31 January 2018

“I’m looking for beautifully crafted books for a younger reader”: YA agent Lisa Babalis

Lisa BabalisLisa Babalis
by Anna Davis From the Agents

Lisa Babalis has worked editorially with the Curtis Brown literary agent team and their clients for some time. Now she’s building her own list of YA and children’s fiction. We asked her to tell us more … 

Hi Lisa, What do you do at CB and what you did before you came to the agency? I work part-time at Curtis Brown as an editorial consultant to the book department.  I read and edit manuscripts alongside the agents.  I’m also building my own list, focusing on the younger reader.

I joined Curtis Brown in 2011 as Jonny Geller’s assistant and came back part-time after going on maternity leave.  Before that I worked for five years at a theatre agency, and before that I worked in magazine publishing.  It’s been a long meander to this point.

What sorts of books do you love, and what are you looking to represent? I am a wholly omnivorous reader for fun; for my list, I am looking for imaginative, beautifully crafted and plotted  – very important this – books for a younger reader.  YA and children’s books I adore include anything by Philip Pullman, Roald Dahl, Diana Wynne Jones, JK Rowling and so many more.  Recently, I really enjoyed Nevermoor, The Girl of Ink and Stars, and The Gulf by Anna Spargo-Ryan (an Australian gem).

What are you reading at the moment? I’m reading On Golden Hill by Francis Spufford, which was recommended to me by Claire Nozieres (who works in the translation rights department at Curtis Brown), and absolutely loving it.  And next I am going to dive into Imogen Hermes Gowar’s The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock and Katherine Rundell’s The Explorer. I would read all day long if I could, ideally on a sun-lounger with a cool drink within arm’s length…

Tell us about a common pitfall that new writers should seek to avoid. I think writers often try to forecast what the next big thing is and bend their writing to fit that genre.  In reality, I think if you can identify a trend in writing, it’s probably going to be over before you have managed to produce your own sample.  It’s better to write something authentic and different than to churn out a pale imitation of a current hit. I really appreciate writers who have clearly spent a lot of time honing their plot and characters too – it can be so dispiriting to realise that the second half of a book is full of plot holes. 

What is the most important thing you’d like to tell new writers they should do? Show your work to critical readers who can help you improve it!  And think about plot, pace, character and atmosphere. 

How do writers submit their material to you if they’re in search of representation, and what would you like to see from them?  Email me at lisa@curtisbrown.co.uk.  I’d like three chapters and a synopsis.  I try my best to read in order of receipt and I will get back to you!

In terms of genre, I am open to most things.  I am looking for good clear strong writing and great lead characters.  I’m not crazy about flowery, lyrical prose or princess books!

If you’re writing a book for children or young adults, take a look at our online Writing YA and Children’s Fiction course with tutor Catherine Johnson. The deadline for applications is midnight at the end of Sunday 22 April.

We also offer a series of six-week novel writing courses for all-comers, check out all of our current courses here.

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