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