An insight into the publishing world…

Posts tagged ‘reading’

Introducing International Rights Manager Richard Carman

I am delighted to welcome today’s interviewee, a former colleague of mine at Award Publications. Richard Carman has now moved on to pastures new and his new company is an exciting new children’s publisher which is set to do big things. Read on to find out more about Richard, Fourth Wall Books, and the role of International Rights Manager within publishing…


Please can you introduce yourself and give a brief overview of your career?

My name is Richard Carman, and I am International Rights Manager at Fourth Wall Publishing. I started in the book trade aged about 6, when I started sticking labels into the fronts of my Enid Blyton books and lending them to my friends as a library. I had my own duodecimal system of numbering. No-one was interested! I dropped out of a Master’s degree and got a job in WH Willshaw booksellers in Manchester, and from there joined David & Charles as a rep. I was headhunted by Hodder to join them in the same role, and went on to my first managerial role, aged 31, at Omnibus Press. From there I was UK Sales Manager for Penguin, then South Africa Sales Manager for Dorling Kindersley, which let to five very happy years as Head of Export. Made redundant when DK went bust, I was a freelance for nearly ten years in Africa working for people like Orion, Walker Books, Kingfisher and Kogan Page, and I joined Award Publications in 2010. I joined Fourth Wall in March of this year.


Can you tell us a little bit more about Fourth Wall Books? How did it come about?

Fourth Wall Publishing was originally conceived a few years ago, but the owners’ background led them to found a very successful branding and marketing agency first. We work with some very well-known high street brands as well as a lot of the Premier League football clubs. Fourth Wall Publishing was launched at London Book Fair 2015, and the first ten titles published in the autumn of that year. Our pace picked up this spring, and we’ll be publishing around 50 books a year.

What is the most challenging part of your role as International Rights Manager?

A lot of the companies I worked with in the past publish different kinds of books to those that we specialise in, so finding new customers and establishing relationships with them from scratch is probably the most challenging element.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

I like people, I like being in a busy team and in a creative environment. Because the majority of my colleagues are designers, it’s good to be involved in every book from day one of its creation, and to be able to look up from my desk and see books being developed just across the room. And I love book fairs (anyone in publishing who tells you they don’t are liars), and travelling.

What trends are you currently seeing in the children’s book market?

YA fiction continues to be a big pull I think, but really good, contemporary, international-feel illustrations seem to be increasing in popularity. There’ll always be the pull of Disney and big-branded products, but underneath that it’s a healthy market too I think.

What upcoming Fourth Wall books are you most excited about?

My favourite of the next batch is “When The Sky Was Too Low” by Adam Bestwick, which is based on an old Native American myth. In ancient times, the sky was very close to the ground. Adults couldn’t walk upright, elephants were as big as dogs, and giraffe’s necks pointed sideways, not upwards. The children can’t fly their kites or kick their footballs high, so they get together and – after some false starts – find they can push the sky up high if they join up all their sticks and push together. When night comes they see the stars for the first time, because the light shines through the holes they made with their sticks. It’s a beautiful story about kids being able to solve problems that adults can’t, and about working together being the best way to work.

How do you go about marketing yourself as a brand new book publisher?

With a lot of hard work. Networking, visiting customers, social media, distinctive and memorable stands at book fairs, joining in everything we can really – getting our name seen and included. One has to be realistic and realise Rome wasn’t built in a day. But by the time it was finished, Rome was a beautiful place and people are still going there. So I want us to be a beautiful, successful publisher to whom people are still coming many years in the future.

You are based up in the North of England – how do you feel this will both benefit you and hinder you?

You can get a decent coffee anywhere in Cheshire now, so that’s the first thing. I think companies based outside of London obviously benefit from being immune to the costs of being in the South East. There’s a whole wealth of untapped talent in the North West, and we have access to fabulous illustrators and designers, writers, and people looking to work in marketing and production are welcome to contact us too. There are lots of people not based in London who want to work in “proper” book publishing. We can’t give a job to everyone, but we’re not short of options. We can be in London in a couple of hours maximum if we need to be. If you work in Hammersmith and live in Brockley, that’s going to take you the best part of an hour. I can’t actually think of any downsides!

You can follow Fourth Wall publishing on Twitter @4thwallbooks

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Introducing Evan Jones, Publisher at Together Tales

I’m so pleased that my first interview back after an incredibly hectic few months away from blogging is with Evan Jones of Stitch Media, discussing the new and exciting product Together Tales. This is a really interesting new project and Evan explains how it came about it in this fascinating interview. Welcome, Evan!

Evan-Jones (2)


Please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your background and career.

My name is Evan Jones and I’ve spent my life interested how new technology changes the way we tell stories to each other.

Early in my career I became obsessed with Alternate Reality Games. ARGs are a style of narrative that really couldn’t exist before the internet, because they rely on the audience as investigators who connect different types of media together to make a complete story.  They’re also intensely interactive and the best ones consider the audience as collaborators – their theories and solutions inspire the creative team working behind the scenes.

I’ve had the good fortune to collaborate with incredibly talented people on projects across every genre. We’ve worked in comedy, drama, documentary, horror, science fiction, children’s, lifestyle – but always with an interactive point of view. Stitch Media is the company that you call when you want to push the boundaries. I’m always working hard to stay ahead of the curve on new technology but more importantly the media trends that are shifting around us.

Together Tales – what’s the premise?

Together Tales are Adventure Kits that combine physical books and artifacts with interactive challenges. Parents bring these stories to life as an insider working with the author to plant clues and create coincidences.

For kids aged 8-10 reading the adventures, it’s like the whole story surrounds you. You are a character in the books and your actions end up saving the day. We’ve had a lot of feedback that this product is perfect for ‘reluctant readers’ because it’s broken into short chapters that connect with activities both offline and online.

For parents, it’s like having a creative sidekick for those moments where you want to want to play along with your kids but don’t always have the time or energy to make it up. Adventure Kits give you all the tools you need and simple instructions via email to prompt you at the perfect moment. You’re playing alongside your kids with a cheat sheet from the author.



What made you, as a media and TV professional, look at the idea of interactive books? How did the idea and the concept of Together Tales come about?

We didn’t set out to make an interactive book. Our company never starts with the technology first. It’s that old adage “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Instead we started with a question: “How can recreate some of our fondest memories of childhood?” 

We loved reading books of course – books are imagination fireworks where you can do anything at all. We also loved simple games like scavenger hunts and puzzles. But the secret ingredient is the name of our product – it was those moments we spent together.

Together Tales is a platform to combine all of these things.  We rely upon an ‘insider’ who truly knows the reader. We use the shorthand of parents but it could easily be grandparents or that cool uncle or an amazing teacher. The point is that our adventures come to life in through others – they are the ones who personalize a letter online, print it out and tuck it under the child’s pillow because they received an automated email yesterday explaining that the Magician will be answering their dream questions tomorrow. It’s a system to make more of those memorable moments by connecting them together with a story.

What kind of success have you enjoyed so far?

Our first success was convincing a jury to give us the CMF Experimental Fund – it allowed us to build the technology and test the concept until we got it right. The one thing we needed after that was the money to pay for our first print run. We created four Adventure Kits in our first year and launched the concept on Kickstarter – that was really when Together Tales took off. We’ve shipped hundreds of kits out to families now and the response has been incredible. The five-star reviews on Amazon have really inspired us – parents talk about how excited their kids get about reading the stories and their adventures.

It’s also been a huge boost for us to be recognized by our industry. We were nominated for the BookTech prize in the UK this year and for the Canadian Screen Award for Best Original Interactive Project. These endorsements help a great deal in promoting sales.

Anything that has been particularly challenging?

Our biggest challenge is everyone’s biggest challenge – discoverability. Our target demographic is parents with 8-10 year old kids and I’m one of them. It’s a very busy and distracted group of customers and we don’t have a marketing budget to spend yet. We know that families love the product but we haven’t yet mastered the way we reach that audience.

Why do you think there’s a market for this kind of publishing?

Publishing is not going away. Yes it’s changing but all of the media industries shift when a new paradigm appears. We know this is a crowded market but we feel that Together Tales is something truly new and will strike a chord with the right type of customer.

Together Tales is also built to empower authors to write their own Adventure Kits. Our platform expands with every new book as we build a library of games and technology which are reused in subsequent stories. They’re also not tied to a particular platform. We’re not thinking about the issues of paper vs tablets because we use them all in the way they were intended. Media consumption habits for us aren’t an either/or proposition, they’re all potential for us.

Have you found that you have been able to reach out easily to children who may not be particularly enthusiastic about reading?

Together Tales is very accessible because the story is portioned out. The child never sees a huge book because the story is divided into chapters and interactive moments. The first chapter looks like a comic book, but once you’ve read it you’re hooked. The characters need your help and a game begins. It’s not hard to convince kids to play games but when the game is over you want to see how it affected the story. That’s when the second chapter magically appears (thanks parents!) and the cycle continues.

I would point you to this customer review specifically on this topic:

What has been your best feedback so far?

It’s when we bump into a kindred spirit. Some of our feedback from parents was “I’m too busy to spend 15 minutes setting this up.” That’s when we realized that it’s all about perspective. Fifteen minutes is a lot when you’re comparing it to passing an iPad into the back seat. But for some parents, they are already spending 2 hours sewing a tail on an old pair of shorts, or researching crafts for their kids on a rainy weekend. For those parents, we get the opposite reaction – fifteen minutes to look like a hero. They’re in.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

The agenda has been set by our commitment to bring a Year of Adventures to our customers. We’re publishing three more Adventure Kits this year and I’m taking them to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair to find some international exposure. We’re going to be selling them at the Toronto Word on the Street Festival and looking for many more ways to reach families.


You can find out more about Stitch Media and Together Tales by clicking the hyperlinks in the introduction to this interview.

Follow Stitch Media on Twitter @stitchmedia

Follow Together Tales on Twitter @togethertales and on Facebook 



Introducing Nathan Connolly, Publishing Director at Dead Ink Publishing

I was very happy to bag an interview with Dead Ink books, a publisher I’ve been following for a few years, since I met publisher Wes Brown at a Society of Young Publishers event, when they were an innovative new digital publisher. Here his partner at Dead Ink, Nathan Connolly, gives us an overview of the publishing house and how they went about building a community around their company…

Nathan Connolly Headshot

Please introduce yourself and give a brief overview of your career.

I’m Nathan Connolly and I’m the Publishing Director of Dead Ink. I started in Publishing when I began The Night Light, an online literary magazine, after graduating from University. I’ve worked with The Big Issue in the North, Crécy Publishing and The Society of Young Publishers.

Tell us about Dead Ink Books – how did the company come about? What’s its premise?

Dead Ink started towards the end of 2010 and it was set up with funding from Arts Council England as a digital-only press. This was around the time that ebooks were really just starting to blow up and there was a lot of both panic and optimism in the industry. With Dead Ink we were experimenting with what a book could be – at a time when that really did seem to be a valid question.

As the industry started to come to terms with digital, Dead Ink released its first print titles. When Dead Ink began, it was the medium that we thought was revolutionary. As we developed it became clear that the biggest opportunity presented by digital technology wasn’t in restricting ourselves to solely digital books but in connecting readers to them.

Our focus now is based on two strands. The first is to develop the careers of new literary authors and the second is to do that through experimentation with digital technology in publishing.

What challenges did you face setting up Dead Ink Books?

The challenge of setting up a small press today is that the industry is becoming increasingly concentrated and homogenous in terms of both publishing and retail. We’re fortunate in that we are represented by Inpress books who fight our corner, but overall I think the industry is becoming harder and harder to survive in. I wouldn’t be surprised to see further concentrations taking place in terms of partnerships and mergers.

I think this challenge is also an opportunity, though: publishing needs challenging small presses and I think readers enjoy them too. Hopefully the tide will begin to turn in the next few years and the independents will win back some influence and breathing space. Maybe it’s already begun?

What kind of literature do you publish?

We’re interested mainly in literary fiction. Specifically, we want fiction that is challenging, brave and confident. I try not to define the specifics of what I’m looking for too much. I worry that I will put someone off who would otherwise have been great. I think all the books that I have published so far have surprised me. I wasn’t looking for them and I didn’t expect them.

What achievement to date are you particularly proud of?

We work almost exclusively with debut authors and I think that is something that I’m particularly proud of. We take a huge risk on every author that we publish and put all of our resources into making their book, and their career, a success. Receiving a manuscript and taking it through the long road to publication isn’t an easy process and there is a lot that can go wrong. When we finally receive those books from the printer and we get to give them to a writer who has spent years of their life trying to reach that point then it becomes obvious that all the sweat and tears were worth it. Each time we reach that point we’re reminded of why we started Dead Ink in the first place. Despite our commitment to author development and technological innovation we’ve always been motivated to take a risk on people that nobody else will. That’s what I’m proud of.

How have you managed to build a community around Dead Ink Books?

This is a huge question and one we still don’t have the complete answer to. In fact, this is one of the major questions that we have to ask ourselves every single day in order to make the press work.

I think that we’ve been lucky in that readers seem to get what we’re doing and completely engage with it. There are a lot of safe decisions being made in the industry and I suspect that they find it refreshing to see a small press based entirely on the concept of taking a risk. Authors frequently commit years of their life to working on a book which may never see the light of day. They’re innately risk-takers and when they see a press with that same conviction I think it is refreshing.

On the other hand we commit a great deal of resources to building that community. We get out there into the world and interact with writers at readings and events. We also try to treat our readers as a community not just customers. They’re the reason that we’ve got this far and every time they do buy a book they are having an impact. I think people appreciate that connection. We’re very much not faceless.

Why is it important to have a range of both digital and print books?

This question plagued us when we were digital-only and we always wondered if we were doing the right thing by focusing on a single medium. Eventually we decided that we weren’t. What is important about digital technology isn’t the end product. People want the option to choose whatever they individually prefer. The important part is how we connect. When we were creating just digital books we were holding ourselves back.

The success of that time was the community we had built. When we transitioned to paper books that became apparent and we’ve been growing steadily since. Readers want options and they want to feel involved.

What lessons have you learned about marketing books – what works and what doesn’t?

I still don’t know the answer to what makes a book sell. I only know how we have made it work for us. We don’t have unlimited reach or resources. There’s very little that we can do to actually market the books in a traditional sense.
What has worked for us is to build a community and reward everyone involved for the contribution that they make. I think early on we realised that we couldn’t just treat someone like a customer and forget about them. We really owe everything to the people who buy our books, so it didn’t seem right or fair to just market to them. If someone buys a Dead Ink book then they are taking a risk – just as we are in publishing it – and I think that sort of commitment deserves recognition and reward. That’s what I’ve tried to achieve with the community aspect of Dead Ink and I think that is what keeps us going.

What are you looking forward to for 2016?

2016 is going to be a big year for us with a lot happening. We’re already looking for next year’s authors and hopefully it will be our largest list yet. There are a few authors that we’re already interested in.

There are also going to be further developments in terms of our organisation and technology. I’m still thinking about the relationship between all of the elements of Dead Ink, and in 2016 that should not only grow but also develop to include something completely new.

Readers should expect more books as always, but also a new way to engage with a new type of literature. That’s all you’re getting for now though. We have to maintain an air of mystery.

You can follow Dead Ink on Twitter @DeadInkBooks

Find out more about them at

Introducing Author Howard Kaplan – on the Hollywood adaptation of his novel

I am very excited and privileged to host an interview with Howard Kaplan, author of The Damascus Cover, a novel which has been adapted into a film starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers and John Hurt! Here he discusses his experiences writing a novel, what research such a novel requires, and the processes behind transforming his story from the page to the big screen.

Author Howard Kaplan

Author Howard Kaplan

Please can you introduce yourself and give us a brief overview of your career? 

I’m the author of four novels, three published and one to be released around the time The Damascus Cover film will be in theaters in early 2016. I was born and live in Los Angeles always seem to return here as a home base but travel greatly. In my 20’s I lived in London for a time and had close friends in the East End. I learned a lot from them and used them as prototypes in my novels. My Gants Hill friend used to battle the National Front blokes, or geysers as he would say; he was a gentle soul, a lay veterinarian who loved animals and standing across from you with lightning speed could buck you flat with his forehead.

Tell us more about The Damascus Cover. How did the book come about?

When I was 21, I flew to Beirut with a friend and took a shared taxi to Damascus. We stopped in Marjeh Sqaure, where the Israeli spy, Eli Cohen, had been hung. I loved the city, the oldest inhabited city on earth, rung by apricot groves as underground rivers rise there from Lebanon. So I created my own spy story about a high placed Israeli spy, as Eli Cohen had been, in Damascus. Many of the professional and blog reviewers remark about the great detail of Damascus. An Amazon reviewer recently wrote:

The book is fast-paced, with more twists and turns than Monte Carlo. At times I could hear the muezzin, taste the olives, so beautifully does Kaplan describe the Damascene backdrop.” The book was written long before the Syrian Civil War so what’s happened is it’s became an artifact as to what Damascus was like before the destruction.

How was the novel picked up for a film adaptation?

Sometimes you just get lucky. The director was looking for a Middle East book to adapt and it turns out we have a mutual friend. She gave him The Damascus Cover, he read it and we met for coffee. No agents. The project began to take off when he brought on the producer of Gosford Park, so this is a British production so not a great coincidence that we have Jonathan Rhys Meyers as the lead and Sir John Hurt as the head of the Israeli Secret Service who is the puppet master of the novel and film. The novel is in its heart a book about reconciliation, in this case between Israel and the Arab countries, so the topicality seems perennial.

How much input do you have in the film adaptation?

I saw an early draft of the script and made some small suggestions all of which they liked and took. Unexpectedly, I’ve had greater input in post production. I’ve seen several edits and made a number of suggestions, mostly cuts to streamline the plot. A sesasoned novelist knows that no matter how good a scene is, if it doesn’t advance the story and character, it needs to go. They were extraordinarily grateful for my notes and actually used them all. I have a close friend who is the estate attorney for Michael Jackson and a large number of Hollywood people, including many writers. He tells me the novelist never gets such input but I was in Casablanca for a week during shooting in March of 2015, and I’ve kept close relations with the film team, though all the post production work is being done in London. I see the director every time he’s in Los Angeles and as I’m writing this he’ll be here later this week.


How did you go about researching for the book? What is it about this genre that calls to you more than others?

I spent some time in Damascus as I mentioned. I then read everything written about the city. And God bless the British travel writers, they’ve been everywhere and written about it. I had a large map of Damascus up on my wall to plot the action. My favorite writer is John Le Carre and I’ve always loved the opportunity to write a great suspenseful story, with deep characters and a political message. Nobody anywhere does it better than LeCarre so I think I was drawn to the genre, the chance to write serious suspense, through reading his books, and I’ve read them all, which isn’t always easy as some are verbose.

Do you find that the book is gaining traction due to its topicality?

The book and I, to my great pleasure and amusement, are suddenly getting a lot of attention. I think the topicality is two fold, one, that it is really about the need for the Middle East countries to get along which has never been more apparent than it is now. And secondly, the obvious, Damascus is now on everybody’s radar. It doesn’t happen often in life, but I seem to be in the right place at the right time.

What was particularly challenging about writing this book, and how did you handle this?

The Damascus Cover was my first novel and the real challenge was believing in myself, that I could write a book. I had a father who told me in general how wonderful I was, and in specific what a loser, you’ll never amount to anything slacker I was. He had a great facility to make money but none to see himself. So I was more the kind of person who thought, I don’t think I can do that, but I SHOULD try. The good news is that I generally after a period of great sloth push myself and indeed I did. Once I get going I’m like a locomotive and I just barrel forward.


What excites you most about the upcoming film?

The cast has been mind blowing. Jonathan Rhys Meyers is beyond a fabulous actor. He gives his all to every scene and I was on set for a week of 10 hour a day shoots. His cover is a German businessman, Hans Hoffman, and hair dyed blonde he does the entire film in a German accent. They brought in a language coach from Berlin and the two of them were zealous that none of his Irish brogue bled into his German. The German actor, Jurgen Prochnow (Das Boot, the DaVinci Code) told me at breakfast in the hotel that the accent is flawless. Olivia Thirlby, best known as the sidekick in Juno, is a delight. She’s young and where Jonny, as he likes to be called, hits his lines perfectly each time she experimented with different takes until she found her spot. It was exhilarating. There are some great scenes too with her and Navid Negahban (Abu Nazir in Homeland). Navid was at my house for a barbecue last month and we talked about how great Olivia is. John Hurt was not on set in the week I was there so I missed meeting him.

What has been your favourite review for the book so far?

I have two, the Los Angeles Times and the American Library Association:

Los Angeles Times
“In the best tradition of the new espionage novel.  Kaplan’s grasp of history and scene creates a genuine reality.  He seems to know every back alley of Damascus and Cyprus.”

American Library Association (starred review)
“A mission inside Syria, a last love affair, and the unfolding of the plot within a plot are handled by the author with skill and a sure sense of the dramatic.”

What do you think of the current schemes going on right now, where authors/readers/libraries/publishers are providing books for Syrian refugees? How important is it that the book industry supports those in need due to war and terrorism?

I think this is fabulous and important but alas in the cold hard world, money talks. A British Young Adults writer, who happens to be on my twitter feed, Patrick Ness, offered 10,000 pounds this past weekend for refugee help and tweeted to writers to help. By the end of the weekend he’d raised 400,000 pounds. It was vastly impressive and moving.

Do you have any advice, as a successful author, for up-and-coming writers?

Don’t be afraid to take risks. There’s no way to know if a scene or an idea works until you actually write it and see. I think it’s vital to know the end before you begin, where you’re going so that all roads have a destination and none are side trips, albeit brilliant ones.

What new work do you have coming up?

The Jerusalem Spy Series initially will be comprised of 3 novels that share a common theme: reconciliation and hope. Between Israel and the Arab countries in The Damascus Cover and between Israelis and Palestinians in Bullets of Palestine and the forthcoming To Destroy Jerusalem. Bullets is about an Israeli agent and Palestinian agent challenged to work together to hunt down and kill an extremist Arab terrorist, Abu Nidal, who is killing both Jews across Europe and moderate Palestinians. It’s the most historical of all my novels and is set often at real events, for example the massacres of women, children and old men in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatilla in Lebanon by the Christian Phalange party. To Destroy Jerusalem will tackle the nuclear terrorism threat. I’m finishing now and expect to bring out in early 2016.

You can follow Howard Kaplan on Twitter @kaplanhow

See the author in conversation about his works on Youtube:

Introducing Emmanuel Kolade, Founder of Shulph Book Platform

Today’s interview is with Emmanuel Kolade, a truly lovely designer whom I met on Twitter and whose new start-up company Shulph caught my attention. Launching in 2016, it aims to bridge the gap between print and digital books, and I am personally very excited about it. Find out more below about the man behind the product and what Shulph will be able to offer readers…

Emmanuel, founder of Shulph

Emmanuel, founder of Shulph

Please introduce yourself and give a brief overview of your career.

I am Emmanuel Kolade – an entrepreneur and experience designer. In my 14-year career as a designer, I have consulted for large clients across a wide array of industries to provide digital products or services for their people – be it customers, clients or employees. As a designer, I have always had an eye for and limited supply of patience for systems, services or products when they don’t work well enough. Or should I say, as well as I think they should?

I am also the founder of Shulph – an exciting new platform that allows book lovers harmonise their print and digital bookshelves.

Shulph – what’s it all about and how did it begin?

Shulph is an aggregator of a book lover’s print & digital bookshelves. It does this by enabling readers to buy a book once, but read it across multiple formats any time they want. Shulph follows and leads the reader through their buying and reading experience all the way from bookstores and online/in-app downloads to reading print and e-books. In short, we remove the friction people often experience when deciding whether to buy a book in print or digital format, but rather free the reader to move in and out of physical and digital spaces according to their contextual need at the moment in time when they need to read the title.

Shulph came from a dark but special place. The product was born from a personal frustration I have felt for some time. I read lots of nonfiction books. Some fiction books too, but if you take a look at my bookshelf, you’ll find more self-help, academic and professional textbooks than crime, science fiction and thriller titles.

I often experienced frustration when trying to reference content from one of my textbooks but couldn’t get access to it because it was either sitting in my shelf at home while I’m at work and I don’t have it in e-book. Or I want to re-read a fiction title I love but don’t want to carry the heavy hardback I bought excitedly on release day with me on the crammed train ride to work. These situations infuriate me to this day. When I fall in love with a title, I end up buying it twice. I’ve got several books in both print and digital formats because I want anytime, on-the-whim access to them. I am attached to my books like that. I initially thought I was the only person who felt this way until I started having conversations with other book lovers and they shared similar stories with me.

Who are the people behind Shulph?

I am working together with a small team of passionate believers. Mainly technologist who agree with me that the notion of readers having anytime, anywhere and any-format access to their library or shelf of books is one that needs to exist in the world.

What gap in the market do you think Shulph can fill?

The Shulph platform will appeal to readers who don’t want to be bound by format. There are those of us who believe that people shouldn’t have to choose between print and digital content. People who want to be able to put a print book down at page 15 to continue page 16 on a device because it suits their context at that moment and vice versa.

Why does Shulph seek to harmonize e-books with print books? Do you buy into the idea that the print book is dying a slow death?

The print book is not going away anytime soon. The dust is started to settle from the disruption that came about from the rise of e-books. My view is that both formats should complement –not compete with – each other. Both formats have very compelling use cases that it does not make sense that people find themselves choosing one over the other.

There are things digital books are great at which the print does not offer, and experiences that print books offer that digital can never replicate. Alternate endings and title updates (like app updates) are exciting prospects for the digital book in future. The print book offers tactile feedback and engages our senses in way that a digitally flipped pages just can’t. That synchronisation of people’s digital and physical bookshelves needs to happen because not having to choose should be a choice too.

 What are you particularly excited about for the launch of Shulph in 2016?

I can’t wait to see book lovers experience what is coming their way. Shulph will provide a liberating model to buyers of literature and I am just so excited to hear people describe how they feel about it. I think many people will eventually wonder how they ever lived without this service.


 In your view, what do companies need to do in today’s ever-changing book industry to stay alive?

The book industry is quite an interesting one and we’re constantly having conversations with industry stakeholders including publishers, booksellers, authors and agents. Every one of these players needs to put the reader at the centre of their business strategy. Publishers, for example, need to stop thinking of booksellers as their customers.

Booksellers need to evolve what the in-store customer browsing and buying experience look like. We see bookstores as the most vulnerable players in the industry, and we are weaving the Shulph platform right into the ecosystem of bookstores. Our platform will drive customer traffic into bookstores and see them even start to fulfil book orders for local delivery or click-and-collect.

Authors need to engage more with readers through concepts like creating organic, evolvable titles. The concept of alternate endings and app-style update for titles are some interesting evolutions and innovations that authors and their agents should be thinking about.

In general and across most industries, customers are moving into a place where they expect to be able to engage with products and services through multiple entry points. Omni-channel customer experiences are quite becoming the next frontier for competitive commercial advantage. Publishers and booksellers will need to wake up to this imminent future sooner or later.

Personally, are you a big reader? If so, what have you read recently that really made an impact on you?

I am always reading something. I go through the nonfiction titles more quickly mainly because I apply them to my life almost instantly. I am currently re-reading a book titled ‘Zero to One’ by Peter Thiel. It’s a beautiful entrepreneurial book that talks about how the world is made better when we create new things that didn’t exist before. The ideas in the book keep me going when I often hit massive dead-ends on the road to bringing Shulph to the world.

You can follow Shulph on Twitter @shulph

To sign up for exciting launch updates and further information, visit

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

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

Introducing Independent Publisher Jamie McGarry

Today’s interview is with Jamie McGarry, founder and publisher for Valley Press. I undertook a work experience placement at Valley Press when I was working on my CV ready to begin a career in Publishing, and Jamie very kindly allowed me to take part in a variety of projects and tasks while I was there. For those interested, I wrote a blog post for Valley Press about it here. I have now started working alongside Jamie for the Society of Young Publishers North and Midlands branch and Valley Press are continuing to publish some exciting work!

jamie mcgarry

Tell us the story of how Valley Press came about.

The short version: after an unsuccessful attempt to become a Primary School teacher, I fell into an English Literature degree, and then realised this was not a subject that was going to make me highly employable. I had been making books of various kinds since the age of 6, so decided to start doing that a bit more purposefully, to enhance my CV – using the name Valley Press, as I lived on Valley Road at that time. It was the summer of 2008.

You are primarily a publisher of poetry. Have you always had a passion for poetry?

I had always enjoyed poetry whilst growing up – but very casually, alongside novels, films, music and all the other great things life has to offer. It wasn’t until I started reading serious contemporary poets – writing from the 1960s up to the present day – that I realised this was the medium for me, probably the one thing I was going to pursue during my life. That was around the age of 18.

Do you find much time now for your own personal creative writing?

Absolutely not – I haven’t written a word creatively since I started running Valley Press as a full-time job, in early 2011. The timing is too exact to be a coincidence. I think it’s probably the case that whatever muscle I was using to write, is the same one that powers me as a publisher, and there’s only so much it can give! Plus, there are only so many hours in the day – the process of starting a new company is all-consuming, whatever the field.

What was the first thing you published as a new press?

It was a novel I had written myself, whilst dog-sitting during the summer of 2007 – titled The Waiting Game. I only printed 38 copies, it was a very tentative start! I haven’t looked at it since, it could be awful. There’s a copy in Scarborough’s public library if anyone wants to take it out and have a read. Let me know what you think.

What is Valley Press’ biggest success to date?

Well, it depends what kind of success you’re looking for – I love it when an ex-intern writes to me saying they’ve got a great publishing job, for a start! But I reckon you are talking in terms of cold hard sales figures, in which case James Nash’s Some Things Matter: 63 Sonnets is still top of the chart. There’s something really special about that book… I’ve yet to publish something that can catch up with it.

What would you say you enjoy most about being a publisher?

I love it all – I really do. I even get a kick out of doing the accounts. There’s that old saying that goes, ‘if you have a job you truly love, you’ll never have to work a day in your life’ – that’s me. I don’t let a day go by without being thankful, and wondering how I’ve been able to get away with this for so long…

What is the most exciting aspect of the job?

I can’t name a particular ‘aspect’ as such, but the most exciting moment is probably when a golden bit of publicity appears – something like a big mention for a Valley Press title in the Guardian’s books pages, or on the radio. Usually the first I hear about this sort of thing is when I notice a sudden spike in the sales of a book; it might have sold one copy every few days for the previous month, then suddenly thirty in one day, and I think: ‘hang on, something has happened!’ Then a bit of detective work is needed to track down the cause.

What is the biggest challenge you have to face as an independent publishing company?

I think it’s tricky to talk about ‘independent publishing’ in this context… there are so many definitions of the term. If you’re the CEO of Faber and Faber, you are an independent publisher. If you’re some bloke who prints off a few A4 pages, staples them together and sells them for 50p down at your local pub, guess what – you are an independent publisher. And in between those two is a vast ocean of people doing very different things. (Incidentally, I probably still have more in common with the man in the pub!)
A good way to answer this would be to reverse the question: what’s the biggest advantage to being part of a huge publishing conglomerate? The answer there is having resources at your disposal – a virtually endless supply of experience, expertise, and cash. Managing with limited resources is the challenge for independents.

How has the business grown since I undertook my work placement at Valley Press?

It has grown naturally in terms of sales figures and income, but more than anything things are a lot calmer now, and better organised. When you were here (in autumn 2012) I had only 20 months professional experience in the industry, and was attempting to publish 16 books that year… it was a hair-raising time!
From a publisher’s point of view, why is it good to have students do work experience with you?

To be honest, not that valuable!  I always get far less work done when I have interns in, but I don’t do it for any kind of gain – I just love having new faces around, it brings so much life into the office (or my flat, in the early days…)

In terms of the unpaid internship debates that are raging at the moment, which side of the argument do you agree with? The fact that unpaid work experience is ‘exploitation’, or that they’re necessary to break into the industry?
Unpaid internships were pretty much the only route into the publishing industry. Is that a good thing? I don’t think so.

During the brief period I was trying to get in, back in 2010, I couldn’t afford to do unpaid internships; I was living on the last dregs of my student loan, and there wasn’t a serious publishing operation within 50 miles of where I was based. I spent six months solidly applying for jobs, with a CV that described my skills and experience as they are now (i.e. pushing the truth as it was then to its limits!), and I didn’t even get one interview for a publishing position. I wouldn’t get one today, I suspect, and it’s probably down to my lack of internships.

When I started Valley Press, one of my dreams was that I could use it to help local people who were in that same position… and that has come true, to an extent. I think there’s a half-dozen people out there who got a publishing job shortly after being one of my interns, and plenty more who found decent, creative employment. That makes me feel quite proud.

How important is it for you to keep the North ‘on the publishing map’ so to speak? Do you think the North is slowly making its voice heard in the industry, or are we still under-represented?

I hope it’s not solely down to me to keep the North on the map! This is an easy question actually: I think you’re right that Northern writers and publishers are making progress, but yes, we certainly are under-represented.

I have a Penguin paperback in my house published in the late 1960s, and in the author’s biography at the start it says they were ‘born in the North’. That was enough specificity at the time! Things have come a long way since then, but there’s still plenty of work to be done.

For those who may be considering starting up a company like your own, what advice would you give them, now that you’ve done it successfully? What in your opinion are the dos and don’ts?

I think the most important thing is to start small – dip your toe in the water, like I did between 2008 and 2010, before getting too ambitious. Always schedule fewer books than you think you can publish, because there will inevitably be unexpected events to throw you off course. Also, advice for anyone thinking of doing some publishing – don’t settle for a less than perfect product. Don’t compromise, and don’t stop working on a book until it looks as good as one published by the big London companies.

I could go on and on… I could write my own book on what I’ve learnt over the last seven years. Perhaps I will?

What are you most looking forward to in the rest of 2015?

The next book in the pipeline always seems like the best thing I’ve ever done – but there is a short non-fiction book due out in September that has been having a huge effect on early readers. It’s very different to anything I’ve touched on before, so keep a eye out for that.

I’m also working for the second time with a variety of veteran Valley Press authors over the next few months, which is an absolute pleasure, and there’s a very special collection coming in November edited by Antony Dunn. These upcoming titles are simply unmissable, if you ask me – but I suppose I would say that!

You can follow Valley Press on Twitter @valleypress

Please post questions or comments below and I’ll get back to you!

Introducing Hollie Belton, Founder of Books on The Underground

I’m really pleased to host this week’s interviewee – the woman behind Books on the Underground, one of the not-for-profit companies that make me really want to live in London! Read on to find out more about the phenomenon that is gripping the commuters of London, and soon, hopefully, beyond…


Hollie wanted to share her love of books with the rest of London!

Hollie wanted to share her love of books with the rest of London!


Please introduce yourself, and the others behind Books on the Underground, and give us a brief overview of your careers?

I’m Hollie, I started Books on the Underground in November 2012. I’m originally from Lincolnshire, but I moved to London 7 years ago after graduating from university. I’m a Creative at an Advertising agency, where I’ve been for the last 4 years. I met my BOTU partner, Cordelia, on Twitter. She reached out to me to to help out and now has become an integral part of the project and we’ve been doing it together ever since.

Please can you explain the concept of Books on the Underground to those who are unfamiliar with it, and the logistics of how it works?

The idea in a nutshell – I leave books on the London Underground for commuters to take, read and then leave back on the tube for someone else to enjoy. The idea lives on Twitter, where we update people on the latest book locations. It’s like a mobile library, without the late fees 😉

How did this brilliant idea come about and how did you set about kick-starting it?

Well, I have about an hour commute to work everyday, from Dalston to West Kensington, so reading is a nice escape for me. One day, I finished the book I was reading on the tube and just thought what a lovely surprise it would be for the next person to find. That day I didn’t leave my book, because I realised there were a lot of hurdles to overcome and I didn’t want it to be just a book out in the world alone, I wanted it to be part of something bigger. So I designed and printed the Books on the Underground stickers, started leaving my books and that’s how it started. It’s really simple, I place a sticker on the front of the book and leave it either on the train seat or the station benches and tweet where I have left it. I use the #booksontheunderground hashtag so people who find the book can let me know.

How has it developed and grown since its conception?

It has grown slowly over the last few years. I started it with my own books, then started raiding charity shops to replenish my stock, so at first it was very small. But then publishers and independent authors started hearing about it and wanted to get involved. And we’re now getting a lot more books sent to us, it’s practically turning in to a full-time job. We have over 8,000 followers on Twitter and we’re booked up everyday until mid August. We recently set ourselves up as a not-for-profit company. So we get people to pay for the stickers and then any profit leftover we donate to reading charities within London, such as

Was the concept well received when you first began? What kind of reception and feedback did you get from it?

It has always been well received. I don’t think I’ve heard a bad word about it. The first time someone found a book I screamed out loud in the office. The tweets are normally so positive. I think it’s because finding a book feels so special to you. It’s still on a small scale, in relation to the amount of Londoners who commute everyday. So you have to be super lucky to find a book.

How do you measure your success?

When I started, I said if just one person finds a book and tweets I’ll have succeeded, so I’m over the moon that so many people know about it and not only that, want to get involved themselves.

Some of the big names in the industry have written about you, including the Guardian. Does this exposure help boost the popularity of your organisation?

Yes definitely. I think it really took off when we got mentioned on the ‘London for Free’ Facebook page. And then Timeout got in touch and our followers have grown from there.



Has your new Book Club, the Underground Book Club, enjoyed success since you started?

Yes. It’s been ace. It’s been running for a year now. And we still meet once a month. It’s been so rewarding, bringing together a group of people who I didn’t know before. All of them are from Twitter, and it we meet once a month to discuss a book and normally stuff ourselves with Thai food!

What have been particular highlights for you so far in launching this initiative?

Last October, I was asked to be a speaker at Chicago Ideas Week about the Sharing Economy. I didn’t even know I was part of the sharing economy until they invited me! I also got to launch ‘Books on the L’ in partnership with Chicago Ideas week whilst I was there. And they made an awesome little film about me too, I was so flattered.

What’s next for you?

I’m moving to NYC at the end of August. So I will be helping Rosy, my American counterpart to get more exposure for Books on the Subway and make it as big as Books on the Underground is in London.

Finally, what are you both currently reading?

I’m currently reading animals by Emma Jane Unsworth. Bloody hilarious! Discussing it at book club this Monday, July 27th.


To find out more about Books on The Underground, click here.

Follow Hollie on Twitter @holliebelton

Follow Books on the Underground on Twitter @BooksUndergrnd

Wonder by R.J Palacio


My name is August.

I won’t describe what I look like.

Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.

Wonder is a little gem of a book. It’s the first YA book I’ve read in a while. I forgot how easy, but how pleasurable at the same time, YA novels are to read. When I buy new books, I try to jump from one genre and writer to another to keep things interesting, and this one struck me as something different from what I’ve been reading recently.

August was born with a genetic defect that severely deformed his face and left him needing countless operations throughout his life. We enter his story when he is around ten years old and his parents have decided to stop home-schooling him and send him to middle school instead. It’s a risky move, both for his parents and August himself. The world can be cruel, and kids can be even more so.

As a reader, you cannot help but love August. Immediately he wins your loyalty and I felt an overwhelming need to protect him throughout everything he does. He is genuinely very funny, incredibly smart, and so warm-hearted and thoughtful. But of course, many people within the book are not interested in learning any of this. All they see is a hideous face, belonging to someone who would only ruin their middle-school reputation if they were seen with him.

The novel is written in the point of view of many different characters, each with their own sections and chapters within the book. I think the story needed to be told this way to make it more three-dimensional. I was heavily bullied as a child, and I was never able to know what people around me thought and felt about the situation – I was just trapped in own little world of misery, humiliation and fear. And I can’t pretend to care about what the bullies thought, but understanding more closely how it affected the lives of people in my family and my close friends would have been really interesting. And this book offers exactly that in August’s story.

I don’t know if R.J Palacio was ever bullied. Perhaps she wasn’t, perhaps she only imagined what it was like, or maybe she talked to people who have been bullied before. Either way, she conveys a fear and vulnerability in August that perfectly portrays how going through that kind of thing affects a person. How you remember the small, but most intimidating, parts of an event that caused you trauma:

It’s their faces that I kept seeing every time I closed my eyes to sleep. The look of total horror on the girl’s face when she first saw me. The way the kid with the flashlight, Eddie, looked at me as he talked to me, like he hated me.

Like a lamb to the slaughter. I remember Dad saying that ages ago, but tonight I think I finally got what it meant.

Please don’t think, however, that this is just an incredibly depressing book. It is also full of wonderful people and characters who can see beyond August’s deformities. And August is an incredibly strong and resilient person; he never loses touch of who he is or who he should be despite it all. August’s story shows that very often, those who don’t have a beautiful face to hide behind or a popular reputation to uphold learn much earlier on the value of being a kind and decent human being. August knows that he’ll never be attractive, but he knows the power of being good, and doing good things, at such a young age:


This precept means that we should be remembered for the things we do. The things we do are the most important things of all. They are more important than what we say or what we look like. The things we do outlast our mortality. The things we do are like monuments that people build to honor heroes after they’ve died. They’re like the pyramids that the Egyptians built to honor the pharaohs. Only instead of being made out of stone, they’re made out of the memories people have of you. That’s why your deeds are like your monuments. Built with memories instead of with stone.

The fact that the book is told in numerous points of view gives us an insight into how a condition can affect people who aren’t afflicted by it. August’s sister Via’s story is one that is almost as tragic: she has grown up feeling like she is in the shadow of her brother. Because she’s not afflicted, her parents pay less attention to her and leave her often to herself because, in their eyes, she is more capable than her brother and therefore needs less time. She puts the situation beautifully: “August is the Sun. Me and Mom and Dad are planets orbiting the Sun. The rest of our family and friends are asteroids and comets floating around the planets orbiting the Sun. The only celestial body that doesn’t orbit August the Sun is Daisy the dog, and that’s only because to her little doggy eyes, August’s face doesn’t look very different from any other human’s face. To Daisy, all our faces look alike, as flat and pale as the moon.”

But that’s the tragedy of her story: just because she doesn’t need protecting as much as August, doesn’t mean she doesn’t need as much attention. The narrative shows how she, and her friends and parents, deal with this situation.

What I also love about this book is that it allows the reader inside the heads of August’s school friends – Jack Will, Miranda, Justin, Charlotte. Life is not easy for a middle-school child, and they have struggles of their own. Other kids give them a hard time for being around August, and some of the kids handle peer pressure better than others. It’s a really interesting look into how different characters handle the same situation, at such a young and impressionable age. The only thing I think is missing that would add to the story is the point of view of August’s parents, but perhaps that would actually change the tone of the whole novel. It is meant to be written from a young person’s point of view, and I think that’s what ultimately makes it a YA novel.

This book is funny, sweet, an easy read, and thought-provoking. It makes you believe again in humanity. I would definitely recommend this to anyone.

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 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.

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