbourhood I grew up in and when he was killed, his house was so close to ours that my mum, who was a little girl, heard the gunshot. So yeah, I heard those stories but they felt foreign to me. I was more worried about the cops and gang wars.”