Rachel Marks took our 3-month online novel-writing course taught by Lisa O’Donnell back in 2016. Now her debut novel has been sold at auction to Michael Joseph (part of the Penguin Random House group) via Curtis Brown agent Alice Lutyens, who represents more former CBC students than any other literary agent – including Jane Harper, Kate Hamer and Catherine Bennetto.
Rachel’s novel, The Spark is a funny, warm-hearted and profound love story, with an autistic child at the centre of it: Jake and Emily meet on an anger management course: He’s there in a last-ditch attempt to save his failing marriage. She’s attending under court order after responding to unwanted male attention with a glass bottle. Sparks fly between the two at the course – and not the good kind! But when Emily meets Jake’s unmanageable yet amazing 6-year-old son Alfie – and instantly wins him over, they’re forced to put aside their intense dislike of each other for Alfie’s sake …
We’ve talked to Rachel, Lisa and Alice about their journey together – from Rachel’s arrival at CBC with the beginnings of her novel – to gaining representation with Alice and signing with her publisher. Last week, in the first instalment of this two-part blog, Rachel Lisa told us about her experience of writing the book and of CBC’s online novel-writing course – be sure to check out that interview. Here, we catch up with Rachel and Alice on the ins and outs of their agent/ client dynamic and what makes them such a good team …
Rachel, can you tell us about the work you did on re-writing and editing before you felt ready to submit to agents?
RACHEL: After the CBC course, I finally had the confidence to go ahead and finish the novel. I tend to edit and re-write as I go along anyway, as I am a bit of a perfectionist, but once I’d reached the end, I put it aside for about two weeks, then re-read and did a fairly major structural edit to make sure the pace and relationship development felt right. I then went through with a fine toothcomb to make sure there wasn’t too much sighing, smiling, raising eyebrows etc!
What was it about Alice Lutyens that attracted you to submit the novel to her?
RACHEL: Well, signing with Curtis Brown was always the dream for me and I read an interview with Alice saying that she was looking for something heartwarming and uplifting like One Day, which is probably my favourite ever novel. Although I would never claim to be the next David Nicholls, I hoped maybe my book would appeal to Alice. I was lucky enough to have offers from four different agents – and they were all wonderful – but after an amazing, exhausting day of meeting them all, I knew in my heart that Alice was the agent for me. I loved her passion, her humour, her humility – but more than anything, she just ‘got’ my book, and that was ultimately the deciding factor for me. She has been absolutely brilliant from day one and I really couldn’t ask for anything more from an agent.
Alice, at what point did you start to feel that Rachel might be writing something with potential?
ALICE: Very quickly. As soon as I met Alfie (the 6 year old at the centre of the book), and heard his voice and saw the loving frustration between him and his dad Jake, I knew I would love the book. I have had so many requests for moving, uplifting, light yet profound fiction. And here it is!
Before you sent the book out to publishers, was further rewriting and editing done on the novel?
ALICE: We worked on it for 5 weeks solidly between signing and sending it out. There were no major structural changes – the most major was probably working on the opening. The rest of it was about using a fine scalpel to make Jake a bit softer, deepen Emily, and then just tweaks where it may have been a little confusing or rambling. But the book arrived on my desk in exceptional condition – this is the least work I have ever done on a novel!
RACHEL: We did about three edits in the end. Alice was fantastic in making suggestions and raising questions, which then made me reevaluate whether all the characters were coming across as I wanted them to. I think it can be hard to be subjective when you are so close to the novel, and Alice helped me to form in my head exactly who each character was and their motivation. I also had to make the novel about ten thousand words shorter, whilst adding new bits in, which I thought would be really tricky – but actually wasn’t too bad!
Alice, I can remember you telling us soon after Rachel’s submission landed in your inbox that you were instantly struck by the synopsis and drawn on to read more. What was it about the synopsis which appealed?
ALICE: Alfie again! I really liked the idea that these two people were hopeless enough to be in anger management, and yet were brought together by this outward-nightmare of a little boy. I knew I would fall in love with them all. Plus, I am a Mum of 3 and am a sucker for hideously behaved and CUTE kids. Which is fortunate.
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