Rachel Hickman Interview

Rachel Hickman

Deputy Managing Director, Chicken House Books

Tell us about your background in publishing and what some of your career highlights have been.

Before setting up Chicken House with Barry Cunningham, I was in Publicity, then wider Marketing at Puffin and Harper Collins. My highlights were working with authors such as Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake - and such massive characters as Paddington and The Cat in the Hat. On a personal level, the author and artist I loved working with most was Posy Simmonds.

You have been with Chicken House since its inception. Can you describe for us how it all began and what has made the company such a success?

I think it has worked because we always buy books from the heart – for real children. We are also a very small in house team who work closely together but also with fantastic freelance talent, so no one gets a chance to feel stuck in a groove.

Scholastic Inc bought Chicken House in 2005, what impact has this acquisition had on the evolution of the company to date?

It has meant we have the financial security to be braver – which was the point in buying us – and the distribution arm of the largest children's publisher in the world. They are fantastically supportive and remarkably have left us alone to do what we do best.

Chicken House has a reputation for ingenuity and is passionate about seeking out new talent. What makes an illustrator's work stand out for you, what qualities do you look for?

Sadly, we no longer publish picture books, but we love working with artists on fiction – and of course on covers. I love it when we find a new artist. Illustration moves in waves but right now feels like a return to illustrated fiction.

Take us behind the scenes of a recent project describing the various stages involved in bringing the title to market.

Beetle Boy by M.G Leonard, illustrated by Julia Sarda is a good example. There were more stages than to be believed, but the result is stunning. We even have illustrated beetles – in colour – running up the edge of the book block.

Tell us about some of Chicken House's greatest success stories so far.

Commercially, it has to be Cornelia Funke with her spectacular NY Times successes for Chicken House, while closer to home, the spectacular Maze Runner series by James Dashner.  When you have a breakthrough success and you are the size we are, the effect is transforming on creativity. It's true.

Where did your love of children's books first begin?

It began with the Little Tim books illustrated by Edward Ardizzone which I recognised from the pictures.

Then I was in the Puffin Club. I've wanted to be an author since I was seven. And this year will get the chance at 50 with my first book One Silver Summer (SCHOLASTIC May 16).

Are there particular subject matters or styles which are hot on your radar right now?

The moment I say it here, the moment will be gone. Authors and artists should just be themselves.  I am looking for stand out artists.

Which 3 titles from your enterprising list are you most proud of and why?

Golly, I can't choose but my current favourite commissioned covers are: Dragonrider by Cornelia Funke (Christopher Gibbs); the original cover of Stolen by Lucy Christopher (Steve Wells); Wolf Princess by Cathryn Constable (Helen Crawford White) and Beetle Boy by MG Leonard (Julia Sarda).

Who or what has inspired you most in your career?

Authors and artists genuinely inspire me.  Quentin Blake for being able to say so much with the flick of a hand. James Dashner for always being so considerate, direct and brilliant with his readership. Helen Crawford White and Steve Wells for being the best cover designers ever. And Barry Cunningham who gave me my first job interview at Puffin, once introduced me to JK Rowling, and who I have worked with for nearly twenty years now. Best job in the world.

Connect With Us