When Rosemary Canter was my UK literary agent

Sweet Adversity, my historical adventure (HarperCollins Children’s Books) had a life of its own. Once it was called McAlpine & Macbeth, and was the recipient of an Australian Society of Authors Mentorship and a week at Varuna Writers’ House in Katoomba benefitting from Creative Director, Peter Bishop’s insight.

Then the story blossomed under the championship of publisher, Lisa Berryman, and her team at HarperCollins.

Sweet Adversity’s first champion was one of the most respected UK agents in children’s books, Rosemary Canter. I met her when she visited Brisbane in 2002 and spoke at a workshop for published authors and illustrators.

I sent my manuscript to her and she loved my style of writing enough to take me on with a pretty raw manuscript. I look back on that stage of my story and cringe a bit … it had many rewrites before it became Sweet Adversity. 

Rosemary Canter was my British KidLit agent for several years. But, as things go, she had trouble selling my ‘very Aussie story’ to British publishers. She tried so hard to do it, because she loved McAlpine & Macbeth and its characters, including Macbeth, a Shakespearean-quoting cockatiel.

We knew the ms needed editorial work, but Rosemary took it on anyway, even with the ‘about to implode’ ructions at PFD Literacy Agency in 2009. In a dramatic twist, she and other agents walked out of PFD to set up United Agents. Naturally, her clients, including myself followed her to United Agents.

It was Rosemary Canter who was our lodestar. We would’ve followed her to the moon and back.

We usually communicated via email. I remember one very long conversation when she rang me from London – her genuine warmth, and her beautifully spoken, mellow British accent.

But after two years of no success with British publishers, I withdrew the manuscript. Rosemary kept me on the United Agents site for a couple more years. I remember how pleased she was to hear it’d been awarded the ASA Mentorship in 2009.

In 2010, when she became ill, I wrote to her … she replied,
I am very touched by your concern: and of course I remember you, Sheryl!  I do have cancer, but I live with it, and  apart from rather too much fatigue we get on well enough. 

I am in a reasonably good phase at the moment, working three days a week, and enjoying the fact that I don’t have to think about the office on a Monday morning…the garden has its own allure. How are you ?  I hope very much your writing career is going well.’

Sadly, Rosemary Canter succumbed to cancer in London on the 11th March, 2011.

She left a hole in the hearts of many who care about the children’s book publishing industry. She’d represented British, European authors and illustrators.

She was also the sub-agent for a number of Australian authors and illustrators, like Sophie Masson, Kate Forsyth and several others. She was one of the world’s good people – gentle, strong, compassionate and able to put people at ease. A gorgeous, articulate lady with a genuine passion for children’s books.

Being on the other side of the world made no difference to Rosemary, she was as caring, nurturing and encouraging to me as she’d have been to someone living in London. 

I wish I’d gone ahead with a planned chat over coffee in London, but it was never to be. How I wish she was alive now so I could send her a copy of Sweet Adversity. I know she would be thrilled to bits. She would’ve loved the title change too!

2 thoughts on “When Rosemary Canter was my UK literary agent

  1. Hi I’m Emily and I’m in grade 4. You came to my school for book week in Brisbane. So I was thinking where did you get your idea for book “sweet adversity”.


  2. Excuse me, did you ever live, in the mid-80s,for a short period, in Siracusa, in Sicily? Thanks


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