• Sheryl Gwyther

Sweet Adversity's first champion ... UK literary agent, Rosemary Canter

Sweet Adversity, my upcoming historical adventure (HarperCollins Children’s Books) had a life of its own before this exciting stage. Once, when it was called McAlpine & Macbeth, it was awarded a 2009 Australian Society of Authors Mentorship , and also a week at Varuna Writers’ House in Katoomba benefitting from Creative Director, Peter Bishop’s insight. Recently, the story has blossomed under the championship of publisher, Lisa Berryman, and her team at HarperCollins.

Rosemary Canter – UK Children’s Books Literary agent

But the story’s first champion came in 2008 with one of the most respected agents in children’s books in Britain and internationally, Rosemary Canter. I met her when she visited Brisbane in 2002 and spoke at a workshop for published authors and illustrators.

In 2007, I sent my story 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 KidLit agent for several years. But, as things go, she had trouble selling my ‘very Aussie story’ to British publishers. She tried so hard, because she loved McAlpine & Macbeth and its characters, including Macbeth, a Shakespearean-quoting cockatiel. We knew the manscript needed editorial work, but Rosemary took it on anyway, even with the ‘about to implode’ ructions at the 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 the new agency.

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

We usually communicated via email. I remember one 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 the manuscript been awarded an ASA Mentorship.

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 was 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've been thrilled to bits. She'd have loved the title change too!

So, with great fondness still and in memory of Rosemary Canter, I will send a copy of the book to Jodie Hodges, Rosemary’s faithful offsider who became an agent in her own right in 2010 at United Agents, London.

#RosemaryCanter #UnitedAgents