As part of the Year of the Rat blog tour, I am pleased to welcome Clare’s agent, Catherine Clarke, from Felicity Brown Associates, on to the blog, to talk about why she chose to represent this book.
How do you go about sorting through the vast amount of manuscripts you must get sent? What stands out for you?
What stands out is the quality of the writing, most of all—the sense from the first page that you are in the hands of somebody who knows their craft and can lead you through their story with confidence. If it has that effect on me, and the author can sustain it with good structure and pace and characters, then it is likely to have the same effect on others. We receive thousands of submissions, as most agencies do, and we have somebody in the office managing that flow. She knows the tastes of each of the agents and will make sure we see any submission that looks interesting. (We also have a network of freelance readers.) I sometimes ask editors what they are looking for and often they reply: ‘I’ll know it when I see it.’ That also applies to agents!
What was it about The Year of the Rat that really stood out for you? Did you know you had something special?
I first met Clare at a SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) event in London several years ago. I was on a panel with other agents and editors, and she came up to me afterwards and said she was writing a book called The Year of the Rat. I liked the title immediately—it was both direct and intriguing—and so when she sent me some early chapters, I remembered it and prioritised it. We corresponded over the next few years—Clare was brilliant at keeping me up to date with her progress now and again, but not swamping me with emails! We agreed that the story of Pearl grieving for her mother and resenting her new baby sister was inherently strong, but it needed more depth and complexity. So when Clare got in touch at the beginning of 2013, when she was taking the Bath Spa MA in Creative Writing, and said she had finished the novel, I was agog to see how she had tackled that. I read it quickly, and loved it. It was such a thrill to see how she had solved the question of Pearl’s relationship with her mother without resorting to flashback. It was a stroke of genius, and she carries it off with such skill. I knew this was a standout book, and that it was ready to go to publishers.
Will you feedback on manuscripts to the author to make it more ‘publisher-friendly’?
If I think a debut book has great potential and I like enough about it to pursue it, then I will meet the author and talk through my thoughts with them. Sometimes the book is brilliantly written — you know the author is an outstanding writer—but for whatever reason it isn’t a strong proposition as a debut for publishers. So in a couple of cases—Meg Rosoff and later Jenny Downham—I suggested gently that they think about writing a new book with a clear and simple premise. They could always go back to the first later if they wanted to. They were both a little taken aback, understandably, but they both rose to the challenge, and How I Live Now and Before I Die became their first published novels, and established them both internationally from the outset.
How do you go about ‘selling’ a book to publishers? What was it about The Year of the Rat that got publishers in such a frenzy that it resulted in a ‘bidding-war’?
I like to trail a book with editors when I amplanning to submit it—letting them know in conversations at parties or in meetings or over the phone that there is something special in the offing, giving them a hint of what kind of book it is, that I really like it. Sometimes I do that at a book fair, such as Bologna, and send the book out afterwards, to avoid the crush of manuscripts landing in inboxes in the days before the fair. In the case of The Year of the Rat, in fact it all happened a month or so before the Bologna Book Fair. I think lots of people connected at an emotional level with Clare’s book: as mothers, daughters, fathers, siblings, friends. And although the book begins with a funeral, it ends with acceptance and a kind of happiness. And it is brilliantly funny too…a winning combination!
What are your favourite parts about your job?
I like its sociability, how connecting with people all over the world in such a great industry is at the core of bringing writers to readers. I love the thrill of getting up early and reading an outstanding novel from an unpublished writer, or a new novel by one of my authors whose hard work anddiscipline and imagination and command of language have been channeled intosomething wonderful. And I love converting my own enthusiasm for it into finding publishers who are the best match for the author.
And finally, what is your favourite moment or character in The Year of the Rat, and why?
I like Pearl’s mother, with all her faults and passions and her wry wisdom. And I like her grandmother (and her dog) who despite first appearances turns out to be so right about what Pearl needs. I like the moment when Pearl realizes her mother is gone forever, because although it is sad it is also a moment of change and hope. Perhaps I am influenced by the fact that I am writing this on Mother’s Day!
The Year of the Rat by Clare Furniss is published on April 24th 2014 by Simon and Schuster. To find out more about Clare: