Claire Fuller at the Hampshire Writers’ Society

Report by Lisa Nightingale

‘You don’t need to know someone in the industry, in order to get published,’ award- winning author, Claire Fuller is keen to tell writers.

Claire is not at all bashful about having begun her writing career, aged 40, or how her first book, Our Endless Numbered Days was chosen from the ‘slush pile’ or that she was 48 before she was published.

She recalls that she was sitting in the back seat of a small car surrounded by cheese and bulging bin bags of wedding feast dregs, when she took the call from her agent with the news that Penguin had won the publishers’ auction for Our Endless Numbered Days . This debut novel was published in the UK and was sold to a further twelve countries. It was awarded the Desmond Elliott Prize for debut fiction 2015 and long-listed for the Dublin Literary Award.

Claire directed a marketing company for a number of years though she had gained a degree in sculpture from the Winchester School of Art. While she was developing a succession of projects, she realised that she needed to extend her knowledge. She chose creative writing.

Although she had not written fiction since leaving school, aged 16, she submitted  a short story into the Hampshire Cultural Trust  Short Story Slam. Eighteen months later her submission won a competition and she was rewarded with the princely sum of £9.50! ‘Entering competitions is an excellent way to become recognised as an emerging writer’.

Fascinated by the story of Robin Van Helsum, a Dutch boy, who claimed to have lived in a German forest for five years, she wrote scenes of a young girl living in a forest, which she incorporated into her dissertation for her MA in Creative Writing at the University of Winchester.

Claire readily admits to being someone who needs guidance and discipline. During the academic year’s summer break, she feared that her motivation would lapse. She loves the freedom writing brings to indulge in description and launched into a self- imposed project, turning the forest scenes into a book. She took part in live research and ‘watched an awful lot of Ray Mears programmes.’

She submitted a synopsis of 140 characters to #PitMad. The ‘likes’ that she received from agents motivated her further and she finished and revised the book. To find an agent, she submitted to a variety of agents and received the usual rejection letters.

However she did receive an invitation to tea in London from an agent.

‘We sat outdoors at a long table. She bought me the smallest cake in London,’ Claire recalls. But she was so friendly, supportive and genuinely interested in my novel. ‘I knew that she was the agent for me.’

A certain amount of luck is involved in finding the right agent. It is important to work with them, Claire advised. Although it is part of the publisher’s contractual agreement to market writers’ books, they like it when you support them.

Claire observed that when you live with your story for so long, you often don’t recognise overlong narrative scenes. Her editor has asked her to alter the placement of her scenes to improve the pace or to change of words, but they have never asked her to change her story line or her ideas.

Claire enjoys the editing process even more than the writing of the first draft. She is a member of a critiquing group, which she has found invaluable.

Because her publisher has only offered her a one book deal, she has prepared the  first draft of her next book while she was waiting for her first book to be printed, in her case, a period of eighteen months.

Swimming Lessons, her second book, was published by Fig Tree/Penguin in hardback and ebook in January 2017, published by Tin House, US, in February 2017, by House of Anansi, Canada and Piper in Germany in March 2017.

Swimming Lessons has received many favourable reviews including The Guardian, who reported that ‘ Swimming Lessons reveals a writer that has all the observational touches that show Fuller to be a serious novelist with an acute awareness of the nuances and patterns of human speech and behaviour.’

Meanwhile Claire she is working on Book 3. Then her submission process begins anew.

Hot Key Books Submissions


About Hot Key Books

Hot Key Books is a division of Bonnier Publishing, publishing books for 9 – 19 year olds. We started publishing in 2012.

We publish stand out, quality fiction that people like to talk about.

Many of us come from a background of traditional publishing, looking to do things a little differently, focusing on top-notch author care and actually talking to readers who love books just as much as we do.

Who Are Hot Key?




Having fun

Book lovers

A Good Publisher Gives You



An audience


A happy feeling



Pitches internally

Edits, works closely with authors

Promotes internally

Bottom line:

Starts the process


Concepts the cover

Commissions the cover

Company/imprint branding

Typography, inside & out

Bottom line:

Makes it look good


Negotiates pricing

Deals with special effects

Manages scheduling and logistics

Bottom line:

Makes it real


Involved in acquiring

Builds list of pre-readers (bloggers/media)

Commissions promotional materials

Books events, especially festivals

Bottom line:

Spreads the word


Works with retailers

Gets books into store

All around the world

Manages stock

Bottom line:

Puts it where readers can get it


Pulls together all the costs

Makes recommendations

Bottom line:

Keeps us all in line


Not a separate department

Infused into everything

Blurs the lines between all the departments

Bottom line:

The saviour of (some) publishers


Thinking about submitting? Great! First, make sure your manuscript is amazing. Then, send it in full to us at Please include a full synopsis too! We don’t mind what format files are sent to us in (although we prefer Word and PDF) but please note that we only accept electronic submissions. We will always try to get back to you within three months.



Madeleine Milburn, literary agent, at the HWS

report by Carole Hastings

Chairman Barbara Large set the scene for an interesting evening. She congratulated Kirsty Whittle, winner of two competitions at the Winchester Writers’ Conference in 2011 and co-author of Journeys and What-not, for making it to the last eight in the Macmillan “Write Now” competition for Young Adult fiction. The winner’s book will be published later this year and is yet to be decided…

Pippa from the West Meon Festival talked about their festival of books taking place July 11-14.  The have a workshop and a great line-up of speakers – Michael Morpurgo, Kate Mosse, Elizabeth Buchan, Jane Gardam and many others. for details.

Madelaine Clark publisher of the new New Writer Magazine explained how she and her partner Alison Glinn took over the magazine when the previous editor wanted to retire after 113 issues.  They have injected new life into it, extending the remit to attracting writing groups, developing it as a sister magazine to the their other publication New Books.  They gave everyone a copy and encouraged people to subscribe at a special price of £18 per year.  Check the and

Madeleine&Barabara (2)David Eadsforth introduced Madeleine Milburn of the eponymous literary agency who shared a thought provoking presentation.  Madeleine started her career at AP Watts 10years ago.  The agency is the oldest in the UK and represents highbrow writers such as Zadie Smith and Sebastian Barry who are less prolific than many of the more commercial authors she handled when she made the move to Darley Anderson.  Here Madeleine built her own list of authors in the female fiction, young adult and children’s genres.  These moved with her to her own agency and she works closely with all 25 of them and is branching into crime and thrillers.

The digital age has seen a 66% increase in 2012 of books being read on e-readers amounting to £3.34 bn and just a small slippage on physical books of 1% £2.9 bn so overall more people are reading these days.

Her advice to all writers is to try to get an agent before you consider self-publishing as although self-publishers have control of their book they have no advantages that a publisher brings such as editing, marketing, publicity, advance, editing costs, advance. Also low sales of a self published book may put off prospective agents.

An agent will always fight your corner and give you editorial guidance whilst pitching, networking and negotiating rights in other media and overseas.  Publishers are interested in international best sellers and agents can facilitate this.  She recommended that all writers blog, tweet, network, constantly self promote and be prepared for editorial criticism.

Madeleine looks for a hook, the most powerful voice, authentic characters, excellent dialogue, a good backstory with the minimum “telling”.  She expects a three chapter submission to be well presented with a one page synopsis covering who, when, what, where.  Titles need to make sense or be very different e.g. The Hunger Games, Before I Go to Sleep, Lovely Bones etc.  Full manuscripts should be available if requested.  She tends to get back to writers within a day or so, if she loves their writing, but receives 30-40 submissions a day.
She encouraged writers to develop a pitch that sells their story by checking out back of book blurbs and testing pitches by tweeting to keep them succinct.  Distill a paragraph into sentence to help focus the pitch.  Think of a different angle to your book.  Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is a no 1 best selling thriller with an unreliable narrator that holds a reader’s attention throughout.

It is important to approach agents that you think is on your wavelength, so research is key – their websites, Facebook, bookseller, festivals etc will all help.  Send your work to 4-5 suitable agents at once.  Your covering letter needs to be positive and conversational with the aim to pitch your book by introducing yourself, saying why you think that agency is right for you.  Tell them what you are in the process of writing next.  All Madeleine’s writers produced stunning letters that accompanied unsolicited submissions!  Publishers need to know you have a book a year or at least every eighteen months in order to outlay advances and promotion funds.

Currently short story anthologies aren’t selling well but some publishers are using their popular authors to write digital shorts to build their names in between novels.  Some booksellers will not sell short story collections at all.
Key tips for successful agent catching:
Join writing groups
Attend festivals and book fairs

Follow agents on social media

Digest The Bookseller & Publishers Weekly

Read writing magazines

Go to writing retreats

Read best selling books

Study trends

She advised that poetry needs to be pitched directly to publishers these days.
The talk was exceptionally useful for anyone who seriously wants to be published.