#Writers , have questions for a Literary Agent? #askagent


Continuing the  guest post series in this blog, it is with great pleasure that I present Helen Mangham, a partner-agent at one of the best-known literary agencies in Asia: the Jacaranda Literary Agency. She answers questions on various topics of writerly interest: feel free to leave your questions for her in the comments section.

1. How and why did you become a Literary Agent?
Graduating with a degree in history it seemed the only jobs I was specifically qualified for were history teacher or working in a Museum – but neither appealed to me. Publishing attracted me, back then I wasn’t quite sure what a Literary Agent did, but it sounded interesting. I saw a job advertised at Curtis Brown, London and applied. I didn’t know then that it was one of the oldest and most famous literary agencies in London. Luckily I got the job!

2. What book, published in recent times, do you think should be more recognized, and one that you think is overrated?
For over-rated, I’d have to say ‘Freedom’ by Jonathan Franzen.  Franzen is undoubtedly a brilliant author and this book is a tour de force and technically impressive, but personally it left me cold as I couldn’t empathise with any of the characters.  I also think it is too long!   A book that I stumbled across a few years ago and loved was ‘The Glass Room’ by Simon Mawer, a complex historical novel set in Czechoslovakia in the late 1930s and spanning six decades, it is a tragic, multi-layered and at times profound novel. Whilst not exactly under-rated – it was short listed for the 2009 Booker Prize – I think it deserves to be more widely read.

3. When it comes to non-fiction, a lot of agents are looking for ‘experts’ in their fields. What defines a person capable of writing on a certain subject?
I don’t think you necessarily have to be an expert to write on a subject. But you do have to be passionate about that subject and write about it from an original perspective. For example, you could be the world’s leading expert on a given subject, but still make it sound dull, or alternatively you could be enthusiastic enough to make it come alive. Look for something new to say.

4. Tell us about some notable books you’ve sold recently (publisher, title, author).

  • ‘Beijing Comrades’ by Bei Tong translated by Scott E Myers to Feminist Press, New York.
  • A debut memoir by Kenyan author Jess de Boer ‘The Elephant and the Bees’ to Jacaranda Books, UK (no relation to us!)
  • Krishna Udayasankar’s fourth book ‘The Immortal’, to Hachette India.  Also, another new book by Krishna Udayasankar:  ‘3:  The Legend of Singapore’ to Ethos Books, Singapore (for Singapore and Malaysia)  and also to Hachette, India (for India).
  • ‘Holistic Health Guide for Women’ by Dr I. Mathai to Via Nova, Germany
  • ‘Start-Up Capitals, Discovering Global Hotspots of Innovation’ by Zafar Anjum to Random House India
  • ‘Miss Draupadi Kuru’ by Trisha Das to Harper Collins, India.
  • Also, an as yet untitled book on Asian Parenting by Maya Thiagarajan to Tuttle.

5. What’s your advice to an aspiring author submitting to Jacaranda? What do you pray for when tackling the slush pile?
Tantalise me, but don’t overwhelm me with information. Send me a short synopsis of your book, and a couple of sample chapters. Was your story inspired by real life or just a genre you love? If non-fiction tell me why you think it is different to other books out there and who it will appeal to? Please don’t expect me to be able to get back to you within ten days – I have to prioritise work for existing clients over potential ones!
I pray to open a manuscript and find myself reading for pleasure and not critically. If I’m engrossed and my literary agent hat falls off that’s a good start!

6. What’s one thing you are sick of seeing in queries?
Getting published, especially in these risk averse times, is incredibly difficult. With this in mind, a prospective author should ideally revisit, rework and edit their manuscript several times, as well as show their work to other people and get opinions on it before sending it to an agent.

7. What do you hope to see when you google a prospective client?
The right answer is an impressive ‘online presence’. An author web-page, a blog with lots of followers, an active twitter account and a facebook page for their book. I’m thrilled if I do find that, but I’m not depressed if I don’t. We can help authors to create their own websites and build online presence.

8. What sets Jacaranda apart from other literary agencies?
Obviously being based in South East Asia sets us apart – there are still not so many agents in this part of the world. Having an agent in the Philippines definitely sets us apart! We’re small and work across continents, with authors from as far afield as Australia, America and the US as well as our bedrock of S.E Asian writers.

9.  Tell us about your experience at the last Frankfurt Fair.

We had a packed schedule with only two or three free slots over the entire three days – hardly time to grab lunch, which we ate on the go! But that’s a good thing – we made lots of valuable new contacts, among both publishers and foreign agents. The most memorable moment for me was being on the Hachette India stand when it was announced that Malala Yousafzai had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize – the youngest recipient ever! There was whooping and cheering and lots of high fives!

———-

helen Mangham Literary Agent

Helen Mangham, Jacaranda Literary Agency

Helen has been a Partner Agent at Singapore-based Literary Agency Jacaranda since 2012. Here she is helping to build a dedicated list of Singapore Writers alongside an eclectic international list. As part of her role with Jacaranda, Helen attends the Frankfurt and London Book Fairs and meets with international publishers from across Southeast Asia, Australia, the UK and US. Helen came to Jacaranda with over eight years of publishing experience. She started her career in London, at Curtis Brown Literary Agency. She has worked with the publicity departments of a number of the UK’s leading publishing companies, helping with publicity campaigns for a number of high profile books including Michael Chabon’s ‘The Mysteries of Pittsburgh’, Andrew Morton’s controversial biography of Princess Diana, Whitley Streiber’s ‘Communion’ and the autobiography of Elton John’s lyricist Bernie Taupin. Other authors she has worked with include Deborah Moggach, John Julius Norwich and Chinua Achebe.

Are you writing a book? Looking for an agent? Have questions for Helen? Fire away in the comments! And if you don’t have a question, comments are great, too.

Been to Yangon, yet?


Blogging needs to be regular, if anything. Experts harp on this, often. But last month I took off on a break, to write my WIP. I haven’t visited many blogs, not commented much, and not posted at all. I got the draft finished though (finally!!), and went on a short break to Yangon, Myanmar (Burma). I’m officially out of hibernation, too.

Ever since the country opened up its gates to tourists in the past 4 years, friends on social media have been posting pictures of their Myanmar ‘adventure.’ Mine was far from one, let me tell you in advance, and if you can’t stand descriptions of lazy tourism, I suggest you stop reading right now. Having slept three hours a night or so for the last two months, I needed to catch up on some sleep– and since we had booked this holiday long in advance, I did my catching up right there in Myanmar.

Lyungi, Yangon, Myanmar

Lungyis in Yangon

At first sight (and second, and third), Yangon seemed to me the land of the Lungyis, these sarongs worn with a knot on the front by the men, and gracefully, with side-ties and invisible zips, by the women. I love it when the people of a country don their traditional clothing in their daily lives, instead of the drab Western gear most of us in Asia seem to have adopted. Students and office goers all wear Lungyis in Yangon– a garment that makes such elegant sense in the heat and dust. That’s not to say that jeans hasn’t made inroads here: loved the men wearing Lungyis holding hands with women in tight-fitted jeans.

A lot of women also apply Thanaka paste on their faces when they go out (notice the face of the woman in yellow at the far right of the above set of pics). Quite puzzled by these daubs  of sandalwood-looking paste on women’s cheek, I asked a waitress, and she said these have cooling, sunscreen, as well as cosmetic properties, and that Thanaka is a tree, just like Sandalwood.

Pavement snaps from Colorful Yangon

Yangon snapshots

The Burmese reminded me of the Thai, with their soft smiles and friendly faces. Weaving your way while across its gridlocked traffic can be a challenging, chaotic affair, but right beside you in the mornings you would find Lungyi-clad students, colorful hawker women balancing on their heads their entire ware of fried snacks in a basket, the maroon-clad monks with their shiny begging bowls, young women in wet hair and colorful clothes heading to the pagodas, bunches of roses in hand, and mega-phone-weilding-military-uniform-clad traffic police, walking casually as they yell instructions to shiny new Toyotas, the tiny Tata Nanos, old trucks and jeeps.

We did take quite a few walks on the pavements of Yangon dotted with hawkers and tea-stalls, and snack-stalls selling everything from grilled/ steamed pig parts, chicken legs, eggs, peanuts, coconuts, guavas, corn, sea-food. In the evenings, the pavements flowered with small colorful tables, and kid-sized plastic stools– young and old Burmese sat at these tiny feasts, lit by dim lamps and chatted and laughed. We had fun shopping really old second hand books from the pavements– think thrillers and romance published in 1960s, and pirated copies of  English books published in the early 1980s in Burma.

Yangon Myanmar Lyungyi and walking streets

Street food in Yangon, Myanmar

Of course, we had to sample the Myanmarese cuisine, a curious mix of the Chinese, Indian and Thai influences. Each meal was served with a green leafy consomme, and an array of steamed vegetables with a fish paste. The Burmese eat noodles and dumplings like the Chinese, with some Thai influence; their salads include noodles and meat, like the Thai, and most of their curries (chicken, mutton, pork) and snacks looked and tasted Indian. Curries are invariably greasy– because according to certain local beliefs, the greasier the food you can afford, the better off you are! The Burmese milk tea is the same as you would find on Indian footpaths, the chai so favored and distorted by cafes into latte and whatnot, but the Burmese love their green tea, too, like most Chinese I know.

Pagodas in Yangon, Myanmar

In and around the Sule and Shwedagon Pagodas, Yangon

If all you see are descriptions and photos of food and walks on Yangon pavements, that’s because that’s what we did most of the time. We did also visit Pagodas and museums (very briefly). The Pagodas seemed similar to what I’ve seen in Bangkok, all the gold-plated glorification of the Buddha, who mostly (as far as I know), spoke of the inner spirit, and started the Bhikkhu, or ‘begging alms’ way of life for monks. What impressed me most at the museum was the Burmese fascination with the humble betel-leaf– enormous gold-plated spittoons and containers displayed on an entire floor: remnants of which we see on the betel or paan stall (seen on the upper right corner of pics below) on Yangon streets.

Yangon tourism pavements paan

Tourism on the pavements of Yangon

We should have explored more, taken a day-trip out or something, but I was too busy catching up on sleep, and eating myself silly. So the snapshots of food and clothing are all I carried back with me.

Not really, though. The people, the Burmese people with their smiles and their day-to-day lives, remain with me, and the changing face of a country so recently ravaged by violence, beginning to breathe free.

What was your latest trip out of town like? Have you been to Yangon? Been on a trip where you ‘ought’ to have explored but lazed instead?

#IWSG: What if you need to hibernate?


Blogging tips

Blogging during Hibernation

This new year’s eve, I fell asleep before midnight.

Of course, I’m aging. But more than aging, I’m hibernating.

Since Christmas, I’m doing a complete rewrite of my MS, and I aim to get it done by the 31st January. So I’m not really responding to messages, making  (or receiving) calls. Not blogging (much) either: I click Likes still, when I sometimes read posts during writing breaks, but not many comments.

It’s like I need to stay in the world of my MS to bang out about 2 to 2.5 k words a day: and it’s like meditation, if you’ve ever watched a hen incubate an egg with those faraway, lost look in her eyes, you’ll know what I look like these days. Pretty darn unattractive. You’ll find me on Twitter: @damyantig : I’m a sucker for  #wordsprint ever since I started this binge, and #1k1hr .

But this morning my calendar told me today is the 7th Birthday of this Blog. If I ignore that too, I’d be a bit of an asshat.

So I’m peeping up to say HI to everyone, to wish everyone a good new year ahead. And I’d be an even bigger asshat if I didn’t say THANKYOU to all the readers and commenters of my blog. And didn’t say SORRY for disappearing (pretty much) from the blogiverse for the last few weeks.

So Thankyou for being my friends, and Sorry about disappearing.

I also re-added myself to the Insecure Writers Support Group, cos let’s face it, right about now, in this temporary break from my fictive dream, I do feel a little Insecure. What if everyone forgets I exist? What if this blog becomes a forest of *crickets*?

From within the world of my novel, these seem like pretty trivial concerns. (That’s because they are, Damyanti– the world has gone through tragedies too many and too diverse to name in 2014– and you’re worried about your blog? #firstworldproblems #sigh)

But as ever, I need your advice: What do you do when you need to hibernate? Is it terrible that I want to take this month off to finish my MS? I know I can’t, I’ve made commitments, but what if I could? Have you ever taken a hiatus from your blog? Taken a hiatus in January? Thoughts on Hibernation? Hit me with them!

Children are Children, aren’t they? #IndiawithPakistan


The mothers of Pakistan's murdered children

The Mothers of Peshawar

As a young girl in India, I learned to hate Pakistan. I was told the history of this country with my own, how we were once one nation, and are now bitter enemies.

I saw the Kargil war. On TV, yes, but its horrors did not go away.

I saw each terrorist attack on India, there were many, and was told Pakistan was behind each of them.

But today, when I see the seige on Pakistan’s children, those young lives snuffed out before they could properly begin, I cannot remember that they are from a country I was taught to hate.

For years I’ve been on to the politicians of both countries: they’ve flamed up hostilities between the two nations whenever things got hairy within either country.

Today I stand with those mothers in Peshawar, whose children wouldn’t come back.

I’m not a mother, but I’m a daughter, and I’ve seen mothers.

I cannot begin to imagine those households where children would return from school in coffins.

So those of you who tell me Pakistan deserved it, that they had supported terrorists once, that they’re villains who murdered Hindus in Kashmir, I have no time for you. Those who tell me that Muslims and Islam are the problem, I have no time for you either. Those Pakistanis who blame India for this, I’ll spend no time on you.

I hang my head in shame, because I’m part of a world where children are murdered to raise funds, where some people can find it in them to feel good about what happened to those children and their families.

The beauty and goodness in this world must be coming to an end if the murder of children does not receive universal condemnation.

Mohammed Ali Khan, 15, a student in a Peshawar school, will not return home today.

I choose to name and remember him, and remember his fallen friends. I choose not to name his murderers, and dignify their existence with a name.

And if children are butchered in schools, it is a collective failure of all of humanity, including mine.

I stand with the mothers who lost their children yesterday, the Mothers of Peshawar. I give them my puny strength, and my puny voice.

Children are children, whether they’re born in India, Pakistan or anywhere else in the world.

——————

Have you read about these mothers and their children? What can we do to bring sanity and peace into this world gone mad? What do you have to say to the grieving mothers of Peshawar?

Do you Own Your Memories? #writing


Damyanti:

Writing about family. Always a dangerous topic. Someone, I don’t remember who, said that writers should write like orphans, like they have no family– that the family they belong to isn’t theirs.

I’ve written about my family, once or twice, and the reaction of those who read it has been, “But that’s not what happened! She’s twisted it up! How dare she?”

What they don’t realize is writing is its own truth– each story has its truth, and it has no relationship to facts, and what are facts, after all. Things happen, and depending on who saw them happen, you have different perspectives.

History is littered with perspectives, mostly those of the winners. I write sometimes from the loser’s perspective, from the point of view of ‘wrong’ (what’s right or wrong, anyway? who decides what’s right?).

I read this post today, and I’m reblogging it because it gives a perspective different from mine — You own everything that happened to you.

To me, I own nothing, from the clothes on my back to the stories I write– one day all of this would be ashes and dust, and not even a memory of me would remain.

What do you think? Do You own your memories? Do you write about your family? Would you be hurt if your family members wrote about you?

Following on Social media

Do You look Back?

Originally posted on Adventures in Juggling:

Working this week on me being the sole proprietor of my thoughts, my memories, my words, my opinions with my therapist has been hard. A lifetime of being told these are not mine, not real, not true, not worthy of being shared takes it toll. It’s one of the reason why I stopped writing decades ago, much to the disappointment of a high school writing teacher who just recently reconnected via Facebook upon discovering that after high school I stopped writing altogether. I did stop, until I started blogging more than ten years ago. First in secret. Then with a faceless audience who seemed to like the words and thoughts I put out there. Then it grew and grew as did the audience some who know me very well and some who like to imagine that they know me even better than I know me and now, well sometimes it’s…

View original 102 more words

Do You Wait Till Things Get #Interesting ?


I’m not big on Author Fan pages on Facebook, don’t have one myself (haven’t written anything worth a page. So far, anyway). But I ‘Liked’ Elizabeth Gilbert’s page at random and haven’t regretted it.

Writing about interesting things

When things get Interesting

Yesterday, I saw a post on her page I want to share with everyone (who hasn’t seen it yet, cos she has a gazillion followers):

Somebody asked me the other day if writing was easy for me.

When I hesitated with my answer, they asked, “I mean…has it gotten easier over time, as you’ve gotten better at it?”

And still I hesitated with my answer. Because the truth is, I’ve never asked my work to be “easy”; I just want it to be interesting.

(By which I mean — I want my writing to be interesting for ME. If, as a side effect, my work eventually becomes interesting to you, that’s awesome. But mostly, I am just trying to interest and educate and occupy and challenge and delight myself.)

Often writing is indeed quite difficult for me. But I’m not sure that’s the point, and I know it’s definitely not a problem, because all the really interesting things in life are difficult — love, wisdom, growth, compassion, learning, travel, loyalty, courage, endurance, transformation…

The post goes on, and if you’re on Facebook, I encourage you to go read it, whether you’re a writer or not.

In my writing and in life, I’ve often found that I have to keep going, even when (especially when) I reach a breaking point. Be it writing, swimming, household chores, hiking, research– the best part is after you climb that one seemingly insurmountable hill– the other side’s where that gorgeous sunrise is at, or that wonderful dizzy feeling of making your 10th lap (I learned swimming two years ago, so), or that shiny house or that nugget of information. In writing, especially, every time I’ve pushed harder to a more painful place, or to a higher word count, I have found something worth keeping.

Because stories come to me– I don’t make them up. On days when they don’t come, I wait and I work, till they do. So, as Ms. Gilbert says:

Whatever it is you are pursuing, whatever it is you are seeking — be careful not to quit too soon. Don’t quit the moment it stops being easy, OK? Because that moment? If you stay in it and then stubbornly push past your fear and resistance? That’s the moment where INTERESTING begins.

Do you stick at stuff till you reach ‘Interesting’ answers, levels, revelations? Any experience you want to talk about when you quit, or when you didn’t quit and came upon something worthwhile? Heard of Elizabeth Gilbert? What are your thoughts on her?

What can you #write in Ten #Sentences ? #heywriters


I’ve been botching up taking an open online creative writing course from Iowa Writer’s workshop. It is in its last week, and after doing the first two classes, I mostly missed out on all the others. I traveled, worked on stuff at home, basically did anything but write.

I’ve missed the deadline for the writing assignment in the last class, so I thought I would make a fool of myself by doing it here, in public. Here’s the assignment:

Write a scene of ten sentences and include in each sentence a numeral. If you’ve reached ten sentences and you’d like to keep going, you can make this a scene of twenty sentences, or thirty — the idea is just to write within this pattern. Example: On the day my town flooded, I was ten years old. It was four o’clock in the morning. In the darkness, right before I heard the water coming, two roosters crowed.

Boy soldiers in Syria

A Boy Soldier: Copyright Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP via the Guardian

And here’s my attempt:

Shut your mouth or I’ll kill you, he’d said, on day one at the camp, the day they brought his brother in. After a month, when opening his schoolbag, I found three packets of white powder, larger than the packs salt came in, but much smaller than the packs of sugar.

I found these in your bag, I said to him two days later, when I felt able to look him square in his bloodshot eyes.

He snatched them from my hand, slammed them on the table, and banged it with his stringy hands: You listen to me, woman, he said, though his thirteen-year-old body wasn’t yet as tall as mine, You listen to me good. I’m tired of eating your kabsa and your kushary, and I’m tired of Abba’s begging for rations– give me one month, and I’ll sort this all out.

You listen to me, son, I said, making the tremble in my voice a scream of anger, not fear, as my mind whispered the ninety-nine names of Allah.

I ignored the bulge in his pockets, tried not to think of the steel they hid, the two spitfires that made his voice so loud, and the new masked bosses who had given them to him.

 

Now there he lies, six months later, one dead body minus its head, the two spitfires on his chest, folded in prayer.

Shut your mouth, I tell the Mullah at the funeral, He may be the One and Only, but He has taken a mother’s sons from her.

They’ll kill me soon, maybe in twelve hours when night falls, but I’ll use each of those hours, each minute, taking my boys’ names, and I won’t take their names in vain.

So that was some fiction on my blog, the first time in six months, I think.

Have you ever taken an online creative writing course from Iowa? Have ever written exercises with constraints in mind? Did the constraints of my assignment overwhelm the piece above? Would you like to do a similar 10-line writing exercise (fiction/ nonfiction) and post it on your blog?