dear rosemary

My first agent, Rosemary Canter, died this morning and I’ve written a letter to her, even though I know she won’t be able to read it. She was a wonderful person and there are a lot of us who will really miss her.

Dear Rosemary,

Thank you for being the best agent I could have ever hoped for. When I first met you, I was rattled and fearful about the business side of being an illustrator, I’d already had a couple hard knocks. When you took me on, you gave me the courage to think I could take on the world and do a good job of it.

I must confess, I had a bit of a crush on you from our first meeting; I was so smitten with your glamourous air of graceful confidence, your gutsiness, cleverness and, of course, I was terribly flattered by how seriously you took my work. When we had that lunch together in Bologna with my editor, I remember I was a bit nervous, but more because I wanted to make a good impression on you than anything. I’ve hoped I could be a bit like you when I’m a few years older.

It was so hard seeing you struggle with cancer; you seemed so invincible and, because no one else dared mess with you, it seemed totally wrong that something as stupid as illness could take you down. There was a lot I didn’t know about your personal life, but you were very open with me in other ways, and I know for sure that you were aware how fond I was of you. How much I’m still fond of you, I can’t quite believe you’re not here anymore. I know it must be even harder on Jodie, she worked right beside you for so long and you trained her up so well to take your place. In a business sense, the transition has been seamless, but I know we’ll both miss you terribly.

I love you, Rosemary. I wish I could have got to know you earlier, I know you have some long-time clients who have been through so much with you and care about you deeply. The world was a different place because you were in it, more exciting, more colourful, and I’m so glad we were able to find each other, even if the time was far too short.

How does one end a letter like this? I hope to see you again and that death is not the end. We’ll have such fun running around the afterlife, not having the slightest worry about contracts or co-edition deals, and I’ll make you that Moroccan tagine I was always promising.

Love, Sarah

Edit: Here’s some more from the writer and my good friend Candy Gourlay:

I was so very sorry to see this in the book news today:

Book Brunch: Children’s book agent and United Agents co-founder Rosemary Canter died of cancer this morning in London. She started her career in 1972 at Penguin Books on the adult trade side before moving into children’s fiction, with stints at Macmillan and Methuen where, in 1987, she launched their teen paperback list. Canter joined PFD as an agent in 1989 before leaving to help found United Agents in 2008. The funeral will be held on Friday 18th March in London and details can be obtained from United Agents’ children’s agent Jodie Marsh. A memorial service will be announced later in the Spring and a full obituary will appear in due course.

Rosemary Canter was one of the first agents I met at a SCBWI conference (in Madrid). She read my first novel and gave me life-changing advice: that I should not be afraid to have Filipino characters in my fiction. It is from her that I first learned that to write fiction with real heart, it is not write what you know but write who you are. Though she never signed me up, her rejections were compassionate and helpful.


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