This morning my former agent, Rosemary Canter, died at home. It wasn’t exactly a surprise given that she had been suffering ill health for so long, but it’s still a shock that I know I share with everyone who ever spent time with Rosemary. She was a towering figure in the world of children’s books, the big league agent I often felt I didn’t deserve, a grown-up and shrewd business woman blessed with a child’s delight for story.
I met Rosemary through my tutor at art school, who was also one of her clients. I’d been muddling along as an un-agented illustrator for a couple of years, and with my first picture book text contracted I felt it was time to find representation. I had already been rejected by three agents, and frankly I didn’t think Rosemary would be very impressed with me. For a start, I probably looked about twelve and my portfolio of samples was a shambles. She asked me about the kinds of things I was interested in and I remember making some goofy greenhorn comments. She was very patient and professional, and if she looked at her watch I didn’t notice.
Towards the end of the interview, I told her I’d written a new picture book text and she asked me to tell it to her. I was caught off guard by this, but did my best to conjure up the unlikely tale of a badger who finds a chocolate biscuit only to lose it again through a daft scheme to multiply his good fortune. When I finished, Rosemary offered representation. She said later that the way I’d told the story made her feel like a little girl again. This is still one of the greatest compliments anyone has ever paid me as a writer. That text went on to be published as Ludwig and the Chocolate Biscuit Tree, and my decade as Rosemary’s client began.
Rosemary stuck with me during some very lean and unproductive times, when another agent might have questioned my place on her list. She also had to ride to my rescue when my link to a certain boy wizard took on a complex and frankly quite scary legal dimension. Much later, when I met her over coffee to announce that I was working on a novel of my own (despite the fact that I’d never shown her any desire to do such a reckless thing in the past) she took it in her stride and told me to send it to her as soon as the first draft was ready. She took me seriously and that alone gave me enormous confidence.
Since then there have been ups (when she read that first draft she phoned to tell me that I had ‘all the gifts’ – glow!) and more than a few downs (such as her response to the first draft of my next attempt at a novel: ‘perhaps there’s something else you could be working on?’ – cringe), but Rosemary stood by me regardless. Only yesterday I sent a revised picture book text back to my editor, a text that Rosemary enriched enormously with a few insightful comments. She was that kind of agent too.
Rosemary was last year succeeded at United Agents by the capable and tireless Jodie Marsh (I still feel like I have an agent I don’t deserve!), though her loss will be no less keenly felt for that. It’s a sad, sad day for a great many people, but right now I find I have only one thing left to say: Rosemary, thank you.