@WilliamsonWords

AGENT
Marlene Stringer at The Stringer Agency

WRITES
Fantasy

ON SUBMISSION

BIO

I grew up in the North of England and now live in London with my husband and our little toddler. I studied history at Oxford University (I still love the three Rs: Renaissance, Restoration, and Regency), then went to law school and qualified as a barrister. I now work for the UK Government. My writing often draws on my knowledge and experience of history, law, and politics.

I’ve written several manuscripts across a range of broadly speculative/SFF genres, one of which, WITCH TRIAL, is currently on submission.

I love reading as wide a variety of fiction as possible, though again fantasy of all kinds tends to be my favourite. I also enjoy reviewing novels and am an Amazon top 1000 reviewer and an enthusiastic Netgalley participant. I often edit and proofread writer friends’ manuscripts and have undertaken several editing courses.

Books aside, I’m fanatical about home exercise (mainly weights and yoga) and also about cooking – the two things just about balance each other out! I’m also a big fan of football (aka “soccer”) and music, and am attempting to learn Italian and Spanish (though please don’t test me on this, I’m terrible!).

PUBLISHING BACKGROUND

The first book I seriously attempted to pitch to agents, several years ago now, was a speculative thriller about a military coup in the UK, told from the POV of the dictator’s wife. I submitted it to numerous online writing contests and agents, with some interest (including getting to an agent round of a contest and getting an R&R request) but ultimately no success—a lot of the feedback focussed on the way it really didn’t fit neatly into any one genre. I then tried again with a YA fantasy, and had a similar experience.

I learnt a lot about both writing and querying from these experiences and got an agent quite quickly when I started querying my subsequent project, Witch Trial, a contemporary fantasy novel about a witch working as a lawyer, which is currently on submission.

I’m currently doing final edits to the Witch Trial sequel, plotting a third Witch Trial book, and drafting the first in a new portal fantasy series, which started life as a NaNoWriMo project. If there’s one thing these experiences have taught me, it’s that you’d got to keep writing and not pin all your hopes on one project.

EXPERIENCE

I’ve taken numerous courses on fiction editing, am a member of the Chartered Institute of Proofreaders and Editors (the British national body) and have a proofreading qualification from the Publishers Training Centre—ironically, I actually prefer bigger picture edits, but as a result you can rely on me to spot those typos in the final pass!

I’ve worked with numerous CPs working across different genres and at different stages of their writing genre, over the course of several manuscripts. This has involved detailed work on each other’s manuscripts—both big picture critiques and line edits—as well as working on query letters, synopses, contest entries etc. We’ve also shared general advice and support as we’ve dealt with setbacks and successes.

I’ve lots of experience entering writing contests of various kinds, with mixed results, so I can be supportive through the trials and tribulations. But I also got my agent the old-fashioned way, so can help with that.

As set out in my bio, I studied history, then law, and now work for in a government job, so if you’ve got a historical or quasi-historical fantasy setting or want help setting up your bureaucratic fantasy court or intergalactic rules system, I’m your woman!

 

OVERVIEW

I’ve entered several similar writing contests over the years and though I didn’t have the experience of being a mentee, I received feedback, met critique partners and was inspired to improve my manuscripts and writing skills, while enjoying the sense of community. I feel involvement in these various contests was a major contributor to me eventually finding an agent.

Now, I want to give back and support a less experienced writer. I’d hope that as well as my formal mentee, I could help others through feedback and Twitter advice.

Plus, I’ve missed taking part in these contests since finding my agent, and I’m excited about experiencing and contribute to that sense of community and mutual support from the other side.

I’m a British author who’s currently on submission with an adult contemporary fantasy novel and who’s written a variety of broadly speculative/SFF manuscripts over the years.

I’m looking for adult fantasy and sci-fi across most sub-genres. Within this, I’d like to see a fairly strong romantic element (but not genre romance) and ideally either some elements of other genres thrown into the mix or some interesting twists and subversions of classic tropes.

I’d adore something with a protagonist and/or love interest somewhere on the morally grey to anti-hero(ine) to villain spectrum. And I don’t quite know how to explain this, but I’d love to find something that has a similar vibe and feel to the best YA fantasy but is very definitely adult—hopefully if you’ve written something like that, you’ll get what I mean!

I’m an experienced CP and have taken several courses on fiction editing and proofreading. I’ve participated in several online writing contests over the years and though I’ve never been a mentee or similar, I credit these experiences with helping me eventually get an agent the old-fashioned way. I’m excited to give back and to share the writing and submitting tips and tricks I’ve learnt the long and hard way with a passionate, dedicated writer who’s written a manuscript I can fall in love with.

  • Fantasy
  • Sci-Fi
  • Urban/Contemporary Fantasy
  • #ownvoices
  • LGBTQIA

I’m interested in the full range of fantasy sub-genres, from paranormal and urban/contemporary fantasy to full-blown epic fantasy, as well as in epic/space opera-style sci-fi and near-future or dystopian speculative fiction.

I’m particularly interested in SFF novels that have a fairly strong romantic element without tipping over into genre romance. Or if there isn’t romance, then at least lots of intense emotion and personal interaction, perhaps in the context of a family or a friendship group rather than a relationship. I’m also interested in manuscripts that blur the boundaries between SFF and other genres — for example, my book that’s currently on submission mixes urban fantasy with courtroom thriller, as well as having a major central love story. I also love stories that bring a slight “book club” or even literary vibe to the fantasy or sci-fi genre, though that’s by no means a must.

It can be really hard to work out exactly where you sit within a sub-genre though, so if in doubt, please err on the side of submitting.

I WILL PROVIDE:

  • Edit Letter (Big Picture developmental feedback)
  • Line edit (dropping notes into a Word Document)
  • Questions and discussion via email

WORKING STYLE

I’d start with a detailed big picture critique letter. I’d answer any questions on this, then ask the mentee to work on those changes. I’d then do a more detailed line edit on the next draft. I’d anticipate quite a bit of back and forth as the manuscript got more refined—I’d be very open to questions and discussions via email.

Along the way, I’ve got several exercises in mind to help empower my mentee to work on whatever combination of character/descriptions/voice/pacing etc needs the most work, based on tips and tricks I’ve learnt the hard way over the years. I’ve also got a helpful “editing checklist” in my head and after working on numerous manuscripts (my own and others’), I’ve got a good sense of the little things that can add a lot of value for relatively little effort.

Throughout, I’d be equal parts gushing about the things I loved (including fangirling and swooning over your characters!) and sensitive but clear about the things I’d recommend changing, as well as aiming to draw a distinction between things that seem like genuine problems versus my subjective opinion.

In terms of providing practical advice and moral support with the querying process once edits are done, as my answer to the “publishing journey” questions demonstrates, I’ve written numerous books and had quite wide-ranging experiences and ups and downs on the road to finding an agent. As a result, I’ve got a good sense of what works and what doesn’t. I’m hopefully well placed to help my mentee find an agent— but also to provide reassurance that it’s not the end of the world if they aren’t successful immediately.

IDEAL MENTEE

I’m looking for a mentee who’s engaged, enthusiastic and ready to work hard; a manuscript I love; and writing skills I could help to take from good to great.
Someone who’s passionate about their novel and about writing in general and has read a fair amount of modern books in the same genre. Someone who has a reasonable understanding of their strengths and weaknesses as a writer and the strengths and weaknesses of their manuscript. Someone who’s open to feedback and to making changes, but also willing to push back and challenge me when they genuinely disagree with a suggestion. I’d want someone who’ll take the process seriously in terms of putting in the work, but who is also able to have a laugh and not take feedback or setbacks too much to heart.

SEND ME:

  • Books that play around with form and structure — dual timelines, non-linear narratives etc
  • Stories that subvert tropes and expectations
  • Anything that doesn’t fit neatly within one genre, as long as there’s at least some speculative element
  • Unreliable narrators
  • Big twists
  • Villainous or at least morally ambiguous protagonists and/or love interests.
  • Politics, scheming, and secrets
  • Forbidden romance and enemy-to-love style setups
  • Complicated family dynamics
  • Both humour and dark themes, especially when they’re neatly combined (think Gideon the Ninth)
  • Literary/historical/cultural/pop-cultural references
  • Controversially, I’d potentially be interested in something with a love triangle (or more complicated shape) as long as it’s done well and in a semi-original way
  • And I’d like to think it would go without saying at this point, but for the avoidance of doubt, I’d definitely actively welcome diverse books and authors.

DO NOT SEND ME:

Within the genres/sub-genres I’ve listed above, I’m open to most things. The only element I’d actively shy away from is anything that involves very bad things happening to young children. With a toddler at home, I found that really freaks me out nowadays.

FAVES

Some recent book favourites along the rough lines of the sort of thing I’d be looking for: The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, Gideon the Ninth, Ninth House, Jade City, The Fifth Season, The Traitor Baru Cormorant, The Cruel Prince, A Court of Thorns and Roses, Devouring Grey, The Grisha/Six of Crows books, House of Salt and Sorrows, Wicked Saints. I appreciate some of that list is YA or crossover, but I’d love genuinely adult reads with a similar vibe. Also, why do almost all my favs have numbers in the title?!

Some older favourites and those in other genres (for these purposes “other genres” includes more traditional fantasy): Gone Girl, Cloud Atlas, What a Carve Up, The Forbidden Game, everything Discworld, ASOIAF, The Kingkiller Chronicles, Prep, His Dark Materials

TV shows and films: Crash Landing on You; Game of Thrones (for all its faults, I still think it’s one of the best book to film adaptations); The Expanse; The Witcher; Outlander; Umbrella Academy; Parks & Rec; Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

Games (fun fact: I don’t play computer games at all as I have dyspraxia and shocking hand-eye coordination. But my husband plays them constantly, and I always get very invested in the world and the plots!): Assassins Creed; Horizon Zero Dawn; The Witcher (again); Yakuza.

Music: I was very into the emo scene as a teenager, and though that was now a depressingly long time ago, I still like to listen to those old favs from time to time. I had tickets for the My Chemical Romance reunion show this summer, and was suitably heartbroken when it inevitably got Covid-cancelled. More recent favourites include Vampire Weekend, Lana del Rey, Allie X, and Taylor Swift—who teenage-me would never have forgiven me for liking, but who appears on pretty much every book playlist I’ve ever created. I also have a soft spot for musical soundtracks.