In our third interview in the series ‘Meet The Judges’ for PFD’s Queer Fiction Prize, we talk to Cara Lee Simpson, a Literary Agent at Peters Fraser + Dunlop.
What makes a standout entry, in your opinion?
The best entries are usually obvious from the author’s cover letter: someone who can write eloquently and succinctly about their book and set up certain expectations for the reader, which they then deliver on in the sample. The best writers usually know the right entry point to start their story, with opening chapters that immerse you in the situation or character or whatever it is that makes their book unique right away. We’re looking for ambition and potential in a book, and these first chapters are the entrant’s chance to showcase what they can do.
What kind of new writers would you love to find through the prize?
I’m looking for promising new authors writing across any kind of general fiction. I’m not worried about whether it’s commercial or literary – I don’t think a lot of readers think this way – but whatever the book sets out to do, it needs to do it well. If it’s a beautiful lyrical novel exploring the fallout of a relationship, I want to feel deeply for these characters and be invested in the outcome, even if not a lot actually happens in terms of events. If it’s a coming-of-age story, I want an original entry point. Why do we want to know this particular character’s story? If it’s crime or suspense, I want to be surprised, taken on a journey of twists and turns. Whatever kind of book it is, I want to find writers who go in with a clear intention and then cleverly and convincingly take the reader on this journey over the course of the novel. I’d love to find new clients who I can grow and develop long-term.
What are your favourite works of queer fiction?
Some favourites include A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, Oranges are not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson, Real Life by Brandon Taylor, Cleanness by Garth Greenwell, Memorial by Bryan Washington, The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst, Call Me by Your Name by André Aciman and Detransition Baby by Torrey Peters. From my own client list there’s Tufayel Ahmed’s This Way Out, Here Again Now by Okechukwu Nzelu, and Higher Education by Kira McPherson.