CV: Literary agent, Simpson Fox Associates

In my teens I wanted to be a civil engineer, I think because there weren't many women in it, and because I quite liked the idea of making things. But I did terribly badly in my A-levels, so that was the end of that.

After that, I knew I'd got to get a job. So I did a very quick secretarial course and applied for the first job I saw in The Times, which happened to be a job in the rights department at William Heinemann.

At my interview, they thought I was too young - I was 18 - but I kept ringing back and, luckily, they couldn't find anybody else. In the end they just said: "OK, we'll give her a go."

I turned up there in April 1984, and although I'd never remotely planned to be in publishing, as soon as I walked in I knew that was absolutely where I wanted to be. Heinemann had been quite an old-fashioned house, but David Godwin had just arrived as editorial director, and there was a sense of excitement and regeneration. And, just as I got there, they published Graham Swift's Waterland and Clare Francis's Night Sky.

I'm sure I was one of those awful, over-keen people; I went in at weekends, read all the manuscripts, and always gave my opinion unasked. I would try to sell second serial rights to funny magazines, and worked my way up as everyone around me either left or got pregnant. About three years after I arrived, I ended up running the department.

Then David Godwin left to go to Secker and Warburg, and I left with him to run their rights department. We lasted 18 months, until David was fired; I then jumped ship and went to Cape. I again ran the rights department, and when Random House (of which Cape is a subsidiary) acquired Century Hutchinson, I took over the rights for the entire group. That meant doing big deals in America, for big serialisations: there was the Marlon Brando autobiography that The Guardian famously paid a huge amount for, and we sold a slush-pile book that had come in from America - a novel by Carol O'Connell called Mallory's Oracle - back to the Americans for $800,000

But it was a tricky time. Cape is now a fantastic publishing house, where everything has come together, but when I was there, there was this split between old Cape - the McEwans and the Amises - and new Cape (authors such as Ben Okri and Peter Hennessy).

Everything was slightly fractious and, somehow, things never quite worked out. For example, we were publishing Jim Crace, and thought that every time we brought out one of his books it would get on to the Booker short list, but not one did - until after we'd left.

Then, three years ago, Robert Fox of Simpson Fox, whom I knew nothing of, just rang me up out of the blue and said he was looking for a literary agent. He told me he had this agency which Hollywood calls "below-the- line" - a theatrical and television agency representing set designers, directors and lighting people, rather than actors. And he wanted to set up a literary side to it, so that the agency could represent, say, the writer, the director and the designer on the same movie.

I found that the day-to-day business of an agent was just the same as it had been in the selling department at Random House. The only difference was that I didn't automatically have writers, and I'd never really had to deal with them before. There were a few writers I'd had at Cape who immediately said they would come to me, and once you've got one or two in the right kind of clique, you end up representing all of them. Because I'd met lots of journalists, I thought I'd target them. I think journalism is where the great writing is now.

The big titles I've worked on here are Julie Burchill's book on Diana, Burchill's recent autobiography, and Andrew Roberts's Eminent Churchillians. And I've sold what is going to be the thriller of the year - a fantastic book called Remembrance Day, by Henry Porter, who's going to be the next Robert Harris. I also represent Cristina Odone, Simon Sebag-Montefiore, Suzanne Moore, Simon Heffer, and Mala Sen, who wrote the script for the film Bandit Queen.

I now have the joy of not being in an office, with all that corporate rubbish going on. Instead, I'm on my own in a lovely office on Shaftesbury Avenue, surrounded by luvvies through our theatrical and opera work. I was always known for being an exaggerator, and embellisher, over-the- top and quite luvvie-ish in publishing, but now I'm totally luvvie - and it works. It gets me in the right frame of mind for selling.

Interview by Scott Hughes

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