Friday, 9 May 2014

3D review –Looking at the Stars- Jo Cotterill – editor interview

We took the chance to talk to Ruth Knowles, Editorial Director, Fiction, Random House about her favourite books and about editing Jo Cotterill's 'Looking at the Stars'.

What was your favourite children’s book as a child?

I was a keen ballet dancer and so read and re-read Ballet Shoes and the Drina series. But, like so many of my generation, it was Enid Blyton who got me properly into reading. I love Mallory Towers.

What is your favourite children’s book as an adult?

The classic book that has stayed with me is The Silver Sword. I read it first age 11 - when I did enjoy it - but have come back to it many times since and I can remember the journey of Ruth, Edek and Bronia so vividly and with such emotion. It's a wonderful, haunting WW2 novel that still feels fresh.

The more modern book I've loved and that stays with me (and I should say that I'm purposely not choosing a Random House title or a book I worked on at Andersen. There are so many of those that I love, but I don't want to choose one author and their work over another!) is Martyn Pig by Kevin Brooks. Phil Earle, who was then part of the RHCP sales team, gave me it to read when I was in my first week as the editorial assistant at RHCP. It really showed me what teen books could be like - gritty, pacy and with such vivid, real characters. It really changed the way I thought about my new job.

Recently, I've also loved Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell.

What do you think makes children’s books so inspirational?

For any adult who was a child bookworm as I was, the thought of going anywhere without a book is unthinkable. I know - first hand from my TA days - this isn't the experience every child has, by  any means, but I do think that the thought that there could just be one book out there that changes a child's mind about reading is so very inspirational. It means that everybody involved in writing and making children's books could play a part in changing a person for ever.

What do you love about this book and what makes it stand out?

I think Jo has got the perfect balance between showing us the reality of war and all its hardships and brutality, with hope and imagination. What makes the book stand out for me from other children's books that are set in wartime is Amina's storytelling. There's the most wonderful scene - Jo read it at her launch party - where a young boy who has been stunned mute by the horrors he's seen is able to talk again thanks to his engagement in the stories Amina (the book's heroine) is telling and the world she's created. I read the book so many times but it still gives me goosebumps.

How many people have worked on this book and for how long?

I know that Jo has been working on it off and on for many years, but my involvement started in the summer of 2010. Jo's Sweet Hearts series had just launched, and we were having lunch in Queen's Park. I asked Jo what else she'd been working on when she came up with the idea for Sweet Hearts, and she told me about this book she had in her bottom drawer - Looking at the Stars. I loved the sound of it and said to Jo that when she was happy to share it I'd love to read it.

I bought the book for Random House and did my first edit in the Autumn of 2011. Then I went away for a year - on a secondment to Andersen Press - and Jo had her second daughter. We carried on working on it at the start of 2013, but it didn't need much more doing to it at all, just a few tweaks here and there.

In addition to me, there is obviously a wonderful designer and publicist involved. A sales team, who loved the book, a production department who made it,  and also I had support from a lovely RH editor who is now at Orchard books, Jessica Clarke.

What made you want to work in children’s publishing?

I always knew I wanted to work with words, and for a long time thought Journalism was the route for me. Then I went to a graduate talk and heard horror stories about journalists rooting through bins to find a gossip story and decided against it! I then thought about teaching, and spent a wonderful year working as a Teaching Assistant in the SEN department of a high school. I ended up doing a lot of work with teenage boys who had behavioural issues and dyslexia. I couldn't find things they wanted to read really - other than car magazines! - and suddenly everything fell into place and I thought that if I could be involved in the making of books that one day teenage boys just like the ones I'd worked with might find the right book to turn them into a reader.

Ruth Knowles, Editorial Director, Fiction, Random House

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