01 February 2019

Jonny Geller: ‘Belief in your right to be a writer and be read is paramount’

Jonny Geller, Curtis Brown 120
by Curtis Brown 120 Curtis Brown 120, From the Agents

Welcome to the next in our series of Curtis Brown 120 blog posts, these blogs include exclusive interviews with authors, agents and publishers; writing tips; industry insights – and much more besides.

Today we are talking to Curtis Brown chairman and agent Jonny Geller. Jonny started out at Curtis Brown as an assistant before becoming an agent in 1995. Now he represents a wide range of phenomenal authors from John le Carré to Nigella Lawson. Read on to hear Jonny’s thoughts on books and the publishing industry …

What was the first book you sold?
Martyn Bedford’s Acts of Revision to Doubleday UK and US.

What’s your favourite debut novel?
If I was a writer I would have to read William Boyd’s A Good Man in Africa to see how confident a debut novel can be, Gunter Grass’s debut The Tin Drum absolutely blew me away about what you can do with fiction but High Fidelity by Nick Hornby was the most pleasurable debut I remember reading.

If you could tell your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?
Not to be patient as that is worthless advice. I think I would tell myself to stop and appreciate the wonderful moments more and speed through the less than wonderful moments.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Aside from your talent, belief in your right to be a writer and be read is paramount. Nobody needs to read you until you prove it and only you can keep the car on the road and moving in the right direction. You can have lots of help along the way (essential), but if you feel you could do something else or be happier doing something else, then do that. Writing is hard. But boy is it rewarding if you are allowed to do it.

Which book do you always recommend to others?
I think every writer should read The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford for its use of irony, A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry for its sweeping storytelling, If this is a Man by Primo Levi as it is the most important book of the 20th Century.

What is your pet hate in submissions?
Too long.

Who is your favourite fictional hero/heroine?
Portnoy from Portnoy’s Complaint.

What was the last book you read?
The Lost Man by Jane Harper. She writes beautifully and takes you to places I’ve never been.

What book is totally overrated in your view?
That would be most ungentlemanly.

What’s your guilty reading pleasure?
I don’t believe there is such a thing.

What do you think will be the next trend in publishing?
Pay me and I’ll tell you.

What are you actively looking for at the moment?
A confident voice that takes me somewhere new, opens my mind to challenging ideas of self, place, history. A great story where I miss my stop because I have to find out what happens and an ending that keeps me awake at night for long after.

Find out more about Curtis Brown 120 here.

If you’re writing a novel, check out the creative-writing courses – online or in London – currently open for applications or enrolment at Curtis Brown Creative.

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