Agent interview: Laura Macdougall

Laura Macdougall is a literary agent at United Agents.

Laura Macdougall joined United Agents in the summer of 2017, having previously been an agent at Tibor Jones & Associates. She started her publishing career in the fiction department of Hodder & Stoughton, working with authors such as David Nicholls and Stephen King, as well as publishing some literary, reading group and historical fiction titles. Since becoming an agent, Laura has built a wide-ranging, eclectic list of both fiction and non-fiction. With a background in classical languages and philosophy, Laura is particularly interested in books that tackle questions of what makes us who we are. She is always open to submissions. Laura also represents a large number of LGBTQ writers and is a former judge of the Green Carnation Prize. In 2017, the Bookseller named her a Rising Star. You can see her list of clients here or follow her on Twitter @L_Macdougall.

What is your favourite nature writing book, and why?

I really liked Alys Fowler’s Hidden Nature, because it dealt with inner-city waterways, and the nature you find in the middle of a city, which is unexpected and different. But it was also a beautiful story about falling in love, and coming out.

What first attracted you to the books of the nature writers you represent?

I have one on my list so far, but I'm really eager for more. The book I’ve represented is Close To Where The Heart Gives Out by Malcolm Alexander, which is about Eday, an island in the Orkney archipelago, and the reality of living somewhere mostly wild and untamed and not really yet in the 21st century. It’s also a story about being a doctor in a small, remote community, so it fuses three of my non-fiction loves: medicine, memoir and nature.

What is the mark of a successful proposal for narrative non-fiction, and what do you look for particularly?

Someone who has read my submission guidelines and adheres to them, and has researched my list of clients! That’s the basic stuff though. More appropriately, a proposal that is targeted to a readership, is intelligent, well-researched, knows its place in the market and written by an expert (though this doesn’t have to mean e.g. scientist, as you can be an expert in a number of ways) will usually pique my interest. It doesn’t matter if it’s “literary” or “commercial” as long as the writing style fits with the sort of book and target market.

What advice would you give to an aspiring nature writer?

The advice I’d give to any aspiring writer: read, read, read. Think about what you want to say and why you want to say it (why should we be reading this book by you and not someone else?), i.e. why your book is necessary.

Where is your favourite place in the natural world to read or edit?

Cornwall. More specifically the North Cornwall coast, in a village called Trebetherick which is by Daymer Bay. My family has been holidaying there for generations and I’m lucky that my uncle now has a house there which we can escape to regularly. There’s nothing better than sitting in the garden with a view of the sea with a good book for company.