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19 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.


VICTORIA FOX

Victoria Fox

Santa, are you there…?

When I was eight, I had to prove everything. That my upturned-cardboard-box table sale would make more than 50p; that my Jordan Knight dance routine was better than my sister’s (it was); and that my cat really didn’t mind getting dragged round the front garden in a John Lewis plastic bag. Sorry, Tom.

So when I heard a cruel whisper at school that Santa Claus might not be real, I set out to put the record straight! Why the big secret anyway? Why did Santa have to hide out all the time? The way I saw it, if he was real, he ought to just say so.

Admittedly Santa would probably bolt right back up his chimney if confronted by the outpourings of my imagination today (I’ve always thought the Maldives a more fitting backdrop to Wicked Ambition than the North Pole), but back then he didn’t seem to mind. So, I wrote a note to Father Christmas. Not just any old note, mind you – a contract. I put it to him straight: simply, it was time to man up. How was I meant to keep supporting him, defending his name against the non-believers etc. etc. if he didn’t give me at least a little in return? Just sign on the dotted line, I wrote bossily, with full name printed below, and we’ll all be happy. See? Proof.

It turns out Santa is a reasonable man – and he carries his own pen. I had left out felt tips for the purpose but whatever the big man used to sign had to be a magic wand. What else could it be? It was GOLD! And glittery. Right there in the morning, just as I had left it save for the addition of a beautiful old-fashioned autograph, was my wish come true. Just the faintest outline, a whisper of magic passing in the night, but most definitely and categorically there – in elaborate, beautiful, delicate script, two words:

Santa Claus.

To this day, nobody has admitted the fraud. The handwriting was and remains unlike any I’ve seen. Was the real Father Christmas in my room that night? It’s reassuring that a man in his position takes logic seriously – after all, it must get annoying when everyone thinks you’re made up all the time. Sometimes, you need just a sprinkle of proof. And mine made that year the best Christmas ever.

Victoria Fox‘s debut HOLLYWOOD SINNERS is launched in the US today by Bookouture. Her latest book, WICKED AMBITION, is out in the UK now. 

See Victoria’s dazzling new website

Hollywood Sinners by Victoria Fox   Wicked Ambition by Victoria Fox

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For Children’s fiction, I am looking for…

A lot of you have been asking what I am looking for in terms of Children’s and Young Adult fiction.  I am looking for something extremely striking in terms of voice and story.  I love crossover titles, books that appeal equally to adults and children, such as Markus Zusak’s THE BOOK THIEF and John Boyne’s THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS.  These are both incredibly moving, have big universal themes and huge international appeal, the latter selling two million copies in Spain alone.

I love emotional and accessible literary reads such as Jenny Downham’s BEFORE I DIE and Lauren Oliver’s BEFORE I FALL.  Philip Pullman is also one of my favourite children’s authors – I used to work for his literary agency, A P Watt Ltd, and it was amazing seeing the international appeal of HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy.  His books appeal to fantasy and non-fantasy readers which I think is a great skill of the author.  I love children’s books that are extremely imaginative and, if you are going to write a fantasy story, I think it is always best to ground your reader in the normal ‘everyday’ world before you take them into the unknown ‘fantasy’ world.  Think the ‘rabbit hole’ in ALICE IN WONDERLAND and ‘platform 9 3/4’s’ in HARRY POTTER.  This will not alienate non-fantasy readers, it will draw them into your world.

Do have an idea of your target audience and the age group you are writing for: 5-8 yr olds, 7-9, 8-12, 12+, YA or crossover, and read books aimed at your age group in bookstores and libraries so you get to know the market.  It will help you focus.

I am very passionate about Young Adult fiction, for instance Stephenie Meyer’s hugely commercial TWILIGHT series.  Publishers are now overloaded with vampire books though, so I am looking for something equally readable in terms of voice but without a supernatural edge.  I think straight YA thrillers are going to do very well and I have recently taken on the author of NIGHT SCHOOL, C.J Daugherty, whose work I sold to Atom / Little, Brown for a 2012 publication.  Psychological suspense is always a winner and I’d like to see more YA fiction in this genre, leading on from recent trends in adult fiction, for instance the success of the psychological thriller  BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP by S J Watson,  based around the protagonist Christine who loses her memory when she goes to sleep and has to start afresh every time she wakes up.

A book I would love to represent from its pitch alone is THE STATISTICAL PROBABILITY OF LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT by Jennifer E. Smith.  To me, it sounds like a YA version of David Nicholls’ ONE DAY with elements of the film SLIDING DOORS, about chance, fate and connections.  A love story told in a different way.  I particularly like the fact that it takes place over a 24-hour period too.  I’m looking forward to reading my proof.

It is important to remember that there are no real rules and it is not worth writing to trends.  It is all about your voice, your central character and your story. You want to think about leading the next trend.

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Right now, I am looking for…

…a book that is more reading-group, something that can be pitched in the more upmarket, literary cross-over area.  A book that will appeal to readers of Maggie O’Farrell, a book to follow THE LOVELY BONES, THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE, THE MEMORY KEEPER’S DAUGHTER, SISTER.   If you have written a book that you believe works in this area, i.e a book that would sit well on Richard & Judy’s bookshelf, do send it to me.   

And, I ALWAYS love popular commercial fiction, no matter what mood I am in.

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