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25 November 2015

Felicity Blunt: ‘I like good stories, well told’

by Felicity Blunt From the Agents

Curtis Brown agent Felicity Blunt (above) tells us about her role and what she’s looking for in a new manuscript.

I originally studied law and trained as a barrister before becoming an intern at Curtis Brown in 2005. I fell in love with the world of books and have worked there ever since, becoming an agent and building a list of exciting and varied debut writers. I represent both fiction and non-fiction clients but my non-fiction list is predominantly cookery.

Among the fiction clients I’ve signed as debuts are Rosamund Lupton (Sister), Tamar Cohen (The Mistress’ Revenge), Renée Knight (Disclaimer) and Jessica Cornwell (The Serpent Papers). I am also immensely privileged to represent the Estate of Daphne du Maurier.

I find describing what I am looking for one of the hardest parts of my job. My taste, like every agent’s, is somewhat amorphous, ever-growing and subjective. I love reading a huge range of fiction across many genres, from Hilary Mantel to Lee Child, and the authors I represent are all on my list because I think they write beautiful, smart and compelling fiction.

I love working editorially with debut writers and am always on the lookout for work that combines a distinctive voice with a strong and original story. I’m definitely drawn to books with a dark undertone. I think both du Maurier’s Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel are masterclasses in how to reveal small details that build to an unsettling and disturbing whole. I love psychological suspense or thrillers, particularly where peril or risk is introduced to a domestic or familiar setting. Unreliable narrators are now, particularly since Gone Girl – it’s a well-trodden thriller device but, when used in original and different ways, can create a richly multi-layered storytelling experience. When I first read Rosamund Lupton’s Sister, I was immediately and completely immersed in the main character Beatrice’s quest to uncover the truth of her sister’s fate. In that case the twist in the narrative, rather than proving to be a trick played on the reader, went to the heart of Beatrice’s sacrifices and how she had sustained herself till the end of her journey. With a book like that you have both intricate and delicate plotting coupled with beautiful imagery and writing – something that elevates the story into a word-of-mouth reading experience.

I love historical fiction because, when done well, it transports you to another time and allows you to absorb something of history through the characters’ stories. I have read many times Arianna Franklin’s Mistress of the Art of Death, set during Henry II’s reign, which has a female protagonist who is both contrary and contemporary. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson was one of my favourite books of recent times. The device that gave each moment the potential to repeat and unravel held me in its grip till the very last page. The wonderful Jennifer Egan plays with time in a different way in the Pulitzer-winning A Visit from the Goon Squad, as she traverses back and forth along a timeline using different characters to unpeel history and reveal future in the book’s multi-faceted structure. You may meet one as a man and then later as a young boy. Powerful and moving. With historical fiction you have the creation of worlds, recaptured from years ago and breathed to life with the inventiveness of good plotting, characterisation and well observed detail. For the same reasons my taste also pushes into fantasy and sci-fi, when the world is so realistically rendered it is feels as possible as everyday life. The Martian by Andy Weir, and Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel are good examples.

Women’s fiction is a loose category applied to many books but when executed with the humour, pathos and intelligence of Marian Keyes it is one that is always going to excite. Her books have had me laugh out loud one moment and want to close my eyes the next, such is her honesty about her characters. Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple had me weeping with laughter. I’d encourage everyone to read her short story Dear Mountain Room Parents, which is available online.

I read voraciously and constantly, and nothing is more exciting to me than reading a submission and quickly realising how good it is. At that point I want nothing more than to meet that writer, work with them on the text and represent it to the wider world.

Simply put, I like good stories, well told.

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