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Collated Answers from WW interviews

What excites you about a piece of writing-
Adventures in FictionWe look for a strong core idea that is potentially sustainable over the course of a novel. This can be a voice, a character or a premise that has resonance. It needn’t take much, but something needs to jump off the page, something that hooks the reader and makes them want to know what happens next. A diamond in the rough can be polished, but a writer needs to display some storytelling aptitude. A good ear for language always helps. Many of the tools of constructing a novel can be learned but there does need to be evidence of a basic driving force – a passion to communicate a particular set of ideas.

Andrew Nurnberg AssociatesA fresh voice excites me. Great pace, superbly drawn characters, authenticity and a strong plot keep me interested.
Anji PratapSince the nature or quality of an author’s work does not impinge on whether or not I will negotiate a contract for them I am, happily, no longer one of the gatekeepers of taste and my answer will be largely irrelevant. I say happily because I think the whole process at the moment is very skewed. As an agent I was one of a relatively small number of people who have (mainly negative) power over whether a work sees the light of day. I found it frustrating that editors couldn’t share my passion for something but, by the same token, as an agent I found it impossible to take on a work that I didn’t enjoy reading as a consumer. Because the people making the editorial decisions can’t possibly represent the breadth of consumer taste not all things that could and would be read and enjoyed by the consumer actually are. And I didn’t relish being part of that process.

So, with that proviso in mind, what keeps me interested is something that makes me forget that I’m reading – for fiction where my brain feels hard-wired to the alternative reality being created and for non-fiction where my interest is piqued to a mental hunger. In both cases this is incredibly difficult to do. To make something that appears so effortless requires tremendous effort.

Apostrophe BooksOriginal ideas and distinctive voice every time. After that, it's all about the organization of those ideas, and that includes everything from clean presentation to memorable word choice, sentence fluency, good grammar and spelling.
A Stage KindlyAlthough we are open to producing any fantastic piece of Musical Theatre or Modern Opera, we do prefer sung-through work to plays-with-songs. We welcome distinctively European and British musical dramas (as opposed to American musical comedies) though our main concerns are that the piece has an appeal to an audience, that our audience will enjoy it, and that the show will have been worth producing. Lesser concerns include that the piece should warrant having been written, and particularly justify having been written as a musical as opposed to as a play. What value does the piece give to the world: is it legitimately entertaining, educative, groundbreaking, or otherwise? Who would want to see it, and why? This needs to be clear and apparent. Does it showcase the voice as an instrument, or perhaps as a unique tool for emotional expression? Are there any moments when everything comes together in euphony – the music, the poetry, the singing, the movement, and the drama – to send shivers down the spectator’s spine? Is there pathos, catharsis? What keeps us interested depends on the genre of the piece. Is it hilariously entertaining, funny, and either escapist or apt? Or is it tragic and dramatic and moving? Each piece is different, and of course what makes one piece work is not a rule that can be universally applied. And that is essentially what makes writing, producing, or enjoying a musical such special experiences.
Backhand StoriesI once read that the measure of a good story is that what the author wanted to say couldn't be said in any other possible way, apart from the words that he or she had placed on the page.

Meaning is important.

I've read so many short stories (and written several too!) that on the surface appear well written, but don't touch you at all. I want to read a piece, then spend at least the next ten minutes, and preferably the next ten days, thinking about it. And if that meaning can be squeezed into a couple of hundred words, all the better.

However, I'm a sucker for a great turn of phrase too. Sometimes a well rendered description, an image that resonates, is all I need.
Writersroom BBCGreat characters and an emotional connection with them. Boldness of ideas. A story that hooks and grips you from beginning to end. Writers that bring something fresh and unusual to an archetype or genre. Dialogue that sparkles and feels authentic. Stories we’ve never heard before. Perspectives we’ve never seen before. Narratives with a sense of dynamic structure and momentum. Stories which are passionately told and emotionally bold. Ideas that show a sense of ambition and intelligence in the writer.
BlackberryIt’s a bit like a camel, hard to describe but you know one when you see one. As a screenwriter myself I recognise the ‘magic’ you need to pull the reader into the story and keep them reading on.
Bruce JamesThe synopsis of a piece of writing is important because we do get lots of work sent to us. If we can’t get excited about the synopsis then we may cast it aside at that stage. Once we have started to read it is important it grips you or makes you laugh or cry or at least feel compelled to read further from near the outset and doesn’t have long drawn out character building scenes unless these are wholly necessary for the piece.
Cheeky MaggotMuch the same as with acting- passion, truth, a story to tell, uniqueness and originality and something that has a journey to make. It’s a sixth sense really. You can “feel” a good piece of writing. Also a message of some sorts- what is the writer trying to say?
ChromaWhat excites you about a piece of writing?
The voice. I love a story with a distinct and exciting voice; the kind of voice that makes me think: no-one but this specific writer could have written this story, or this poem. I don’t care how much the plot of a story is full of suspense or humour or horror; if the voice telling the story doesn’t engage me, I’ll stop reading. I love writing that takes me to places I’ve never been, whether physically or psychologically. I love writing that teaches me something about myself, that shows a kind of courage I don’t always have, that is prepared to take thematic and emotional risks.

City-LitThat’s a very good question especially as it’s one at the heart of our city-lit series. Basically it’s the X Factor: lively, interesting and compelling writing that just zings off the page. For the city-lit series it could be bestselling or literary writing, non-fiction, blogs or journalism – as long as it says something that hasn’t been said before and in a fresh and different way. Personally I just love ‘voice’ – Alan Bennett, Margaret Atwood, Maeve Binchy, and Joan Didion have this to the n’th degree and I’d read them until the cows come home. It’s when you trust a writer and just feel you’re in amazing company. I just wish more writers had it.
Darley AndersonI love all types of fiction but especially escapist, feel-good women’s fiction that makes me laugh and cry all in one read.
David SmithI suppose the most important single factor at first would be the imagination with which words are deployed. That doesn’t mean prose laden with obscure words and loads of adjectives and adverbs. Quite the reverse, really. You can be poetic and lyrical without excess. It’s the discipline, the flare and the surprise that really hook me. If I see that on the first page of something I’m pretty confident that the author has something special. After that of course other factors become important – most notably character development and narrative. You have to create people who seem authentic and who command our attention and sometimes empathy. And you have to get your story going and keep it going.

What’s also appealing is the awareness that you’re being taken somewhere unfamiliar – whether it’s a place, or a time, or a field of human experience. Originality of setting and subject is invaluable – it could be China in the 9th Century, England during the Civil War, Camden Town during the drought of 1976, Iraq during the coalition invasion or contemporary Edinburgh during the daily school run. There are no rules but freshness.

E and T BooksSomething that’s witty and innovative, without being overly weird!
Earlyworks PressLearning! Especially about the nature of people and communications. When a piece challenges an idea I’ve had, or demonstrates something I hadn’t realised before, I’m absolutely enthralled but, to quote an old chestnut, don’t tell me, show me – I like to do my learning through a good story.
Five Leaves I like to know the writer, or to have been at a reading by them, so that I can hear their voice clearly when I am reading the book. There are some tremendous readers - the Scottish poet Jackie Kay and the Irish novelist Bernard MacLaverty for example - whose voices stay with you whenever you read any of their work. Fortunately my day job involves running a large live literature and festival programme so I get to hear lots of writers.
Flicking LizardI love writing that has spirit. The author is communicating with you with feeling. I've read plenty of authors whose first published book was their best, because there is this freshness and feeling that comes through in their work. It is hard to keep this going. The brilliant writers seem to retain this freshness throughout their careers.
Fuselit MagazineIt can be a number of things – usually I can tell very early on whether I like a piece or not, but occasionally something will grow on me and I’ll simply suggest a couple of edits. Unless a piece is really not for us, I’ll try and discuss options with the author for ways in which I think it can be improved, then listen to what they have to say.

But you asked what excites us. This list is by no means comprehensive or failsafe, many of the components contradict one another and including these things doesn’t guarantee we’ll go crazy for a contribution, but here goes: Unusual, quirky; mixed genres; well-thought-out titles (not just the key word whacked at the top); cheeky; subversive; delicious; deviant; sharp; toned; considered line breaks (for all poetry except prose poetry); perverting the cliché; cartoon characters; caustic observation; light-heartedness; conviction; focus; dialect; thought put into every aspect of composition, whether that thought is to be deliberately slapdash or deliberately meticulous; form; lack of form; new form. All this and more. Surprise us.
Gold DustMe personally – it’s first and foremost the quality of the prose itself, rather than the story or plot – but as I’m not the only judge, there’s a chance for all kinds of writing to shine!
Greenhouse Literary AgencyI get asked this a lot, and my answer is always the same: story. Everybody wants to lose themselves in a really good story, whether it’s in book format, on the television, as a film, or in the pub when somebody is recounting something that’s happened to them. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an adult or a child, consider yourself a ‘reader’ or a non-reader. We all want the sheer joy of being submerged in a good tale.

Aside from that, I am always on the look out for something original. (It’s surprising how many people start their submission letter by saying ‘This is influenced by Harry Potter/The Hunger Games/Mortal Instruments/insert latest trend here’. I know why they do it, but it makes a little part of me groan. I want to see something original!)

And, of course, ‘voice’ is always vital. I love writing that is buzzing with energy and freshness, where the writer is in control of their narrative.
CornerstonesIf I read something that tests my emotions, and I learn something, and if I keep turning the page to find out how the characters will react and what happens next, then I love it. It is also very much to do with voice: do I like it and am I intrigued, and do I want to go on the journey with him/her. But the test of time is the language and characters. Writing that I’m passionate about echoes within me for years. It somehow sticks to the fabric of who you are. For instance, I read a MS five years ago by one of the authors in the above list who’s now due to meet an agent. Her weaving, lyrical style and fresh imagery and real characters stayed with me. I tried placing her with an agent back then but couldn’t – they just didn’t bite. I then ran a ‘Wowfactor’ competition in which she was shortlisted with her second novel. Her second novel has had a similar effect on me and it now looks like she’s ready to be published, or the industry is ready for her. Either way, I’m so glad she persevered.
Into The VoidWhat excites me more than anything is writing that comes straight from the writer's soul, as all good writing should, I think. This doesn't have to mean that it's about the writer's life or is in any way connected to the writer's life; it means that the writer believes in it and puts every shred of herself into it. When the writer pours herself into her writing and works on every story as if it's her masterpiece, the reader feels it subconsciously. Like a kind of sixth sense. As Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” When I read writing like that, I get chills.
Joanna Moorhead Partly it’s to do with creating something whole and meaningful and interesting out of a hotch-potch of conversations and ideas and research papers and views: I like the idea that my desk looks like a tip but from it I manage to pull together a piece that’s ordered, and sensible, and straightforward and hopefully useful. I also like the challenge of starting with a blank screen and having to sculpt and carve ideas out of your brain onto it to make an article.
Komedy KollectiveThe belief we are pioneers, and that through plays like Restart, we will create a new type of all-action theatre that will steal the thunder on movies, television, and the world wide web.

Lamplands literary journal for childrenI like writing that’s pared right back --- writing that couldn’t lose another word and still make sense. Sentences calibrated for lyricism and efficiency. I think the efficiency of poetry can be achieved in prose, too. Findings by Kathleen Jamie proves this, as well as A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, and The Iron Man by Ted Hughes.

I’m kept interested by anything that doesn’t say as much as it could, though I seldom have the restraint myself. I would argue to do away with any adverb in my writing or yours and am happy not to be fed a character’s motivations, or even their thoughts. I like characters that move through a story like glaciers shaping valleys or like a tripped waiter snatching at the tablecloth and taking the crockery with him.

Laura WilkinsonI like writing like I like my cake – unique, rich, satisfying, fruity, aromatic, unexpected and while not exactly dense, not too light and fluffy either. Like a great passion cake I guess.

Having said this I’m not at all adverse to a bitter after taste – I’m thinking along the lines of Annie Proulx or Alice Munro here. I like to be surprised too, so hooks are very important, whether it comes from character or plot. Clear, lean prose, beautiful imagery, compelling voice and narrative, emotional truth. It’s all in the detail.

A strong, intriguing beginning is essential if I’m to continue reading and given hagsharlotsheroines’ origins it will come as no surprise to hear that unconventional protagonists who turn gender stereotypes on their heads also help to keep me on board. I’m a fan of the hags and the harlots who, either by design or accident, become heroines. Writers like Fay Weldon, Angela Carter, Philippa Gregory and Sarah Waters are brilliant at this. I like to be taken to uncharted emotional landscapes.
The London MagazineIt’s hard to identify, but it’s nearly always immediate. Within the first paragraph you can usually tell if something has potential, although I do try to stick it out to the end! A striking voice, original ideas and imagery are all things that I look for. As for style I am not a stickler for any one form.
London Script ConsultancyThe first thing anyone in the industry will ask about your film, is what is the high concept? If the high concept is a unique, strong and fresh idea that is exciting. What really keeps the attention of the audience is a strong well-crafted structure. The piece itself must also have depth with an important message.
Long Barn BooksSUSAN: Style, confidence, an air of the writer knowing what they are doing, something exciting and unusual in the opening paragraphs – quite simply, a story that makes me want to go on reading.

JESSICA: As Susan says, that tug that catches your interest and perks you up, makes you want to find out what happens next. Writing that’s evocative, that takes you somewhere new.

Macmillan New WritingThe same things that excite any reader, I think: polished prose, engaging characters, a compelling narrative, convincing dialogue, vivid imagery, an original and persuasive authorial voice.

MBA Literary AgentsI ask to see the first few chapters of a book and a synopsis (sent by post), I don’t accept email submissions although other colleagues at MBA do.
It’s incredibly important that the beginning of the book – the first few pages – is as good and original as possible. That’s what makes us sit up. A clear, fluent writing style and a good dramatic situation and above all a character you immediately want to know more about. Also the synopsis needs to be short (ie no more than a couple of pages) and clear. If you can describe the novel in a sentence – ie The Silence of the Lambs meets Henning Mankell (sounds crass I know, but it does really help!) – that is really useful for agents and publishers. It’s amazing how often we have to ‘pitch’ book ideas, to colleagues, foreign publishers, film producers, editors etc etc and the more you can make any of these overworked people sit up with as few words as possible – the better!
Mighty EruditeIt’s a barely tangible thing and comes down to a combination of things plus the addition of something electric. In fiction it’s the intensity of the characters, setting and plot with a strong dose of beautiful writing and originality. With poetry it’s even harder to define and probably comes down to the “goose bump factor”; words, lines and stanzas that shift something in the reader and those sharp shocks of recognition.
Mike Wilson The best thing is when you have an idea, sit down and the words just pour out of your mind through your pen or keyboard onto the page. I've had a few pieces like that - poetry and prose - and they seem to need very little editing. I once visited a display about a proposed marina in the town and gathered a few publicity pamphlets. A quickly written letter to the local editor was published and I seemed to have hit a chord because someone stopped me in the street to congratulate me. I then realised that writing was a way of persuading other people to consider something they've paid little attention to. I think I'm a bog standard, nuts and bolts, bricks and mortar writer. I have no illusions that what I write is clever or thought-provoking. Only the writer knows whether he/she is satisfied with the result. If that is so, that's fine. But one cannot expect everyone to agree with you. And it's getting others to accept that you're a writer that matters. I still - after some years now - wouldn't describe myself as a writer. I write, yes. I drive a car, yes. But that doesn't make me a driver - one who could give Michael Schumacher a run for his brass. That's a driver!
Patricia CumperWriting that has heart and energy, writing that shows that the writer has taken the time to understand not just the skin but the muscle and bones of the story he or she is telling, writing that tells me something I didn’t know, or prods me into looking at something I thought I knew in a different way; that is what excites me.

Poolbeg PressA page-turner keeps me excited – a gripping story that I can’t put down – this can be humorous, emotional or quite dark.
Our challenge if we have a book at Poolbeg Press, is to try and get that message across to the public – we are lucky that in Ireland the Poolbeg Press brand is pretty well known – people who buy our books generally know what to expect.
Sean Costello The sense of vitality you get from an author who knows his characters and the world they inhabit so thoroughly that the book seems to have a life beyond the words on the page.
ShearsmanI’m only interested in poetry — at least from a publishing perspective — and the first thing that hits me is language. Secondly, I like unpredictability: poetry does not have to be in prose rhythms; nor does it need to be in strict forms; it does not have to feature sentence-based syntax; it does not have to be drawn from personal experience. It DOES need to show some evidence of having HAD to be written.

Short Story Radio
I read many hundreds of short stories each year and I am always looking for something with a character or a plot that will grab me straight away, make me care about what I am reading, and transport me into the writer's world. When that happens it is a great feeling.
Slightly Foxed An author who has found his/her own voice, so that you feel they are speaking directly to you. An author who knows how to select – what to put in and, just as important, what to leave out – which gives the book pace. Structure, simplicity, colour, humour.
Smith BrowneJust seeing a poem through another's eyes is very exciting. Writing and reading can be such solitary experiences, that it is thoroughly stimulating (for your own writing as well as your own reading pleasure) to get a glimpse into how another human being has parsed her or his encounter with a poem you yourself may have a particularly deep relationship with. It's also wonderful to discover a poem or a poet you'd never heard of via the medium of another reader's eyes.

TenebrisOne of the most wonderful things about a book with this darkness of mood is that the reader is constantly searching for a safe place to take a breath. When a book really draws me in and gives me a subtle hint that everything is not right in its world, I want to feel that desire for a haven for the characters, especially if this keeps me turning pages right until the end. And it can be a brilliant and terrible thing when that safe place never materialises.
The EphemeraA sense of the unexpected in content and style.
The LadyIt is important – in a short story – that there is a beginning, a middle and an end. Although it may seem obvious, many stories that are sent in don’t have an ending! Believable, sympathetic characters and good descriptive writing is appreciated. It is a difficult task to deliver this in a story 2000 to 2200 words long, but it can be done.
Tumbleweed TVAll the usual things – getting drawn into a new world, being entertained, wanting to find out what happens next and why, being made to laugh/cry. Sometimes you can really see what the writer is writing – I mean this in a truly visual way – like scenes from a film playing in your head. That’s obviously really exciting for me with my producer’s/director’s hat on, as it immediately gets you enthused and hooked into a project.
Unthank BooksWe like books that have a noticeable and vivid style and which are not afraid to veer from the bland and predictable. We enjoy new ideas, strange visions and parallel universes which still manage to say something about our world and how we live now.
Vanessa CurtisI get excited by a piece of fiction when I immediately get a strong hint of that elusive 'voice' which carries a narrative through and provides the reader with a strong sense of the novel's protagonist. I also love quirky, contemporary fiction for young adults and the ability that some authors have to inject humour without it being overpowering. I love reading about characters who have an element of the unexpected about them and always recommend that when drawing characters, a writer gives them some hobby or attribute or mannerism that will make the reader sit up and take notice.
View and HissI love a book that connects with me emotionally and lyrically. The kind of book that both manages to have a good story and is filled with things that makes me stop for a moment at the wonder of it.
Will Kerley Really good dialogue that takes off the page; as soon as you read it you know the writer’s onto something. You can teach a writer anything, structure, plotting etc, but you simply can’t teach the writing of effective dialogue. And that doesn’t mean it has to be naturalistic. But it does have to be crunchy, not bland and formulaic, as if produced by a script committee.
Writer's MuseMany things. It could be the story, the style of writing, the structure; even seeing a piece that uses odd words – words that don’t “do the rounds” ordinarily. Sounds peculiar, I know. I think part of the interest and excitement is a form of exploration or discovery, and even a kind of arrogance!

Each time I start to read a piece I’m wondering along the lines of, “What’s round the next corner?” “How are you going to keep me interested?” The arrogance comes in trying to outguess the writer – see ahead and work out the twist, the outcome. Then excitement can come when the writer outsmarts you and pulls off something that you just didn’t expect.

Reading can be a relaxing pastime. Sometimes, though, it’s not a passive pursuit – you have to work at it to understand the work, to follow the plot, the story, the meanderings. It’s the sign of a good writer that they can make readers work harder. There becomes a form of symbiosis between the two. That’s rewarding for the reader in having read a satisfying piece by a gifted writer; but it’s also gratifying for the writer, knowing that someone out there will have “connected”.

An exercise I used to teach was ‘The Hook’. I’d bring in first lines of stories and novels and go through them with groups. A good hook will make an astute reader have to know more; a good hook will show volumes and promise the potential of more to come.

There are still many times when I open a new submission, read the first line or two, and know I’m in for a good time. Sometimes there’s almost poignancy in coming to the end of a piece and thinking, “I wish I’d written/thought of/done that!”
Writer's NewsProbably because of my background in journalism, a tempting beginning is always welcome - although a smart intro has to be backed up by the rest of the offering. The rest of it needs to be, well, an interesting read.
The Writers' WorkshopGood prose, obviously, but, in terms of being able to secure an agent, it’s very important that the book has a solid plot to keep you turning the pages.
ZocaloAdam: As someone who writes, the first thing that excites me when reading someone else’s work is the feeling of “Where did that come from?” I love to read a piece of writing that I know I could never have written. To feel that you are listening to someone who is not imitating, not trying to sound like this or that, but really writing from within…

Darran: Different things are exciting/depressing at different times, depending on when, where and how you come to them. I’ve not been especially stimulated by things on a first reading, but then immensely so on coming back to them, or sometimes a particular phrase or idea from something I’d pretty much passed over comes rising up as extremely relevant/pertinent at this moment (Tom Waits: “Never heard the melody till I needed the song”).

Adeline: I’m excited by anything that feels alive. I can read books that would not be considered ‘good literature’ if the author has a passion for what they are telling. I am most excited by the drive behind the writing, and best appreciate styles which do not draw attention to themselves but allow the reader to become absorbed in the world the author is creating.

Rob: Tight, hard, innovative writing, well fleshed out characters and visionary plotting or setting, as well as a disguised theme beneath the work (i.e. what it’s really about). Most important of all, however, is great atmosphere. All will be forgiven for great atmosphere.