Vicki Willden-Lebrecht can point to the precise moment that she decided to one day start her own business.
“I asked for a photocopier when I was seven,” remembers the agency founder, who was entrepreneurial beyond her years. As a youngster, she sold T-shirts to school friends and set up a stall in the garden of her home to sell accessories to passers-by. She made business cards by hair-drying bits of card wrapped in cling film. As a teenager, she washed cars and worked at McDonald’s.
“I always earned money,” she says. “I think that urge to start a business came from my financial independence.”
The idea for what that business would actually be came after she graduated from the University of Portsmouth with a degree in visual communications. “I went off to work in design,” explains Willden-Lebrecht. “But you couldn’t get published without an agent, and you couldn’t get an agent unless you were published.
“I realised that creative talent needed a first step.”
That light bulb moment led the entrepreneur to launch The Bright Group in 2003, aged 23 – the agency would represent illustrators and writers for children’s books.
Roald Dahl’s popular children’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is deeply familiar to generations of readers. But the beloved book, about a poor young boy who wins a golden ticket to tour the magical candy factory of reclusive genius Willy Wonka, almost looked markedly different.
On Wednesday, Dahl’s widow, Liccy Dahl, told BBC Radio 4 that when her late husband originally dreamed up Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, it starred “a little black boy.” As to why that was changed, she said, “I don’t know. It’s a great pity.”
The answer came from Dahl’s biographer Donald Sturrock, who explained “it was his agent who thought it was a bad idea, when the book was first published, to have a black hero.”
The agent in question, though not specified in the BBC interview, was likely Sheila St. Lawrence. She’s been credited, along with her predecessor Ann Watkins, with being a significant influence on Dahl throughout their working relationship. In 2014, Sturrock told Vanity Fair that St. Lawrence worked closely with the children’s book author on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, urging him to trim down the zany, winding narrative and its initially immense cast of characters.
She also, it seems, changed Dahl’s mind about making Charlie Bucket a black boy. “She said people would ask: ‘Why?’” Sturrock said.
A blog interview (by Holly Hughes) with Sarah Davis of the Greenhouse Literary Agency
Q: Have you fallen in love with any stories but passed because you knew they were difficult sells?
SD: I don’t think I have. I believe that an amazing story, really well written, will always find an audience – and even defy notions of what is “hot” at any particular time. But then, it is also not every day that I fall in love!
Lauren James, aouthor of the forthcoming The Next Together, interviews her agent, Claire Wilson, also the agent of last week’s winner of the Branford Boase Award.
One to look out for:
Orchard Books has acquired Thirteen Days of Midnight by debut YA author Leo Hunt…
Megan Larkin, publishing director for Orchard Books, acquired UK and Commonwealth rights to the title in a two-book deal from Jenny Savill of Andrew Nurnberg Associates. The book will be published in 2015.
Hunt is just 22 years old and is a recent graduate from the University of East Anglia with a 1st in creative writing and American Literature.
AMBER CARAVEO & JOANNA MOULT TO SET UP NEW CHILDREN’S LITERARY AGENCY
Amber Caravéo (currently Editorial Director at Orion Children’s Books and Indigo, and seen on the right in the above photo) is joining forces with Joanna Moult (formerly of Hodder Children’s Books and Simon & Schuster, and left above) to set up a bright new literary agency and creative consultancy, Skylark Literary – www.skylark-literary.com
Skylark Literary will specialise in representing the very best children’s and young adult fiction, seeking talented voices in stories for young people and working with publishers to create bespoke children’s books and series.
Amber Caravéo has been passionate about children’s books ever since she learned to read and has spent the last eighteen years in children’s editorial – working closely with her authors to get their books ready for publication and also creating and developing children’s and YA projects. She has worked internationally, with bestselling authors and publishing houses in the UK and the US, and on a wide range of projects from Rainbow Magic to Adventure Island.
Amber says, ‘I have been privileged to work with the wonderful Orion team and fabulous authors. I am very sad to say goodbye, but the time felt right to make the leap and embark on this exciting new adventure – seeking and supporting new talent in children’s publishing.’
Lisa Milton, Managing Director, General Division, Orion, and Fiona Kennedy, MD and Publisher, Orion Children’s Books and Indigo, say, ‘Whilst working at Orion Amber has developed, created and commissioned a wide range of excellent books. Her attention to detail, passion and most importantly vision for her books and her authors has delivered a number of significant successes. To be able to find new and fresh ideas for series for middle-grade children is a particularly challenging job. Amber has consistently delivered above our expectations. We’ll miss Amber and wish her well in her exciting new adventure.’
Joanna Moult began her career with Hodder Children’s Books, editing a range of talented authors as well as creating content for brands such as Felicity Wishes. She moved in order to cover maternity leave, running the children’s editorial department at Simon & Schuster. More recently she has been working with literary agents, helping them to find new talent and editing manuscripts prior to submission to publishers. She says ‘Author care is one of the most rewarding and fascinating elements of being an editor for me and this feels like a very natural progression for both of us. With Skylark Literary I’m delighted to begin our search for new and exciting voices, as well as creating some really fresh and fun projects for publishers.’
Skylark Literary launches in November and will welcome submissions from authors. The company also looks forward to working with talented writers to create fun and fabulous children’s projects, specifically tailored to individual publishers.
Sophie Hicks has left the Ed Victor Agency after 25 years to set up her own company.
Hicks’ clients, including Eoin Colfer, author of titles including the Artemis Fowl series, and Emerald Fennell, author of Shiverton Hall (Bloomsbury), will move with her to the eponymous Sophie Hicks Agency.
“I have had 25 amazing years with Ed and the company and now it’s time to take the next step,” said Hicks. “The new agency will represent my current clients and fresh new voices yet to be discovered, here in the UK and around the world.
“I am very excited about what is to come. A huge thank you to my colleagues for all their hard work and support.”
Already has a website:
Deborah Rogers, the “legendary” literary agent to some of the most celebrated authors Britain has produced in the past 50 years, has died.
A statement from Rogers, Coleridge and White (RCW) confirmed the sudden death from a suspected heart attack of their “beloved colleague” who worked with writers from William Boyd and Salman Rushdie to Philip Roth, AS Byatt and Hanif Kureishi.
She received the lifetime achievement award at The London Book Fair last month, the first agent to be awarded the honour. It recognised Ms Rogers, who was in her 70s, was not only tireless on behalf of her authors but was “widely recognised as a force for good in publishing”.
Cornerstone has signed a four-book deal with Kindle self-published author Tracy Bloom.Jenny Geras, publishing director at Arrow, did the deal with Araminta Whitley at LAW.Bloom’s self-published works include her debut novel No-one Ever Has Sex on a Tuesday, the story of childhood sweethearts who have a one-night stand, but after agreeing not to see each other again, meet eight months later at an ante-natal class. The novel reached number one in the Kindle bestseller list after its release in April 2013, selling 220,000 e-books in the six-month period from the release, Cornerstone said. Arrow will publish No-one Ever Has Sex on a Tuesday in paperback and e-book in April this year, and a new Christmas-themed novel in October. A new sequel to No-one Ever Has Sex on a Tuesday will follow in 2015, alongside another already self-published novel, Single Woman Seeks Revenge.
EGMONT ACQUIRES LAUGH-OUT-LOUD NEW SERIES FOR JELLY PIE IMPRINT
Egmont Publishing has announced the acquisition of a ‘major, new young fiction series’ for readers aged 7-9 by author and illustrator Angie Morgan. The series will publish on Egmont’s Jelly Pie list, home of Andy Stanton’s Mr Gum and Jim Smith’s Barry Loser series, both winners of the Roald Dahl Funny Prize.
Ali Dougal, Fiction Editorial Director, negotiated World rights from James Catchpole at The Catchpole Agency. The first book, with the working title Sinus and the Great Pig Rescue, will publish in spring 2015, with a second book to follow later the same year.
The series is set in the Dark Ages and stars peasant Sinus, who lives with his mum, dad and pet pig Denzel in the completely unsanitary hamlet of Little Soggy-in-the-Mud.
“I’m a huge fan of Angie Morgan’s picture books, so I was thrilled when she approached us with this raucously funny young fiction series,” commented Ali Dougal. “Her hilarious artwork and cast of resourceful peasants and dastardly villains make a delicious combination. Think Tom Gates meets Blackadder.”
Angie Morgan said, “It’s been huge amount of fun creating the world of Sinus and his smelly, mud-caked peasant friends, and a massive bonus that Ali and Egmont found them funny enough to publish. I look forward to writing and illustrating the next story about the happenings in Little Soggy in the Mud.”
Angie Morgan is the author and illustrator of several picture books. Her first picture book with Egmont, Shouty Arthur, will publish in March 2014. Previous work includes Enormouse for Chickenhouse, and Daisy’s Digging Party for Frances Lincoln.