Today, I learned that Carolyn, my agent for the last 14 years, has died.
It took me a (relatively) long time to get published. I began submitting to agents when I was 17, and had a number of books justifiably rejected over the 8 years that followed. Carolyn was someone I kept submitting to. She would always offer constructive feedback on everything of mine she turned down, until eventually it got to the point where she was the only person I was submitting to. I still remember the phone call I had from her when, rejecting my latest offering, she jokingly wondered if I’d ever considered writing a children’s book. Obviously, I never took that particular piece of advice, and in the end she took me on with a book I’d called Untitled but Finished. That title was one of the many things she talked me out of over the years. It eventually became The Third Person, which was published in 2003. I can’t believe, writing that now, that it was so long ago.
She was my agent from that moment on. It’s fair to say there was an amount we didn’t see eye to eye on over the years. Her instinct was always to rein in my more … way out there material. But she was pretty much always correct, and I valued her judgement and expertise a great deal. There was always a moment of fear when she called to discuss whatever new book I’d sent her, because she had no interest in telling me how great I or the book was. Instead, with almost no preamble, we would begin an hour long conversation in which she’d finely detail every single fault and problem she’d found in the manuscript. She would rip the thing to pieces. And then, at the end – when I was little more than a puddle of despair – in her cheerfully laconic drawl she’d say “it is very good though!” And I knew that she meant it. Which is everything a sensible writer could ask of an agent.
The news of her death was not unexpected. She had been ill for some time, and while I was determined to stay with her as long as she felt able to continue, it was clear when I spoke to her in May that she’d reached that point. I was glad to have the chance to tell her then how important she had been to me, and what a difference she had made to my life. (Carolyn, still typically bullish even then, was having absolutely none of such sentimentality). It is very sad news indeed. I will miss her. She was absolutely one of a kind, and my thoughts are with her friends and family.