We spoke with Australian literary agent Jenny Darling about a new epic adventure she’ll be talking up at the London Book Fair, and how publishing is a "contact sport" in which it's more important than ever to maintain strong business relationships.
What do you look for in books that you decide to represent?
A page-turning story is always a go, whatever the writing style. Personally, I enjoy reading many different types of books and I’m happy with anything that grabs me right from the start and keeps me reading as long as my eyes hold out. I also love picture book text, as I marvel at the skill of an author who can get a story across in less than 500 words.
Is there a type of book you'd like to represent, that you haven't come across recently?
In my dream world I’d love to open the computer one day and read a rather grand but comforting fiction with a fresh narrative and contemporary concerns, preferably set in a country and environment in which I’ve never lived. A sort of Shetland crossed with Rosamunde Pilcher crossed with Sherlock. I’d want fast-moving, but immediately emotionally engaging. So not asking for much. That’s unlikely, so I’ll settle for something wonderful and local like The World Without by Mireille Juchau, a book I’ve recently sold to Bloomsbury. Set in the Australian rainforest, it’s an atmospheric, elegiac and beautifully-told story of the shifting landscapes within a family.
What are some of the hurdles you face when it comes to selling your authors' work internationally?
The challenges are essentially as they have always been. The tyranny of distance is a reality no matter how much technology advances. Publishing, I like to say, is a contact sport and it is best to keep in touch regularly with those in London and New York. I try to get to the Northern Hemisphere at least once a year. Twice a year would be better but I have a marvelous group of sub-agents and these relationships, most of which are long-standing, really help the process of getting my clients’ books out into the world. And luckily people are always interested in good writing no matter where it originates.
Do you have any books you're particularly excited about selling in London, at the fair?
Lian Hearn, author of The Tales of the Otori, has a staggeringly good new epic adventure, The Tale of Shikanoko, set again in a Japan-inspired mythical medieval world inhabited by warriors, assassins, acrobats, ghosts, guardian spirits, tengu, horses and monkeys. Hearn is a master world-builder, a writer with a boundless imagination. The architecture of her novels--this one is in two parts--is amazing, and the wondrous construction of this new vast mythical world is like a web. In Tale of Shikanoko every thread connects with another and every strand leads to one in Tales of the Otori. [That being said, the books] can be read independently. And of course, as usual, the story is told in Lian Hearn’s beautiful limpid prose.