12 December 2019

Author Elizabeth Lee and her agent Lucy Morris on their passion for Cunning Women

Elizabeth Lee and Lucy Morris
by Katie Smart Author Interviews, From Our Students, From the Agents

We are thrilled for Elizabeth Lee, our 79th student to get a major book deal. Liz was awarded the Marian Keyes scholarship to study on our six-month online novel-writing course. After completing the course, Curtis Brown’s Lucy Morris fell in love with her novel, Cunning Women, a searing story of forbidden love and the curtailing of female wildness set amongst the long shadows cast by the Pendle Witch Trials.

Windmill’s newly appointed Publishing Director, Charlotte Cray, has pre-empted World Rights (English) for Cunning Women.

We had a chat with Liz and her agent Lucy to find out more about Cunning Women and their author-agent relationship …

Elizabeth, you were awarded the Marian Keyes scholarship which enabled you to study on our six-month online novel-writing course. What did winning the scholarship mean to you?

Elizabeth: I honestly can’t express how grateful I am for the opportunity, and I’d urge anyone considering applying for a Curtis Brown Creative scholarship to do it. The chance to spend time working on my writing, focusing on it and learning from our tutor, Lisa O’Donnell, and the other students was so precious.

‘I’m thrilled to hear about Elizabeth’s exciting deal. She’s such a talented writer – I was delighted to provide her with a funded scholarship to join the Curtis Brown Creative course and am so happy that it’s helped pave the way to publication for her.’

Marian Keyes

How did your time studying with us impact your approach to novel writing?

Elizabeth: Lisa’s feedback mostly focused on plotting and helped me to explore different perspectives on that. I also found that giving feedback on the other writers’ work, and listening to their thoughts on mine, helped me to consider my own writing more analytically.

Shortly after studying with us you gained representation from Curtis Brown’s Lucy Morris. Now your debut Cunning Women will be published by Windmill. Can you talk us through how it felt when Lucy delivered the news that you were going to be published?

Elizabeth: Any aspiring writer will know that it’s a dream come true to receive this news, and that’s exactly how it felt! My head is still spinning, it doesn’t feel real, and I’m so grateful to Lucy and Charlotte Cray for making it happen.

Lucy, what first struck you about Elizabeth’s writing and made you want to read on?

Lucy: Cunning Women is that rare novel that melds utterly convincing historical detail with crisp modern prose – I instantly knew I was in the safe hands of an immensely talented writer. The story itself, while set in seventeenth-century Lancashire, has so much contemporary resonance in the questions it raises about female power (and how it is wielded and received), to say nothing of the tale of forbidden love that broke my heart.

The relationship between author and agent is a special one. Was there any point before signing the client agreement where things ‘clicked’, and you knew you had to work together?

Elizabeth: As soon as I met Lucy and we began to discuss Cunning Women, I was so excited to work with her. She was just full of enthusiasm. She also saw the book in exactly the way I did, talking about the complexity and agency of the characters, which was very important to me.

Lucy: It was love at first sight! We spoke for over an hour barely drawing breath, about the sorts of wild women we wanted to see more of in fiction. And even in Liz’s first draft of Cunning Women she’d triumphed in her creation of Sarah Haworth, a heroine whose shades of light and dark will continue to intrigue me for years to come.

Can you tell us a little bit about the work you did together on Cunning Women before sending the book out to editors?

Elizabeth: We did a couple of structural edits that were mostly addressing issues with pacing, and a last minute tweak just before it went out on submission! All of Lucy’s feedback chimed with me immediately, so it was a very satisfying process. This is my favourite part of writing, I always feel the book is improving with each round of edits.

Lucy: Liz is truly meticulous. Each round of edits was applied immaculately, with full dominion over that notoriously slippery ripple effect prompted by narrative change! We had spoken at great length about the story Liz wanted to tell when we had our first meeting, and so our conversations thereafter felt so clear and focused right the way through the editorial process.

Elizabeth, Cunning Women is a love story set after the Pendle Witch Trials – what first inspired you to tell this story?

Elizabeth: It was the story of the Pendle Witch Trials that inspired it I couldn’t stop thinking about what it must have been like to live in such isolation and to be so feared. That led to the character of Sarah, and the story just flowed from her really.

Lucy – without giving too much away – which parts of Cunning Women are you most excited for readers to experience?

Lucy: The fierce love and dark mystery that emanates from the Haworth family’s shack deep within the old plague village. The flawn. The blink-and-you-miss-them shadows that flicker in the corners of your own eyes as you turn the pages.

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