Success Story Interview - JA Haigh

An Interview with JA Haigh (Darksouthern on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Chelsea Hensley of KT Literary.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
JA Haigh:
A WREATH FOR THE PATTERNMAKER is a darkly folkloric, YA fantasy full of grit and atmospheric horror. It centres on Marte, a girl trying to keep her family safe in a town full of monstrous, magical folk—of which her own father is one of the worst.

I've always loved the juxtaposition of magic and reality. In A WREATH FOR THE PATTERNMAKER, I wanted to explore the idea of very grounded, very human characters metamorphosising into something magical, and the subsequent wonder and horror that might flow from that.
QT: How long have you been writing?
JA Haigh:
I've been writing forever and always had the dream of 'being a writer' but have been seriously pursuing publication for about the last ten years.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
JA Haigh:
I started tinkering around with the idea when I was at home with my first child—ten years ago now! Just having fun and trying to figure out how to write something of that scope.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
JA Haigh:
Yes. Writing can feel like such a vacuum sometimes, but then I would unlock some new goal—a short piece selected for publication, acceptance to a selective conference, etc—and that would lift me up and give me drive again. The last six months I'd definitely hit a wall though, feeling like everything (an agent, publication) was so close but I could never quite reach it.
QT: Is this your first book?
JA Haigh:
No, I have one other, languishing in a dark drawer. It's a mess. To be honest, it was always more of a personal challenge, to see if I could write something at novel length, pushing to break through that early barrier of self-doubt.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
JA Haigh:
I have an Associate Degree in Creative Writing.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
JA Haigh:
I do. Owing to the balance of other life commitments, my writing is oddly seasonal – I tend to have an intensely focused period of around six months (squeezed in around work and family) then shift to a more relaxed/considered pace, which is more suited to editing. I tend to write in the early morning before my kids wake up and come looking for me and before I have to head off to work.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
JA Haigh:
Oh. This baby has been around the track a few times. I honestly couldn't count. At least three or four major re-writes—it was originally a multiple POV and has been whittled down to one, which called for some significant structural changes. Edits have seen countless rounds.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
JA Haigh:
I've had a handful of beta readers, though some only for the first few chapters. In 2021, I was fortunate enough to be awarded a mentorship from the Australasian Horror Writers Association and work with horror author Kaaron Warren.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
JA Haigh:
I am a pantser, sadly. This leads to much more reverse engineering than I would like. Though I would love to have an outline to be able to work from, my brain simply doesn't seem to operate that way. On my next project, I've experimented with mind maps which, happily, seem to provide a more organic structure—providing me with motivation and loose planning, without killing off my creativity.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
JA Haigh:
The first book (of which we do not speak), I only queried one agent, before accepting that it was never meant to see the light of day. On the other hand, A WREATH FOR THE PATTERNMAKER has seen just shy of one hundred queries across two years; a stat that makes me slightly nauseous to contemplate. To be fair, I may have sent the first round out too early or during a pandemic, but… who's counting? In any case, this was the final round of queries before I intended to shelve it.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
JA Haigh:
Ninety-eight all told. I had a few requests throughout that time, just enough to keep me hopeful, but the agent that I ultimately signed with was query number eighty-five.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
JA Haigh:
If they repped my genre and category, and their MS wish list seemed to align with my work. Ideally, I wanted someone more editorial, so I prioritized agents that leaned into that territory.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
JA Haigh:
A few I did – if I had something specific to mention, like loving a book they repped, a specific thread of their wish list, or an interview/conference that I'd appreciated.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
JA Haigh:
Keep trying? Start on the next thing. Keep your chin up. It's tough and it can feel like an invisible struggle most days, one that only fellow querying folk can understand. Luck is definitely a factor – I almost didn't send out this last round of queries and then I would have missed out on my beautiful agent!

Query Letter:

Dear ...,

Please consider, A WREATH FOR THE PATTERNMAKER, a YA/Crossover dark fantasy, complete at 95,000 words. Combining the grimly, practical magic of Leigh Bardugo's Ninth House, with an atmospheric setting akin to The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, A WREATH FOR THE PATTERNMAKER is a standalone with series potential.

In a forgotten, harbourside town at the bottom of the world, nineteen-year-old fry-cook, Marte, is struggling to keep her mother and sister safe. Here, among the sandstone cottages and banksias, walk the Life and Death folk—those who harvest magic from nature or blood—and Marte's estranged father, Laurent, is one of the worst.

Marte's long been afraid of what she's inherited from her father and, lately, his obsessive traits are growing ever more claustrophobic, pushing her traumatized mother, Irena, close to breaking point. Now, the protective wards that once kept Marte's family safe are failing, and a deadly hex has been discovered near their home. Meanwhile, in the surrounding streets, people are turning up dead, sacrificed to the pursuit of magic, and the methodology shares details that implicate Laurent.

When Irena goes missing and the people Marte loves disappear one by one, she'll finally have to confront her monstrous father and the grisly addiction to magic that rules Hithe-Hill. But in a town where life and death are mere commodities, dark family secrets refuse to stay buried… and even monsters are afraid of something.