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An Interview with Emma Layfield, Hachette's Picture Book Development Director

Posted By Jacob Hope, 10 June 2020
Updated: 10 June 2020

We are pleased to welcome Emma Layfield, Picture Book Development Director North for Hachette Children's Group.  We were delighted to catch up with Emma to talk about her work, interests and the first Northern office for Hachette.

 

Can you tell us a little about your background please?

I have worked in the wonderful world of picture books for over twenty years now. In my previous role for Hachette Children’s Group, I was the Group Picture Book Publisher overseeing both the Hodder and Orchard imprints.

 

I have been lucky enough to work with some of the great picture book makers, including Kes Gray and Jim Field with Oi Frog and Friends (over 1.5 million copies sold in the UK), Steve Antony from the start of his career with Please Mr Panda (sold in 20 languages) and new rising stars such as Viola Wang with Rabbit Bright and Sandra Dieckmann with Waiting for Wolf.

 

In January I started in a new role for HCG as Picture Book Development Director, North, based in Manchester. I am from Lancashire originally so personally and professionally this move means a lot to me. I am really excited and very proud to be working in Hachette UK’s first northern office.

 

 The UK’s publishing industry has largely been based in London. What do you think the advantages and disadvantages are of having an industry that is so localised?

There are only advantages to publishers having a presence outside of London. Diversity and authenticity are key to the future of publishing and it is important that publishers are on the ground and plugged into what's happening around the whole country.

 

What led to Hachette’s decision to decentralize?

Hachette UK is committed to expanding its national publishing activity and helping discover new voices and new audiences around the country and already has several bases outside of London. Growing these and establishing new publishing centres in other areas of the country is a significant priority for the company.

 

Can you tell us more about your remit and are there challenges with working remotely from a lot of your colleagues?

I am responsible for networking, building relationships and looking for business opportunities in the north of England and Scotland, with a remit to acquire talent living in the North West, North East, Yorkshire and Scotland to publish onto the HCG list. I am perfectly positioned in Manchester to scout for talent and network in my areas. It is so important for me to meet people face-to-face to build relationships, and also to meet people in their hometowns so I get a full understanding of the creative industries in the North and Scotland.

 

I work very closely with my colleagues in the London team, hand-in-glove with the picture book team and take fortnightly trips to London. Outstanding communication, regular face-to-face meetings and traffic going both ways are the key to success in working remotely.

 

 You are picture book director, what does that role entail?

I have worked as a Picture Book Director/Publisher for over ten years and this new role will grow and enhance our picture book business. It allows me to bring my wide experience, track record of strong commercial delivery, and creativity and ambition to the north of England and Scotland.

 

 

It feels an exciting time for picture books as there’s a wider recognition for the role they can play with readers of different ages. Have you seen any evidence of this and if so what?

It is a really exciting time for picture books and it is great to see that readers of all ages are embracing illustrations in books. Older children and adults don’t grow out of the messages in Lost and Found, Where the Wild Things Are or Not Now, Bernard.

 

Shaun Tan’s The Arrival is a great example of a picture book that speaks to all ages, from children and adolescents to adults. Nearly all readers will be able to relate to it somehow – to the difficulties of starting over, be it in another country, city, or community.

 

William Grill’s Shackleton’s Journey marked a publishing revolution in highly illustrated and crafted trade non-fiction books. Aimed at children, William’s maps and illustrations about the day-to-day life of the expedition also have wide appeal to adults.

 

 

What do you feel makes a successful picture book and what do you look for in these?

I am always looking for a picture book with layers. Something that is great to read aloud and cries out to be read time and time again, but also has an underlying message, hook or theme that give parents and children a reason to pick it up.

 

Oi Frog! is a great example of this as it is packed with so much silliness and ridiculous rhymes, children don’t even realise they are learning about phonics. And the parents love reading it too!

 

Which authors and illustrators are you working with and are there any titles that you feel particularly excited by?

This is a brand-new role creating exciting new picture books with northern and Scottish authors and illustrators so watch this space!

 

Are there ways libraries can support you in your new role in the North?

Libraries are so valuable to communities, and in Manchester we are lucky enough to have 24 wonderful public libraries. Manchester’s first poetry library is opening in 2020. The libraries are also a key part of the Manchester Literature Festival and the Manchester Children’s Book Festival.

 

In my new role, I am keen to forge strong relationships with local librarians.  I would love to hear from librarians to find out what events are coming up and what new picture books they are most excited about.

 

 

Thank you Emma for your time!  Do follow Emma on twitter @emmalayfield2

 

 

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Tags:  Children's Books  Interview  Picture Books  Publishing 

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Untangling Roots - Resolving Cultural Heritage through Storytelling

Posted By Jacob Hope, 20 May 2020
Updated: 20 May 2020

We are delighted to welcome Jessica Wilson, poet and author, to discuss her writing and the impetus behind and creation of her picture book Sofia the Dreamer and her Magical Afro and its creation.

 

 

My children’s poem-story Sofia the Dreamer and her Magical Afro, tumbled from me one afternoon like a remembered song.  This magical-realism picture book is the winner of a GoFundMe award and seeks to unpick the politics, history, heroes and joy entangled within the tight coils of kinky hair.  A Jamaican Rastafarian, African ancestor and Black Panther stepped into my imagination, unravelling their narratives in rhythmic rhyme.  These were voices, like my own, which had been suppressed or not yet fully heard.  The piece grew into a space where each character had their own solo; an ensemble of individuals relaying their stories, in their own words.

Aimed at 5-8 year olds, my fantasy poem is primarily a response to the continued under-representation of black children in literature.  I recall feeling ostracized as a youngster by trite tales of snowfalls and apple-picking which lacked the cultural collisions of my domestic life: for example, Sunday roasts enlivened with plantain and our linguistic fluidity which slipped between patois and the Queen’s English.  My mother sought out African American books for me, such as Half a Moon and One Whole Star and Alice Walker’s To Hell with Dying which featured protagonists I resembled and storylines bridging fantasy and the everyday; a realm where my mind already dwelt.  Spotlighting characters with skin the colour of coco-tea whose faces were framed by billowing halos of afros, these looking-glass pages planted a sense of recognition and belonging within my young mind.  My own books had already begun to bud.

Sofia the Dreamer and her Magical Afro also aspires to counteract the aching lack of black history taught within schools.  I chose to publish this book in May rather than wait until October (Black History month) because I do not believe multicultural narratives should be sandwiched into a small section of the year: British history with its myriad threads of migration and colonialism is not a monologue, it is a colourful, polyglot, interweaving chorus.  I want to encourage children to delve into theirs and others’ historical backgrounds and be inspired to share their stories.  We need more dialogue about the multifaceted nature of our national identity in the mainstream.

 

Examining my origins was a catalyst in my poetry career: whilst I had written articles and reviews for many years, self-expression in verse-form sprung from an urgency to communicate my own cultural eclecticism.  Being both Jamaican and British, I felt like an anomaly or, as I describe in my first collection,

 

 “I am both yet neither and the hinterland between;

I am Usain Bolt taking tea with the queen.”

-The Bulldog and the Hummingbird

 

Poetry provided an apt, elastic vehicle to communicate the riddle of this hybridity.  Within ‘reclamation’ which was shortlisted for an Aesthetica Award, I reconfigured the diaspora as a site of creativity, noting:

 

“we dance

because our first names are at war with our last;

because we feel like flecks of dust

caught in a light stream between two closed windows.

 

we dance

because magic is dripping from our tongues

like the honeyed juice of overripe mangoes.”

 

Our roots, no matter how embattled, are a creative font we can tap into.  By sharing the conflicts of my own legacy, I not only reconciled them but learnt to celebrate life at the interstices.  Soon after, I was shortlisted for WriteNowLive, an exciting diversity initiative spearheaded by the BBC and Penguin Random House to find emerging literary talent in underrepresented communities.  Recognising the need to amplify marginalised voices, I later founded Tallawah Publishing with the aim of supporting writers and artists of Caribbean and African descent.

 

I join many other Caribbean poets in my belief that it is our duty to rewrite our history and conserve our storytelling inheritance.  It is my hope that by interweaving the ancestral past with the present, Sofia the Dreamer and her Magical Afro contributes in painting a richer, more diverse and promising literary future.

 

 

Sofia the Dreamer and her Magical Afro is available for purchase via Jessica Wilson’s website:  http://www.jessica-wilson.com/buy-books/sofia-the-dreamer-and-her-magical-afro-by-jessica-wilson-paperback

 

 

The Bulldog and the Hummingbird will be available for preorder on 22nd June 2020 (the anniversary of Windrush) at www.tallawahpublishing.com

 

 

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Tags:  diversity  publishing  reading  reading for pleasure 

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Man in the Mountain - a guest blog by Natalie Ramm

Posted By Jacob Hope, 30 October 2019

It is a pleasure to welcome Natalie Ramm to provide an insight into her picture book, Man in the Mountain, and the way her career and life have fed into the creation of this.

 

Six years ago, I took a three month sabbatical from my job in publishing to set off on a road trip across Europe with my husband. The plan was to check out of work entirely – but no sooner had we hit the end of week one, than I felt a sudden urge to write.

 

Perhaps it was the peacefulness of the surrounding landscape, or just the sheer desire to still be working, but each day I would sit down excitedly to write for a few hours. When our trip came to an end, I filed the stories away and thought little of them for years. This is largely because I work in publishing.

 

After spending seven years at Penguin Press, I now work freelance – as a copywriter and marketing consultant – for some of the best publishers in town. I love my day job, but there is nothing like it for reminding you of all the reasons never to get your hopes up of being published: there are just too many books – excellent books – being published already, most of which barely anyone has heard of.

 

Each year, the market seems more crowded, and the space for capturing readers’ attention increasingly small, and contested by all kinds of media. At the same time, in the children’s world at least, big brand authors continue to dominate much of the landscape.

 

And yet, last year, I started to think about my stories again. And in a fleetingly hopeful moment, I sent a few of them to some smaller publishers who accept submissions directly from authors. I was pretty sure it would come to nothing, so when Ragged Bears said they were interested in publishing Man in the Mountain, I knew not to get my hopes up. I didn’t think about whether the book might be a success or not, because I’d worked in publishing long enough to know that it couldnt be. 

 

When you work with books (and especially in marketing), you can get fixated on sales figures, and other standard measures of success. But what if ‘success’ just meant you’d written something that people (who aren’t just your mum) actually want to read? What if success was a finished book you were proud of, kind words from respected colleagues, a spring in your step?

 

Over the past year, as I’ve worked alongside the amazing illustrator Gaia D’Alconzo, my friends and family have often asked ‘aren’t you excited to be having a book published?’. My response was almost always ‘well, it’ll probably sell about three copies’. They would look perplexed, and rightly so – because this is not the attitude to have if you’re writing a book, or creating anything for that matter. Feeling excited and hopeful is an important part of the creative process.

 

So now, upon publication, I’m allowing back those feelings of hope and excitement I felt when I first sat down to write.

 

And it’s a thrill.

 

 

Tags:  Picture Books  Publishing  Reading  Visual Literacy 

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