An Interview With Philip Patterson

Good afternoon, folks. I’m delighted to welcome literary agent Philip Patterson to my blog. Here, he discusses how he became a literary agent, his guilty pleasure genre and the time he met Rod Stewart!

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1) Did you see yourself becoming a literary agent after you left school? Did you actually have any other career plans?<<<<<<<<<<<<<

Definitely not! I always remembered Withnail’s line in Withnail & I, shouting at his agent to “kiss ten percent of the arses then.” I wanted to be an artist for a while, but I have two brothers who were quite successful in that world, and didn’t think I was good enough. I think I would liked to have played for Newcastle United in my dreams.

I always loved books, so I wanted to work with words. I thought about journalism for a while, but my third brother was an editor for a trade magazine and I saw how tough that was, plus I didn’t have the drive to be a journalist. I definitely gravitated towards publishing, but I was looking for a job during the recession in the early 90s.

I had a contact at HarperCollins Publishers so I was lucky enough to get a job there in Rights and Contracts working for the Director, who was this fabulous man called Kendall Duesbury. At the time, publishers had kept some film rights to their authors work (it is very rare to happen these days), so he was handling film rights and taught me how to structure a deal. I love film and theatre too, this to led to 2).

2) How did you find your role at Curtis Brown as a film, TV and theatre agent?<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<
ging Director at HarperCollins headed up Curtis Brown and recommended me to a film agent, there as her assistant.

I joined there and it was the pre-internet era, so lots of typing on typewriters and sending out of physical scripts and books to producers. My boss left and that gave me my break to step up. I did a lot of books to film stuff in the main.

Curtis Brown hired two excellent agents, Nick Marston and Ben Hall from A P Watt and they brought their clients over. So I got to work alongside Nick and his list of top dramatists, screenwriters and directors as well.

3) What do you look for in a covering email?<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<

That the email is concise and gives a few lines pitch for the book and the briefest of bios. Be direct and confident and to the point. Make sure you check out the agency website. Attach the work as a file. Don’t cut and paste the work into the body of the email. Try and address it to the person rather than a ‘Hi, here’s my book’ which seems very impersonal and will be treated with a similar amount of effort by the recipient.

4) Did it differ to your time working at HarperCollins? <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<

You see the business from the clients perspective. As an agent, the client definitely comes first. The publisher would agree that the author comes first too (after all what is a publisher without its writers), but it is also a business and the relationship with the author is slightly different, although a good editor/author relationship is key. When I moved to Marjacq, I was ready to work with books again. If there is one frustration with film and tv rights it is the low rate for books to be exercised and turned into feature films and tv series. Likewise the development of a screenplay can be fairly torturous at times, and it’s a special kind of writer to be a screenwriter. You have to be prepared for far more drafts and far more input from a wider selection of people (the development person, the producer, the broadcaster, the star). The process is far more fluid and collaborative than the book world. An author still seems to have a measure of control over his or her work. That said, an author must be able to work with an editor and take an edit.

5) Is there something in the crime genre that you haven’t seen or read about previously that you think ‘I could see that in a book’? <<<<<<<<<<<

I think when I read a new book, I am looking at a combination of voice, storytelling and something about the writer. I don’t get too hung up on fantastically hook-driven plots, which can veer quickly into the world of gimmick if not careful. A killer hook is good, but if the rest falls apart and it is all about the concept, then it is probably not going to be for me. Good crime fiction will also be concerned with broader issues like any other fiction. It needs to say something about the human condition or society too. That is not to say I want polemic, but purely escapist fun is great as a guilty pleasure, but starts to wafer thin after a while. Then again, I bloody love Die Hard, so if you have a novel like that, send it to me.

6) What is your guilty pleasure genre? <<<

The Die Hard movies. 60s/70s/80s thrillers. The kind with a rusting hammer and sickle on the cover. Or a smashed up swastika. Spies and ex-Nazis hiding out in the modern day. I used to devour Len Deighton, Eric Ambler, Jack Higgins and Alistair MacLean. I still love reading ‘The Day of the Jackal’ now and again. Also, Jilly Cooper. Her books are great fun. Haven’t read one for a while, but high time I did. I thoroughly recommend everyone to read as widely as they can. Read outside your comfort zone. I do love crime and thrillers, but pick up a classic, read some poetry or a play, pick up some SF or whatever, and give it a go.

7) What was the last book you read and did you enjoy it?<<<

The last book I read that isn’t one of my clients, is Roald Dahl’s Charlie and The Great Glass Elevator (bedtime reading to one of my kids). I seemed to remember I loved this book when I was about seven, but it was a bit disappointing (obviously not as good as the first one). I am going to give Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land a go.

8) Do you like Rod Stewart and if so, do you have a favourite song of his? <<<

Haha! Great question! Maggie May is a good one. Actually I have a Rod Stewart story. Our drains were blocked in our old offices and we called Dyna-Rod. We had a Spanish office cleaner and I misunderstood her as I thought she said Dyna-Rod is outside the office. We opened the front door and there was Rod Stewart and Penny Lancaster outside the office. All hair and tight trousers. And they didn’t unblock our drains.

Thanks for your time, Philip.

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