Congratulations to our competition judge Madeleine Milburn for winning 2018 Agent of the Year at the prestigious British Book Awards on May 14. Madeleine is on somewhat of a roll having discovered this year’s leading new literary talent Elizabeth Macneal while reading for the Caledonia Award earlier this year. She recently oversaw a hotly contested 14-way auction for Elizabeth’s debut novel The Doll Factory which was won by Picador as well as a string of offers from US and international publishers. Madeleine also represents Gail Honeyman whose debut novel Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine published by HarperCollins has won a string of awards already including the Costa First Novel Award and has been the number one bestseller in the UK for a record breaking nine weeks.
On our First Novel Award Madeleine has some tips for those of you thinking of entering:
When reading submissions, what is it that makes you want to read on?
A voice that feels unique and an interesting character who leaps off the page.
What do you look for in that first chapter?
An engaging and unique character to hook me in.
Any tips for the first page?
Go through with a fine toothcomb and weed out any unnecessary sentences, anything that isn’t relevant, anything that slows the pace. I’d do this for the first three chapters as it can make all the difference.
At what point do you read the synopsis?
When I’ve read the opening chapters and want to know what happens…
You describe yourself as looking for literary or reading group fiction or tightly plotted crime, thrillers and mysteries, ghost stories, true crime, moral dilemmas, fiction that draws on multiple genres. Thought-provoking stories, emotional journeys, inspiring stories, an epic love story which will make one weep. That’s a pretty broad description, which is encouraging. Any genre you’re really not interested in?
I love to be taken by surprise. It’s the books that transcend their target audience that I’m interested in. For instance, Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist attracted so many readers who didn’t think they enjoyed historical fiction.
Gail Honeyman’s novel, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine has been highly successful. Can you tell me why you think that is?
Gail has created an extraordinary character that readers can relate to or empathise with. The same has been for so many ‘big’ books – think Bridget Jones, Jack Reacher, Harry Potter – it’s the character that everyone roots for and remembers.
Rumour has it that the general trend is moving away from psychological thrillers to character driven novels. What’s your take on that?
Bookshops have been inundated with psychological suspense as it’s been so popular, but now readers are looking for something different and dare I say, more uplifting, in these difficult political times. Most ‘big’ books are character driven so I’m not sure that is an actual trend as such…
When would you say that a manuscript was finished and ready to enter a competition?
When you’ve read the whole manuscript out loud to yourself and none of it bores you!
For writers work that doesn’t necessarily fit with the genres you currently represent, is it still worth their while to enter the competition, i.e. sci-fi?
YES! I love it when I fall in love with a manuscript that isn’t necessarily a genre I handle. I want those truly special books that break the rules or that challenge our preconceptions of a For instance, I don’t currently represent any true crime but I’d love to find something as strong The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich, or a big literary novel that appeals to a wide audience.
Any other advice for entrants?
I’m excited by so many different voices and I love talent spotting, so do enter even if you have little confidence in your work!