Meet the Agents: An Interview with Laura WilliamsHarry Bingham
This is an interview with literary agent Laura Williams. Laura has been working at Peters Fraser and Dunlop since 2011. She is building a list of fiction and non-fiction, and is currently looking for edgy literary and commercial fiction, crime and thrillers and high-concept young adult. Her twitter page is here, her agency page is here and last but not least, her Agent hunter profile.
Q. What books/authors do you love in commercial fiction? (Crime, women’s) Give us some examples and say why you liked these books/authors:
Animals by Emma Jane Unsworth was my favourite commercial novel of last year – funny and fierce and true. The Humans by Matt Haig had the most magical turns of phrase and I kept following people around reading lines from it to them. I recently discovered Rainbow Rowell, and she’s like the comfort blanket I’ve been waiting for all my life.
Q. What books/authors do you love in literary/historical/book group fiction? Examples and reasons, please!
Literary: My favourite authors are John Updike and Michael Chabon. I love expansive literary fiction, ambitious with time and place – like Joel Dicker’s astonishing The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair. But that said, one of the books I loved most last year was The Enchanted by Rene Denfield, a brilliant, claustrophobic novel about death row inmates.
Historical: I’m a sucker for anything set in Ancient Greece or Rome (The Song of Achilles by Madeleine Miller broke my heart), or World War II – I love books like The Undertaking by Audrey Magee and The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman, books that do really interesting things on a well-trodden path.
Q. How about sci-fi/horror/fantasy/paranormal/YA dystopian/erotic? What would you be interested in, and what’s a big no?
I don’t dabble much in these genres, but recently, I loved Revival by Stephen King, which totally terrified me. I love Southern Gothic. I would love to find a manuscript that scared me into next week.
Q. On the non-fiction side, are there particular areas that interest you? Does your non-fiction list have a particular slant to it?
Maybe surprisingly, my two favourite non-fiction books ever are both sports books – Friday Night Lights by H.S. Bissinger and Blood Horses by John Jeremiah Sullivan. They are so much more than sports books – they are about how investigative journalism works, about politics, history, culture, and have all the heartbreak and triumph of your favourite novel.
My tastes in non-fiction lean toward the quirky, the personal, and the narrative-led – Hanns and Rudolf by Thomas Harding and HHhH by Laurent Binet are recent favourites. (I read a lot of WW2 books.)
Q. What (very roughly) is the balance of your list between literary fiction / commercial fiction / non-fiction?
I’m focusing on fiction primarily at the moment but keeping my net pretty wide – I’m looking for literary fiction, commercial fiction and YA also. But I am taking on the odd non-fiction project if I love it.
Q. Is there anything in particular you’d love to see at the moment?
Stories with real heart and real depth – I want to be calling all my friends to tell them about this book I’m sobbing over. I’d love a good psychological YA book, a really dark commercial page turner, and a really big beautiful well-researched historical novel that you can sink your teeth into.
Q. What are your biggest peeves in an opening page or opening chapter? And what do you love to see?
My advice is always get to the action as quickly as possible. I don’t want a description of characters at this point – what they’re wearing, what colour their hair is, their likes and dislikes – all that should come out naturally in the book rather than in a full paragraph on the opening page. We need to be drawn in by the story and get to know the characters as the book goes on. When I get a submission I know is going to be good I know by the time I turn over the first page, because I’ll already be drawn in.
Q. Do you have any unpredictable loves?
I love eerie books about cults (e.g. The First Book of Calamity Leek by Paula Lichtarowicz) and myths and legends (e.g. Ragnarok by AS Byatt). A book I recently sold is all about a little boy who claims he’s the devil. The first book I sold was about drug addicts getting eaten by sharks. So, I suppose bleakness is the common factor!