Hillary Jacobson at ICM

Gothic, literary, contemporary fantasy


Cass is an Australian YA writer and manuscript assessor. She has a Master of Creative Writing, Publishing and Editing from the University of Melbourne. Her short fiction has been published in various places and she was a PitchWars mentee in 2017. She now lives in France and is working her way through all their cheese.

I started off writing and directing short films at university, but I realised early on I would never cope with getting up early enough to be on time to set. I wrote and produced a few short animations that I am still very proud of. I really got serious about my writing in 2011. I joined Writers Victoria which runs a lot of workshops for writers and is a great community. I’ve also attended the Djerassi YA novel writing workshop with Nova Ren Suma. I was a PitchWars mentee in 2017, and through that found my agent, Hillary Jacobson at ICM Partners. I studied writing more formally as well, doing the Australian equivalent of an MFA in creative writing.

This is my third time mentoring in Author Mentor Match. And I just love it! My previous mentees have done such a fabulous job and I am happy to say that one has already signed with an agent. I’ve also been through PitchWars as a mentee so I know what it feels like to submit to these sorts of events.

I am long-time member of an online writing group, where we beta read and edit each other’s fiction and non-fiction, a lot of which has since been published.

My master’s thesis was about gothic sisterhoods in YA fiction. This degree also taught me a lot about providing constructive feedback and understanding the craft of fiction.

I’ve also been an Aurealis slush pile reader and 2016-17 Aurealis Award Judge for illustrated works. I’m a freelance editor and I do manuscript assessing for Writers Victoria, which is involving reading people’s work and providing feedback on plot, character, worldbuilding and information on how to improve their manuscript.

I had such a blast in the previous rounds of Author Mentor Match, I read so many great manuscripts and it was amazing to work with new writers, watching while they developed their manuscript and go through the querying process and celebrate with them when they find an agent

I think programs like this are such a great way to find like-minded writers, and help people work on their craft. I always learn something from the people I work with as well.

I’m passionate about young adult fiction and literary fiction, and anything unusual or niche, and want to mentor someone who wants a career writing young adult fiction. I love the craft of fiction and analyzing and examining books in detail. I’m especially keen to pay it forward as I’ve received a lot of awesome mentoring, both formal and informal throughout my writing career.

Writing is lonely and it can be hard to find people who click with your writing so AMM is great and I hope that my mentee and I would form a long term writing friendship! So I’ll be pretty hands-on through the mentoring process!

My favorite books tend to blur the edges of genre, so I will happily read anything that includes categories that I haven’t indicted if it fits with other genres on my list. For example I like my romance when it’s a subplot, but not so much the main plot. Especially if they are enemies-to-lovers! I do like fantasy, but not so much when it is princesses and assassins and court intrigue.

I love retellings when they force me to reconsider the original in a different light, think Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber and Wolf Alice. I’d like to see more retellings outside of what Disney have done.

I expect characters to be diverse, as representing the world we live in. I’m definitely not a fan of anything pandering to stereotypes or seeming oblivious to the rest of the discourse.

  • Fantasy
  • Mystery/Thriller
  • Historical
  • Magical Realism/Fabulism
  • #ownvoices
  • Urban/Contemporary Fantasy
  • Gothic
  • Literary
  • Speculative

I love any and all tropes associated with the Gothic: creepy houses, darkness, intrigue, dark forces at work etc. I also love seeing these tropes inverted. I especially love Southern Gothic (and then really Southern Gothic as in set in Australia or New Zealand!)

Complicated bad boys that are just soft and confused underneath it all.
Enemies to lovers is always fun
Characters being morally grey

I like romance as a subplot but I’m not the best mentor for it if that is the main arc (but there are plenty of mentors here that will be perfect!)

I am not mentoring straight-up horror or anything that would qualify as having lots of ‘jump scares’ but I do like how horror always works as a metaphor for our society’s current anxieties. If you had a YA GET OUT, I would love to read that, for example.


  • Edit Letter (Big Picture developmental feedback)
  • Line edit (dropping notes into a Word Document)
  • Skype or phone call
  • Freestyle in chat

First off, I’ll probably want to have some communication with my mentee about what they are hoping to do with their story. I believe very strongly that it is your story, so I avoid being prescriptive, with stuff like dictating what should happen, ‘the character should do this, or write this scene’. All the work we are going to do is about helping you find the story that you are trying to tell and making it compelling for your readers.

I am going to tough on the big picture elements, the structure, what it is that you are trying to say. I come from a classical/academic type background, so I guess I’m expecting my mentee to think about the themes and why they’ve written something a certain way. But that doesn’t mean I am not open to something experimental. Quite the opposite really.

I’m prepared to be flexible depending on what the book needs, but I envisage we’ll do a big picture/ developmental edit first, then we’ll look at it more closely in a line edit. Chances are we’ll be in different time zones, but I am open to Skype or online chats. I want to know what it is that you are trying to do with your manuscript and helping you do that. I don’t want to be prescriptive and say ‘do this, do that.’

Post revising, I’ll be here for you for you in the query trenches, having been there myself, I know what it feels like, and how invaluable it is to have someone to support you through the process.

I hope that this mentorship will become the start of a long association throughout our careers. I believe that having someone to talk to through all the anxieties of writing is really important, whether you’re feeling generally discouraged, or whether you need someone to buck you up. That’s the kind of mentor I am.

My ideal mentee is going to be someone who is passionate about the area that they are writing in. I would expect that they would be widely read in their genre and is prepared to discuss their work in detail, think critically and be open to radical suggestions.

I hope you’re open to a lot of communication and we can ask questions back and forth or I’ll just give you an edit letter. I’m flexible and here for you.

I don’t want to delineate too much here because I don’t want to discourage anybody who might not submit to me because they felt like they didn’t tick everything on my wishlist, because I feel I have eclectic tastes.

If it’s weird and twisty and you aren’t exactly sure what genre you’ve written, I’ll probably want to read it. A book that happens at the crumbling edge of reality is the type I want to read.

Some things I would dig:

  • I like my contemporary with a touch of the surreal or other worldly
  • Teenage girls being oh so unlikeably bad, yes please
  • Anything character driven
  • Atmospheric, creepy settings that are characters themselves
  • Pitch black humor
  • Unreliable narrators
  • Characters making bad choices and then things getting generally worse
  • Toxic friendships
  • Fabulism/ magical realism
  • Dark mysteries
  • Science fiction (only if it is non-military)
  • Literary speculative fiction (think Nova Ren Suma or Kelly Link)
  • Unusual retellings of stories that haven’t had a lot of adaptations yet.
  • Novels in verse, or other interesting forms or non-linear story telling
  • Lyrical writing

My ideal book as a reader and a mentor is strong hooks, something unusual and mixes genres but still commercial with strong, elegant prose. Please don’t feel the need to tag your manuscript as #ownvoices but I encourage you to apply. But! I’m very open to surprises!

Court intrigue-type fantasies or teens being assassins or rulers or the chosen one.

Straight up contemporary slice-of-life stuff, especially if the romance is front and centre.

Epistolary stories, I have a tough time getting into them and would probably pass. I am open to any other unusual story telling device.

Retellings if the same story has already been done by Disney (this one I’m prepared to be flexible on if you feel your story is really different).

Things I definitely don’t want subbed:

  • Depictions of sexual violence
  • Fat shaming or slut shaming if it is not about dismantling it
  • Racial (or any) oppression from the point of view of the oppressor

Some writers whose work I admire, to help you get my vibe:

  • Shirley Jackson
  • Melissa Albert
  • Frances Hardinge,
  • Nova Ren Suma
  • Margo Lanagan
  • Patrick Ness
  • Neil Gaiman
  • Audrey Niffenegger
  • Angela Carter
  • Toni Morrison
  • David Almond
  • Penni Russon
  • Sarah Waters
  • Francesca Simon
  • Allyse Near
  • April Genevieve Tucholke
  • Hannah Capin
  • Carson McCullers

A random assortment of movies, music and TV I love

  • Labyrinth
  • Pan’s Labyrinth
  • Stoker
  • The Fountain
  • What We do in the Shadows
  • Stranger Things
  • Glitch
  • Coraline
  • Tank Girl
  • Mad Max Fury Road
  • True Blood
  • Twin Peaks
  • The Fall
  • Penny Dreadful
  • Peaky Blinders
  • The Handmaiden
  • GLOW
  • Sex Education
  • Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
  • Soap and Skin
  • Hestina
  • Charm of Finches
  • CocoRosie
  • Johnny Cash
  • Kronos Quartet
  • Sigor Ros
  • Ramin Djawadi
  • Florence Welch
  • Zola Jesus

And just for fun, here’s a visual reference/inspiration board for the sorts of things I’ll be looking for!