Kelly Falconer

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Hong Kong manuscript maven Kelly Falconer has started up a major new Asian literary agency. She tells Lisa Cam it's time for the continent's writers to rise

Hong Kong may not be the first city authors think of when they're looking to get a book published. Actually, it's probably not the second or third either – or even the 10th. But, as our literary scene continues to rise, it must be time for an agency that represents local writers and others across Asia when it comes to publishing books for a worldwide audience. So, for long-time editor Kelly Falconer, she couldn't think of a better place to start one up than in Hong Kong. Welcome to the Asia Literary Agency, which has just been launched in the fragrant harbour.

The ALA represents Asian writers and claims to 'care about our authors and their futures' as well as 'aiming to help them build their careers and flourish'. Falconer's agency is pledging to promote its writers and to look for the 'right publisher' for each author. "Not everybody's going to get published by Random House or Penguin," she says. "But it's our job to find the right place for their books, to foster their careers and to help our authors grow as writers."

Born and raised in Florida, USA, Falconer was in the military for four years as a Korean linguist before her contract ended and she moved to the UK. After finishing her tertiary education there, she started a career in publishing with big name firms like Weidenfeld & Nicolson. She worked her way up the ranks and also read for a literary scout for four years. "That's one of the reasons I wanted to become an agent," she says, "because I found that a lot of the books I was giving a thumbs-up to were shortlisted for prizes. I was able to see what the agents were submitting and it was very reassuring to know that I had a good eye."

When she moved to Hong Kong, Falconer was freelancing, and then became the literary editor of the Asia Literary Review, a position she held until December (the Review is now in hiatus). It was there that she came into regular contact with writers in the region – and realised there was more to the Asian literary scene than she had understood beforehand. Her role at the quarterly Review – which is 'from and about Asia' – involved commissioning and editing fiction and non-fiction pieces. "When I was starting the agency and looking for authors, I found some really talented writers who had been published but weren't represented," she tells us. "It was a great opportunity for us."

ALA is already making waves in Asia. Falconer has just signed an exclusive deal with Barcelona-based Pontas Literary and Film Agency, who is acting as her sub-agent in Europe, and Latin and South America. "Part of publishing is about networking," she says. "And Pontas has some very good networks. This will help our authors reach a wider audience."

Falconer acknowledges the challenges that lie ahead for Asian literature as it tries to gain a stronger foothold in countries across the globe. "I'm hoping to help grow the fascination with Asia in America and Europe," she says. "People are craving something new and it's up to us to offer it to them, to show them something other than the Amy Tan image of Asian literature. It's been more than 20 years since The Joy Luck Club. In terms of politics, religion and pop culture, there are so many interesting things going on here, either as subject or inspiration."

So there's much work ahead for the ALA – but Falconer says there are plenty of writers in Hong Kong and across the continent who are trying to get a book deal, whether they've been previously published or not. She says her author selection requirements are straightforward: "It's either a good story or not, really. I'm looking for an interesting, compelling, relevant story." So to all those budding authors out there who think they have what it takes – get your manuscripts at the ready!

Asia Literary Agency asialiteraryagency.org

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