Publisher & MD, Pushkin Press
How did you get your first break in publishing and what important lessons have you learned along the way?
I started out doing work experience at Granta Books in July 1998; my first ‘proper’ job was as editorial secretary – yes, secretary! – starting in Oct/Nov 1998 at Yale University Press (London). I learned an enormous amount about the business from my first boss John Nicoll, MD of Yale UP, who was hugely generous in sharing his experience with me; he was an important mentor and we’re still friends more than 20 years later.
Tell us about the team behind Pushkin Children’s Books and explain what your role as Publisher and Managing Director broadly entails.
I started Pushkin Children’s Books almost immediately on taking over the business in spring 2012, and the first books in the imprint appeared in April/May 2013. Today, books for the list are acquired by me, commissioning editor Daniel Seton and editor-at-large Sarah Odedina. Sarah focuses on English-language titles, mainly middle grade and YA, while Daniel and I mostly acquire books originally written in other languages for all ages.
Pushkin Children's Books is passionate about bringing to the UK stories from round the world. Could you select titles from your current list which best exemplify this idea?
This year’s children’s list includes books originally published in Japan, Belgium, Holland, Italy and Finland, which I’m hugely proud of! We are always looking for the best stories from around the world and constantly discovering gems of all kinds. Perhaps the book we’re most proud of at the moment in this content is Lampie written and illustrated by Annet Schaap. This award-winning book in the Netherlands – where it was a huge bestseller – has been shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal and is the first ever book in translation to be shortlisted for the Carnegie! Other titles include The Beast Warrior – sequel to The Beast Player – by Nahoko Uehashi. And one of our first picture books is the extremely funny The Secret Life of Farts from Finland!
What kind of children's books are you particularly drawn to?
Personally, I love original, voice-led middle grade fiction. And though we publish some books with sequels and a couple series, I’m most drawn to stand-alone books. I also love original illustrations, and this autumn we have a gorgeous wordless picture book from Holland – The Wanderer by Peter van den Ende which may be the most beautiful book we ever publish on any of our lists!
When browsing an illustrator's portfolio, what key ingredients are you looking for?
Originality combined with accessibility.
Describe the book making process at Pushkin using a recent example.
Well, it varies between English-language originals and translations. With translations, we work hard to find the perfect translator and then the translation has to be carefully edited, and we often use the original foreign-language cover or adapt it. Though sometimes we do commission our own original covers even for books published elsewhere (as with The Beast Player and The Beast Warrior). English-language originals usually go through more than one draft before being copy-edited. There are many people involved in every book – editor, assistant, cover designer, managing editor, translator, etc.
Who would you say are the children's publishing world's true visionaries?
I’m going to say Sarah Odedina our Editor-at-Large, Beverly Horowitz at PRH Children’s Books in NY and the recently retired editor Gallimard Jeneusse co-founder Christine Baker.
Which children's books had the greatest impact on you growing up?
Too many to count! But I’d pick out From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler which I loved as a kid and still can’t believe was able to bring back into print in the UK a few years back – and it continues to sell and sell and reprint; a wonderful book! I loved all of Lloyd Alexander’s books, Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising series, Watership Down, Charlotte’s Web. I could go on and on but hope that gives some idea of what I was reading as a kid – and Tintin too of course!
What has been the proudest moment of your career?
As a children’s publisher publishing The Letter for the King by Tonke Dragt in English for the first time. It was one of our very first acquisitions for the list in 2012 – it came out in 2013 – and it continues to be our bestselling children’s book to date. It just came out as a Netflix series this spring too, all thanks to our edition. This would never have happened without Laura Watkinson, translator extraordinaire who drew it to my attention in the first place. Thank you again, Laura.
What is your vision for the future of Pushkin Children’s Books?
More of the same plus we are adding a small line of picture books – from abroad and originals – starting this autumn. And we’re also introducing a new series of originally commissioned non-fiction adventure stories called True Adventures. We’ve commissioned 8 titles so far and the first are out later this year.