Agent interview: Sarah Williams
Sarah Williams is a literary agent at the Sophie Hicks Agency and also runs the film and television side of the agency.
Sarah Williams hails from Vancouver, Canada and began her publishing career first in publicity and then editorial in the world of Canadian publishing. She was hired by Ed Victor in 2010 where she began building her diverse list. She represents a wide range of authors in both fiction and non-fiction: literary and commercial fiction writers, children's and young adult fiction and non-fiction, as well as writers who work within the areas of food, lifestyle, personal development, humour, popular science, travel, nature and memoir. Sarah was named a Rising Star by The Bookseller in 2016. She has a PhD in English literature, is a graduate of the publishing program at Columbia University and is on the faculty of the Columbia Publishing Course at Oxford University, Exeter College. Sarah runs the film and television side of the Sophie Hicks Agency and works closely with film and television scouts, agents, production companies and studios to sell the dramatic rights to our clients' written work. You can find more information about Sarah here and follow her on Twitter here.
What is your favourite nature writing book?
Pilgrim At Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard had a profound impact on me when I read it as a teenager and is still the book I gift most to others. It is the most beautiful meditation on solitude and the changing seasons around us.
What first attracted you to the submissions of the nature writers you represent?
I was so moved by what became of the opening pages of I Found My Tribe by Ruth Fitzmaurice (Chatto & Windus) because the sea became an actual character in the world the book described. It transformed Ruth's own story in the powerful way that only the wilds of nature can summon. I have another beautiful memoir, I Am An Island by Tamsin Calidas (Doubleday) set in a remote part of the Hebrides. Tamsin has captured the duality of nature's violence, relentlessness and ability to nurture and heal better than any other book I've read in a long time.
What is the mark of a successful proposal for narrative non-fiction, what do you look for particularly?
I look for a proposal that indicates the writer has a clearly formed version of the entire book in their head – it's a quality that you can see immediately, even in just 20–30 pages. Often this changes as the book is being written, but that central story, that line which pulls the reader in and pushes them through the entire narrative is already there. I love to be challenged to think differently in non-fiction – about a place or a phenomenon or a person so I feel like my own world is being expanded.
What advice would you give to an aspiring nature writer?
Nature is surprising, confident and can feel utterly magical – your writing should be the same.
Where is your favourite place in the world to read?
I grew up on the west coast of Canada where it is all ocean, old growth rainforest, and lots of space in every direction. I love reading in Canada when I return to visit, and in the wilds of North Norfolk which is the part of England that reminds me the most of home.