I am delighted to welcome Sarah Quirke, Publishing Manager of FA Thorpe Publishing to my blog to talk about her work and interests.
Firstly, Sarah, welcome! Could you tell us about FA Thorpe Publishing?
F.A. Thorpe Publishing is the publishing division of Ulverscroft Large Print Books Ltd, which distributes large print and audio books worldwide. It was established by Frederick Thorpe in 1964, with the intention of reproducing popular books in larger type for those who struggled to read standard print. Initially, there was scepticism on the part of publishers about this unknown format. However, a chance encounter with Agatha Christie allowed Dr. Thorpe to discuss this project with her, which resulted in her wholehearted support – she expressed a desire to see all of her titles produced in large print. This was a key factor in gaining the support of other publishers and authors. A Pocket Full of Rye was one of the first titles to be published in large print format, and we have, over the years, published all of Agatha Christie’s title in large print – along with a fair few others…
Did you always want to have a career in publishing?
Although I had no doubts about what I wanted to study at university – English literature – I hadn’t a clue what I wanted to do once I finished my studies. I feel extremely fortunate to have landed my job. I’ve been with the company for nearly 14 years, so I feel rather fortunate about that, too!
Have you always been an avid reader?
Always! I vividly remember reading aloud to my dad when I was about six, and him telling me to read the words ‘as though you’re speaking’, and it suddenly clicked. And then there was no stopping me…
Which authors have, or do, inspire you?
I found A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash thoroughly inspirational in terms of the writing, which was exceptional; it just poured off the page and felt beautifully effortless. In terms of story-telling, and the moral dilemma presented, The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman was utterly compelling.
What is your favourite genre for your own leisure reading?
I do enjoy a well-written, ‘unreliable narrator’/twisty-turn-y tale. I think Paula Daly is fantastic, and I also like Tamar Cohen. I’m afraid I’ve yet to read The Girl on the Train, but I definitely want to do so before seeing the film.
Could you describe the imprints you represent and the word limitations on each?
Our Charnwood and Isis imprints contain mass market popular fiction and non-fiction titles, and our big name authors. The upper limit here is very much dependant on how well we can expect a particular author to sell. Our Ulverscroft imprint tends to house much shorter titles, and the upper limit here is currently around 60-65,000 words. For our Linford Romance imprint, we’d ideally want titles to be somewhere between 30-50,000 words, although we have taken shorter and longer titles than this; the same is true of our Linford Mystery and Linford Western imprints, give or take a few thousand either way.
What do you look for in a new submission?
For most titles, the first consideration is always a practical one – if it’s too long or too short, I won’t be able to consider it. The next consideration is whether or not it will be a good fit for our lists.
What should writers avoid sending you?
If you’re aiming for one of the Linford imprints, then try to make sure it’s a clear fit within the genre – so, a romance rather than a general fiction title, for example. We tend not to do sci-fi or fantasy titles, or self-published non-fiction.
You must see a vast number of submissions, so is there any advice you could give to a writer who is considering submitting a manuscript to you?
Please read and re-read what you’re submitting with as clear an eye as possible. The fewer mistakes, the easier it is for us to see the story you’re trying to tell.
What is the most satisfying aspect of your work?
It’s great when I win an auction for a title I desperately want in our lists, and it’s also very satisfying putting a list together and seeing what I know are some absolutely cracking reads in there. Being surrounded by books all day is also a definite bonus!
Would you consider writing a novella/novel yourself?
I would love to. I note down ideas a lot, although that’s about as far as I’ve ever got.
When not involved in the world of books what do you love doing to relax?
Yoga and singing – I do both with great enthusiasm and questionable results.
My thanks for your continued support for my work (39 titles to date) and for the insight into your world and that of F A Thorpe Publishing.
Felicity’s temper is sparked when she needs to defend her honour against the owner of the Hall where she is serving as a maid. She is hastily found a new position by her friend, the housekeeper. Mr Lucas Packham, a surgeon, is opening a home for the sick at nearby Marram Hall and he agrees to meet and take her with him.
Felicity is surprised that he already knows details about her past, including the fact that her father, Squire Josiah Moon, is imprisoned in Gorebeck gaol. Together, they visit him, but Felicity is to be shocked, yet again, when she discovers that her father is alarmed at her change in fortune and also with the information she shares with him about where she is to live with Packman.
Upon arrival at Marram Hall, Felicity is charmed by the house on the cliff, and equally by their first client. She is drawn to her new employer as he shares his plans and dreams for this new venture and helping the poor. She also thrives on the responsibility he entrusts to her.
However, Felicity becomes aware that she is regarded with suspicion by some of the staff that were already in residence. Unusual events occur around the Hall, particularly in the old cellars, that she cannot ignore. She begins to mistrust the people around her including Mr Lucas Packman.
Her father shares his daughter’s fears, unbeknownst to her, and takes drastic action because of his concerns for her safety.
Will the dubious actions of her father’s past mar Felicity’s future? Can she act upon the growing tenderness she feels for Mr Lucas Packham? Or is he another man who will let her down again? Felicity determinedly seeks the truth – whatever the cost.
It is with great sadness and total shock that I have learnt that Carole died last night. She was an amazing lady and inspiration to many, myself included. My sincere condolences to her family, her many friends, colleagues and authors that she represented and respected so much. She will be greatly missed.
My guest this month is Carole Blake, a lady whose amazing career has taken her from working as a secretary in a packaging company to forming the incredibly successful London literary agency, Blake Friedmann. This journey involved becoming the first Rights Manager for Michael Joseph, then Marketing Director at Sphere, before starting up her own agency in 1977. Five years later she merged with Julian Friedmann’s Agency.
Throughout this time Carole has worked tirelessly to develop the careers of her authors and yet still found time to serve on many boards and institutions to contribute to the industry she loves so much. In 2013 Carole was the recipient of the Pandora Award for her ‘significant and sustained contribution to the publishing industry’.
Welcome, Carole! Did your childhood inspire and nurture your love of books?
My childhood home didn’t have many books, but I was always focussed on them & asked for them as presents. I can remember my first ever rag-books (made of a linen-like material) that I used to ‘read’ in the bath before I could actually read. I loved turning the pages and pretending. Once I could read, my early favourites were the Rupert books, which I still have, with my parents’ messages & dates written inside. When I was 8 I asked for a bookcase for my Christmas present. I got it (& only relinquished it when I moved house 8 years ago). I then set out to catalogue and categorise all the books I owned. I worked out a complicated system of letters and numbers and wrote them inside each book, then listed them all against their titles and authors. Very proud of it. Some years later when I discovered the Dewey System I was crushed. I had thought I was being entirely original!
Was it challenging for a woman in your early career to progress in the industry as you did?
I don’t remember it as difficult. I answered an advert in the Evening Standard, went for an interview & got the job. I commuted from Mitcham in Surrey to Marble Arch, & found myself – a working class girl, in a cotton dress and a white cardigan – working as a secretary to a team of university-educated art experts working on a multi-volume art encyclopedia. I kept a low profile, soaked up information like a sponge (including which pieces of cutlery to use when we went out to restaurants) and made friends there (50+ years ago) that I am still in touch with. It was literally a life-changing experience.
Who inspired you the most to keep moving forward? Are you naturally self-motivated to achieve?
The lovely people I worked with at Rainbirds, in my first job, were extremely encouraging. Working there for 8 years kick-started my life-long love of art. It introduced me to the classics (I compiled a company-wide order of Penguin paperbacks every few months. We could get a discount if we ordered 30 or more. Soon I stopped asking anyone else to mark up the Penguin stocklists, because I was ordering 30 at a time myself. I read my way through all the Russian and French novelists, and I remember crying on the no 16 bus as it went round Marble Arch because I finished Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot and found it unbearably sad. How nerdish is that for a teenager in the swinging 60s?
But later when I was marketing director of Sphere, Edmund Fisher fired me, quite rightly. I was running the marketing, publicity, rights and contracts departments and wasn’t juggling them very well. We were having a row – we had a very volatile relationship over the three companies and 12 years that I worked with him – and I was in the middle of resigning. When I realised he was firing me I withdrew my resignation and sued for wrongful dismissal. I knew he hadn’t followed all the right procedures (indeed he hadn’t followed any procedures at all!) and as I was a director, I was employed by Sphere’s then owners, Thomson Newspapers, so he didn’t actually have the right to fire me at all. I won, they settled out of court, and I discovered I had a list of authors who wanted to be represented by me if I started an agency. So I did. The fact that Edmund fired me was the best thing ever to happen to me. I would never have had the courage to ask someone to stop paying me if he hadn’t. No one in my family had ever started a company. If I hadn’t been out of work for 6 months, dealing with lawyers it would never have occurred to me to do so.
You are also encouraging new blood into the publishing industry through your associations with UCLA postgraduate publishing course. Is this something you feel passionate about as much as discovering new writing talent?
Given my start in the industry, remembering how kind people were, and aware that it’s a much more difficult area to get work in now I think the least I can do is to encourage and help others into a business that has given me such a wonderfully satisfying lifestyle. I’ve been associated with other postgraduate publishing courses as well, and am always happy to talk to people wanting to get into the book world.
I am the only person in my company who doesn’t have a degree; many of my staff have several. I didn’t have to go through the purgatory of unpaid internships, which I think are morally indefensible: we pay our interns properly.
Whenever I can I try to introduce people to others in the industry who can be of use to them. We have actually employed more than a dozen of our interns over the years – it’s so much more successful than a 40 minute interview. We also have an annual get-together of all our past staff, past interns. It’s officially known as networking but we all know it’s a great gossip-fest. So great to see where people have moved on to. You might have heard of the singer Dido? She was my assistant for 4 years and was an ace at selling serial rights!
Her parents were both publishers. I work with her mother at Rainbirds in the 60s, sold books to her father when he was running Sidgwick decades later. He and I used to lunch together and regarded ourselves as in-laws while she was working for me. When she resigned ‘to spend more time on her music’ I gave her a very motherly speech. ‘Can’t guarantee to keep your job open Dido.’ I don’t think she’s ever wanted to come back to publishing again …
I do quite a lot of public speaking – at literary festivals, conferences (I’m an honorary vice-president of the RNA, a member of the HNS) and I teach a course on how to sell rights. I’ve been a board member of The Book Trade Charity, and its Chairman, and President over many years and am now a Patron.
Your guide ‘From Pitch to Publication’ is widely used throughout the publishing industry. How much of a challenge has it been to update it?
An extreme challenge, as you can tell from the fact that I’ve not managed to deliver it yet. It took Boxtree (later to become an imprint of Macmillan) several years to persuade me to agree to write it in the first place. And then I renegotiated the delivery date several times, in order not to be in breach of contract (how embarrassing would that have been for a literary agent?). Same has happened with the contracted update/new edition. My agency is SO much bigger & busier than it was when I delivered the original manuscript – 20 years ago! – and so much has changed. I now know what I want to write, what I need to update, what I need to add … but time is the enemy. My editor at Macmillan (a friend) is understanding … up to a point. I now so want to have this new manuscript behind me. There are so very many more ways to promote a book now (social media?!) and I am now writing it but in such small spaces of time.
You represent many of my favourite authors, but two especially. Could you share with us what it was that you loved so much about ‘Lady of Hay’ and the amazing Barbara Erskine? Likewise, when Elizabeth Chadwick’s first manuscript arrived on your desk did you instantly realise that you had found gold?
Two authors very close to my heart: both are good friends.
Barbara Erskine: I was already representing her short stories. She wrote many, and magazine editors around the world would line up for them. We had talked about an unusual novel she was thinking about writing. Two time periods, linked. We talked about it for a long time: years. I remember saying at the outset that it would be vital that every time, at the end of each chapter, the reader was required to move from present to past, from past to present, it must be a wrench. Each time period must be equally compelling, and hard to leave or the novel would be broken backed. Oh my … did she deliver. But although publishers and editors always ask for something new, a fresh voice – they always actually want something that is recognisable. I submitted the partial manuscript for 4 years. ‘I don’t know if it’s a contemporary novel, or a historical?’ Me: it’s both. ‘I don’t know if it’s a love story or a mystery?’ Me: it’s both. Every editor who arrived in a new job found the manuscript on their desk. When Maggie Pringle arrived at Michael Joseph in 1983, she read it, loved it, & recognised it as something fresh and new and exciting, and she was allowed to buy it even though it had been rejected twice by other Michael Joseph editors over the years. They auctioned paperback rights back then and it set a record for the highest paperback advance for a British first novel. This summer it celebrated 30 years continuously in print – quite something for a commercial novel. And it’s in print in many other languages too. In 2017 it will be celebrated for its 30th anniversary in German.
Barbara and I are friends. We’ve worked together for so long: we have even been on holiday together. That Nile cruise will never be forgotten. The only holiday that I’ve ever got a holiday-tie-in best-seller novel from – ‘Whispers in the Sand’! Barbara always stays with me at home when she’s in London overnight.
Elizabeth Chadwick: the early chapters of ‘The Wild Hunt’ arrived in the late 80s in a brown envelope – back in the days when submissions were made on paper, via snailmail. And back in the days when I opened my own mail every morning at my desk. I read it as soon as I opened the envelope and knew there was something very special in my hand. A few weeks later I had sold it, via auction, to hardback and paperback publishers (back in the days before publishers always published in both formats themselves.)
‘The Wild Hunt’ won a Betty Trask award, and Prince Charles was the person giving out the prizes for The Society of Authors that year. That was quite a memorable evening!
As with Barbara, this led to publishing success and a long and on-going friendship. Elizabeth stays with me when she’s in London too, and we often talk into the small hours.
I think it is unfair to ask you which are your favourite books or authors, but of all the novels you have read are there a few characters that really stayed with you? If so, why?
There’s no way I could choose between novels by my clients – I represent them all because they are so original, and so special. It would be like asking a mother to choose between her children! Not that I think of my best-selling authors are children for one moment. But the novels – apart from those written by my clients – that always stay with me are Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot (I finished it on a no 16 bus going round Marble Arch roundabout in the late 60s, crying my eyes out), and Alain Fournier’s Le Grand Meaulnes. A haunting work.
You have travelled extensively in your work, but where do you enjoy going to relax and explore?
Italy, always Italy. I go for art, music, food (and Negronis!), shopping. Venice, in particular if I had to pin it down more narrowly. I was lucky enough to take a sabbatical earlier this year and I spent 5 weeks in Italy: Florence, Siena, Padua, Mantua, Venice. Absolutely heaven.
Is it your love of detail that first led you to becoming a collector of dolls’ houses and miniatures (OOAK)? Where did this begin? How is the collection growing?
I’ve always loved houses, furniture, interior decoration. My home is full now so miniatures are the way I buy furniture. I dare not add up the number of miniatures I own … they are stored in many boxes, and I’ve had to forbid myself to buy more until I’ve finished building the 5 floor Regency house which will be taller than me. And I’m forbidden to do any more work on that until I’ve delivered my next book. In addition to that house, I have a Georgian hand made one that I bought already finished. That is fully furnished. I also own an antiquarian bookshop which I made from a kit. Every book is real; they can be opened and read (with a magnifying glass). Most of them are miniature copies of real antique illustrated books that I buy from a particular maker whose work I really admire. I have more than 1000. And I have two more kits to build – they are going to become a row of shops. And then there is the greenhouse, and a conservatory, both full of flowers. My favourite collection though is mouth-blown cranberry glass. Five (miniature) cabinets full so far. The most satisfying thing I achieved myself, was laying a floor of terracotta tiles. Real tiles, 1:12 scale. Laying the tiles was easy: the grouting was murder, the air blue!
What other interests do you enjoy away from the world of publishing?
Early music – I still buy cds because I enjoy the booklets. I’ve got about 5000, all stored on a hard drive and easy to find. But I also like Meat Loaf (that’s Elizabeth Chadwick’s fault!). Art – I always make time to go to exhibitions. I find cooking very therapeutic, and always have freezers-full of home cooked food. I enjoy a variety of crafts – I make greetings cards, keep scrapbooks, make jewellery (I have 1000s of beads, and like to buy them on my travels), and I love taking photographs (check out my 56 Pinterest boards, and my Instagram posts!). I took 8000 photographs during the 5 weeks in Italy. And of course reading. I read a lot of non-fiction for relaxation as a change from the fiction that I work with. I love history, memoir, African wildlife (I’ve been to Africa on safari many times). And I collect books about the publishing industry. I’ve recently taken up knitting and crochet again. But there’s not a lot of time to fit these in around work!
You have achieved a great deal in your career, but what is next for Carole Blake?
I’ve got to make time to finish the new book. Then I can get back to (miniature) house building …
Thank you for the fascinating insight into your career and for sharing some personal photographs of your lovely miniature worlds!
I am delighted to have author Ben Adams as my guest this month. Ben’s critically acclaimed novels Six Months to Get a Life and Six Lies chart two men’s journeys as they strive to make sense of their respective midlife crises.
Please share with us how and when you discovered the joy of writing fiction!
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t enjoy making up a story. My dad is blind. Instead of reading books to me, he used to captivate me at bedtime, making up stories that would transfix me and keep me awake for hours. I caught the bug and used to invent equally inventive stories involving the most hideous of monsters. As I got older, my fiction expanded to include ingenious excuses for not having done my homework. Roald Dahl expanded my imagination still further as did Douglas Adams and Sue Townsend. But ultimately, I blame my dad.
When and how did you make the break from unpublished to published author?
I always wanted to write a novel. In my 20s I dabbled with crime fiction but too many hours spent staring at blank pages and a lack of life experiences meant that I couldn’t make my stories sing.
In my 30s I mostly wrote boring work-related web content and the occasional acerbic complaint letter to the authorities or to the dog over the road – it defecated on my drive.
And then my 40s came along. Sometimes it takes a life event to set you off on the right track. Six Months to Get a Life, my first novel, was ultimately triggered by my own family upheaval. It’s a story about a man overcoming a divorce and doing his best to build a new life for himself and his children. Having been through the pain myself, I felt able to give my characters some real depth. It was the first time I had felt truly able to write something believable, something memorable.
And luckily, I found a publisher who believed in the characters as much as I did.
Graham, like a lot of the characters I invent, is a fairly unremarkable fellow. At heart he is a good guy but like most people going through a divorce, he can occasionally be a bit maudlin. And even bitter. He’s someone who generally knows what the right thing to do is, even if he doesn’t always do it. He’s concerned about his relationship with his children. He’s also concerned about his relationships with women. Or rather his lack of relationships with women.
It isn’t easy to take a difficult subject and inject humour and hope into the story successfully. How did you balance the harsh realities of life against the sense of renewal and wit?
The simple truth is that no one would have enjoyed Six Months to Get a Life if Graham hadn’t been able to laugh at himself. If a story about coping with divorce, learning to live separately from your children or arguing over maintenance payments didn’t contain a few comedic release points, the reader would more than likely be contemplating suicide by the end of chapter 3.
The same goes for my second novel, Six Lies. Dave Fazackerley, the protagonist in Six Lies, discovers after she has died that his mother wasn’t his mother after all. And to make matters worse, he was already reeling from his wife’s decision to run off with a librarian. About the only thing Dave actually managed to cling on to was his sense of humour…
Writing a novel is a major achievement for anyone, but how hard have you found getting to grips with marketing and using social media to build up your author platform – or are you a natural?
I am probably your typical author. Inventing stories is my passion. I love talking to people about mine and their stories too. But trying to understand the difference between a Facebook page and a Facebook profile, uploading content to a website, getting my head around boring twitter protocols and ridiculous book marketing websites is, quite frankly, the bane of my life.
I do understand the need to establish a good author platform though. Twitter indirectly led to me being invited on to the BBC Breakfast sofa. It also led to you and I connecting. These days, few authors will be successful without a bit of investment in their author platform.
What tips would you give to anyone, of any age, who is determined to become a published writer?
Firstly, you need to write exceptionally well. The best way to do that is to write, write and write some more. The more you write, the better you will become. Oh, and read a lot too. Learn from writers within your chosen genre, but don’t copy them.
Secondly, you need to build your emotional resilience. Believe in your own talent. Don’t let a little self-doubt put you off. Imagine if JK Rowling had thought, ‘Oh, this is crap,’ when she was giving Harry his lightening bolt scar and gone off and got a proper job.
Thirdly, see the previous question and take a deep breath…
What is next for Ben?
I have written my third novel in draft form. Provisionally entitled ‘Trouble in the Staffroom’, it is a school-based drama-come-romp. I am really proud of the draft as it currently stands and am loving the feedback I am receiving from beta readers. Hopefully, Trouble in the Staffroom will be published in September to coincide with the start of a new school year.
I am really enjoying reading Six Months to Get a Life and wish you every continued success.
I am delighted to welcome the chairman of The Historical Novel Society, Richard Lee, as this month’s guest. Richard founded the organisation in 1997 and it is now an international success.
When you decided to found an organisation devoted to historical fiction, did you ever envisage it growing into such an amazing international body?
No! I did not know how it would be possible to be international, so I only envisaged a UK membership – though always celebrating international authors. We actually had US members sign up from the very beginning, which caused headaches about currency transactions and postage costs. This made us ‘ready’ for when internet links began to take off – and now we are much more international than British.
What have been the major developments/changes that you have seen in historical fiction since the HNS was founded?
In commercial historical fiction many things have changed. The ‘discovery’ of the significance of women’s lives has transformed the way that, for example, royalty and celebrity is written about. The success of ‘Sharpe’ and ‘Gladiator’ created a genre of military and epic historical fiction. We have also been blessed by literary authors pushing the boundaries in various ways – Michel Faber reconceiving the Victorian authorial viewpoint, many authors revisiting Colonial and World War narratives, Hilary Mantel turning accepted views of Tudor power and honour on their head.
How has historical fiction been influenced by the major changes within publishing in the last decade?
I am no expert here. Traditional publishing still knows how to publish the big books. The Miniaturist and Elizabeth is Missing we both debuts that had multiple agents interested, sold well into many territories, won prizes and became bestsellers. The main change I perceive is that there is much more opportunity for niche historicals to go it alone, often to the author’s benefit.
The HNS conferences have been hugely successful and enjoyable to attend. Could you share a few of your personal favourite highlights?
The things I remember from conferences are usually surprises from authors I admire – Louis de Bernieres, for example, saying that he wrote each chapter of Captain Corelli as a short story, and didn’t decide the running order till the end. Or Conn Iggulden emphasising just how powerful true coincidences are in history. Highlights are more likely downtime with fellow organisers or friends – meeting members off-stage and finding out more about them. It is great when it is all ‘done’!
What period of history do you have a particular interest in and why?
Early 20th C, Late Victorian, High Victorian, Regency, Georgian, Early Medieval, Saxon/Viking, Roman, Ancient Greek… But really anything!
Do you prefer reading or writing historical fiction?
Reading. I haven’t written consistently for a long while, though it remains an ambition.
How would you like to see the HNS develop in the future?
I always see the society as being about what members want – any enthusiasms that members have are for me to try to facilitate and nurture. This for a long time focussed on our magazines and reviews, which actively involve around 100 of us. Conferences are another big active area – this year over 400 will gather in Denver, and we had an inaugural conference in Sydney, Australia. The big ‘new’ areas of involvement are chapters based in different regions (mostly entirely independent) and connections through social media. Our awards are also popular (230 entries for the latest new novel prize), and we are looking into ways that the society can offer help and training to authors. Whether mainstream published or indie, all authors need help with marketing and promotion these days, we can all help each other.
What is next for Richard?
My first child was born a couple of years after I founded the society, two others followed, and the oldest is now 15. They are the real project and joy, but I still have a wish to write. I think I finally have a good idea!