London Book Fair 2019 Agent Hotlists

London Book Fair 2019 Agent Hotlists

Young Irish writers, “memoirs that matter”, motherhood guides, 17th century-set fiction and an upswing for commercial women’s fiction are some of the hot trends standing out in the top titles UK agencies are bringing to this London Book Fair. Plus, there are new books from big hitters including Jung Chang, Edna O’Brien, Rose Tremain and Salman Rushdie which will undoubtedly get option publishers’ hearts racing at the halls of Olympia next month.

New Irish writing has been on the up for the last few years, but the end of 2018 underscored this with Anna Burns winning the Man Booker Prize and Sally Rooney continuing her world-dominating ascendency. This LBF hotlist is dotted with a number of “next Burns/Rooney” candidates including Sue Rainsford (repped by Lucy Luck at C+W), Tish McPhilemy (Lizzy Kremer, DHA), Fionola Meredith (Susan Feldstein, The Feldstein Agency) and Naoise Dolan (Harriet Moore, DHA). Indeed, the DHA pitch for Dolan makes no bones about it, with her début, Edith and Julian, said to be written in “stylish, uncluttered and Rooney-esque prose”. (I’m assuming that is Sally, not Wayne, being referred to).

Memoirs that matter—broadly autobiographies written by “ordinary” people often about challenging subjects—have been popular for the last couple of years and judging by the hotlists, the trend has not even reached its peak. Submissions include Marissa Korbel’s abuse memoir which deals with an affair with her teacher when she was a teenager (Rachel Conway, Georgina Capel); Tasmin Calidas’ story of upping sticks from the city to move to a remote Scottish island only to face rampant sexism from her new community (Sarah Williams, Sophie Hicks Agency); and Henry Scrowcroft’s, Cross Everything, a Cancer Research UK worker’s memoir of his wife being diagnosed with the disease (James Wills, Watson, Little). The most intriguing of these might be a title that seems a hybrid between two of the biggest memoirs of 2018, Adam Kay’s This is Going to Hurt and The Secret Barrister (both Picador). The Reluctant Carer (Eugenie Furniss, Furniss Lawton) is an exposé of the care industry—but a “moving and humorous” one—from an anonymous journalist who spent two years working in a home for the elderly.

Aligned to this is motherhood memoirs and books about how to negotiate this tricky period in the life. Many titles on submission this time around have fresh takes on the genre like Jen Wright’s examination of post-partum depression, Rattled (Charlotte Atyeo, KingsfordCampbell) and Nell Frizzell’s In Flux (Jon Elek, United), a comic memoir about her “panic years” of deciding whether she wants to have a baby—and with whom. 

In fiction, the first question that might be asked is whether psychological thrillers are over. In a word, no. Of the 117 novels on this hotlist, a not insignificant 19 of them can be broadly put in the "grip-lit" camp. But we do see the genre moving on, such Robin Morgan-Bentley’s The Wreckage (Madeleine Milburn), which flips the usual script by putting a vulnerable man in peril.

Yet the weight of submissions in the sector is clearly in the genre with the most unwieldy name, commercial women’s fiction, particularly in those titles that straddle and cross over to reading group fiction, in that Keeper of Lost Things/Eleanor Oliphant arena. Twenty-seven of these listings come from that space, including Nicola Gill’s I’m Ginny Taylor (Tanera Simons, Darley Anderson), Matson Taylor’s The Essence of Alice (Alice Lutyens, Curtis Brown) and Emma Cooper’s When I First Saw You (Amanda Preston, LBA).

An interesting sub-trend is the number of books that are set in the 1600s, perhaps reflecting the recent successes of Stacey Halls’ The Familiars (Zaffre) and Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s upcoming The Mercies (Picador), which was arguably LBF 2018’s book of the fair. For example, Giles Milburn at Madeleine Milburn has Miranda Malins’ Puritan Princess (about Oliver Cromwell’s daughter’s search for love) while Furniss has Lucy Jago’s A Net for Small Fishes, a “17th Century ‘Thelma and Louise’”. 

For heavy-hitters, Rushdie’s newest Quichotte is with Andrew Wylie. Its pitch—an aging traveling salesman falls in love with a TV star, so he drives across the USA “to win her hand”—does not sound terribly au courant, but its title is an obvious nod to Don Quixote, so we shall reserve judgement. Caroline Michel at PFD is representing the two new novels from O’Brien and Tremain, while Aitken Alexander's Clare Alexander has Chang’s newest, a biography of the powerful Soong sisters of 20th Century Shanghai.

It is far too soon to call a book of the fair, but one early contender has to be Greg Buchanan's debut literary thriller, Sixteen Horses (Sam Copeland, RCW). It was sold, on a 16,000-word partial manuscript, to Mantle in the UK and Flatiron in the US, with the American deal going for six-figures. It has also sold to Norway and France with offers in a number of other territories.  

Read the list in full here