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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

An interview with Julia Churchill

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On January 26 - just two days after our first anniversary - we welcomed a new agent to the Greenhouse. Julia Churchill is in London, England, and her job is to grow the UK side of our business, which is exciting news for aspiring and established authors on that side of the Pond. You can read more about Julia in the About Us section of this site, but here is our very first interview with Julia (who, I have to tell you, is quite brilliant!). 

Hi there, Julia!  It’s great to have you in the Greenhouse, building our UK author list.  Can you tell us a bit about your career to date and what made you join Greenhouse? 

It’s wonderful to be here!

I started out as a Press Office intern at Sheldrake Press in London, and then in 2002 joined the Darley Anderson Literary, TV & Film Agency as an assistant. Two years later I was the Agency Manager, and then in 2005 was made Associate Agent with a brief to build the children’s books side of the business.

I’d been watching Greenhouse’s progress with a lot of interest over the course of 2008. I kept on reading about these great deals and amazing-sounding books in the trade press, and I was aware the agency was selling books to both the USA and the UK. Most young agencies can take a few years to get out of the blocks so I was really impressed that so much was happening in a short space of time.

I like it when something is from more than one place, and Greenhouse feels truly international. That’s something that strikes a chord with me personally and obviously makes business sense too. If I were an English-language writer I’d want to be represented by a transatlantic agency that had feet on the ground in both English-language markets. I was also very impressed that Greenhouse has its own rights-selling sister company, Rights People – it is just so strong internationally.

What led you into agenting and what do you love most about it?

Funnily enough, when I was a teenager my mum told me I should become a literary agent. I’m not sure what she saw in me, but I loved books and was a mini wheeler-dealer in the playground – selling sweets, food, collectables, music. I didn’t think much of her suggestion at the time – I probably rolled my eyes a bit.

Then a few years later I’d graduated and knew I wanted to work in the book business. I applied to hundreds of places – publishers, packagers, agents, scouts. Pretty much everybody in the Writers and Artists Yearbook got a resumé from me. I was in the interview at Darley Anderson’s, hearing about the role and about what literary agents do and I remember thinking, ‘I need to get this. I have to make this my thing.’ I had white knuckles.

There is a lot to love about this job. Every day is a treasure hunt. All agents are beachcombers - heads down looking for something heart-stopping in the sand. It’s a thrill to find talent, it’s a thrill to help develop it, and it’s a thrill to do great deals for my authors. I love sending them the big cheques and sending them the little cheques too – for Danish bookclub audio, Dutch public-lending rights, Taiwanese large print.

It’s magic, and starts with one person who quietly believes that they have a story to tell. And they give up their spare time and their thinking space, tap, tap, tap on a keyboard and they create worlds. It still blows my mind when I find a great manuscript – goose-bumps, sleeplessness, nervous energy, sometimes even a few tears.

Right now somebody somewhere is sitting at home tapping out the book that’s going to change the publishing landscape of 2011 or 2012.  And it’s exciting to be jostling on the front line of that.

You’re going to be based in London and specifically looking for UK-based authors.  What kinds of books do you particularly like – and what will you be looking for? 

I‘ve got broad taste in books and like anything as long as it’s good! I’m as happy in the book aisle at ASDA as I am in the ‘staff picks’ section of Daunts. I like books that scare me and books that make me laugh. Fantasy adventure, graphic novels, romance, horror, silliness, really sad stuff, heavy, light, dark. I just like to be in the hands of a storyteller who can do their thing.

I’m looking for children’s and teen fiction - for boys, for girls, for all ages, though we’re not representing picturebook texts or illustrators at the moment. I’m looking for anything with storytelling magic, really!

Can you tell us a bit about the UK market at the moment and what you feel is particularly working (or not working) there in terms of children’s and teen fiction? 

The lists are dominated by Stephenie Meyer right now. This is really significant. It means we’re going to see a lot more teen fiction making it in the UK. We’ve been predicting it for along time - the teen market smashing things up a bit. And it’s really happening now which is super exciting. The Twilight books could well do for teen what Potter did for middle grade – a big old shot in the arm. I really hope so because in the UK that market has struggled (unlike in the USA) and this might be the watershed moment. It’s also a golden time for middle grade (8-12). New authors breaking through, and publishers are still very keen to acquire for that core group.

One of the things I love about the business is that there is always a big surprise round the corner – massive bestsellers that no one saw coming. Books on odd subjects, books published by tiny presses, books that are initially self-published. And these unexpected, odd books come along and just push everything else off the mat. It’s quite inspiring.

Rumour has it that you’re quite a world-traveller (very much in keeping with Greenhouse’s international spirit!).  Can you tell us a bit about that?

I’ve got a Dutch mother and my family is spread throughout the world so I spend Thankgiving in Boston, Christmas in France, Easter in Spain and holidays in Holland. Last year I spent six months living up a mountain in La Gomera, Spain. I have a need to climb up things – trees, walls, volcanic plugs. It’s the goat in me – Capricorn. So I indulged that to the max.

Which authors do you most enjoy reading and are there any who have been particularly influential in drawing you into a career focused on literature for young people?

As a kid I was an obsessive collector of the Hardy Boys. I love all that Robinson Crusoe/ Survival Handbook/island adventure stuff. Very tomboy-ish. Tintin, Asterix. Boys’ books really. And then when I got to about twelve I made the switch to adult fiction because at the time there wasn’t much teen. So I loved Steven King and James Herbert – dark, nightmare stuff. Also adored Judy Blume and then a bit later Sidney Sheldon.

At the moment I’ve got Captain Underpants by the side of my bed and I’ve just finished Last Exit to Brooklyn which I’ve read a hundred times.

Are you open to submissions and how should writers contact you? 

I’m wide open to submissions - the more the merrier. I am specifically looking to build our list on this side of the Pond, so if you’re in England, Wales, Scotland or Ireland do get in touch. If you’re American (or rather, living in the USA/Canada) please remember that you should be writing to Sarah. If you’re in Australia or New Zealand, take your pick. While Sarah and I talk most days and discuss promising submissions together, it does help to divide things up geographically at the outset, simply because that’s the way publishing contracts work. Rights for the UK and Commonwealth are generally packaged together, with North American rights forming a separate contractual package.

If you want to send me a submission, please first check out our submission guidelines on this site – everything you need to know is on here.

Anything else that we should know about you?  How do you like to spend your time when you’re not working?

Much like a dog, I really love my walks! I cook a lot too. I have in my possession right now a recipe for mango chutney which features flaked almonds and pistachios and is insane. And I love very loud music.

Thanks, Julia. Great to welcome you to the Greenhouse.  And bon appetit!

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Through my eyes . . .

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It’s 6.15 – still early, but too many ideas and things to do, and I’ve lost all taste for languishing. A quick cup of coffee, a glance at the Washington Post.  (Go on, guys, just bail us out, stimulate us – before the blood of more publishers stains our words.) On with an ancient pair of track pants, hoodie, walking boots and off I go, up the road towards the lake.

Past the empty lot, and a dart of scarlet, brilliant and gone almost before I can take it in.  A Red Cardinal, whirring through the winter foliage. Up the road, down the hill, saying hi to a rabble of Golden Retrievers ripping through the yards, and the friendliest maintenance guys you could ever find (and never in London). Cutting through the wooded path that winds round to the lake.

A commotion in the bushes to my left. And suddenly five does burst out of the trees a few feet in front of me, their white-bob tails wiggling to attention.  They stop. I stop.  They regard me silently from the earth above, and I stare up at them with soft eyes. We bid each other good day and move quietly on. The woods are full of sound, but we are alone in this early morning as the pale sky turns to blue through patchwork branches.

Up the sharp bank, where once a puppy named Hogan tipped and rolled, eyes of light, bright tongue flapping. Down to the lake, the ice gone. A staccato honking and I glance upwards, to see the Royal Flight of Canada geese in their vast, perfect arrow formation arcing across the sky above me. I sit on the wooden bench, looking out over the smooth, quiet water.  I know it now –the weight of stone in my hand as it skims, the twig that tests ice, the deep dark of weed and silt. Trees turning, the balance of sky, water and light.  I see through my inward lens, each day different, the small sounds of transformation.

Back up the long tarmac road and the tat-tat-tat of woodpeckers on hollow trees. Busy, determined, jobs to do. Reminding me that it is February 11, that it is time to hurry home and re-enter my virtual urban world.

But I am the Greenhouse and here is my compass. Here is my heart. 

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