21 January 2019

Charlotte Cray: ‘Talent will surpass any literary trend’

by Curtis Brown 120 Curtis Brown 120, Writing Tips

Curtis Brown 120 are back with a second interview for our series of blogs to be hosted on the CBC site across the year, all to help celebrate Curtis Brown’s 120th birthday. These blogs will include exclusive interviews with authors, agents and publishers; writing tips; industry insights – and much more besides. Check out our interview from last week with best-selling author Adam Kay and his agent Cathryn Summerhayes here.

Today we’re talking to Charlotte Cray, editorial director at Borough Press. Charlotte joined HarperCollins in 2012 as an editorial assistant, after training as a barrister, and was part of the team that launched the Borough imprint in 2014. 

Read on to find out about Charlotte’s role as editorial director, her thoughts on publishing trends and what she looks for in a submission …

What was the first book you commissioned?
Oola by Brittany Newell, an electric and strange debut by a 21-year-old.

What’s your favourite debut novel?
The Grass Is Singing as it goes straight for the emotional jugular. But in the last few years I have been stunned by Peach, The Water Cure and of course Conversations with Friends.

If you could tell your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?
Trust and befriend your gut instinct.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
It’s great to have an understanding of the market, but then the moment you sit down to write, throw it all away. When it really comes down to it, talent will surpass any literary trend. And by-numbers formulaic writing is exhausting for everyone.

Which book do you always recommend to others?
I Am, I Am, I Am – Maggie O’Farrell, stories wrestled from a private mind and shared with grace.

What is your pet hate in submissions?
Books that start with a rumination on the nature of beginnings of stories, or a narrator who questions their own validity before promptly carrying on regardless.

Who is your favourite fictional hero/heroine?
Jane Austen’s Emma, she’s the absolute worst – I can’t help myself.

What was the last book you read?
The thrill of being one of the first people to read a manuscript by a beloved writer never wanes. The last book I read over the festive season was Tracy Chevalier’s A Single Thread, which is simply gorgeous.

What book is totally overrated in your view?
Lady Chatterley’s Lover. I was a very disappointed teenager.

What’s your guilty reading pleasure?
No guilt, but pleasure for me can be found in silly village antics, other worlds, or acidic American essayists: Nora Ephron, David Sedaris, Terry Pratchett, Wodehouse and Benson.

What is your prediction for the next publishing trend?
Mermaids and witches for me all signify our appetite for understanding the power and wildness of women – I think we’ll be hearing from more ancient goddesses, perhaps.

What are you looking for in a debut?
Storytelling chops and by that I mean ambition in scope or intensity. Stories that have the power to change how I think or look at the world, and always precise writing supported by an invisible architecture.

Find out more about Curtis Brown 120 here.

Charlotte Cray will be a guest speaker on CBC’s upcoming 6-month online novel-writing course, she will lead an online pitching session and give direct feedback to all students on their pitches. Applications for the course are open now.

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