What was your favourite children’s book as a child?
I don't know that I had one - I was more concerned with quantity than quality when it came to reading. I remember gobbling up Enid Blyton, Nancy Drew, the Green Gables books, Lois Duncan, Judy Blume and - like any self-respecting Scottish child - The Broons and Oor Wullie. I also read my mum's childhood library, which included two long-forgotten series I loved, one about Nicholas Thomas the naughty kitten and the other about a crime-fighting nurse called Cherry Ames.
What is your favourite children’s book as an adult?
Again, so hard to answer! If I had to choose, then my favourite picture book would be a tie between Sendak's 'Where the Wild Things Are' and Jon Klassen's 'I Want my Hat Back', and my favourite novel between Sonya Harnett's 'Silver Donkey' and Alan Garner's 'Owl Service'.
What do you think makes children’s books so inspirational?
At the younger end, I think the visual aspect of children's books is hugely appealing and I'm delighted to see 5-8s and 8-12s using more illustration and more imaginative design. I wish there was more of a market for picture books for older children as the examples that do exist are so wonderful. I think that there is a sense of fun in children's fiction that is lacking in publishing for adults, and in more serious works there is a tendency to be quite direct in emotional terms. Children's books don't pull their punches, and I think that's something adults respond to.
What do you love about Brock and what makes it stand out?
First and foremost, I love Kenny. As soon as I had read the first chapters, he was firmly lodged him in my head as a real person. I had the clearest picture of him. And I love the dynamic Anthony creates between Nicky and Kenny, the combination of fondness and frustration Nicky feels. It reminds me a little of the relationship between the two brothers in the Lasse Hallstrom film 'What's Eating Gilbert Grape?', which is one of my all-time favourites.
I don't think Anthony is fully with me on this, but I reckon that one of his great strengths is the humour he can inject into gloom. Nicky's aside as he faces the local hard-case and his terrifying dogs is a case in point. '[They were called] Satan and Slag. That tells you all you need to know about Jezbo.'
Ultimately, I think 'Brock' stands out because Anthony McGowan is one of those really special writers who can nail a sense of place and a character's voice so completely that the physical book seems to vanish and the reader is transported to somewhere else entirely.
What made you want to work in children’s publishing? What, more specifically, made you want to work for Barrington Stoke?
My parents both worked in education and I think I'm hard-wired to want to work with and for children as a result. We're also a very bookish family, and so publishing was an obvious choice, although not my first - I worked in arts development and broadcasting first, usually in my 'other' language, Scottish Gaelic.
I first got to know Barrington Stoke books when I worked in Gaelic-language publishing for schools. It's hard in a minority language to offer children enough experience of text to achieve reading fluency, and as a result their reading ability in the minority language tends to be weak. I was delighted to discover that there was a company out there actually producing books for less able readers that were still satisfying reads, and I promptly commissioned a number of translated editions. When I decided that I wanted to relocate to Edinburgh after years in the Western Isles, I had the incredible good fortune to be approached by Barrington Stoke to join the company, and I still can't believe my luck. The only thing better, in my opinion, than publishing books for children who love to read is publishing books for children who don't... yet.
Barrington Stoke books are designed for challenged readers. Does this impact how you edit Barrington Stoke titles?
Very much so. In addition to the standard editorial processes every good publisher uses, we carry out a specialised edit for accessibility. On the one hand this is a very technical process involving specific attention to syntax and incorporating fairly complex reading and language theory. On the other hand, it requires creativity and intuition to ensure that we don't prioritise the needs of our readers to the detriment of the text.
How do you find authors to write Barrington Stoke Title, do they approach you or do you commission them?
A bit of both. We've been supported by an amazing range of authors from the off, but we're always keen to build our roster of authors as we know that challenged readers desperately want to fit in by reading the same well-loved authors their peers can access. Some wonderful writers have come to us with ideas; others have joined us after downright pestering on our part!
Are there any challenges / rewards when editing a Barrington Stoke book?
The big challenge is carrying out the accessibility edit without losing the author's voice. It can feel like vandalism to take a text that reads beautifully and request changes. Luckily our authors are without exception gracious and willing to work with us to reach a version with which we are all comfortable. Working with the authors is a huge reward in itself - I sometimes have to pinch myself. But the biggest reward comes in the postbag - the flood of letters we receive from parents telling us that our books have broken down the reading barrier for their children. That's what it's all about, in the end of the day.