Publisher, Wacky Bee Books
Tell us about your professional background and some of your career highlights to date.
I trained as a journalist and initially worked in children’s comics and teenage magazines. That was at IPC Magazines where my most senior position was editor on Oh Boy! Magazine. I left IPC to go freelance (writing and editing) and to have children. When my eldest child started school I went back to work at Penguin Children’s Books (later Puffin) as their Reader. A job I held until I decided to set up my own publishing company in 2015.
What prompted you to set up your own publishing company, Wacky Bee Books, in 2015?
Alongside my work as Reader at Puffin I also ran a consultancy service for children’s writers, The Writers’ Advice Centre for Children’s Books. I launched the Advice Centre in 1994 and initially we had a fairly high success rate of placing books with various children’s publishing companies. However over the years more and more companies took the decision not to accept unsolicited manuscripts. Which was frustrating for me as I was still seeing talented writers coming through the Centre. So, I decided that if no-one else wanted to publish those authors then I would, under my own imprint. We launched Wacky Bee with early reader Geronimo, The Dog Who Thinks He’s a Cat by Jessie Wall and picture book The Great Farty Slob Beast by Charlie Farley. Both books were by authors who had come through The Writers’ Advice Centre.
Why did you decide to name your company 'Wacky Bee Books'?
When I first started thinking about setting up my own publishing company, I decided that it should be connected in some way to The Writers’ Advice Centre. So, I took the Centre’s initials – WAC – and came up with WACky Books. However, that seemed a little bit on the dull side and when I came across a quote by Philip Pullman – ‘Read like a butterfly, write like a bee’ – I just knew that Wacky Bee Books was the name for us.
Which titles on your current list best exemplify the ethos behind Wacky Bee Books?
I decided early on that all our books would be illustrated, no matter the target age range. And I also decided that I wanted to publish books that made you laugh and cry all at the same time! So, I suppose the two books that best exemplify that ethos are our two middle grade titles in translation – Elise and the Second-hand Dog and A Postcard to Ollis.
Could you select a recent title from your list and walk us through the journey of its creation?
Mustafa’s Jumper by Coral Rumble has an interesting story behind its creation. Coral is my poetry editor at The Writers’ Advice Centre and is a successful poet in her own right. In 2018 she won the Caterpillar Poetry Prize with her poem Mustafa’s Jumper. It’s a touching poem about the friendship between two boys, one of whom is a migrant. The title relates to the jumper that Mustafa leaves behind when he has to return to his own country. At the time we were looking to build our series of early readers, Buzzy Reads, and as soon as I read Coral’s poem, I knew it would make a perfect Buzzy Reads. I also already had a picture book on our list written by Coral and illustrated by her daughter, Charlotte Cooke and I was keen to publish another book by the same mother/daughter team. Coral agreed to turn her poem into an early reader and Charlotte agreed to illustrate it. The rest is history!
What are some of the advantages (and disadvantages) of being a small publishing company?
As it says on our website, Wacky Bee is a very small company with very big ideas. Because we are small and independent, we can publish exactly what we want and don’t have to justify our acquisitions to anyone. If I like a book enough and I want to publish it then I do. It’s as simple as that! However, the downsides of being a small publisher are huge. Retailers in the UK tend to focus on what my old sales team used to refer to as ‘The Cosy Club’. These are the large children’s publishing houses who have the money and profile to market and promote their books in a big way. Us small publishers don’t really get a look-in which is very sad and, we think, very short sighted of retailers.
Tell us about some of Wacky Bee Books' biggest success stories.
Elise and the Second-hand Dog was one of BookTrust’s 100 Best Books in 2018 and was also longlisted for the Carnegie Medal in the same year. The Great Farty Slob Beast was a finalist in the British Book Design & Production Awards. Double Felix made the Reading Agency’s Reading Well for Children 2020 booklist and has also done well for us abroad, with rights being sold to the US and Latvia. And our third Dougal Daley title, I’m Phenomenal! is one of the books in this year’s Summer Reading Challenge.
How would you describe the kind of illustration you are interested in commissioning?
That’s a tricky question to answer as it really does depend on the book. As a small independent publisher, we are open to working with emerging talent and while our budgets are sometimes modest, we feel the input and support we offer can help to propel and kick-start new illustrators’ careers.
Who do you most admire in the publishing industry?
Philippa Milnes-Smith was one of my first bosses when I started work at Puffin and I still have a lot of time for her. She is now an agent (The Soho Agency) and speaks a great deal of sense. Not to mention the fact that she has two previous Children’s Laureates as clients, Chris Riddell and Lauren Child. I also admire author, Malorie Blackman, and used to attend a writing workshop with her back in the day. And a shout-out for Klaus Flugge who championed a book I wrote while attending that writing workshop. It never actually made it to publication with Andersen Press in the end, but I will always be proud that it very nearly did! And I got an agent off the back of it – the much loved, late Rosemary Canter who, at the time, was with Peters Fraser and Dunlop. Lastly, I should mention David Rose, publisher at Red Robin Books. Starting up my own publishing company has been a HUGE learning curve and, without his help and advice, I don’t think I would have made it.
Which books from your own childhood sparked a life-long love of reading
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, the original Mary Poppins books by P.L.Travers, The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge, Winnie the Pooh, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, all the Babar books by Jean de Brunhoff, Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery, Little Women….heavens, you’ve got me remembering now!