Interview with 2021 Novel Award Judge: Lauren Gardner

Lauren Gardner
  1. Can you tell us a little more about you and your role as a literary agent, and how you came to be one? 

Oh yikes, well In terms of me, I’m 32, I’ve been an agent for nearly 7 years, I am obsessed with my cocker spaniel (and co-agent) Arnie, and I don’t drink proper tea or coffee, but always have an extensive collection of herbal teas/witches brew in my desk drawer. 

One of my authors once said being an agent must be a bit like being a book ninja and I feel like this is a pretty accurate description of what we do 😉.  I see my role as helping discover exciting new stories and guiding the authors of those stories through this brilliant but often overwhelming publishing process. That includes everything from developing their manuscript, submitting to publishers and securing a deal, guiding them over any speed bumps and sending Haribo in the post when an edit gets a bit too much, making sure the focus is on longevity and always thinking about the next book. Essentially I’m editor, good cop, bad cop, negotiator, hype woman and councillor all rolled into one.  

2. Are there any age categories/genres which you feel are underrepresented and/or you’d like to see more of?

I would definitely love to see more young fiction and teen fiction coming through.  There has been a real focus on Middle Grade over the past few years and whilst it’s an area that I still love to read in and represent widely, I worry that we are forgetting the younger and older end of the scale and don’t present them with the same variety of narratives to choose from, or challenge them to read outside of well established and familiar authors.  We need to capture young readers early on, find a way to challenge and encourage them as they grow, and then prove to them that books can continue to speak to their interests and represent their world view in the same way that other media can. 

3. What will you be looking for when you judge our shortlist? 

Honestly, my mind is completely open and I’m really looking forward to seeing what comes through.  I’m always drawn to stories that have real heart and humour, a strong concept, and beautifully drawn characters that reflect the diverse society that we live in.

4. What kinds of mistakes do you most often see in manuscripts? (so our entrants know to fix these in advance).

I know agents always ask for the first three chapters when submitting, so I think the temptation can be to make those opening chapters as high octane and elaborate as possible to grab the reader’s attention.  But what that can mean is that the narrative pacing drastically falls away as you continue to read, or that those early chapters are the author telling rather than showing which can be pretty tiring for the reader.  

5. What are your best tips/advice for people entering the award? 

Take your time! Ask a few different people to read through your entry – it’s easy to go a little blind to any errors or things you could have phrased differently, when you’ve read something over a 1000 times so a fresh perspective is always valuable.  I always like it when author’s use comp titles in their pitching; these don’t have to just be other books or authors you think your work is similar too, you can use references from film/music/pop culture etc.  If your book is Star Wars meets Jumanji with a hint of Jurassic Park, tell me!

6. If you had to be one Star Wars character, who would it be, and why? (or this can be a superhero or novel character instead, just for a bit of fun!)

So I’m more of Marvel kind of girl – my favourite Marvel character is Storm from X-Men. I think controlling the weather is possibly the coolest super power to have, and without geeking out completely, Storm also has one of the best origin stories of any Marvel hero, just google it!

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