Translate the length of time between my supplementary blog and this as the period I’ve been waiting for a reply from the useless agency aforementioned. Two follow-up emails haven’t elicited a result. So I’ve given up on them as they have on me, even though they had no reason apart from being an organisation that treats potential clients like daps covered in dog-shit. I wouldn’t have them represent me even if they appeared at my door in a rented van full of gold bullion and gave me and the World’s Strongest Man ten minutes to fill my garage with as much as we could carry. Perhaps that should be the World’s Strongest Woman – or not (see following).
I feel about that ‘agency’ just as many women writers must feel in being disparaged on account of their gender. Yesterday I went to the opening of the Women’s Writing Festival at Chapter, Cardiff, and, inter alia, heard Virago publisher Lennie Goodings make the case against prejudice and hostility across the spectrum, from callow (and probably innocent) bookshop operatives to sniping critics such as Anthony Burgess. She coined the expression ‘casual misogyny’, which I found interesting, always believing that misogyny had no predicates. ‘Casual’ seemed to me to imply that men either couldn’t care less about prejudice or could but rarely showed it. The positive discrimination involved in festivals of this sort and in the existence of publishers such as Virago is surely warranted, but one has to be careful. For complex reasons, a men’s writing festival could never be arranged without cynicism. Furthermore, one might ask a man to read, sight unseen, a dozen novels, half written by women half by men, and then to choose his six favourites. If his choice turned out to be all books by the men, what would that tell us? If he knew who had written what and, given a choice, picked the six books written by women, would that make him prejudiced towards male writing? It’s complicated and vested interest makes it more so. The issue has its comical side: my former brother-in-law, an American, told me that PD in the States had once descended to such a ridiculous level that no-one in charge of a company employing forty could get away with not including among them one Abyssinian amputee. When you start playing a numbers game, things become absurd, which is unfortunate because the grievances are genuine and pressing.
There was some terrific prose read by its authors at the festival, who included Tiffany Murray, Carly Holmes, Rhian Elizabeth and Georgia Carys Williams. Also an interval of music from Hail! The Planes, reduced for the occasion to Holly Muller and David Neale. Holly writes too, let it be said. All tied together with a light touch by Susie Wild, of this parish.
I once wrote a piece about alopecia and hair-pieces that included a snipe at Burgess, who had a comb-over like a Scalectrix. One floating ember ash from those cheap cheroots he smoked and there could have been a literal bonfire of the vanities topside. Remember me, ladies, as your vengeful errant. (On the South Wales Argus, the term ‘lady’ was banned’; it was always ‘woman’. And quite right too, though one old chief sub thought it marked the death of chivalry.)
It might not be known that I drew the cover for Miners At The Quarry Pool. I’ve also provided the illustration for my latest published story, Mandalay, due soon on the super website The View From Here. I hope the day’s not far away when websites – and literary magazines – start slipping us creatives at least a tenner for out trouble.
Those of you taking tablets because you can’t find a literary agent might find what I’m about to relate interesting to say the least. Writers are always being told to heed advice from ‘those in the industry’, as if we were all sleepwalking in the desert. It’s about time ‘the industry’ took some advice from writers, who are increasingly discovering both oases in their sandy fastnesses and time to reflect on how chaotic that industry looks when you’re languishing under the palm trees and eating dates.
In January this year I asked a reasonably well-known London agency to represent me. I submitted a glowing CV and a hard-copy extract from a novel I’d just finished; wrote a model letter of introduction and gave contact details that included a website address – all in accordance with the agency’s submission guidelines. I was sent an ackowledgement of receipt.
At the end of July, having heard nothing, I e-mailed to ask what was happening (politely – one doesn’t want to scrunch anyone’s toes). Eight months had elapsed and I thought an approach was justified. I received a reply almost immediately from one of the agents, who said my extract had ‘gone astray’ and that I should re-send, this time as a pdf document. She would see to it that the extract was read within a week and a response sent to me. Were they ever going to tell me that my original had been lost? We shall never know. I thought a week’s turnaround unlikely but was prepared to accept her promise as a mark of the agency’s contrition.
A week went by, then two weeks, then a month. No response. In September I e-mailed twice with no reply. I’d basically given up. Then I e-mailed a third time at the start of October and received a reply from someone who gave a first, but not a full, name. She said my first agent was out of the office. Then she emailed to say my pdf document of July/August could not be opened and that the agent had left the company. (Clearly, when she first replied, she didn’t know. What kind of agency is this?) Three days later I received an anonymous message to say that my work didn’t fit with the company’s list and to wish me luck placing it elsewhere, blah, blah. Déja vu. What work? They lost the first submission and couldn’t open the second.
I’ve now written to the head of the company to ask if it might rouse itself to fashion an apology and an explanation.
This is the second example on this blog of bizarre agency behaviour. Is it typical? I think it reflects an ‘industry’ in crisis. Failure to interest an agent, even for published writers trailed by prizes and enthusiastic reviews, is common. Less common is rejection by an agency in desperate need of an office manager and a course in social skills. Do we need agents? Yes – and no, and definitely not this discourteous and cag-handed shower.