An insight into the publishing world…

Posts tagged ‘interview’

Introducing Head of Publisher Relations Karen Brodie

Today’s People in Publishing interview is with the very successful and impressive Karen Brodie, Head of Publisher Relations at The Reading Agency. I am such an admirer of the work that they do at The Reading Agency, and I’m very jealous of Karen for playing such a huge role in it! She’s worked extremely hard for what she’s achieved, and has been recognised for this hard work as a BookSeller Rising Star. Below, she discusses her work and her career journey in publishing.

Karen Brodie

Please introduce yourself and give an overview of your career so far.

I’m Head of Publisher Relations at The Reading Agency. I started in publishing in Edinburgh and then worked at HarperCollins and Penguin in the rights departments. I expanded my international experience at the British Council, working on literature projects overseas to strengthen cultural relations for the UK, including the first literature festival in Kurdish Iraq, a language-learning radio programme where I interviewed authors for broadcast across Africa and an Arabic-English translation conference. I moved to Istanbul to manage the Turkish partnerships and programme for Turkey Market Focus at The London Book Fair and stayed a second year in Turkey as Head of Arts, extending my arts experience to work on film, fashion, visual arts, music and digital projects. I returned to London with the Iran team to develop the British Council’s UK-Iran programme. Nine months ago I took the job at The Reading Agency. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have had such interesting experiences and have met lots of inspiring people.

How did you come to work for The Reading Agency?

After returning to the UK, I was keen to reconnect with publishing. The role at The Reading Agency was a unique opportunity to bring together my literature background in both the private and public sectors. It was a challenging interview with stiff competition and I was so pleased to be offered the job.

Can you explain a little bit about your role and your responsibilities at The Reading Agency?

The Reading Agency is a national charity which specialises in inspiring more people to read more and encouraging them to share their enjoyment of reading with others. There’s a strong body of research to show that reading for pleasure improves wellbeing and empathy, and develops skills to support people throughout their lives. As Head of Publisher Relations I work with an excellent team developing and managing relationships with publishers and the wider industry to help us deliver The Reading Agency’s programmes for adults, young people and children.

We work with a huge variety of partners in the publishing industry and it’s my responsibility to identify and agree mutually beneficial partnerships across our programmes. The Reading Agency has a unique relationship with public libraries and I work to build and strengthen relationships between publishers and public libraries to reach more readers and find creative ways to promote authors. It’s a hugely varied role which includes managing commercial relationships and CSR relationships with publishers, developing our reading groups network, and contributing to the Radio 2 book club selection panels.

How did it feel, after all of your hard work, to be named a BookSeller Rising Star?

It was hugely encouraging and rewarding to be recognised by the industry for the contribution I’ve made to The Reading Agency in such a short time. And there’s still so much I’d like to do.

What would you say is the most rewarding about your job? What makes you feel like you’ve really made a big impact?

There are so many things! We have compelling evidence from participants in our programmes that The Reading Agency’s work has prompted attitudinal and behavioural change. It’s motivating to hear personal stories from people who have completed our Reading Ahead challenge or received a book given out on World Book Night. There are some examples here

I really enjoy finding ways to reach non-traditional audiences. I’m always excited about working with diverse partners and creating unique opportunities to reach new readers. It’s fantastic to get feedback from librarians, publishers or readers when a promotion has made a real impact.

Equally, what is the most challenging and why?

It can be a challenge to balance the needs and priorities of publishers, libraries and reading groups who operate in very different contexts. My role is to help our partners understand each other and facilitate meaningful collaborations. Although not all partnerships are straightforward, we all want to get more people reading and it’s this shared agenda that always prevails.

Once we get people reading we want to keep them reading and empower them to choose their own books, share their ideas and inspire others to read.

In what ways do libraries and publishers innately differ in terms of how they operate and how do you work to bridge that gap between the two? What would you say is the key to successful partnerships?

Although publishers largely have a commercial focus and libraries a cultural one, the two approaches are not mutually exclusive and both partners complement each other’s strengths. Both bring creativity, expertise and resources to every project. At The Reading Agency, we provide several opportunities throughout the year for our library and publisher partners to meet, exchange information, share ideas and plan promotions. The most successful partnerships develop when both partners are clear about what they want to achieve from the project, and are communicative and committed.

 What would you say are some of the key ways in which you and your company help attract people to reading?

 We work with public libraries, schools, colleges, workplace and prisons across the country to take reading into different places and help people find a way into reading for pleasure. Once we get people reading we want to keep them reading and empower them to choose their own books, share their ideas and inspire others to read.

We work with publishers to design and deliver fun, imaginative activities which encourage people to engage with books in new ways, discover new authors and genres, and make reading social so it becomes something shared with friends and family. Through our programmes we create promotions and events in the heart of communities and encourage volunteers to act as reading ambassadors, sharing their passion with others.

How can we, as people working in the book industry, help attract a wider audience?

We are all familiar with bookshops, libraries and the variety of stories and information available to read, but many non-readers feel overwhelmed by these.  We’re all passionate advocates for reading and are in the perfect position to support non-readers to find the right books to inspire them, and give them the confidence to talk more about books. For information about how individuals or companies can get involved in our work and reach new readers email info@readingagency.org.uk

As always, please leave questions and comments in the box below and we will get them answered for you!

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Introducing Illustrator and Children’s Author Claire Barker

I’m very excited to host this week’s interview with the sweet and multi-talented children’s author and illustrator Claire Barker. We met online through a mutual friend and she amazes me with her numerous talents and abilities while maintaining a down-to-earth attitude and lovely personality. Here she discusses her upcoming children’s book and her work as an illustrator and painter.

Is that Knitbone?! ;)

Is that Knitbone?! 😉

Please introduce yourself to my readers and give us a brief overview of your career.

Hello! I’m the author of Knitbone Pepper –Ghost Dog. I live on a small farm in North Devon with my husband, daughters and an assortment of animals. In the past I’ve lived in cities, on boats and in townhouses, but I always gravitate back to the countryside. I’ve done lots of different jobs including being an illustrator and a teaching assistant. I suspect my most important writing influence has been being a parent, because it has taught me so much about what children like to hear about. The natural extension of this was to pick up a pen and start writing.

Tell us a little bit about Knitbone Pepper and the books you have coming out shortly in this series. How did they come about?

Knitbone Pepper is a result of pondering the close friendship between my youngest daughter and our old dog. I started to wonder why I hadn’t seen more stories about animal ghosts. If they are mentioned they are either terrifying (Hound of the Baskervilles) or incidental (the steeds of headless horsemen) and this seemed out of step and rather unfair when I find most animals to be delightful. I’d noticed dogs that waited patiently outside shops, or even at bus stops, for their owners. I imagined that a loyal animal spirit would be far too busy pining for their person to worry about being scary. Animals don’t have an ego like humans so their motivation would be rather different to a human ghost, which is when I came up with the idea of a Beloved, a special type of animal ghost. Then Knitbone Pepper arrived in my head: an unusual dog with an unusual name who has to make the best of an unusual situation. Throw in a bunch of crazy animal spirits from different centuries, a 904 year old tumbledown house and a sparky little girl and I had the makings of the Starcross world.

The first book comes out on the 1st August 2015. The next one is due out in the spring of 2016 and is to be called Knitbone Pepper and the Last Circus Tiger. Another will follow in the autumn. I’ve seen the artwork and they are just beautiful! I’m beyond thrilled about the whole thing.

Knitbone Pepper

Knitbone Pepper

What are you most excited about?

I’m really excited about visiting schools and talking to children about the book. The Knitbone series will be coming out as audiobooks and the idea of someone voicing the characters is thrilling. It’s been bought by various countries around the world and the idea of children in China or Spain reading a story that I thought up at my kitchen table in Devon is incredible. It’s beyond my wildest dreams really.

When you decided to start writing, what made you decide to write children’s fiction?

I think it chose me, particularly as I entered this world through the door of illustration. It never really occurred to me to write for adults. I have an English Literature and History degree, so I’ve read some wonderful, rather serious books over the years, but the stories that really stick with me are from my childhood. I had a particularly treasured copy of Illustrated Tales from Shakespeare that I loved. I still have it in fact. Children’s books are powerful signposts that can point the way for the rest of your life. I can remember what it felt like to be a child quite clearly.

How do you become a successful children’s writer?

I’ll let you know when I’ve become one! I think having confidence in your instinctive writer’s voice, a dollop of persistence and a great ladle of luck goes a long way.

What do you need to know or understand in order to write effectively for children?

In my experience children are extraordinarily wise and clear-sighted. They have an excellent sense of humour and their minds are full of possibility. Listening very carefully to children’s views on the world is always time well-spent.

Knitbone Pepper and illustration

Knitbone Pepper and illustration

You now live in Devon. How does living in such a place help you with your writing?

Devon is a landscape humming with its own stories. I’ve lived here for over 20 years and I can’t imagine living anywhere else. Whilst the countryside is associated with peace and calm it’s actually quite a busy place. The mornings here are full of loud birdsong and the inky nights are stuffed with stars. Not a day goes by when I don’t see a deer or a hare or buzzard. Once, I was woken up by the terrifying clatter of owls fighting outside the bedroom window. As I can’t help but give them all back-stories it’s quite a daily workout.

Did you have any say about who illustrates your books?

Yes, my publishers always ask for my thoughts. I was initially a bit nervous as the characters are so distinctive in my head, but when Usborne showed me Ross’s sketches I knew straightaway he was the perfect choice.

Why is it important for you to have an illustrator who understands your books?

Knitbone Pepper is a story with a bitter-sweet edge. It takes a special illustrative talent to convey both sadness and wild humour. I think Ross and I have a similarly quirky view of the world and I think we compliment each other’s styles. It feels like he’s been rummaging around in my head which has been a fascinating experience. The wonderful thing about this entire series is that everybody involved, from my agent to my publisher, has ‘got it’ from the outset. I’m overjoyed by the results.

Characters arrive on the doorstep of my head like unannounced visitors.

You are also a very talented painter and illustrator. How do you find the time to paint, and draw, and write, and be a mother?

That’s very kind of you to say so. I do this by being a terrible slacker on the housework front. I will drop all domestic duties with the slightest encouragement to do something more interesting.

On your website you say that in the past you’ve drawn and painted the characters you’re writing. How vividly can you picture your characters as you’re writing them?

Very vividly. They arrive on the doorstep of my head like unannounced visitors. Sometimes they need a bit of tweaking, but only a bit. I always start with a cast of characters and then I need to build them a world in which to live. I’m one of those very visual people with pitiful maths skills.

And finally, do get any time to read? If so, what book recently have you loved?
I love Kate Atkinson’s writing. I thought Life after Life was brilliant and I’m about to read her new one. I was mightily impressed by Mal Peet’s Murdstone Trilogy. There are certain books I read again and again for comfort, like Cider With Rosie. Most of the time though, as soon as my head hits the pillow I’m asleep. Unless I’m woken up by fighting owls of course.

Likes tea...my kind of lady!

Likes tea…my kind of lady!

You can follow Claire Barker on Twitter here.

Her instagram account can be found here.

Read more about Claire Barker the author on this site.

Learn more about Claire as an illustrator and check out her work here!

Have a question for Claire? Post it below and I will get it answered for you!

And of course you can find her on Facebook here.

Introducing Children’s Author Annie Dalton

I was extremely excited to conduct this particular Q&A. Today’s interview is with a children’s author Annie Dalton, a woman who can I say with complete confidence is probably the reason I am who I am today: a book lover, passionate about publishing and writing.

I first came across Annie’s books in my local library when I was eleven years old. I can still picture it now; I know people have always said you should never judge a book by its cover, but I was eleven, and that’s exactly what I did. What child doesn’t? The bright, vibrant, happy, colourful front cover called out to me the moment I set eyes on it. It was the first book in the Angels Unlimited Series: Winging It. From that point onwards, I was hooked.

winging it

The beautiful artwork on the Angels Unlimited Winging It book. Here is my (well-worn and read!) copy that I’ve had for 13 years.

Growing up in high school was an extremely difficult time for me. My triplet sisters and I were heavily bullied; it was one of those situations where, if you were different or stood out like a sore thumb as we did, you were either destined to be very popular or the victims of bullying. Sadly, we were the latter. Identical triplets could have been ‘cool’, but we were far too obedient and hard-working and we stayed true to ourselves, rather than changing to fit in. And in a rough, working-class, badly-performing school, that was a recipe for disaster. (It turned out to be the best thing later in life, but kids can be very cruel.)

Annie’s books were the absolute perfect form of escapism for me. That may sound cliché, but clichés exist for a reason. I was immediately drawn to Melanie Beeby, the time-travelling angel. I identified with her because despite the fact that she was an angel in the most sublime place in the universe (Heaven itself, in fact!) she still often felt insecure, isolated, and inferior. All emotions which I felt on a daily basis. But the fact that she could become something so special – and surrounded by people so special – gave me some kind of hope for myself. It was the promise of something special for me, a girl who felt ordinary, mistreated and inadequate, that drew me back to the Angels Unlimited world over and over again.

My collection of (first edition) Angels books. For later novels, the covers were re-designed and renamed Agent Angel.)

My collection of (first edition) Angels books. For later novels, the covers were re-designed and renamed Agent Angel.)

I became such a huge fan of these books that I did a little digging and found Annie’s email address on the HarperCollins website. I emailed her, telling her of my love of her books and Melanie’s world. To my astonishment, she replied! We began talking and BOOM! Ever since then I have had a strong friendship with my most favourite author on the planet. This woman got me and my sisters through some dark days. She then did the most amazing thing – she based some characters in one of her books on the three of us! In the sixth book of the Angels Unlimited series, Fighting Fit, a set of identical triplets based in Ancient Rome were separated at birth, and now lead completely different lives. Mel Beeby’s job is to reunite them or the future of the human race will be in grave danger!

2014-08-10 18.23.23

A form of me finally lived within the pages of my favourite books in the world! I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy as a child.

Throughout my teenaged years, into adulthood and the real, scary, world, Annie has been a true friend and a constant support to me. I’m extremely happy to share her story with you in this Q&A.

At what point did you realise that you wanted to write professionally?

Some people have more than one string to their bow, but I am not one of those people. The only thing I have ever known how to do is to write stories and it took me thirty plus years to get up the courage to do that! Writing for me has always seemed like a natural extension of reading but also of being a compulsive talker and daydreamer. I was always getting in trouble for talking, day-dreaming, or not concentrating at school. I never secretly dreamed of being a published writer when I was a child, as some writers apparently did, simply because (and this is rather embarrassing) I had absolutely no idea that books were written by people! To me, books and the stories inside them were some kind of glorious natural phenomenon that I never thought to question; like apples and clouds, they just were. I did however have an immediate and intense feeling of connection with the world of children’s fiction. Something inside me said, ‘Oh, yes!’ And like a struck tuning fork this childhood ‘Yes’ carried on reverberating over the years, sometimes louder, sometimes pushed into the background, until one day, when my youngest daughter was at school, I sat down at the kitchen table and finally gave into an increasingly powerful impulse to attempt to write a book of my own. 2014-08-10 18.22.59

How did you get into writing, and how did your first book deal come about? How did you feel?

Becoming a writer was a gradual process. There wasn’t any one big epiphany, more like an accumulation of moments and influences. I grew up in 1950s Britain when few families owned a TV, and entertainment was commonly via the radio. After school, I listened to Children’s Hour on the Home Service, particularly dramatisations of popular children’s books like John Masefield’s The Midnight Folk and Rosemary Sutcliffe’s Eagle of the Ninth. At bedtime my mum read to me from our book of Grimm’s Fairytales. To be honest, she did mostly out of duty and stopped reading to me just as soon as I learned how to read for myself! But I didn’t care about her motivation, I just soaked it all up, the magic dog with eyes like cartwheels, the little boy who was murdered by his evil stepmother slamming down a chest lid on his head, everything! And during the short time he lived with us, my father actually made up stories in which I starred as the main character. So before I became a reader I was a listener, simultaneously creating the story in my imagination as I listened. Then I learned to read and my imagination was fired in other new and wonderful ways.

My first effort turned out to be a rather baggy fantasy for older children/teens called Out of the Ordinary and was rewarded with serious beginner’s luck. I immediately found an agent who sent my manuscript to Miriam Hodgson, the now legendary children’s editor, who saw some potential in my writing despite its flaws, and persuaded Methuen, as it then was, to publish it. I have been lucky enough to earn my living from my writing ever since.

I was not a clever or academic child. I failed my eleven plus and went to a secondary modern school where our teachers seemed irritated and resigned at the thought of having to teach us. It wasn’t an environment that was very conducive to love of learning. We basically just endured, teachers and pupils alike. Any education that I managed to glean, I owe almost entirely to my local library. But by the mid 60s, change was in the air. It was the totally opposite process of what is happening to young people today when so many doors are closing. A fresh breeze was blowing in the 60s and new opportunities were becoming available for educational misfits like me who would never have ticked all the old boxes. Despite my uneven A Level results, I managed to talk myself into the English department at the University of Warwick. When I handed in my first essay, my tutor commented, as school teachers had commented before him, ‘You write so well, but you never answer the question!’ I wasn’t being deliberately subversive. I just always felt that I would rather write about something that excited me and usually the set questions didn’t! I eventually left with a degree but my three years at Warwick had actually driven my vague longings to write even further underground. It was only once I had children of my own and discovered exciting new children’s writers like Diana Wynne Jones and Margaret Mahy, that I suddenly felt compelled to try to write my own. I always feel slightly embarrassed that my first book deal came about with virtually no effort on my part. A neighbour’s photographer son had recently written a children’s book using his own photographs as illustrations and had acquired an agent at Curtis Brown. When I told him that I was writing a book for children he offered to introduce us and did. That was it! It’s over twenty years ago now but I will never ever forget the feeling when my agent phoned me to tell me that Methuen were taking my book. The joy! Followed by rather less joy when the manuscript came back and I saw all the dozens of red scribbles – every scribble representing a crucial change that my editor wanted me to make!

Did you always set out to become a children’s writer?

Actually I started out writing really bad poetry! And I wrote a lot of first chapters for novels, some of them for adults and all fairly hopeless, though maybe not as bad as the poetry! But the first book I ever finished and had published was for children. My first love as a child was fantasy, though I never thought of fantasy as a genre when I was small. But I instinctively gravitated to books with some kind of magic in them – I’d include time slip stories in my personal magical category – so my initial instinct was to write the kind of novels for children that I had loved to read. I never really believed that I’d become a professional writer of any kind to be honest. With my first book I thought more in terms of giving something back, having been given so much. Like you I was pretty much saved by reading as a child. I thought of myself as just adding my small contribution to this already existing sea of stories. I didn’t think there would necessarily be any more where that came from! But over the years I have written in different genres and for different age groups of children. I was blessed with some wonderful reviews early on and have been shortlisted for various prizes including the Carnegie and the Nottingham Oak. But it wasn’t until I was asked to write a short story for a HarperCollins anthology to celebrate the millennium that I stumbled on the elusive holy grail of commercial success. The anthology was called Centuries of Stories and my contribution featured a thirteen-year-old time travelling angel called Melanie Beeby. HarperCollins loved the character and decided she deserved her own series. The series ran for twelve titles, became an international best seller, and was optioned for a feature film by Disney. As so often happens with options, this film was never made, and the books eventually slipped out of print – but, thanks to my daughter, they have recently been given new life as ebooks.

What would you say is your favourite of your books/work?

I think it’s probably true to say that whichever book I am writing, at the time of writing, is my favourite! This is because writing a book takes huge commitment and energy, or, to put it in simpler terms, love. While you’re writing and experiencing the inevitable ups and downs, frustrations and downright terror that go with writing, it’s that love, that totally irrational belief that this book is worth writing, that gets you through; just as love for your child will get you up in the night even when you are bug-eyed with exhaustion and can barely put one foot in front of the other. At different times I have been in love with all of my books. Then time passes and I tend to see only the flaws. Then more time passes and I fall back in love! I recently wrote a book for Barrington Stoke called Cherry Green, Story Queen, a kind of remix of Scheherazade, set in a foster home. I still love it. I once wrote three books about a small girl called Tilly Beany whose ungovernable imagination innocently causes havoc at school and home. I am still proud of that book. I am still very fond of some of my angel books. But I am also looking forward to falling in love with future books that I hope will be completely different to anything I have previously written.

How would you say, from your perception and point of view, the publishing world has changed from when you began writing to the present day? Anything changed for the better, or worse, in your opinion?

My perception is that today it tends to be sales departments that call the shots, where publishers were once more editorially led. When I started out, my editor Miriam would listen patiently as I talked through an incoherent tangle of ideas for new books, before carefully tweezing out the single tiny seedling of an idea that struck her as having most potential. ‘Just put a few words down on paper,’ she’d say cheerfully when we’d finished, ‘so I can run it by Acquisitions.’ And a week or two later I’d have a contract! This would never happen today. In those days, editors would often take a chance on an unknown writer, nurturing him or her along, investing time and energy that might or might not pay off. But children’s books were not such big business then, and there were fewer children’s writers trying to make a living than there are today. I don’t want to get into things being ‘better’ or ‘worse’. The changes are here now as our current reality. We’ll have to learn to adapt, to reinvent ourselves, possibly several times over, in order to survive. It’s no use being precious about it – no one asked us to be writers after all! – but I sometimes feel like a bit of a dimwit for not sufficiently appreciating my good fortune, for not realising that it was just a passing era, rather than a life-long magic ticket for being an author.

Can you describe the challenges and benefits of being a full-time author?

I have had times of feeling stuck in a writing desert or no-man’s land; wanting and needing fundamental changes in the way I work but not knowing how to bring this about. It’s a hideously familiar rerun of all those initial doubts and fears that paralysed me when I first started out, doubts and fears that I had foolishly imagined to be gone forever! People assume that with several published books under your belt, you must have acquired an unshakeable level of confidence. Sadly creativity doesn’t work like that. Rowan Colman, a hugely successful novelist, talks about a phenomenon she names ‘The Fear,’ a creativity-sucking terror, which is all the more terrifying obviously if writing is also how you feed and clothe your family.

On the other side of the scales is that incomparable excitement which comes with finally breaking into new writing territory; or the thrill of those rare but glorious days when both sides of your brain are suddenly joyously in synch and you feel as if you’re flying; or, yes, an unexpected film deal; or receiving a letter from a thirteen-year old girl confiding that reading your book is helping her to heal from the death of a sibling. On the benefits side of the scales I would also include being sent a bright pink working clock (complete with sparkly winged angel logo) made by eleven-year old triplet girls, now grown up, one of whom is hosting this blog!

You’ve recently re-released your Angels Unlimited books as ebooks, with new cover artwork and under the name of Angel Academy. Can you describe the challenges and benefits of republishing your Angels books as ebooks?

Republishing the Angels series has just been win-win all round. The first four books particularly were written to very strict deadlines, and often I was writing other books alongside. This meant that the writing wasn’t always as tight as I’d have liked. As part of the process of converting them to e-books I’ve been able to re-read and re-edit, taking out any extraneous fluff and also bringing them up to date. My daughter designed new covers, giving these books a more contemporary – and I hope more powerful and grownup – look. It makes me very happy to know that Mel’s cosmic adventures are being read by a new generation of readers.

 

To find out more about Annie, visit www.anniedaltonwriter.co.uk

 

 

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