Q and A with our 2018 New Novel Award Judge, Catherine Cho

Huge thanks to Catherine for offering to choose the winner from our 2018 shortlisted novels, and also for taking the time to answer my questions. For a fuller biography, please see Catherine’s profile on the Curtis Brown website. At the end of this article I also post a link to a YouTube interview with Catherine from 2016.

RL: Please describe your role at Curtis Brown.
CC: I’m currently building my list at Curtis Brown. My focus is on historical fiction, reading group fiction, and science fiction. My primary role is assisting Jonny Geller.

RL: Are you currently open to submissions?
CC: Yes, I’m actively building my list and am open to submissions.

RL: Which historical novelists do you already represent?
CC: I represent Julia May and Jennifer Howells.

RL Do you help editorially with work? Do you ever help editorially before signing an author?
CC: Editorial work is one of my favourite parts of being an agent.
I work very actively with writers, especially because the submission process has become much more competitive and editors expect a high quality of work at submission.
I have helped editorially with writers before signing them, I love seeing the potential in a manuscript, and if I can see that there is something there, I will give them my editorial feedback.

RL: Are you involved at all with the Curtis Brown Creative?
CC: Yes, I read all submissions from Curtis Brown Creative, and we are active with our Curtis Brown Creative alumni writers.

RL:How do you prefer to receive submissions?
CC: Query by email with cover letter and synopsis and 10,000 words of the novel in the body of the email. The query letter should be concise and carefully written – I should be able to understand immediately what the book is about.

RL: Would you welcome approaches from self-published/Indie authors – if so, is this for future books they will write, or the ones already on the market?
CC: I welcome approaches from self-published authors, it would probably be easier to submit future books rather than ones that are already on the market.

RL: Please tell us 3 or 4 historical novels you really love.
CC: I love Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood, Atonement by Ian McEwan.

RL: Please tell us about a recent historical fiction debut you admire. What particularly impressed you?
CC: I was really blown away by Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites. I thought the language was beautiful, and she captured the landscape and the era so perfectly. I was also very impressed by The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman which is about female boxers in the Georgian era. I was impressed by the voice and the storytelling, and I fell in love with the characters.

RL: Agents often say they look more for an author with the potential to develop a career than for an outstanding debut. Where do you stand on that?
CC: I agree with this, although I think what is meant by that statement is that agents want to work with writers, people who write because they have to, because they have stories to tell. I want to fall in love with the writing and not just one work, I would hope for a long career with my clients.

RL: Are you drawn particularly to any historical period or style of narration?
CC: I am particularly drawn to the Elizabethan era and World War II. In terms of style, I’m drawn to simple language, I think the biggest challenge in historical fiction is evoking a time and place in a way that doesn’t hinder the momentum of the story.

RL: There seem to be zeitgeist books – for example The Miniaturist (partly a product of CBC) must have been particularly timely to have sold to so many markets so quickly. Is this something agents look for, or is it happenstance?
CC: I think this is happenstance, we can’t predict what books will hit the mainstream or find an audience. We can only believe in the strength of a story, but unfortunately we are not fortunetellers.

RL: Do you think e-publishing and print publishing are pulling apart, looking for different kinds of books?
CC: I think the strength of e-publishing is its accessibility. It really appeals to voracious readers, so readers who read a new book every week for example, and this is a generalization, but readers of romance and genre. I am a fan of both e-publishing and print publishing, I think there are strengths to both.

RL: In another interview you said of an agent’s role that ‘It’s not just about selling books to publishers , it’s about finding opportunities for writers to exploit their rights.’ Can you give examples of how this works?
CC: An agent’s role is to help protect an author’s copyright, this can mean for anything from audio rights, merchandising rights, film rights to translation rights. Not every book necessarily has those opportunities, but when those options are in place, it’s an agent’s role to make sure that an author is able to take full advantage.

RL: Do you enjoy historical fiction in other media than books? For example, in gaming, TV, theatre or film?
CC: I do love period theatre and film. My netflix queue probably reveals this, it’s always full of period drama. There’s something about escaping to another world that’s particularly appealing, and so it makes up the majority of what I watch.

RL: Thank you Catherine – and I can’t wait to hear what you think of our Award finalists, and which novel you will choose as the winner.


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