We are delighted to announce that the Caledonia Novel Award 2017 shortlist judge is Richard Pike, literary agent at Curtis Brown.
Welcome aboard, Richard! Tell us a bit about yourself and your job at Curtis Brown.
I joined Curtis Brown in 2012 after five years at Hodder & Stoughton publishers in London. I’ve since been building my own list of fiction and non-fiction authors, with a particular focus on helping debut writers launch and develop their writing careers. I also co-host PitchCB, Curtis Brown’s popular monthly Twitter pitching party for unpublished authors, and run the Curtis Brown Book Group. Curtis Brown is one of the oldest and largest literary agencies based in London, representing established authors such as Margaret Atwood, John Le Carre, JoJo Moyes and exciting debut novelists including Emma Healey, Hannah Kent and Renee Knight.
Which part of your job do you enjoy the most?
The variety of the job is definitely the best bit! You’re genuinely never quite sure what each day will bring, whether that be a thrilling new manuscript landing in your inbox, meeting a potential client with a fascinating story to tell, or even the satisfaction of tying up a long and tricky negotiation. If I had to choose just one bit? Well, for me, nothing beats being able to make the call to an author to let them know their first book is going to be published, especially for those authors that you’ve been working with for months or even years. It’s incredibly rewarding to see all of the hard work that’s gone into a proposal or manuscript lead to something so tangible.
When you read a manuscript from a debut novelist, what are you hoping to find?
It’s a bit of a publishing cliche, but I’m looking for something that I feel I haven’t read before. I want to be surprised and thrilled by a plot that’s unpredictable, and be taken on a journey by a narrator who is both compelling and intriguing, perhaps even unreliable! I’m looking for characters that are well thought out and more than just vehicles for plot, and for authors to be engaged with the fun and magic of storytelling, and who aren’t too caught up in technique and style.
Which genres excite you most, and least?
Personally, I’m excited by original storytelling in any genre and the great thing about working as a literary agent is that there’s really no restriction on what you can, and can’t, represent! Currently I find I’m particularly drawn to speculative fiction and fables, psychological suspense, historical fiction, and original crime writing.
Which is most important to you: plot, character or storytelling?
This is a really tough question! Honestly, I feel the best authors and novels excel at all three, and I think I’d find it difficult to fall in love with a book that fell short in one of these areas. I’m defiantly on the fence here!
What switches you off on the first page of a submission?
It has to be when an author uses too many paragraphs on scene setting or exposition, especially if it feels as if they are trying to dazzle you with flowery prose. Just get down to the story! We really don’t need every dew-heavy leaf on every sun-kissed tree to be described in fine detail, even if you’re able to do so beautifully.
How important to your judging is the synopsis, and do you have any advice for entrants when they embark on theirs?
It can be incredibly important. If a submission letter gets my attention and I then enjoy the writing, the synopsis is crucial in discovering how the plot is going to develop over the course of the rest of the novel. My advice would be to keep it focussed on the core plot points, themes and characters, and don’t go to the extremes of a detailed chapter-by-chapter breakdown. And definitely don’t confuse this with a book blurb – I’m not looking for cliffhangers in the synopsis!
In your spare time, which current novelists do you enjoy reading?
I’m a huge fan of Margaret Atwood and David Mitchell, Emma Donoghue and Sarah Waters, and one of my favourite books of recent years has to be The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Recently, I really enjoyed Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller, Ruby by Cynthia Bond, Rush Oh! by Shirley Barrett and The Widow by Fiona Barton.
And finally, what advice would you give to Caledonia Novel Award entrants?
Be bold and original in your approach to storytelling, and don’t be afraid to defy the conventions of genre if it feels right for your novel. Re-read your manuscript at least one more time before you submit, to make sure you’ve edited out any plot holes or inconsistencies – you’ll be surprised at what you missed first or second time around! And most importantly, good luck! I can’t wait to read your entries over the coming months.