Agent interview: James Gill
James Gill is a founding partner and literary agent at United Agents.
Jim Gill is a founding partner of the agency. He has worked in publishing and literary representation since 1995. He acts for a broad range of both fiction and non-fiction authors writing for the general-trade market, and is always on the look-out for the original and the excellent. You can see his list of clients here and follow him on Instagram @jamesjimgill.
What is your favourite nature writing book (of recent years, or of all time), and why?
I don’t know if it is viewed as “nature writing” but I would say Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon (beloved or hated by generations of Scottish schoolkids) was a novel I fell in love with – not least in the way it describes and brings to life the landscape and nature-life of the Mearns, and both so intertwined with the human lives of the inhabitants. Later, as a university student, Carlo Levi’s memoir Cristo Si E Fermato A Eboli (Christ Stopped at Eboli) did much the same with the arid, malarial, fly-blown, rocky starkness of ultra-rural southern Italy and its impoverished population who are shackled to, as much as intertwined with, the land. I don’t know if that counts as “nature writing" either. Redmond O’Hanlon’s brilliant Trawler is gonzo nature-writing, it pitches and rolls you like the terrifying sea it describes. Nicholas Crane’s classic Clear Waters Rising: A Mountain Walk Across Europe (10,000 km from Finisterre to Istanbul, via well, everywhere) is an unforgettable journey through the geology and geography, anthropology and biology of Europe’s mountain ranges and their people.
Who is your favourite nature writer, and why?
Kathleen Jamie takes some beating. I loved reading James Herriott’s books as an 80s kid – again, they’re all about where people and nature meet.
What first attracted you to the books of the nature writers you represent?
I don’t think that they were attractive because I felt they were examples of “nature writing” per se. They all either told a story I didn’t know, or were from a voice I wasn’t hearing.
What is the mark of a successful proposal for narrative non-fiction, and what do you look for particularly?
Clarity of intent and originality.
What advice would you give to an aspiring nature writer?
Where is your favourite place in the natural world to read or edit?
I like to read at night, in a chair in a room on my own. For a fortnight in the summer my favourite place outside in the natural world is on a sunlounger – it doesn’t matter where so long as it’s hot.