08 August 2018

What the literary agents are reading this summer

Books from published alumni of our novel writing courses
by Katie Smart From the Agents

At the start of the British heatwave we shared some sizzling summer reads from our recently published former creative writing course students (check out the blog here). Now that the summer is in full swing we thought it would be the perfect time to ask the literary agent teams at Curtis Brown and C+W the all important question: what books will they be getting stuck into on their holidays?

Susan Armstrong (C+W)

Sue Armstrong, agent

One of my summer reads so far has been Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak. It’s about five (completely wild) brothers whose father suddenly reappears after abandoning them when their mother died years before. Brilliantly unique and captivating, it’s the long-awaited second novel by Markus Zusak and it has totally been worth the wait.

My summer yet-to-read is Melmoth by Sarah Perry. This is based on the gothic classic Melmoth the Wanderer by Charles Maturin about an immortal man desperately seeking a way out of his cursed existence. I adored this novel but it’s quite challenging so have long wished for a contemporary writer to wrestle the core of this novel into a more accessible form in the hope this man’s incredibly story might find a way to reach a wider readership. I’m excited to read Melmoth as I’m sure Sarah Perry will have nailed it.

Clare Conville (C+W)

Clare Conville, agent

I will be reading The Shepherd’s Hut by Tim Winton. He gives voice to bruised, brilliant characters and evokes the beauty and extremes of Australian life lived on the edge.

Of my own books I would recommend The Survival Game by Nicky Singer. Set in a near dystopia where the world has over-heated (!) and is running out of water orphaned Mhairi has to try and make her way to Scotland to re-unite with her grandmother. But then a small boy arrives. A boy without papers, without water and without a voice but a boy she knows she must try and save …

Stephanie Thwaites (Curtis Brown)

Stephanie Thwaites, Literary Agent

I’ve heard so many great things about Heartburn by Nora Ephron but I haven’t got around to reading it. I have now got my hands on the exquisite Virago Modern Classics edition I’m planning to dive in this summer and cannot wait – humour and revenge – what more could you want?!

Perfect summer read for kids: The Dodo Made Me Do It by Joanna Simmons. Danny’s summer holiday at his Gran’s is going to be far from boring…

Karolina Sutton (Curtis Brown)

Karolina Sutton, agent

Normal People by Sally Rooney – I loved the clever slightly petulant voice of Conversations with Friends. It manages to be both ironic and sincere, both knowing and vulnerable. For me this is a winning combination. The voice made that book. Normal People has been calling me from my bedside table for a few weeks now, but I haven’t had a chance to dive in. The voice seems different, perhaps less immediate, which shows the author’s range. I am intrigued by it.

I Am Dynamite: A Life of Friedrich Nietzsche by Sue Prideaux: I love ideas and I am curious about people, so a life story and some of philosophy’s most iconoclastic ideas should make for a great summer treat. I’ve heard a lot of great things about this biography.

I would like to recommend Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott. One of the most immersive and atmospheric novels I have worked on, it is dazzling in its portrayal of high society and one of literature’s most fascinating characters, Truman Capote. Kelleigh focuses on Capote’s fall from glittering social heights after he inexplicably betrays all of his closest friends. As The Guardian beautifully summed it up: ‘This clever book, with the moreish astringency of a negroni, is a perfect summer cocktail’.

Alice Lutyens (Curtis Brown)

Alice Lutyens, agent

I have just finished reading I Feel Bad About My Neck by Norah Ephron, the funniest and sharpest women of all times. It is a reflection on her life in little snapshots, and the end result is this fantastically clever reflection on what it is to be a woman. I laughed and laughed.

My proper ooooh let me at it summer read by the pool is destined to be Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng.  That’s the lovely thing about reading an author’s new brilliant book, it makes you go back to her previous ones. It’s about a Chinese-American family living in 1970s Ohio, and the favourite child goes missing …

If you want to cackle out loud yet also nod in wild empathy as a parent, read Killing It by Asia Mackay. A very new mum is due to go back to work. She’s a trained assassin … her first project back is a high-stakes hit of global significance and the old boys network of government espionage is far from ready for the return of an operational mother. But woe betide anyone who ever tells Alexis Tyler ‘you can’t’.

Cathryn Summerhayes (Curtis Brown)

Literary Agent, Cathryn Summerhayes

My holiday read treat is going to be The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh.  I always try to read as many of the Man Booker long-listed novels as possible and this one has particularly piqued my interest. Strange, allegorical, Welsh, Shakespearean.  It ticks a lot of my reading boxes. I hope I’m brainy enough to understand it!

And I hope a lot of summer readers will be picking up Claire Askew’s All The Hidden Truths published on Thursday 9th August. Fans of Susie Steiner and Kate Atkinson will not be disappointed.

Lucy Luck (C+W)

Lucy Luck, agent

I’m going to read Maggie O’Farrell’s I Am, I Am, I Am. I love her writing and heard her read from the opening chapter of this recently. I need to know what happened next.

What I hope booksellers will be reading is the proof of Paraic O’Donnell’s The House on Vesper Sands which publishes on 18th October and is ‘like the love child of Dickens and Conan Doyle, but funnier than both’ (Liz Nugent) and ‘the most vivid and compelling portrait of late Victorian London since The Crimson Petal and the White’ (Sarah Perry).

Felicity Blunt (Curtis Brown)


Fatal Inheritance by Rachel RhysNobody says it better than Marian Keyes: ‘Fatal Inheritance is GLORIOUS! Hugely enjoyable escapism, featuring The South of France, film stars, gorgeous villas, lavender-scented air, ex-Nazis, family secrets and more besides! I enjoyed it ENORMOUSLY.’

I’m reading Everything I Know About Love – Dolly Alderton makes the perfect travel and holiday companion. Witty generous beautiful and truthful. The friend you need when in need.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. Haven’t started but can’t help but feel the promised power of this novel will be immensely comforting when contemplating an ever fractured society.

I am also re-reading all of the historical novels of Diana Norman. No author can transport you to a time and place so assuredly and with such wit and verve. Most are out of print but you can buy The Vizard Mask as an ebook.

Allison DeFrees (C+W)

allison defrees

I’ve been reading Flights by Olga Tokarczuk, a humanist novel spanning four centuries and every conceivable human experience, a story about the heart of human experience.

I recommend Caroline’s Bikini by Kirsty Gunn, a hilarious and moving novel about unrequited love.

Lisa Babalis (Curtis Brown)

Lisa Babalis, agent

Mine are Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, which I have been saving, as there is nothing better than tumbling headlong into a whole new world for summer relaxation, and Snap by Belinda Bauer, as ditto with MURDER.

Emma Finn (C+W)

Emma Finn, agent

I managed to get my hands on a proof of Sally Rooney’s Normal People and I inhaled it. It’s the love story I’ve been waiting to read for ages, about the enduring power of one relationship to change the course of two people’s lives. Timely, compelling and tender, I thought it was an absolute triumph.

Catherine Cho (Curtis Brown)

Catherine Cho, agent

It’s Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny, it’s the perfect summer read – witty and laugh out loud funny.

Lucy Morris (Curtis Brown)

Lucy Morris, agent

Top of my summer reading pile is Mariana by Monica Dickens, unanimously recommended by several trusted colleagues – and who can say no to 1930’s coming-of-age escapism, a preface by Harriet Lane, and any chance to visit the cool grey sanctuary of Persephone Books on Lambs Conduit St?

And to pass on a recommendation of my own, why not transport yourself from the sweaty tube platforms and feral lunges for outside seating in Soho, to Paris? Fran Cooper’s These Dividing Walls is a gorgeous evocation of a Paris we rarely see in books, set in a hidden corner of the Left Bank over one hot and politically troubled summer, asking how well any of us can really know our neighbours …

Abbie Greaves (Curtis Brown)

Abbie Greaves, agent

Less by Andrew Sean Greer, The story of a failed novelist about to turn 50 and hoping to escape the US during his ex-boyfriend’s wedding. Funny, wise and totally charming, with the added bonus that it’s not too long – perfect to squeeze into your hand luggage!

And Oh My God What a Complete Aisling by Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen. Side-splittingly funny and with real heart too.

Katie Greenstreet (C+W)

Katie Greenstreet, agent

Social Creatures by Tara Isabella Burton. A Talented Mr. Ripley for the social media age, Social Creatures is wonderfully creepy and a definite page-turner.

Niall Harman (Curtis Brown)

Niall Harman

I adored reading Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng while I was on holiday. It’s a brilliant look at the darker side of seemingly perfect neighbourhood with some cracking observations about its 90s suburban setting. I was devastated to reach the last page and need some more of Ng’s writing in my life so I’ve added her first novel Everything I Never Told You to my ever-growing to be read pile.

Lucy Talbot (Curtis Brown)

Mirror, Shoulder, Signal by Dorthe Nors is a quirky and funny Danish novel with a lot of heart. It’s about the small things in life that can make you feel alienated from yourself and your peers (a frayed relationship with a sibling, feeling out of joint with your body, or at odds with your work) – and the moments that can reconnect you to a sense of self and belonging. I’m racing through it and loving the settings of Danish farmland and Copenhagen from the perspective of Sonja, a literary translator. The author has short fiction published in the NYT. The English translator is Misha Hoekstra.

Mairi Friesen-Escandell (C+W)

I was lucky enough to have a proof of Sally Rooney’s Normal People which was completely compulsive – I had to read it in almost one gulp. I also read Boy by Roald Dahl, which I’d been meaning to read for years and found it by turns horrifying, joyful and very moving.

Claire Nozieres (Curtis Brown)

My recent summer read is The Fall Guy by James Lasdun, a noir novel about betrayal set amongst the exclusive elite holidaying in the Catskills during a sizzling hot summer. Completely intoxicating!

If you are currently writing a novel why not check out our selective entry novel-writing courses. Our November starting courses are currently open for applications: Three-Month Online Novel-Writing Course with Nikita Lalwani or Three-Month Novel-Writing Course in London with Charlotte Mendelson

Or, you can get advice and guidance on your novel writing, from our three short online courses designed to help writers at different stages of the writing process: Starting to Write Your NovelWrite to the End of Your Novel and Edit & Pitch Your Novel.


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