ONE OF the country's top literary agents, Michael Sissons manages talents ranging from A.S.Byatt to Louise Bagshawe.

"At Oxford I edited Cherwell, the university newspaper, and after that I got a job teaching history in New Orleans. I was always pretty sure that I wasn't good enough to be a professional historian, and I'm extremely glad that I didn't try to be. But for my generation, the last to do National Service, America was the golden land.

"I came back with no job and no discernible prospects. I was doing freelance work for The Times, and what I wanted to do was find a job where I was involved both in business and in writing, because I'd enormously enjoyed running Cherwell profitably.

"I was incredibly lucky to be in the right place at the right time when a man called A.D. Peters was looking for somebody to come into his business. He'd lost his only son, who would have gone in to the business, in the last week of the war, while my father had also been killed in the war. That sparked us off talking, and we got on very well.

"It was a job that I loved from the word 'go'. After doing it for 40 years I still get the same frisson of anticipation and excitement coming in here on a Monday morning as when I started.

"I do not believe that in this country we manage creativity very well. The BBC has lost a lot of respect for the creative process that it used to be solidly entrenched in. It's a very foolish mistake to make now, of all times.

"People in all sorts of businesses are focusing on the importance of creativity. In the next century, if you fail as a nation and society to develop creative skills, you will fail utterly. There's anything airy- fairy about saying that, and this isn't a covert plea for subsidy of the arts. For better or for worse, it's a belief based on what I've learnt."