Two unpublished writers from the Isle of Man have been signed up by a UK literary agent after she discovered their work during Manx Litfest 2012.
Rachel Green and Fiona McKenna were two of 10 local writers who attended a ‘one-on-one’ with agent Joanna Swainson from the Hardman & Swainson Literacy Agency.
Joanna spent 20 minutes with each writer, the first 10 spent reviewing the early pages of their manuscript, the second 10 providing feedback. So impressed was she with Rachel and Fiona’s work, Joanna asked each to submit their full manuscripts – and both writers have now been signed up by Hardman & Swainson.
Manx Litfest took place over the last weekend in September and saw 19 authors, poets, performers, agents and publishers from around the UK visit the Island for a series of events alongside Isle of Man-based authors and poets.
Festival organisers have just announced the dates for Litfest 2013 – Thursday, September 26 until Sunday, September 29.
Rachel, 36, is a qualified English teacher and freelance journalist who tutors privately in the evenings and weekends in order to dedicate her time to writing. Her manuscript – Stacey Stargazer and The Girl from Nowhere – is aimed at 9-12 year olds.
Rachel said: ‘It’s an issues-based middle grade novel, with plenty of humour and pathos – think Ab Fab with ponies! I’m still pinching myself that Joanna was interested – I’d been writing fiction seriously for about five years, but this was the first time I’d submitted anything. It’s an exciting time, and a little daunting to know that publishers will be reading my work. It’s a case of sitting tight and hoping!
‘When I saw the “one-on-one” with an agent was being held as part of Litfest weekend, I was a little nervous about signing up. But it was such a good opportunity to get some priceless feedback direct from an agent, and I didn’t want to let that opportunity pass me by. Being signed by an agent is no guarantee of a publishing deal, but it’s said to be the hardest part in getting published – they are the gate-keepers to an otherwise locked door.’
Fiona, 26, has two degrees in English literature and describes her manuscript as ‘suspenseful women’s fiction’.
She explained: ‘I’ve always been a bookworm, and I used to experiment with writing a lot as a teenager. However, it wasn’t until I left a job in the early part of last year that I had the idea for my novel and decided to give it another go. I now juggle my writing with an eclectic mix of day jobs, working as a barmaid, artists’ model and receptionist for a local motoring business.
‘Last year’s Manx Litfest provided island-based writers with an unmissable opportunity to make contact with each other and get their work out there. In addition to the chance to pitch to Joanna, there was also a “pitch-the-publisher” event and a varied programme of workshops and seminars. It was great to be able to listen to, and mingle with, so many brilliant authors, poets and performers. Everyone agreed there was a real buzz in the atmosphere.’
Joanna was impressed with the quality of the submissions she reviewed as part of the one-on-one sessions.
She said: ‘I’ve done similar events at other festivals around the UK and the level of writing I saw from Isle of Man writers was, on a whole, very impressive – which is highlighted by the fact that we’ve taken on two from the 10 writers I met, a particularly high strike rate for such an event. It’s an endorsement of the writing talent on the Island and the festival organisers showed great foresight in getting Manx Litfest off the ground.’
Manx Litfest is a registered charity (number 1100) and last year’s festival was supported by Manx Heritage Foundation, Manx Lottery Trust and Isle of Man Arts Council, with many of the individual events attracting sponsorship from businesses, organisations and individuals.
Festival Director John Quirk said: ‘We were thrilled with the response to our first Litfest, both in terms of the number of people who attended events and the feedback we’ve received since, from the public and from those who took part over the weekend.
‘When we heard the news that Joanna had signed both Rachel and Fiona, it really was the icing on the cake – we already felt that all the work that went into the festival had been worthwhile, but having two local writers signed by an agent as a result of our first attempt, it was almost justification in itself for why we created Litfest in the first place. When applying for funding to the likes of the Manx Heritage Foundation, Isle of Man Arts Council and Manx Lottery Trust, we impressed on them our desire to create a legacy from Litfest, and Rachel and Fiona’s news will hopefully be the first of many such success stories to come from future festivals.’
With the dates for the 2013 festival now set, the organisers are in talks with a number of authors, poets and performers to take part this September.
Book fans can keep up-to-date on developments by visiting www.manxlitfest.com and signing up to the email newsletter, or following on Twitter (www.twitter.com/manxlitfest) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/manxlitfest).