Smart Quill Editorial About the Editor

Interview with Storythings: Artisanal Toast and Other Stories

Posted on May 31st, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-06-13 at 13.00.37

I have long been a fan of Storythings – they are a UK studio that create and develop different ways to tell stories. I’ve seen them work with publishers and film producers, digital start-ups, you name it. And their weekly newsletter is a joy to behold in my inbox every week. So I asked them…

1. What is the coolest story you have worked on?

Our projects are like our children in that it’s impossible to pick a favourite. At Storythings we’ve been lucky to work on an really diverse range of projects with incredible talent involved. If we had put a wish list together 3 years ago of who we’d love to work with we would definitely have have had the likes of Steven Johnson, Gruff Rhys, Jon Ronson – so getting to work with them was a pleasure. At the moment we’re having a lot of fun with How We Get To Next because not only is discovering the people and ideas that are shaping the future a brilliant to be involved in, but we’re also shattering the idea that all innovation comes from white men in San Fransisco in the process.

2. What are the most interesting online pieces you have discovered?

There are fascinating stories every week in our Storythings newsletter but one that stands out is the brilliant story of Artisanal Toast. I don’t want to give any spoilers here but I think I really liked it because when you click a link about a trend for toast cafes in San Fransisco you do so slightly sneering. By the time you finish the story you are anything but. Such a great story. And this week I came across the most amazing podcast about a girl staring through a neighbours window which almost had both myself and my girlfriend in tears. A brilliant story told really well. Oh yes, and the one about how Bing Crosby and The Nazis helped create Silicone Valley. We all all knew that happened, right? Too many good stories, every single week.

3. What is your definition of story?

A narrative that stirs emotion? I think it was Hemmingway who said the best story he ever wrote contained just 6 words “For sale. Babies shoes. Never worn”.

Interview with Positivitea: Not Just Tea

Posted on April 6th, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 18.08.21

An unusual interview this month… Ellie Wharton is a picture book author, editor and consultant. But she also runs a rather remarkable company called Positivitea. As a start-up business based on creative passion, not dissimilar to launching a book, I thought it might be interesting to ask a few questions.

1. What did you do before Positivitea and why did you decide to start it?

I was in the children’s publishing industry for ten years – still am part time – but my motivation for creating Positivitea came when I was unsure of which direction to go next in my career.  This is symptomatic of an imbalance in the root chakra. Following a yoga class I went looking for a tea to help balance it and couldn’t find one in any tea section. So I decided to do it myself!

2. What have you learnt about marketing?

That social media is king!  Seriously, if you want to get ahead in the world nowadays, it’s the best way to spread the word about your business. As far as marketing itself goes, say yes to every opportunity where you can promote your brand. Also carry truth and integrity in everything you do, that’s simply the best tool you have when trying to sell a product. People buy into your passion and real passion can only come from a place of honesty. Also know your market and your product inside out!

3.  What achievement are you most proud of?
Probably getting the teas into my favourite yoga studio – Indaba in Marylebone – that was a real coup as it served as an affirmation for me that I had done the right thing in starting the company in the first place.  Since then it has been a roller coaster of fantastic experiences and connection made within the wellness and yoga community, we’ve even got a date at the palace!

Interview with Story Terrace: A Biographer for Every Person

Posted on March 1st, 2015

story terrace

Rather fortuitously, I met Story Terrace last month. They are a new company, a start-up, and doing rather wonderful things in the field of independently published autobiography. So over to them for a few questions…

Why did you decide to set up Story Terrace? 

My grandfather told the most amazing stories. Like the time he was asked to join training for the national football team because the regular goalkeeper hadn’t shown up. It was only years later that I realised his adventures had never been documented in any way. Eventually this led to the simple premise upon which Story Terrace is based: a biographer for every person. A professional writer that suits the person about whom the book is written. Together you capture your favourite anecdotes alongside life’s big events and turning points.

What sort of authors do you work with? 

We are looking for authors who are passionate about sharing people’s stories. They thrive on learning about others, and have an ear for the narrative that holds memories together. Our writers have diverse backgrounds and experience: from journalists to published novelists to barristers embarking on a second career. This is intentional, as different writers have different strengths and styles. We believe every story is unique and deserves the writer that suits it best.

What is the best untold story you have discovered?

We received a story about a young Polish man who was sent to Russia for re-education during the WWII-era occupation. He escaped and fled to the UK where he joined the Polish regiment. With his comrades, he helped to liberate France, Belgium and Holland, though he himself was still in exile from his country. He fell in love with a local woman and settled down in one of the towns he had liberated. The couple had two children, and after he died, his daughters discovered a mysterious letter indicating they may have a half-sister somewhere in Poland. It’s an amazing story what it means to be family. We’re honoured to be receiving emotional stories like this one.

Success Story Three

Posted on August 27th, 2014

Two published books came through simultaneously this month; both Smart Quill authors who have taken very different approaches to publishing. It is a wonderful thing that there are so many options open to writers in terms of connecting with readers. Both James and Tim were utterly committed to the editorial process, and it was a privilege to work with them both.

James Kamblin came to me in 2013 with a sci-fi novel; it was very long, yet intricate and compelling. I am more of a fan of fantasy than science-fiction, but this was a wholly developed world and so easy to fall into. James very wisely turned to Amazon to publish – with such a sterling reputation for launching the careers of Hugh Howey and Kass Morgan, it makes complete sense. FLEE THE BONDS is available at:

Tim Bradley was in fact my first client – in March 2012 we met and had several editorial consultations regarding a draft middle grade fiction, which eventually became ARNIE JENKS AND THE HOUSE OF STRANGERS. Tim knew when to give the novel space, so over a process of three years he has worked and reworked it. The end result is so polished – Tim secured a publishing deal with  Troubadour. Both ebook is and paperback are available. Have a look at the dedicated website to the book:

And again, at the risk of repeating myself, congratulations to both Vince and Tim; it takes courage and determination to see the publication process through to the end, and you have done it!

Success Story Two

Posted on July 27th, 2014

Hugh O’Brien very kindly did an author interview with me some time ago. But as we are nearing publication date, I thought it might be an opportune moment to look at a little more of the editorial history.

I met Hugh when I was in Australia in 2013. He had a wonderful narrative style, but his work of non-fiction was more of collection of autobiographical thoughts when I first started editing. He responded unbelievably well to marked-up notes, which I sent through on-screen. By draft three, I knew we were onto a winner.

So I sent the ms to Tara Wynne at Curtis Brown – she loved it, and mere weeks later Hugh was offered a deal by the newly merged Penguin/Random House in Australia. A hugely prestigious house for a debut author.

The result was UNDAUNTED, to be published as a trade paperback in August 2014. Military autobiography is by no means my speciality, but when a book starts like this, it grabs you and won’t let go: “Diving was a boys-own adventure, a jump into the unknown full of devil-may-care attitudes. It welcomed you with one hand and cast you asunder with the other. It was a hideous bitch goddess and it drank the blood of the unprepared.”

Congratulations, Hugh!

Success Story One

Posted on March 31st, 2014

This is new little blog collection for Smart Quill, and every month or so I will be profiling Smart Quill authors who are now published. The most exciting thing is seeing your creation out in the big wide world. So without further ado, let me introduce LOVE, LOVE ME DO by Mark Haysom…

Mark approached me in 2013 for a premium report. His novel is a four stranded narrative, shifting between a man, a woman, a child, and a homeless and psychologically damaged war veteran. Quite some reach, and incredibly difficult to balance. Yet Mark’s writing was so nuanced, so calm, I was immediately blown away by the ms. After two edits, I put it in front of Eve White, who has  a reputation for making debut authors. Eve sent it out and within 12 hours had a six-figure pre-empt. It’s the stuff publishing dreams are made of!

I cannot say how proud I am to have been associated with this book. It will be published in April by Piatkus/Little Brown as a super-lead title in April. As one reviewer said: “Craftsmanship, Imagination, and Empathy”. That’s exactly what I love about it.

Interview with a Smart Quill Author

Posted on October 31st, 2013

There has been of flurry of smart quill authors getting agents and publishers recently… And interestingly, my first Australian client was one of them, being offered representation with Curtis Brown and a book deal with Random House.  Thrilling! So this month I have a quick fire interview with Hugh “Obi” O’Brien, author of Undaunted. His book is a personal account of experiences in the Special Forces with the Army’s counter-terrorism unit TAG (east) – a secretive team of divers and commandos, with the sole purpose of defending the domestic population from harm post 9-11.

What inspired you to write your book?

I was inspired to write Undaunted having finished a challenging career in the Australian Military as a Navy Clearance Diver, followed by a venture into the private military. I thought I could tell a story that might interest people and give them a look into a world they might not have otherwise known existed.

What did you find interesting about the process of working with an editor?

I found it incredible useful to work with an editor. The level of detail and attention that an editor can give helps turn a potentially indecipherable manuscript into a readable and noteworthy submission. The difference is massive.

 Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?

The only tip I have for aspiring writers is to simply work hard everyday and get something on the page. Then you can go back, chop, change and analyse to death everything you’ve done. Once you’ve taken it as far as you can, seek professional assistance so that it may be polished prior to any submission.

Thanks Hugh! Undaunted is due for publication in 2014, and it is a rip-roaring read. If you like military memoirs then this is certainly one to look out for.

Interview with a Scout

Posted on May 5th, 2013

Literary scouts perform a very important function in publishing. They are often responsible for the discovery of mega-trends in publishing and for bringing bestsellers to a wider market. They work for a selection of international publishers and film/tv production houses and have vast, fascinating networks. They are basically cool book spies.

To that end, Daniela Schlingmann has answered some quick questions for us this month. She is the scout for Weltbild, Hoffmann und Campe, Cadeau, Luitingh-Sijthoff, Atlas Contact, Verlagsgruppe Oetinger, Univers Poche, Hr. Ferdinand and Bestseller to Boxoffice.

How would you explain the role of a literary scout?
We are the extended arm of our clients editorial departments in London.

What main criteria do you use when reading for your clients?
Having a sure sense of what their tastes are and if a book will suit their taste. What is a book trying to do or trying to be, and does it succeed?

Did you notice any fiction or non-fiction trends around London Book Fair?
Exciting political non-fiction, new thinkers, surprising and fresh new upmarket voices in fiction. Good storytelling will remain a key staple.

Finally, we asked Daniela what her favourite book was…

A book that still makes me cry is The Brothers Lionheart by Astrid Lindgren. I have a copy on my shelf – and it did travel quite a lot with me. It’s probably the first dystopian YA novel that I ever read. Also, Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, which created a whole new genre and led me to study German medieval culture and literature at university.

Interview with an Editorial Director

Posted on March 13th, 2013

Just in time for the Bologna Book Fair, we have an update from the desk of Mr Ben Horslen, Editorial Director at Puffin. He has very kindly answered some quick quessies for us! I absolutely agree with his point about humour, and in fact Danny, The Champion of the World is my favourite Dahl book too. So not only does he have exceptional taste, but his insight into commissioning is astute. Ben is at @BenHorslen if you want to follow him on twitter, and describes himself as a: “Book lover, bardolator and rum drinker”. Cool.

Are you seeing a lot of a certain genre or theme at the moment?

Perhaps inspired by the success of books like My Sister Lives on the Mantlepiece and Wonder, there have been a lot of middle-grade/young YA submissions with big emotional themes – bereavement, dealing with disability, family breakdowns.

Is there anything in particular you are looking for?

Barnstorming, swashbuckling adventure for 9+; in YA, a brilliant new real-life British voice to stand up against the big guns from the US; I have a hankering too for a modern day War of the Worlds. Also, more humour – in acquisitions meetings you often hear the verdict that a manuscript is too bleak, too complex, too literary, but no editor in the history of publishing ever turned down a book for being too funny.

What book did you wish you commissioned and why?

I’ll give you two – Danny, The Champion of the World by Roald Dahl, for showing that the bucolic 1970s English countryside could be the setting for a properly thrilling adventure; and Every Day by David Levithan, a book that perfectly marries high concept with truthful, arresting characterisation.


Interview with an Agent

Posted on November 26th, 2012

This month we have Sam Copeland from esteemed literary agency Rogers Coleridge & White answering some quick-fire questions…

What is your favourite book of all time?
Impossible to answer, I’m afraid…

What do you like about agenting?
So much of it. Discovering a new writer. Telling the new writer they are going to be published. The transition of client to friend. And generally, publishing is a wonderful industry to work in. And the lunches.

How do you judge a manuscript with a view to representation?
Cliché, but you take it one step at a time. Good first sentence? I’ll carry on. Then, good first paragraph? Good first page? If I get to page 20 or so and I still love it, then I start getting excited.

Sam represents writers such as John Harding, author of One Big Damn Puzzler and Florence and Giles (Blue Door, Harper Collins), as well as Simon Mayo, radio presenter and author of the top ten bestselling children’s book Itch (Random House). He is also very funny on twitter: @stubbleagent.