© Jenny Smith
As a child my head was always in a book, but as a teenager I wanted to be an actress, and at university I started to write things for myself to perform. Gradually I found myself straddling two careers: I was acting a bit, and writing a bit. I wrote for TV (Byker Grove, My Parents are Aliens) and acted in theatre, commercials (remember ‘We Want to be Together‘?) and TV (mostly comedy: Fry and Laurie, Lee and Herring, a series of Casualty).
But then one day I had the blinding insight that what I really loved was talking about, and being around, books. So I became a scout for Aardman Features, looking to option books that could form the basis of animated feature films, and I went to work at a bookshop. The wonderful woman who ran it suggested I’d make a good agent, and I was lucky enough to meet legendary agent Patrick Walsh soon after the idea had started to take root.
I joined C&W Literary Agency in 2008 and took to being a literary agent like a duck to water. I was in a shortlist of three for the Bookseller Industry Awards Literary Agent of the Year in 2010, and was picked out as one of the Bookseller’s Rising Stars in 2011.
I’ve now set up Jo Unwin Literary Agency Ltd, based at Somerset House, and was shortlisted again as Literary Agent of the Year in 2019.
I represent authors of literary fiction, commercial women’s fiction, Young Adult fiction and fiction for children aged 9+ but not younger (picture books only if written by established clients). I also represent comic writing and narrative non-fiction. Suffice to say I don’t represent poetry or screenplays (unless written by my established clients).
I’m interested in books that make me consider the world around me in a different way and challenge my received ideas. I like voices that are compelling and unique. I’m drawn to novels that bring out the intimate or domestic in a way that’s entirely personal to the characters but also resonates on a wider human level. Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, it’s the personal that I love: I always want to get to know people and to hear their stories, and to feel I have come to understand them.
I know I’m reading something promising when I have a physical reaction – whether it’s my heart beating faster, my face breaking into a smile, or my throat thickening with a sob.
Jo is currently accepting submissions
Kit de Waal
Vic Reeves/Jim Moir