A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
ISABEL ATHERTON is an author, literary agent, and director of Creative Authors Ltd. When she is not helping her authors she likes to write illustrated books herself. She is the author of ZOMBIE CAT, an illustrated adult humor book (for Skyhorse Publishing), SMELLY GHOST, THE BAD EASTER BUNNY, SPRINGY CHICKEN and RUBY MOO’S DEEP SEA ADVENTURE, all children’s picture books (Sky Pony titles). She splits her time between London and Whitstable—a seaside town in Kent, England.
• ZOMBIE CAT: THE TALE OF A DECOMPOSING KITTY with illustrator Bethany Straker (Skyhorse Publishing, Fall 2012).
• THE BAD EASTER BUNNY with illustrator Stephanie Rohr (Sky Pony Press, Feb. 2013).
• SMELLY GHOST with illustrator Bethany Straker (Sky Pony Press, Fall 2013).
• SPRINGY CHICKEN with illustrator Bethany Straker (Sky Pony Press, Spring. 2014).
• RUBY MOO’S DEEP SEA ADVENTURE with illustrator Bethany Straker (Sky Pony Press, Summer 2014).
Isabel is my agent, and I’m interviewing her about being a literary agent and writing picture books.
KO: How did you become an agent?
IA: I have a BA(Hons) in English Literature and a Master’s degree in English Literature, so as you can imagine spending four years dedicated to studying one subject area would mean I’d be passionate about books. Before getting into agenting, I worked in marketing and health journalism. After finishing my MA, I made a concerted effort to make use of my degrees. I applied for work experience at a lovely agency and this led to a part-time assistant agent role, which then led to a proper full-time agenting position. I then decided at the grand old age of twenty-seven (and nine months), that I really wanted to run my own company. My parents owned their own business for 35 years, until they retired, and growing up around independently minded people has had a huge influence on me. I started the business in February 2008 and haven’t looked back. It’s been a thrilling ride and every day I am grateful and thankful to work in an amazing industry with incredibly talented and lovely people.
KO: What is a typical day for you?
IA: There is never a typical day in agenting, but my list of duties can include: chasing author payments, submitting a manuscript, reading and declining submissions, keeping a check on what is happening in the industry, making notes of new editors and editors that have moved publishing houses, checking royalty statements, running a book auction, negotiating a contract, discussing a writer’s career route, editing and offering feedback on a manuscript, selling foreign rights, suggesting promotional ideas, being an ear if an author wants to chat, lots of admin, networking, meetings with publishers, meetings with authors, feedback on illustrative work, being a mediator between publisher and author, contacting a person who I may have spotted in the press and that I think might have a good book idea in them. The list is varied and eclectic, but I hope that gives you a rough idea.
KO: What kind of books do you represent?
IA: All across the board – non-fiction, fiction, YA, picture books, craft, history, memoir, health, business titles. Really, I only take on a project that I absolutely love. I have to feel a great passion for a book I decide to represent. It might be that a book doesn’t place straight away. I need to know I’ll still have that energy a year or so after submitting it in the first instance. It’s not unusual for a book to take a few years to place. I have experienced it and you just have to stick with your instincts that it will eventually find the right home.
KO: What do you like most about your job?
IA: Working with lovely, appreciate authors and getting them deals. It’s also beyond thrilling when I receive my agency copies of a book I have agented. It’s so exciting for me to see that my passion and hard work has found a home and people will have the chance to read it.
KO: Would you tell us a little about your adult humour picture book, ZOMBIE CAT?
IA: I love zombie books and I love cats, so put them both together and you get, yep, Zombie Cat! It’s just a funny, little gift book showing the companionship between a zombiefied cat and his owner Jake. The message underpinning it is that even if your cat is now one of the undead, don’t just cast him out – think of the good times you’ve had together. Perhaps he still has a consciousness and isn’t just after your brains. Mmmhhh, lovely braiiiinnssss…
KO: Would you also tell us a little about your children’s picture book, THE BAD EASTER BUNNY?
IA: The Bad Easter Bunny came about through a conversation with a publishing contact. They wanted to know if I had any writers who had scripts targeted at the Easter market. I didn’t at the time and this got me thinking that maybe I should have a go. The publisher already had an illustrator in mind and I let an idea brew for a few days. To me, when I think of Easter, I think of the Easter Bunny, so I decided to write a book around him. Being British, I am big on manners and there are times where I feel frustrated by ingratitude. I’m keen for kids to understand the importance of being appreciative of other people’s efforts. It shouldn’t always be take, take, take. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and really think how they feel. And remember to say “Thank you.”
KO: What made you decide to start writing?
IA: I was a health journalist many moons ago and I’ve always been interested in the craft of writing. When I first started my agency I did give a lot of my own ideas to my clients to keep them and the agency ticking over. It made me think I should perhaps start writing for myself. It’s a wonderful creative outlet from the day job even though it links back nicely to the agenting side of things. I’ve learned so much from writing myself and have been able to share these experiences with my clients and I hope it will benefit their own writing.
KO: Why picture books? What do you love about them?
IA: I’ve always, always loved picture books and adore working with wonderful illustrators. I went to Goldsmiths, Uni of London, which is famous for art and I think that has very much influenced me. Perhaps if I hadn’t ended up agenting I would be working in an art gallery.
KO: What other projects do you have in the works?
IA: I have two more children’s picture books out in 2014 with Bethany Straker illustrating. These are ‘Springy Chicken’ about a chicken with springs for legs and ‘Ruby Moo’s Deep Sea Adventure’ about a cow who just wants to get out of the boring dairy field and explore.
KO: Can we end with a quote from one of your books?
IA: Yes, of course, thank you! This is a quote from my final picture book out this year called ‘Smelly Ghost’ (Sky Pony Press, Sept. 2013). It’s about a ghost that gets bad wind from eating scary, terrifying junk food. The idea is to get kids to eat up their veggies!
“The problem was he liked to eat scary junk food. He would go to the scream-a-market and munch his way through terrifying treats – ghoul burgers, bone chips, chocolate toes and fingers, eyeball pizza, slime cookies, beetle’s blood ice-cream & fizzy snot-soda.”
KO: Thank you, Isabel!
Kate Ormand is a YA writer represented by Isabel Atherton at Creative Authors Ltd. She lives in the UK with her family, her partner, and a cocker spaniel called Freddie. She recently graduated from university with a first class BA (Hons) degree in Fine Art Painting. Kate loves long walks with Freddie, reading teen novels, and painting her nails. DARK DAYS, her YA dystopian debut, will be published with Sky Pony Press in Spring 2014. Kate also writes children’s books as Kate Louise. PIERRE THE FRENCH BULLDOG RECYCLES, written by Kate Louise and illustrated by Bethany Straker, will be published with Sky Pony Press in 2015.