An insight into the publishing world…

Posts tagged ‘libraries’

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 Library Assistant Rebecca Morris

Today I’m interviewing Rebecca Morris, a fellow Hull University English graduate and currently working as a library assistant near Cambridge while studying for a Masters degree. I lived with Becky for a year and her love and passion for reading and books rivals mine – and that’s saying something! I’m very excited that she’s attending this year’s London Book Fair with me. Here in this interview she discusses her love of literature and shares her experiences and views on how libraries are coping in this challenging and ever-changing industry…

Showing off her knitwear!

Showing off her knitwear!

Talk to me about your background in English and writing.

I’ve enjoyed reading books and writing stories ever since I was a child. English was always my favourite subject at school although I hadn’t originally planned to do it for my degree. At first,  I was planning on studying law at university as I felt it would set me up for a future career but when I started my AS levels and ordered some prospectuses I couldn’t help reading the sections about the English courses and my instinct told me to go for it. Looking back, it was definitely the right decision. Even though I wasn’t entirely sure what I would do with the degree, I felt it was important to do a subject I genuinely loved, and I would advise others to do the same.


What made you come to Hull University for your degree?

Choosing universities to apply to was a very difficult task especially for my course as you could do it at about 120 institutions so I couldn’t possibly read every single prospectus. I asked family for advice and I found out one of my aunts had gone to Hull University. After checking the English department’s website, I felt reasonably confident that I could achieve the grades they asked for and I liked the look of the course as I had the opportunity to choose all my modules in the second and third year. I loved that aspect of it because I was able to choose several interesting modules from the Victorian period and twentieth century. I did have to do some pre-1800 modules but I enjoyed the ones I took. I am pleased I made the decision to go to Hull.

A library provides an extremely valuable service and can be a lifeline for people who are lonely or might not have a lot of money.


What do you most enjoy reading?

I am prepared to give anything a go. As I’m studying children’s and young adult literature, I do feel it’s important to read books from that genre. I’m currently reading Cassandra Clare’s Clockwork Angel, a fantasy novel set in Victorian England. I’m quite into historical fiction, particularly texts set in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, though I tend to vary what I read a lot. I think the most important thing for me isn’t necessarily the genre but if there is a character I can strongly empathise with. When I was reading the last Harry Potter book, I remember getting very emotional and not wanting to read the end because I was convinced Harry was going to die. I practically begged my sister to spoil the ending for me just so I knew but I was glad I was brave enough to read on in the end!


Talk to me about your MA, and why did you choose to study that subject?

I was in my final year as an undergraduate and had to decide what to do after finishing. I actually came close to opting for law again as I found out I could do a conversion course for a year after finishing. However, I felt that it was a shame to leave studying English behind, as despite doing it since school there still seemed to be a lot to learn so I decided to apply for an MA course at the University of Hull. I had a choice of different programmes but because I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to specialise in at that point I chose the generic English Literature MA. The modules I took were in my favourite periods of study, the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I even developed an interest in art, as one of my modules examined the relationship between Victorian art and literature. My favourite module was Modern Children’s Literature and that inspired me to start exploring girls in children’s books for my PhD topic.


You are now currently studying for a PhD. Did you always want to stay in academia?

Whilst doing my first degree, it hadn’t really occurred to me that I would stay in academia but after starting my Masters, I thought that I would like to continue to PhD level and see if I could get into lecturing afterwards. For the first year of doing my PhD, I had been looking at potential conferences and journals to apply to so I could get relevant experience and I still do so now but I think I’ve changed my mind about academia. I don’t regret starting my PhD and will continue to study afterwards but I am hoping to pursue other career options.

What do you love most about being a PhD student?

Definitely being able to revisit old books from my childhood and read ones I missed out on! I’ve written two chapters so far. The first one compared Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan and the Wizard of Oz and the latest chapter analysed Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women series. I particularly enjoyed this chapter and I hadn’t read the sequels as a child so it was lovely to get an opportunity to read one. I also learned more about Alcott when reading her diary and letters which was fascinating. Aside from the studying aspects, I enjoy the fact that I’m doing it part-time as it makes it easier for me to work, volunteer and pursue my hobbies. It means it’ll take longer but I feel the extra benefits make it worthwhile.

There is no substitute for a physical book


You currently work at a library. Tell us more details about this.

After finishing my MA I decided to do my PhD from home as I felt I would have more opportunities to work and still spend plenty of time with my family. I went onto a volunteering website and saw that my local library were looking for volunteers so I sent an application in. My role was a Self-Service volunteer and I was responsible for shelving returned books and helping customers find books or use the library equipment. Eight months ago, I acquired a paid Saturday job there. I have more responsibilities on the front desk and I am getting more confident using the library’s circulation systems. I still do my volunteering there as I love my job so much. There is something really special about being around books and seeing customers with huge armfuls to take out.

What do you most enjoy about working for a library?

That’s actually a really difficult question to answer because I love all aspects of my job. I like being able to interact with the customers and I find it very satisfying when I am able to help them find the books they’re looking for. I also enjoy the shelving, as I’m really interested to know what other people are borrowing and it’s given me a few reading ideas. My to-read list has become very long since working at the library!

Is there a real community atmosphere there?

I would say so. We have a lot of regular customers who come in to borrow books, use the computers and attend activities, which is lovely to see as you get to know people and what their interests are.


What do you feel a library needs to do to keep the interest and involvement of the local community?

I think it’s important to ensure that customers are aware about the services libraries have to offer. The system we have at our library is excellent as we are able to order books from other libraries in the county free of charge if a customer is unable to find them on the shelf. Stock displays are useful to help people find inspiration. I have recently organised one in the children’s section to do with witches and wizards. We also have several regular activities for the children including a Rhyme-time session for toddlers and babies and a Summer Reading Challenge for those in primary school. For people over 50 we have an Engage talk once a month and there have been discussions on a wide range of subjects including local history, health and crafts. I am a regular attender of the knitting group and we usually have a large number of people particularly in the evenings. I think all of these things help to encourage people to come to the library, as they have opportunities to meet people and the activities are free unless people choose to make a small donation for tea and coffee.

Do you find that there is a particular kind of literature or publication that is more popular than others in your library? Why do you think this is?

Crime and adventure seem to be the most popular genres with our customers at the moment. Not having read a lot of crime myself, I can’t really comment as to why but I imagine that the novels have a very gripping plot. Our cookery and craft books are also frequently borrowed. I think people have been inspired by programmes like The Great British Bake Off and Sewing Bee. Our knitting books in particular are always appearing on the returned books trollies which is always nice to see as I’m a keen knitter and I like to think other people enjoy it too.

It’s important to ensure that customers are aware about the services libraries have to offer.


Where do you stand on the debate that is currently raging on whether or not prisoners should be allowed books in jail? Do you agree that books/education/reading can be vital to to a prisoner’s rehabilitation, or do you believe that they, as criminals, should not have access or the rights to books?

This is a very difficult question as I know that this subject divides opinion. I believe that prisoners should be treated humanely but I think there does need to be restrictions on privileges such as televisions and Playstations. However, I do feel that they should have a right to an education and to work whilst inside, as the vast majority of prisoners are going to be released into the outside world and there is a chance they could end up reoffending if they have no purpose once they come out. I believe that having educational opportunities could potentially provide rehabilitation to criminals and if they had something to do in prison it might stop them from committing other crimes whilst inside. I appreciate this wouldn’t work with everyone but even if it only made a difference to one person’s life, I’d still be in favour of prisoners having books.


Where do you stand on the argument that libraries are becoming obsolete in the current market?

I don’t feel that is the case with our one as the people in the town make use of it but I know that libraries in other areas of the country, particularly rural ones are having difficulties as I have seen several petitions about saving them on social media. I strongly believe that a library provides an extremely valuable service and can be a lifeline for people who are lonely or might not have a lot of money.


Tell me about your thoughts on borrowing/lending e-books and how this might affect libraries moving forward?

Our customers have the option to borrow e-books e-audio and e-magazines if they own a Kindle Fire, iPad or tablet. I own a Kindle myself and find it is useful for my studies as I have saved money on classic texts and been able to read books that are no longer in print. However, I feel that there is no substitute for a physical book and I’m sure that a lot of customers would share my belief so I think the digital books will help the library to move forward, as it will give people more opportunities to borrow books and they can have them in any format they prefer.


What are your goals for the future?

I still have three years to go on my PhD so I will be spending a lot of time focussing on that. I hope to pursue a career in librarianship once I finish it so I probably will start applying for courses once I’m in my final year. I have also had a novel idea for ages but I haven’t started writing yet so I think I’ll probably try to make some time for it and at least get something written this year!

Becky's display at the library - encouraging children to read!

Becky’s display at the library – encouraging children to read!

You can follow Becky on Twitter @xBecki_Morrisx

Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma by Kerry Hudson

This novel came into my hands in quite a different way to the usual trip-to-the-bookshop routine. Anyone who looks on my Twitter or Facebook feeds for more than 30 seconds will know that I’m currently searching for a job in publishing. As such, I decided to become more actively involved in the literary scene in my home city of Hull (incidentally, the City of Culture for 2017!).

It was at a literary event named Head In A Book (run by the editor of local publisher Wrecking Ball Press) at Hull Central Library that I first heard about the book. I hadn’t read it before attending, and so I went into the event a little blind. The author, Kerry Hudson, was giving a talk with fellow author Russ Litten about this book and also about her newest novel, Thirst, which is on my ‘to be read’ pile. Immediately after the talk was finished, I went ahead and bought the book. There was no way I was leaving without a copy. Russ and Kerry did a great job of selling it to me!

First off, I should state that Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma (I’ll refer to it as Tony Hogan for short from here on out) is unlike any other book I’ve ever read. In a good way! To use such a narrative viewpoint is extremely brave; Kerry Hudson said herself at the event that she expected to be ‘given a lot of stick’ for writing a first person narrative which begins in a child’s infancy (from the minute she’s born, in fact). When I heard about this, I was dubious as to whether it would work. My first thought was that it would lose credibility as nobody could physically remember things – in such detail, at least – from such an early age.

However, it doesn’t seem to take away from the book at all, at least in my view. If anything, it works to highlight how easily a young girl can grow up perceiving the poverty, conflict and brutality of her life as normal. It also helps solidify Janie’s bond with her mother, Iris. Despite Iris’ flaws and occasional neglect, Janie is utterly devoted to her as she is growing up. Iris is her lifeline and her only chance of survival, and in setting the book at the absolute beginning of Janie’s life, the author manages to convey that perfectly.

The Head In A Book event for Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma. Yes, I will review books with short titles, too. I promise!

The Head In A Book event for Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma. Yes, I will review books with short titles, too. I promise!

The novel follows Janie, ‘the latest in a long line of Aberdeen fishwives’, as she and her family go through life moving from council estate to council estate, in increasingly dangerous and deprived situations, struggling to survive in a state of constant poverty. But Janie is different. She’s seen her mother, and the generations before her, failing to make anything of themselves and she decides that she wants more from life.

Kerry mentioned in her conversation with Russ that one of her original titles for the book was Echoes of Small Fires (a line from the book), but the publisher decided against this as it was “far too literary a title” for a book with such brutal subject matter (and so much swearing!). Be that as it may, the book is filled with “literary” language that really sets the writing apart. Take, for example, this line:

It was so quiet I wondered if the people who lived there ever turned up the telly or stitched their sentences with shouted swear words aimed to wound.

The entire novel is peppered with beautiful and lyrical wording such as this, which works fantastically as it contrasts heavily with the harsh subject matter, making it seem even more shocking. Because of this, I found myself really feeling for Janie and her entire family. Yes, they are surrounded by drug takers, alcoholics and dole bums, but Hudson portrays Janie, her little sister Tiny and her mother Iris in such a vulnerable and tragically fragile way that you cannot help but want more for the family. Here it is not a case of rooting for the legally and morally perfect protagonist – there are none in this book. But Hudson managed to make me overlook the character flaws and wish for a better world for Janie, because in a better world she could become a better person.

The Observer reviewed Tony Hogan and described it as ‘colourful, funny, joyful and compelling.’ While it is definitely not ‘joyful’ throughout (in fact there are some pretty grim and upsetting scenes) it is ultimately a very realistic piece of work that grips you from beginning to end. It is funny, it is sad, and it is definitely compelling. The characters will stay with you for much longer than it takes to read the book. And considering how good it was, it didn’t take that long to finish.

Novels like Tony Hogan are what the literary and publishing world seems to be lacking for the most part. One of the main themes of Kerry’s talk at Head In A Book was the working class writer and the struggle to get published. Kerry and Russ talked at length about the difficulties facing working class writers due to elitism in mainstream trade publishing. Kerry argued that the publishing industry needs to introduce a wider spectrum of voices – including working class voices – into literature. She stressed that it is the job of publishing and writing professionals to break free of the mindset that some people of a certain type (i.e. working class or underprivileged, forced into a criminal lifestyle) ‘do not deserve to be seen in literature.’ These things DO happen, these people DO exist, and they have a right to be heard and represented in writing.

As a result, Kerry runs an amazing and inspiring project called the WoMentoring Project which offers ‘free mentoring by professional literary women to talented up and coming female writers who would otherwise find it difficult to access similar opportunities.’ – womentoringproject.co.uk

This writer is not only speaking out and being heard on behalf of working class female writers everywhere – she is also paving the way for others to do the same.

You can follow these people on Twitter:

Kerry Hudson @KerrysWindow

Russ Litten @RussLitten

Wrecking Ball Press @wbphull and Head In A Book @hiabhull

Hull Libraries @hull_libraries

Hull City of Culture @2017hull

Website links:

Kerry Hudson

The WoMentoring Project

Head In A Book

Wrecking Ball Press

Vintage Books

Hull City of Culture

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