What is your specialism within book publishing?
My specialism, and my passion, is inclusion in children’s books. I’ve always been interested in inclusion, and during work experience in an inclusive primary school saw the direct impact of an inclusive classroom. When I moved from teaching into publishing, I was lucky enough to get a job with Child’s Play, a publisher who were already making strides in creating incidentally inclusive books, and to get involved in the ‘In The Picture’ project, lottery funded and run by Scope, which really transformed everything for me, and for the publisher. I learned so much about authentic inclusion from my involvement on this project, and was able to apply this to the books we created. Over the past fifteen years I’ve extended my knowledge of diversity and inclusion, and put this into practical action to make numerous books more inclusive.
It’s easy to get things wrong, and for inclusion to appear (or even be) tokenistic, so I work with publishers, authors and illustrators to do the research, find the references, and connect them to people with lived experience, to ensure that representation is authentic.
Can you describe what you do in 10 words or fewer?
I help children’s publishers make great books authentically inclusive.
What led you to go freelance?
Starting my career with a small publisher was great in many ways as I learned about all aspects of the business – editorial, design, marketing and production. But there was limited scope to process within the company, and this breadth of experience meant that I didn’t have the same depth of experience that other publishing houses were looking for when I applied for jobs. So I decided to create my own job, which meant that I could focus on inclusion as well as editing. I sold my house and went to South America for 4 months, deciding that as I’d be jobless when I got back I’d have to give freelancing a go. It made sense at the time!
Do you work primarily for publishing companies or independent authors or a mix?
I work primarily for publishing companies, but occasionally I work directly with independent authors.
What’s the best part of doing what you do?
The variety. I’ve ended up getting involved in all sorts of interesting projects and opportunites since being freelance, such as teaching a children’s publishing MA module, speaking at the House of Parliament, and at conferences in the UK and abroad. It also gave me the freedom to found Inclusive Minds with Alex Strick, and organise working with the publishing industry to create authentically inclusive books. I can’t complain about the short commute and lack of dress code either!
What do you know now that you wish you had known when you started your freelance journey?
The importance of thinking about freelancing like running a business. I know this should be obvious, but I’ve only started thinking in a more businesslike way about what I’m doing recently, and it’s changed things quite a bit. The other thing is the importance of finding the right community. Freelancing can be lonely. I spent a lot of time on Twitter in the early days (most of it not productive) but have since found dedicated groups on Facebook that give me more value and a better sense of community.
How many books are in your TBR (to be read) pile/list? And do you plan to read them all eventually?
Inclusive Minds is partnering with CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) to provide guidance to the judges on the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway awards. So I’m currently being sent all 165 titles with the aim to read them all! Almost half are picture books, so my 4 year old is enjoying helping me out with those. I’ve also got about another 20 children’s books that I’ve been sent, but they’ll have to go on the backburner for a while!
Do you prefer physical books or ebooks?
Physical books. No question. I only read my first eBook 2 years ago. I feel like I spend enough time as it is on screens, and I do most of my reading when I go to bed so don’t want to be on a screen there. I love the feel of a physical book, and being able to see the books I’ve loved on a shelf and remember the story it told. I’ve read a few non-fiction books on my iPad, but with ones I want to flick through and refer back to a lot, I still find a physical book better (even though an eBook has a search function.
Do you have any advice for anyone considering a career in publishing?
Think unconventionally. Don't be afraid to write speculative applications (I got my job in publishing this way) as you are more likely to be noticed than if you apply for a job at the same time as hundreds of other people. Think about what experience you already have that might be of value. There are various routes into publishing now, with new apprenticeships, as well as MAs and various internship schemes. Creative Access advertises paid internships on Twitter, so are worth following.
What is your favourite children’s book and your favourite adult’s book?
I love His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman. He writes fantasy in such a way that it’s grounded in reality, and therefore entirely believable. I’ve always loved the idea of parallel worlds, and he made that real for me. On a professional level with my inclusion hat on, I love that this series is a brilliant example of how a great story can be incidentally inclusive, without it being an issue. I’m not saying all the representation in it is perfect, but it shows how inclusion can be done without detracting from the story. My favourite adult book is probably The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. I studied this at A-Level and again at university. It amazed and terrified me, and introduced me to the genre of dystopian fiction. Margaret Atwood has such an incredible skill with language, and, like Pullman, her writing is grounded in reality which makes it much more believable. And this brings me on a nice loop back to the first question when I talked about the importance of authentic inclusion, because when characters and situations are based on reality, they are much more believable, and the reader will be more engaged.