Bristol Prize

Kate Brown on Getting an Agent

July 1, 2011   Joe Melia

Kate Brown was shortlisted for last year’s Bristol Short Story Prize for her brilliant story Two Girls Under an Apple Tree. She was recently signed up by literary agents Toby Eady Associates. Big congratulations to Kate. Here’s how it happened :


Border Crossings

Twenty years ago, I sat in a small house, in a small village in the South of France, trying to write a novel. I was very young and I didn’t finish. I got lonely, I drank too much and, for solace, I went to the local cinema. Only in France do they have art house cinemas in small villages. I decided to become a film director instead of being a writer. Not exactly the path to sanity but, like I said, I was very young. Soon, I got to sit in small rooms and get lonely again, because, if you want to write the screenplays you’re going to direct, actually, you spend most of your time writing. Having become a film director, I discovered that, like it or not, I was still a writer.

A few years ago, prose beckoned to me again. A story I had originally thought would be a film, decided it would like to be a novel. I decided it was right and took a year out from the film world to allow it to happen. It was tough, but I found real freedom in this new work. It’s very difficult to explain to writers of prose the differences and similarities of writing for film. In many ways, it’s the same. We are telling stories. But as a screenwriter, all your scenes are written in third person present tense and they’re all about actions, even though ‘action’ may just mean the turn of a head. Voice is a very different thing. For me, it has more to do with my work as a director than as a screenwriter. In film, you also have to incorporate other people’s suggestions at a much earlier stage. This is something I find very difficult.

After completing a draft of my novel, I sent my manuscript to a number of agents. When I heard from Jamie Coleman at Toby Eady Associates, it was very clear he ‘got’ it. He had some suggestions, though. I spent a while thinking about whether I wanted to make the changes he suggested, I realised I was happy to, and on that basis, we decided to work together.

I think that, if there was one thing I wish I’d known before I set out to write, it’s how patient I would need to be. The creative process is often very slow. Submitting to agents involves a lot of waiting. I know that getting a novel published will do, too. In fact, waiting is probably the only thing you can count on.

I’ve never had a ‘proper job’. Officially, I’m probably poor. As long as my daughter doesn’t mind this, I don’t, and she hasn’t complained yet. My working life is now balanced between film projects and prose. I moved to Berlin a year ago. Place has always been important to me and I’ve moved around a lot. I’m working on a screenplay that takes place in Berlin. I’ve found myself writing about the Netherlands, where I lived for ten years, only now that I have left. I’m writing short stories and I’m playing with two possible ideas for a second novel. I think it’s important to make the right choice. Whichever I choose, I’ll be spending a lot of time with the characters on their journeys, so I need to know I can live with them for a long time.

Kate blogs at:

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