An interview with Lucy from Lucy J Loves
Away from your blog, you work in publishing. Growing up, which books inspired your love of reading and influenced your career choice?
The first book I read was James and the Giant Peach, followed shortly by Matilda, then Enid Blyton series like The Famous Five and Mallory Towers. I could happily escape into those fantasy worlds for hours, and had to be checked on late at night in case I was staying up past midnight. My mother has a huge collection of books and always encouraged my reading – in fact she tried to give me Wuthering Heights a bit too early when I was about ten. I didn’t understand a word of it and it put me off the book for life. As a teen I read lots of Orwell and Huxley, and then when Irvine Welsh arrived I got all of his titles. Funnily though, I didn’t choose publishing. I’m one of the very few people who got into the industry by accident. I started an English degree but at the time I had too much energy to sit still and read, write essays, attend lectures (oh to be nineteen again). I took a year out and decided I wanted to be a photographer… and came into publishing via that circuitous route.
What’s the best thing about working in the publishing industry?
It depends really on where you’re working, which department you’re in, what your role is, and what your line manager is like. People have this romantic idea of publishing, but the fiction and poetry and art that makes most folk interested in it is actually just a small section of the industry, which also includes sectors like STM, academic, B2B and educational publishing. At the end of the day most publishing houses are businesses, and as with any type of business the sad fact is most people are there to do the unglamorous jobs that keep a business functioning, not to read books. It’s always a bit of a special moment when the final printed copy of a book turns up at the office and everybody gets to pick it up and hold it for the first time. As long as nothing’s gone wrong.
I’m one of the very few fortunate ones who’s been able to work on a mixture of novels, poetry and art books, so I’ve met and worked with a lot really interesting, creative, talented people. I’ve been to fantastic events, and done a bit of travelling as well. I was a fiction editor for a few years so I got the incredible pleasure of telling a few first-time authors face to face that we wanted to publish their work – that was priceless. As far as best personal moments go… there have been many: editing Booker nominee Stevie Davies, drinking (and working) with Niall Griffiths, helping Shimon Attie edit his photos, developing my own series from concept to branding, and getting to explore Istanbul while researching Turkish authors. I once spent an insane week in New York, working in the Chrysler Building for a few days, gifting books to the NYC Library and attending their launch event for Kerouac’s On the Road scroll exhibition, and on my last day there striking the biggest firm sale the company ever had – something I celebrated by literally skipping down the street singing to myself like a loon. Hopefully the guy I made the deal with didn’t spot me through his window.
Has the digital revolution changed publishing for the better?
The rise of the ebook and the range of mobile reading devices available mean that content is centre stage. The digital revolution has also made people question the definition of publishing, the processes and business models involved. It’s hard to say whether this is for the better yet because the ground is shifting every day. It’s a really exciting time. Publishing has become more democratic but also more unruly. Self-publishing is booming – which is great for truly talented authors who don’t want to give control of their baby to somebody else, but can be negative in terms of the lack of quality control – editors exist for a reason! I hope that anyone who seriously wants to publish their writing at least tries to explores traditional avenues (there are over 2,000 publishers in the UK alone, one of them might be a really good fit – just read the submission guidelines carefully), or sees their work as being worth investing in the help of a professional editor. There’s also been a rise in unscrupulous ‘publishers’ letting naïve people think they are going to be ‘a published author’, when really the writers are coughing up their own money for not much more than the addition of a worthless logo. They are effectively self-publishing, and nobody is going to take any notice of their project because they don’t have a marketing team or a budget to promote it. Did you see that episode of Peep Show? Don’t be that guy.
Which books are you planning to read next? Do you have any that you secretly suspect you’ll never get round to?
Next on my list is The Drive by Tyler Keevil, which I’m so excited about because he’s one of the most talented and lovely authors I’ve worked with. Beyond that I have a list of authors I want to read more of – James Smythe (another author I’ve been lucky enough to work with in the past), Ali Smith, Cormac McCarthy, Donna Tartt… I recently started working for an arts and culture publisher so I’d like to get more familiar with their backlist – there’s one in particular about riot grrrls I’ve got my eye on. There are so many classics I’ve not yet tackled, and probably won’t get round to, I wouldn’t want to strike any off my list though. I only read Lolita for the first time a few years ago… I think that’s due for a second visit.
Are there any books you started but never finished?
Not many. I was brought up to believe you should always finish a book, even if it’s bad. I’ve been stuck on Danny Wallace’s Yes Man for ages. It’s getting on my nerves so much, but I can’t bring myself to chuck it and start a new one. Honestly, it’s been weeks and weeks. I need to get over it.
On your blog you focus a lot on life in London. Is there a novel that particularly reflects the city as you see it?
Not from a personal point of view, but Monica Ali’s Brick Lane is a great representation of London – even though most of it is set within a single flat. London’s a great multicultural city – it’s not often I meet a Londoner. Most people are from somewhere else, and Brick Lane captures that feeling of possibility, of opportunity, of being an anonymous, invisible outsider but at the same time having the world at your doorstep. I haven’t yet read NW by Zadie Smith but I love her work and I bet she’s done a good job of sharing a real, modern London.
Would you ever be interested in writing a novel? If you could have written any existing book, what would it be?
Anyone can write a novel (I’ve worked with the slushpile, I know this for a fact. I’ve had cover letters that start with ‘I’ve never really been much of a reader but…’). I’d be interested in writing a good one. Not a huge, best-selling, Booker-winning tome. I’d be happy to be able to create a decent, not-awful story that leaves a small impression on a reader’s mind. That said, I always have the same answer when someone asks me what I’d like to have written – 1984 by George Orwell. I think I was about fourteen when I first read it and (being an earnest little dreamer) wrote in my extra-curricular reading report that I was ‘so glad I’d found someone who thinks like me’. Ha! Orwell is one of my all-time heroes. Incredibly big, important ideas discussed in a simple, unpretentious way. What a dude. I’d quite like the financial success of E. L. James but in all honesty I think I’d rather not be responsible for inflicting that crap on the world.
You started out selling photographs to publishers for use on the covers of books. What do you think makes a striking book jacket that you would immediately have to pick up and buy?
I like anything that’s a bit different. I’m very interested in graphic and product design so your average book cover isn’t going to catch my eye (beware The Shadow Man). I’m a sucker for special effects, anything tactile, or just simple, ballsy designs that stand out amongst the others. While I was with Parthian I launched a series called Bright Young Things, and I got all the covers made from matt black card, and stamped with coloured metallic foiling based on designs by Tim Albin. The printers thought I was mad and kept checking was I sure I wanted to do this, but I’m really proud of the design of the series, especially when you see all the titles next to each other on a shelf.
I’m terrible for buying books and having piles of them lying around the house waiting to be read. On your blog, you often talk about living in a tiny London flat, so I’m guessing that doesn’t leave a lot of space for books! How do you prefer to read: are you a Kindle addict, library regular or a paperback collector?
I used to be a collector, now most of my books are in storage. I have a small selection here and it’s a bit random. I brought all my signed copies with me just in case our storage unit flooded – then we have a few recent purchases alongside some books people have given to us or lent to us. The Qur’an is there (I seem to get a free copy every year at the London book fair and never get round to having a look at it. A slightly mad conspiracy-nut friend made us borrow his copy of some book about the Mayan calendar – needless to say that’s another unread one. Last year for our first anniversary my husband bought me a Kobo (the Kindle – or rather its creator Amazon – is not my favourite brand). It took me a little while to get used to it – I found myself reviewing it in my head all the time instead of concentrating on the content – but I absolutely love it. It’s so light, the battery lasts forever, and the fact you only need one hand to hold it is a revelation – who knew the difference that could make in reading-comfort levels?!
I’m a bit obsessive about my books and keeping them as undamaged as possible. Do you have any pet hates about the way other people read or treat their books?
When someone turns the pages of a big, beautiful art book by grabbing it somewhere near the spine, that makes me nervous. It risks tearing – use the corners, people! These are objects of desire in themselves and we should take as much care looking after them as people have put into making them so gorgeous. As with anything that’s rare and precious, we should respect and value books. On the whole though, a lot of paperbacks aren’t actually made to last – they cost less than a packet of cigarettes and are bound with just enough glue to stop them falling apart. The content’s the thing.
And finally, do you have any random/funny/bizarre stories that you can share with us?
Back in the first year or so of my career, I sent a book to print with an error on the inner title page. Instead of ‘Goldfish’ it read ‘Golfish’. Thankfully we were only doing a short digital print run, and the whole team had also missed it so I wasn’t in too much trouble. Once, after a particularly raucous book launch in Barcelona, I stayed up all night to swim at dawn, then fell asleep on the sand and woke up with sunstroke at midday. On another work trip, other time, BA lost my luggage and I had to go to a day’s worth of meetings in the jeans and T-shirt I’d flown in the day before – minus my make-up, meeting notes, maps, and the £600 camera I’d recently bought . My colleagues and I almost got washed out to sea during a team-building day out when our boat’s outboard motor failed. I could go on…
If you’re a blogger, writer or book lover and you’d like to take part in Space on the Bookshelves, get in touch! You can email me at amy(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)tenpennydreams.com