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11 days ’til Christmas: The Literary Agency Advent Calendar

In the run up to Christmas, the Madeleine Milburn Literary Agency will be posting an entry from one of our authors each day, offering anything from writing tips and their inspiration, to Christmas memories and their wishes for the year to come.


(Eileen Gormley and Caroline McCall)

Evie Hunter

Christmas Memories

Eileen Gormley

Christmas 1998, I was down the country visiting my parents, waddling my pregnant belly up to Midnight Mass and wondering how much turkey I could eat before the baby arrived. It wasn’t due for another week, so I planned to enjoy Christmas.

At 4am, I shook my husband: “I think that was a contraction.” Despite trying to convince me to go back to sleep, I finally got him up and started making breakfast. “You’re not in labour,” said my mother. “You couldn’t stand there making scrambled eggs if you were in labour.”

We drove back home, and got to admire the emptiness of the roads at 6.30am on Christmas day. When the contractions started again I called midwife and asked if it would be born today… Christmas Day. “Contractions every ten minutes? Yes, I think so!”

In between contractions, we opened Christmas presents. My husband had given me a ghetto blaster and I put on the one CD I owned – Queen’s Greatest Hits. I discovered that dancing to Killer Queen and Fat bottomed Girls was the best way to handle the pain. My husband suggested massaging my back. “Keep your hands to yourself,” I snarled.  “No one touch me.” I wiggled my hips energetically.

Then the baby arrived. A little girl, blue until she breathed and turned pink. An amazing, astonishing, lively girl who was instantly the most beautiful person in the entire world. I have no idea how long we stared at her, before I realized it has been a long time since the scrambled eggs and I’d done a lot of hard labour since then. Only one problem. We had planned to spend Christmas with my parents so there was no food in our house… Almost no food. In one corner of the kitchen was a Christmas pudding, a single carton of custard and a bottle of Champagne. Nothing had ever tasted so good!

The Pleasures of Winter by Evie Hunter       The Pleasures of Summer by Evie Hunter       The Pleasures of Autumn by Evie Hunter

Caroline McCall

The festive season holds mixed memories for me. Hearing the opening bars of ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ is often enough to reduce me to tears.  As well as the mad round of Christmas shopping and parties, December is the anniversary of my mother’s death.

There is little in this life more bleak than a funeral at Christmas time.  While everyone else was celebrating, we were trying to contact family members and bring them home. At a rain-lashed graveside in early December, six sisters clung to each other while we sang a final hymn to the woman who had brought us into this world.

So many things have happened in the decade since then. You could say that I fell into writing by accident. As a genealogist, part of my job was to assemble facts and records into a format that was meaningful for my clients.  But after the cases were closed, I found it impossible to let go of the stories. Long dead strangers popped into my head at odd times and I began to wonder, what if?

After that, I was lost. I got used to living with a cast of characters inside my head. I’ve become an avid people watcher and a compulsive eavesdropper, especially on public transport. Once, I got off my train at the wrong stop so that I could follow a couple discussing the millionaire, the wife and the Navy Seal. Writing is not so much a passion, as an addiction.

Plotting and deadlines are as much a part of my life now as eating and sleeping. When we got the opportunity to write the Pleasures Series for Penguin, my writing partner and I became familiar with both.  By the time this Christmas season is over, we will have written almost half a million words together – not bad for eighteen months work!

I often wonder if my mother would approve of having an erotica writer for a daughter.  Would she come to the book launches? Be thrilled to see the exotic covers on the bookshelves? Would she be as excited as I am to see the Pleasures series translated into French, Czech, Italian and even Japanese?  I think that she would.

This year, my Christmas song ambush came while I was seeking inspiration in the lingerie department of a posh Dublin store (As you do in my line of work!). And for the first time since she died, I didn’t want to cry.  If she was with me, we would have gone for a nice cup of tea and a mince pie and perhaps some gentle teasing about my latest racy offering.

Merry Christmas, Mum.

Evie Hunter‘s latest book THE PLEASURES OF AUTUMN, was published by Penguin in October 2013.


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16 days ’til Christmas: The Literary Agency Advent Calendar

Christmas boot

In the run up to Christmas, the Madeleine Milburn Literary Agency will be posting an entry from one of our authors each day, offering anything from writing tips and their inspiration, to Christmas memories and their wishes for the year to come.


Radhika Sanghani

How to survive the festive season

1) Presents

There is nothing worse than spending a month’s rent on presents for close friends, family, Secret Santa at work and the nephews/nieces who already have better smartphones than you. In turn all you get is some expired bath salts and more scarves to add to your growing collection.

Boycotting presents makes you a Grinch, so how about taking a leaf out of the Three Wise Men’s books and going home-made? Once everyone’s seen the dried pasta photo-frames and decorated jam jars, they won’t be demanding gifts from you. And at least when they say “you really shouldn’t have”, you’ll know they really mean it.

2) Family fights

I am dreading the annual Christmas family fight. Last year’s was based around the lack of turkey (my vegetarian mum will only make a nut roast), the year before was because there wasn’t enough red cabbage, and the year before that I spilled my orange juice on the special-occasions-only White Company tablecloth.

This year the tablecloth has been resigned to everyday use, and I’ve decided we should get the fight out of the way as soon as possible. Which is why I will be spending Christmas Eve having a glorious family argument until the early hours. That way when we wake up on Christmas Day we will be too exhausted to say anything except ‘pass the brandy sauce please’.

3) Bad TV

Christmas Day = Aladdin, Madagascar 1 and 2, all the Harry Potters, all the Lord of the Rings and the festive Elf and Love Actually.

I have watched these films every Christmas for the past five years. But this year I am putting my foot down. Instead of re-watching the films I can recite in my sleep, I’ll be turning off the TV.

Don’t panic, I’m not trying to re-live number 2. I’ll just be turning it off so we can plug in the iPad. Nothing like a modern family Christmas.

4) The tree

If it’s real the pine needles will go everywhere. It doesn’t matter if you have wooden floors or carpets – those pines will root themselves in and stay there for weeks to come. No amount of vacuuming can ever get rid of them.

So I’ll be embracing a plastic tree. Not just one of those faux-pine ones either. If I’m going fake, I’ll go as tacky as possible. Think in-built flashing lights, fake snow and fiber-optic branches.

5) Mulled wine

Even after all these useful tips, there’s still only one way to really cope with Christmas: to be so merry you could rival Mr Claus himself. My chosen method of inebriation will be M&S mulled wine or mulled cider if I’m feeling fancy. (Top tip: the Tesco version is much cheaper, but not worth it)

When the vat, yes vat, has been emptied of its festive juices, there is always the brandy butter to finish off.

Radhika Sanghani‘s debut novel VIRGIN, a funny and daring novel that candidly explores its protagonist Ellie’s sexual journey, will be published by Mira Books UK and Penguin US in August 2014 . Translation rights have already been sold in Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Norway, Poland, Brazil and Serbia.

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CHELSEA WIVES on facebook

A lot of my clients ask me how to make the best use of social networking sites for publicising their books.  Although the thought of self-promotion in this way might seem daunting and even intimidating, the fact is that we are so lucky to live in an age where we can work with our publishers on self-promotion, and we now have the most incredible tools to do so at our desks.

My authors have got fabulous websites, and a lot are now using networking sites such as facebook and Twitter to promote their work.  I want to show you Anna-Lou Weatherley’s new facebook page that has been launched in the run up to publication of her début, CHELSEA WIVES, HarperCollins / Avon June 2012.


On her page, Ann-Lou enjoys facebook to the max by giving extra information about each of her characters – their favourite designers, restaurants, shops, drinks, and even makeup!  This will become an addictive extension of the book, with giveaways and competitions, fashion tips and advice that we’ll be interested in before, during and after reading the book itself.  Among the magazines Ann-Lou  has written for are Grazia, New Woman, B, Glamour, Company and Marie Claire. She knows this world inside out, and she’s giving us an exclusive taste.  There are tons of ways you can use social networking sites, working with the genre of your books, your characters and themes.

CHELSEA WIVES will hit the shelves this June, and you can make sure you get your hands on a copy by pre-ordering here

This is Desperate Housewives meets First Wives Club set in the glamorous borough of Chelsea.

They are the ultimate ladies who lunch: Imogen, the beautiful ex-model, Calgary, the glamorous, former fashion editor, and Yasmin, the feisty ex-party girl.  But life isn’t all champagne and canapés.  Plagued by personal tragedy and united by failing marriages, they mastermind a shocking plan to turn the tables on their husbands.

Set against a backdrop of exotic locations, designer boutiques and London’s high society scene, these Chelsea Wives are about to join forces and risk it all for the ultimate revenge…

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Victoria Fox on why an island setting for her new novel was too tempting to resist…

TEMPTATION ISLAND, the brand new novel by Victoria Fox, is out next month.  In the run up to publication, Victoria shares the real reasons for her island setting…

‘An island is its own world. Bound by water, it is fixed, delineated, a perfect whole, set like a jewel on the cushion of the ocean. Standing on its shores, looking out to a blank horizon, it might be that this is the only place on Earth. It is a private kingdom, a secret fortress: a place where anything can happen.

Is this why islands seduce us? Containment is a primal instinct, the urge to occupy a manageable, knowable state. Islands imply safety, but they also imply danger. As children we see islands as things that can be possessed, or bought, or ruled: the coveted castle. For adults this translates to ultimate exclusivity, a getaway empire all our own. Islands equal power.

Power in isolation is a perilous thing. On her own plot, the islander imposes her own systems. Nobody to issue instruction or sentence; nobody comes to judge. Water, blue and deep, as vast and anonymous as the sky, holds her in and holds others out. It keeps at bay, and it keeps from bay . . . Time passes, and soon it is impossible to tell the difference. Autocracy: the definitive island fantasy?

Islands are part of civilisation but also distinct from it. The mainland exists somewhere beyond reach, but like anything that can’t be seen or felt it fast becomes a myth. It would be easy to imagine you were the only thing. What could you get up to; how would you spend your days? What good could come from quarantine, and what evil?

Before it is written, a book is an island. The author arrives with ideas to populate and grow; the imagination colonises, building a stage set according to its rules. Novels, like islands, are an enduring fiction of government and supremacy: a means of control in an otherwise uncontrollable world.

Picture an island, far from anywhere. It is self-regulated, unrestrained and free to do as it pleases. It masquerades as something it’s not, because the truth it is guarding can never be known. Inhabit it with extreme, obscene celebrity; wealth that knows no limits; power and fame beyond even the wildest invention; sex that burns and urges uninhibited. Is it heaven on earth, or a devil’s playground?

Paradise comes at a price. In a culture of excess, where can we go next? When in possession of everything, a blank canvas becomes the only object of desire: it marks a clean slate, a fresh start and a chance to begin again. We return to the island. We write the rules; we devise the philosophy. And then we tempt others to follow us there.’

Follow this link to pre-order a copy of Victoria’s latest book, Temptation Island.

To read more about Victoria Fox and her books, visit her website.

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Part 3: What does a literary agent do?

For my final entry on ‘What does a literary agent do?’ I will address deal making.

Every single day I am negotiating top deals in the UK, US and foreign markets, including film and TV rights.  This aspect of the being an agent gives my writers a platform to be successful.  A writer’s career will grow if they have an agent who is constantly trying to sell rights to their books, for instance selling translation rights to different countries.  I continue to sell rights to my authors’ backlist all the time. I attend all the major international book fairs each year, including the Bologna Book Fair, the London Book Fair and the Frankfurt Book Fair. I also make regular trips to the US to liaise with publishers.  At the book fairs I will pitch my authors work to hundreds of different editors from publishing companies all over the world.  I have 30 minutes with each one, starting from 9am through to 6pm with no breaks.  The adrenalin keeps me going.

A lot of work is done between the book fairs .  Sometimes, I like to have sold the UK & Commonwealth rights to a book and then get everyone else interested at the fair; other times I introduce books at the fair; or I will have done a US deal beforehand.  There are lots of tactics involved in creating excitement, and this is how the big advances come into play.  Every deal is important to me, every translation deal, because they can make my authors international bestsellers.

Deal making is very exhilarating but negotiating also takes tons of energy.  Sometimes negotiations go on for weeks.  Auctions are very exciting but it is always important, no matter what the advance, that the agent chooses the most passionate editor for the book and indeed the author’s career as a whole.  It is this passion and commitment from both the editor and the agent that gives the author the best chance of being successful.

The Madeleine Milburn Agency has a long-term vision and an international plan for each author, negotiating significant deals in the UK, the US and foreign markets, liaising with publishers around the world. The Agency works in partnership with film agents, and directly, to option Film & TV rights to leading production companies and film studios in the UK and US.

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Part 1: What does a literary agent do?

A lot of people ask me what a literary agent does.  There is a huge amount involved in the day-to-day running of a literary agency, and indeed being an agent, but I believe the three main aspects of an agent’s job are talent spotting, author care and deal making.  I will explain each of these over the upcoming week.

Talent spotting – an agent has to find new talent to sell.  This is their bread and butter and will keep an Agency growing and expanding.  I do everything I can each day to grow my slush pile (which I call my ‘potential’ pot).  To ensure that the quality remains high, I attend writing events and give talks to writing groups around the UK and Ireland.  I’m also involved in panel discussions organised for writers wanting to get published.  I go to creative writing courses at universities and I keep this blog to promote my authors and ensure that writers know what my personal taste is and what I am looking for.  I want writers to ‘know’ me before they submit their work.  I think it is extremely important that writers know how to present their work to agents and that they look for an agent who is interested in reading their manuscript.  A writer wants to have a sort of affinity with their agent.  A lot of writers feel very despondent when they get rejected, but most of the time it is because they haven’t targeted the right agent for their book.

Day in day out, my passion is finding outstanding voices in both adult and children’s fiction and non-fiction, and negotiating top deals.  I have a very strong women’s fiction list and I am now looking to expand into crime, thrillers and mystery.  I am always on the lookout for fantastic Young Adult novels too and the kind of books people like to discuss in bookclubs, the so called ‘Richard & Judy’ reads – these are novels that are accessible yet have really interesting themes.  My main criteria is this though: no matter what genre, if I simply cannot book your book down, I will want to be your agent.

In my next posts I will address author care and deal making, particularly appropriate given that the London Book Fair runs next week from 16th – 18th April.

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Tomorrow is the final day you can submit to the Madeleine Milburn Literary Agency’s ‘Competition for Representation’.  Due to postal delay, I will consider all material I receive up until Friday 16th March.  This will allow you to actually post your submission on the 14th March if you haven’t already.  You will know whether you are successful within two weeks from the closing date of the competition.

Thank you to all those who have entered already – there is heaps of talent here.

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