Watson, Little featured in The Bookseller

Friday 5th March 2021

Managing Director James Wills was interviewed by Tom Tivnan at The Bookseller as part of a feature celebrating the agency’s fiftieth anniversary. An excerpt from the article appears below:


Springboard: Watson, Little toasts 50 years in business with staunch performance in lockdown

I hop on Zoom to interview James Wills pictured below, fully expecting to see the Watson, Little managing director as fresh-faced, clean-cut and suited-and-booted as when I last saw him in real life, at the 2019 Frankfurt Book Fair. But like many of us, Wills has had a lockdown transformation; he is growing his hair long with a flowing beard, and I confess my first thought is Tom Hanks in “Castaway”.

But the new look suits Wills and there may be an ulterior motive to the makeover: Wills recently signed the bearded comics legend Alan Moore, writer of WatchmenV for Vendetta and From Hell, among other landmark works. Moore has never had an agent, and given his famous public disagreements with filmmakers on how they have adapted his stories, perhaps he should have. At any rate, Moore has written some prose works—a collection of short stories and Long London, a series of speculative novels—which at this writing Wills is auctioning in the UK.

Wills says: “You might think I’m paying homage or cosplaying Alan with this [motioning to his hair and beard]. I’ve represented his daughter Leah Moore for many years and I’ve never done the hard sell with Alan, because I knew that he was going to do what he wanted to do—and he said he didn’t believe in agents. Which is a shame, because maybe some things would have been different, but I’m glad to represent him now. But with these stories and series of novels, he just knew that he had something special.”

In a normal year Wills and Watson, Little would have been gearing up for an imminent London and Bologna Book Fair season, but the past 12 months have not been a normal year. Particularly gutting is the delayed 2021 LBF, as Watson, Little was planning a big knees-up to celebrate the agency’s 50th anniversary. The firm was set up in 1971 by Sheila Watson and David Bolt, first as Bolt & Watson, with Mandy Little joining in 1981. Bolt left a couple of years later, with the agency rechristened Watson, Little. Watson retired in 2005 and Little stepped back from full-time agenting a few years ago, but remains the company chair and still reps the Topsy and Tim creator Jean Adamson. Wills has been man and boy at the agency, joining 18 years ago fresh out of completing his BA and MA at the University of Leeds.

Wills says: “We will probably have a party to celebrate the anniversary down the road, but it has actually been a really good moment to reflect on those 50 years. Particularly since the point Mandy joined in 1981, and for a long period it was an all-female agency; Mandy came from film and TV and she has said it was a culture shock to come to publishing, with all its men in suits and four-hour lunches. But when I look at that history, I’m very proud to be part of it because as an agency we have always looked to the future. We’ve always been keen about promoting from within working with younger agents, and giving them the space and opportunity to grow their lists and to work on things that they are passionate about.”

Megan Carroll is the most recent example of that promotion from within, having stepped up from associate agent, joining Watson, Little’s complement of full agents: Wills, Laetitia Rutherford and Donald Winchester, plus rights director Rachel Richardson.

You can read the article in full here: