Agent Confidential: Ben Illis

Name: Ben Illis 

AKA: Ben ‘Danger’ Illis or Ben X (Ben 10 being already taken) I am also, rather oddly, licensed to kill. Only lionfish and only in the Caribbean (they are an invasive species)

Agency: The BIA (needs no secret agent version, I’d like to think)

Genres represented: Children's (7+,9-12) Young Adult, New Adult, Crossover.

Authors represented and titles of books: Beverley Birch – Rift (Egmont), Shakespeare Stories (Hodder) and countless others. 
Paul Bryers – Spooked (Hodder) Mysteries of the Septagram Trilogy (Hodder) and many others.
H.L. Dennis – Secret Breakers series (Hodder). Alan Early – The Father of Lies Chronicles, AKA Arthur Quinn Trilogy (Mercier) 
Seth Hunter – Nathan Peake series (Headline).
Ian Johnstone – The Bell Between Worlds – The Mirror Chronicles (Harper Collins). 
Claire McFall – Ferryman, Bombmaker (Templar) 

Recent deals: Matt Brown – Compton Valance + sequel(Usborne 2014).
Brian Conaghan – When Mr Dog Bites + sequel (Bloomsbury 2014).
Lisa Glass – Blue + two sequels (Quercus 2014). 
And last, but not least, H.L. Dennis – new series, negotiations in progress – watch this space! 

Wish list: I hate this one, as I invariably find something I adore that doesn’t fit any of these bills, but here goes nothing: Strong, especially female-led, adventure stories for 9-12. Hilarious and probably toilet humour-based 7+. 
An uncompromising YA book that deals with burgeoning LGBT sexuality.
I’m always a sucker for good: romance; fantasy (not too high concept); real life stories, especially thrillers with a contemporary angle; horror that truly unsettles and ghost stories that send a shiver up (or down) my spine.
Oh, and Wyndhamesque dystopian sci-fi; unreliable narrators and jaw-droppingly original voices and stories, of course. 

Favourite books: How long have I got?! In no particular order and as they come into my, rather chaotic, head.
From my own childhood:
Robert Westall – especially The Machine-Gunners 
Robert Swindells – Brother in the Lands Willard Price – Hal & Roger Hunt Adventures Michael Ende – The Never-ending Story (NOT the film!) 
John Christopher –Tripods 
Rosemary Harris – Zed 
Anything by Roald Dahl, John Wyndham, Mollie Hunter, Mercedes Lackey, Terry Pratchett, Stephen King, Dean Koontz and a lot of other - often fantasy/horror - titles.

More recently: Cliff McNish – anything, but especially The Doomspell Trilogy 
Mark Haddon – The Curious Incident of the Dog at Night-Time 
Lian Hearn – Tales of the Otori Series 
Stuart Hill – Icemark series 
Will Hill – Department 19 series 
Nick Lake – In Darkness 
Eoin Colfer – Artemis Fowl series 
Jerry Spinelli – Milkweed 
Louis Sachar - Holes 
Sundry other favourite writers – 
Marcus Sedgwick, Philip Reeve, Cornelia Funke, Mary Hoffman, Neil Gaiman, JK Rowling (obvs), Michael Morpurgo, Suzanne Collins, Malorie Blackman, Philip Pullman, Louise Rennison and loads, loads more! 

Among writers for adults: 
Amitav Ghosh, David Mitchell, Rohinton Mistry, Barbara Kingsolver, Khaled Hosseini, Ann Patchett, Ahdaf Soueif, Neil Gaiman and, you guessed it, loads, loads more… 

Agent style: Hands on! Lots of irreverent banter; brainstorming; pacing around(on my part), gesticulating wildly and chasing ideas, while drinking and smoking - arguably too much - and following hunches and gut feelings. I like to roll my sleeves up and thrash things out and am something of a terrier,albeit a rather tall one. 

How to submit: Follow the guidelines on my website. Woe-betide anyone who sends me a file labelled ‘samplechapters.doc’. 

Submission tips: READ the guidelines! Make sure your submission is labelled with your name AND the book’s title. Be ready for it. Be age-appropriate. Know your intended market. Read around your subject. Be patient. Be persistent – you won’t necessarily secure the first agent you submit to, nor even secure an agent in your first round. You need dedication. Don’t scatterbomb ideas. Show me your passion and commitment to a single project in the first place, then bring up your other ideas down the line. Read some of your chosen agent’s clients’ work and see if they are likely to be the right one for you. Take criticism, when it is offered, and let it sink in. Don’t be defensive, but be prepared to defend your intentions in the editing process - nobody likes a pushover! 


Twitter: @bookboyben 

Events: I am taking part in a workshop on the 29th September, with the wonderful Golden Egg Academy and will be doing something with The London Writers’ Group on the 15th October. Then there’s next year’s Winchester Writers’ Conference, of course, and, I hope, also SCWBI UK.

Mel Rogerson and Katrina Charman
Writing Features Editors
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  1. Thanks very much, Ben. Is there room in your office for more than one gesticulating pacer with drink in hand? If so, I'll definitely be in touch when the m/s is ready.

    1. Always! I'd be more than happy to welcome fellow gesticulators, drinks advisable, but optional... Send it over when you're ready!

  2. What a lively interview! Almost makes me wish I didn't have an agent already, as I'm definitely up for the sleeve-rollling, drinking sessions. Can't see Q going for that... (Sorry, Q, love you really)
    Will settle for following on twitter :-)

  3. Is addressing our submission to "Ben Danger Illis" allowed? And will such abject flattery work? ;)

  4. Hemingway said "Write drunk, edit sober." I do both sober, but the planning and brainstorming elements are rarely teetotal affairs and often involve wild gesticulation and pacing. This article made me smile.

  5. I love these columns - as much for the excellent general tips as the specific ones - thanks Ben.
    Plus reading other peoples lists of fave books is as interesting as reading your own!

  6. A fellow Willard Price reader-Go Hal n Roger! I love the way their Dad got moved out of the plot early on. But a grt set up for truly entertaining stories with the educational bit well hidden. Still got a couple in my library. Thanks for ur post Ben.

  7. Thank you-very interesting and helpful!


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