Publishing Interviews: The Publicist


This is the last in my series of publishing interviews. I’ve discovered so many things about how this world works including answers from a publishing director, to an art director to a literary agent, and many roles in between. And of course there are a lot more people who help get a book written, published and on the shelves that I haven’t managed to talk to: booksellers, writing course teachers, sales reps, editorial assistants, and many more. But I need to take a break because I have lots of Swimming Lessons events coming up; if there are any roles in particular you would like me to interview, just drop me a line, or comment below, and I’ll store up the suggestions for later in the year.

So, here is my interview with Poppy North, Campaigns Manager at Penguin Random House. She is the person who has got so much fabulous coverage for Swimming Lessons, from an interview on Woman’s Hour to lots of great reviews, and although we email a few times a week I wanted to get more of an idea about what her job entails.


Claire: You’re a Campaigns Manager for Penguin and I know your job is incredibly busy and I imagine it’s about juggling lots of different things at the same time. Can you explain a bit more about the structure at Penguin, and the kind of things you do.

Poppy: I work in the merged Communications team in Penguin General, with a specific focus on publicity but work with the team on shaping the whole campaign for a book. We each work on around 3 – 4 titles a month, both hardbacks and paperbacks, and tend to work from around a year to nine months in advance on each title so are thinking about a lot of books at once! Our job is to get books in front of consumers, to get books noticed as much as possible, in as many places as possible.

The nature of our division means that these books are very varied – I work on everything from literary novels to serious non-fiction to sport to cookery – so I’m constantly kept on my toes!

Claire: What do you like best about your job? And what’s the worst / most frustrating thing?

Poppy: My favourite thing is the variety of books that I get to work on, and the people I get to meet. Sometimes I have to really pinch myself! And also the people I work with. Not to sound cheesy but everyone here really loves books and it’s amazing to come into work with people who have such passion. The most frustrating thing is not having enough hours in the day, especially on days filled with meetings…

Claire: How are you allocated the authors you work with, and how can they help with promoting a book?

Poppy: We try to ensure there’s balance across the team, so that comes into it, but more importantly, we tend to get allocated the books, and the authors, that we love.

You are a fantastic example of a helpful author Claire. For some authors, like you, having a presence online can be very valuable as a way to speak to readers. And getting to know other authors is really nice – it tends to be a very supportive community. I also think getting to know your local bookshops can be very valuable. High street bookshops are still vital, and showing them support is really important.

Claire: Can you lead us through the process of planning and executing a campaign for a particular title?

Poppy: This is hard because it’s different for every campaign and so broad in scope, with so much granular detail that I’ll think you’ll find my explanation terribly boring. No two books are the same. I think one of the most crucial things that is relevant for all books is identifying who the audience is and how you’re going to talk about it to them very early on in the process. The campaign will then develop from there in terms of where I want to get coverage, what platforms I want the book to be visible on etc. For some books it’s obvious but for others you have to work harder to find the correct audience and get the messaging right.

Claire: And what would you like authors to understand about your role or what you do that would make your life a little easier?

Poppy: To trust that we’re trying! Even if it goes silent for a little, it doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten about the book – more often than not, we’re getting our head down and pitching as hard as we can.

Claire: There’s currently lots of talk about places that books can be reviewed and discussed decreasing. Do you find this to be the case, or do you see opportunities elsewhere?

Poppy: Slots in traditional places are certainly decreasing – book pages are becoming smaller, there’s no TV show focused on books. But there are plenty of opportunities elsewhere, and online is now incredibly important to every campaign we do. Possibilities there are huge, and often allow us to have a direct line to readers which is so valuable.

Claire: What campaigns have you worked on that you’ve particularly enjoyed, and why?

Poppy: So many, it’s hard to count – most recently, along with Swimming Lessons (which I’ve loved working on), I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working on Homegoing, a fantastic debut novel from 27 year old Yaa Gyasi. Breaking debut novels can be hard but this book has really connected with readers, which is fantastic to see.

Claire: How did you get into your current role, and do you have any advice for people interested in your kind of job?

Poppy: I got a work experience placement and basically didn’t leave until they gave me a job! To people interested in it I’d say that it’s actually very easy to make a good impression when doing work experience – be enthusiastic (even if the work seems boring, we know how tiresome mailings can be), and try and be as diligent as possible, and ask us about our jobs. We want you to learn whilst you’re here, and we’ll remember you if you’re good.

Claire: Do you still get a chance to read for pleasure, and what books have you read in 2016 that really stick in your mind?

Poppy: Yes, I still love reading and read as much as I can. Two books have really stuck in my mind recently – George Saunder’s Lincoln in the Bardo which is unusual, surprising and utterly gripping. I think it’s going to win prizes. And I’ve just read, for the first time, Arundhati Roy’s A God of Small Things ahead of her new novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, which we’re publishing in June. I knew A God of Small Things was good but I wasn’t prepared for how good it was. It blew me away. I can’t wait to read The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.

Claire: Can you tell me anything about you or what you do that would surprise readers of this series?

Poppy: I know the full addresses of all the newspapers in London off by heart (what a loser).

Claire: Thanks so much, Poppy. Fascinating stuff.

Read my interview with a reader in a literary agency
Read my interview with a literary agent
Read my interview with a Publishing Director at Fig Tree / Penguin
Read my interview with an Art Director at Tin House
Read my interview with a Foreign Rights Agent in a literary agency
Read my interview with a Translator
Read my interview with an Editor
Read my interview with a Copy-editor


Swimming Lessons

My second novel, Swimming Lessons, is published in the UKCanada, and the USA. Click on the country links to buy.


Publishing Interviews: The Copy-editor


I’m a little nervous about today’s publishing interview; what if there are any mistakes? An unwanted comma, a typo? This interview is with my copy-editor, Caroline Pretty. Penguin and other publishers use her to check manuscripts before they go to print, and I asked her a few questions about exactly how that works.


Claire: How would you describe the role of a copy-editor?

Caroline: Once a manuscript’s been typeset, it’s expensive for publishers to correct mistakes, so the main focus of my job is a close reading of the manuscript before it gets typeset. I’m editing primarily for sense and consistency. Sense is about making sure the author has conveyed what they intend, without repetition or ambiguity (unless this is deliberate). Consistency involves checking spellings and punctuation, following a publisher’s house style or an author’s preferred style; in fiction, it also includes checking plots for any holes, making sure the action can realistically take place in the time the author has outlined, and character details such as names, ages and eye colour. There’s often a lot of fact-checking too, and I also mark up the typescript for the typesetter – coding headings and different design features. So it’s very much a technical process as well as a creative one.

Claire: What’s your copy-editing process from when you receive a book from a publisher, and do you work on paper or onscreen? Continue reading

Swimming Lessons Published in UK


Swimming Lessons

Swimming Lessons, my second novel is published in the UK today in hardback, ebook (Fig Tree / Penguin) and audio (Audible). As you can imagine I’m a bit over-excited.

There have already been some lovely reviews, with The Sunday Times saying my stories are “thrilling, transporting, delicately realised and held together by a sophisticated sense of suspense.

Wendy at Little Bookness Lane, a UK book blogger is giving away a copy of Swimming Lessons. The competition is available worldwide, and closes at midnight (GMT) on Friday 27th January. Click here to see how to enter.

Or if you don’t trust your luck, Swimming Lessons is available to buy in most independent bookshops, in most branches of Waterstones, and online. The audio version is available from Audible.

Swimming Lessons video


Thanks to Hannah Hartmann for this picture.

It’s one week until Swimming Lessons is published in the UK as a hardback and as an audio book. (Readers in Canada, the US, and Germany will have to wait a little longer).

To mark the occasion I’ve produced a drawing video of a scene from the book. I did the drawing, my daughter the filming and editing, and my son wrote and played the music. I’d love to know what you think.


Click here to see the drawing video released for Our Endless Numbered Days.

Swimming Lessons

My second novel, Swimming Lessons, will be published in January 2017 in the UK, and Canada, as well as an audio book, and February 2017 in the USA. Click on the country links to pre-order.


Publishing Interviews: Head of Sales


This week I’ve been asking questions of Samantha Fanaken, Head of Sales at Penguin General. Penguin General is a publishing division of Penguin Random House, dealing with the imprints Fig Tree, Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Ireland, Penguin Life, Portfolio and Viking. Read on to find out how many meetings Samantha has to cram into a day, and whether she reads all the books.


Claire: It seems to me that Head of Sales in a publishing house sits right in the middle of things: talking to editors, marketing and booksellers. Is that how you see it? Can you give a job description of your role? Continue reading

Flash Fiction: Man on Train


The man sits beside me, his suited belly pressed against the table, his laptop open, a mouse plugged in. The train sways and we all sway with it. The man pulls a handkerchief from his trouser pocket, sneezes into it and blows his nose vigorously. Five minutes later: handkerchief, sneeze, blow. And again. The fourth time the sneeze comes unexpectedly with only his hand to contain it. From the corner of my eye I see him run the length of his tie between his fingers. His hand hovers over his computer mouse, considering, then he holds it and clicks.


I’ve missed several weeks of Friday Fictioneers – just been too busy. It’s meant to be a short short story inspired by the photo, but this week I have written a scene of 100 words, which is much easier to do than a story, so I’m cheating really (or just easing myself back in gently). Join in here and write your own 100-word flash fiction, or read some other writers’. This week the picture is provided by C.E.Ayr, and the whole is hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields.


Swimming Lessons

My second novel, Swimming Lessons, will be published in January 2017 in the UK, and Canada, and February 2017 in the USA. Click on the country links to pre-order.


Publishing Interviews: The Translator


I’m lucky enough to have had my first novel, Our Endless Numbered Days, translated into eight languages, with a few more on the way. Swimming Lessons, my second novel, has so far only been translated into German for the publisher, Piper, by Susanne Hoebel, and she has agreed to answer my questions about what it’s like to be a translator of fiction.


Claire: Hello Susanne. How did you come to be a translator of fiction?

Susanne: It′s what I always wanted to be. (Short of becoming a writer, of course.) French was my first choice, and I remember when still at school trying to translate the opening sentence of L′Etranger by Albert Camus and getting stuck immediately.

Claire: This may be a naïve question, but you only translate from English into German and not the other way around. Why not?

Susanne: This was a hard truth for me to learn: Translators of fiction only translate into their mother tongue. (Translators of technical or legal texts or conference interpreters go both ways, they also  often have more than one foreign language). It turned out alright for me because as a student of English literature I was interested in translating works of English language fiction.  But it meant I couldn′t continue living in England as intended while trying to establish myself with publishers and trying to find translation work.

Claire: When you’ve been given a book to translate by a publisher, what’s your process, and how long does it generally take?

Susanne: Publishers have quite a rigid timetable and assign a translation with a deadline. Usually I have four to five months for a project, and usually that is sufficient.

The process is quite mundane. I start at the beginning and translate every sentence and continue until I have reached the end. I don’t read the book beforehand, as I will be reading it four times at least before I am done with it. I do a first translation that gives me a good idea of what the book is about and what difficulties and tricky aspects there are. I then revise it bearing everything I have learnt about the book in
mind. Choice of vocabulary, tone, register, etc. Quotations, repetitions, place names.
I use real dictionaries, but most other research for which I used to have an encyclopaedia and go to the library, I now do on the internet, although I have books about plants, a technical dictionary, a pictorial dictionary in both English and German and various other reference books which I love. To get a better feel of a word I often use the ODE (a short version of the OED), and with an idea of what the German should be I use a German
thesaurus.Once the revision is done – which can take as long as the initial
translation – I read the whole text again.

The fourth reading comes later when I get the proofs. My last chance to
make changes, so I always take that stage very seriously.

Claire: What type of person do you think makes the best translator?

Susanne: Someone who loves books. Who loves language, both the language and culture of the original work and their own language. Who has the self-discipline to organise their working day and doesn′t get distracted easily. Who has perseverance and stamina. Who can sit down and write day after day (you don′t have to wait for inspiration, it′s all there on the page). Who is interested in details and niceties and never tires of caring for them. Who likes working in solitude and doesn′t miss the camaraderie of the office. Who doesn′t mind disappearing behind or in the original work. Also someone who doesn′t mind not earning a lot of money.

Claire: What is the hardest thing about translating from English into German? Have you come across anything that you would say was untranslatable?

Susanne: There is something untranslatable practically every day. I consider the art of translation as an approximation. Similar to communication, really. Take a word like “lunch″. There are many connotations, not one of which is conveyed if you translate it as ″Mittagessen″, which has a myriad of connotations of its own. Or consider the ambiguity of this sentence: “Flying planes can be dangerous.″ You need two sentences in German to render this. Okay, so you can translate both meanings, but the highly satisfying cleverness of the sentence structure is lost. Hence it is untranslatable.

Claire: What are you trying to achieve when you translate a book?

Susanne: I want the book to be as good a read in translation as it is in the original. Ideally I want the reader not to think of the fact that it is translation. (Most people don′t anyway.) I want the German to shine and be completely idiomatic. I don′t want the original to shimmer through.

Claire: You’ve translated over 80 novels, including books by Nadine Gordimer, John Updike, and William Faulkner. Which has been your favourite to work on?

Susanne: The Novel Light in August by William Faulkner is the highpoint of my life as a8764189 translator. Not only is it the most brilliant book I know, with the most compelling language creating incredibly powerful images and scenes and several storylines that are so cleverly intertwined that the reader is often unaware of being shunted backwards and forwards by the author. It is also the book that my partner Helmut Frielinghaus and I worked on together, and we gave it our complete attention and concentration and worked on every word and every sentence until we had the desired result. It was the most joyous and fulfilling time of both our professional lives. We both loved the book and the work on it.

But there are two – in terms of world literature far less significant – books that I loved to bits when I translated them, and these are Helene Hanff′s The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street and Letter from New York. I was enthralled by Hanff′s loving and engaging look at England, her eagerness to explore everything about it, from leaky showers to Cream Tea at the Ritz, her enchantment with what she discovers. Perhaps this is so because it echoes my own 515qtv75ecl-_sx288_bo1204203200_enduring love affair with England.

Claire: Do you have any advice for anyone interested in becoming a translator?

Susanne: This is a question have been asked by young translators, and every time I have felt moved to say, ″Make yourself a sponge.″ Meaning, soak up everything you can about the culture, the literature and language of your chosen country. Never allow your curiosity to tire, learn as much as you can about it day after day. Read the dictionary. And the literature.

Of course they should also be proficient in their own language and broaden their outlook by reading voraciously in their target language.

Claire: And this is a bit of a cheeky question – were there any particular challenges in translating Swimming Lessons, or Eine englische Ehe?

Susanne: I loved Swimming Lessons from the start, although it has something decidedly weird about it. What fascinated me was the elliptical nature of dialogues and descriptions and the brevity and succinctness with which you render scenes and characters.produkt-13255 I liked the peculiarly hovering language that rarely tells the reader what anything is and leaves everything to conjecture and interpretation leading to different readings of the story.

Sometimes I feel it is sufficient to translate faithfully what is there on the page. At other times I feel I want to creep inside the text and translate form the inside out. The result may not be that different, but obviously with the second approach you employ more empathy, and I felt that it was the best approach for your book.

Claire: Finally can you tell us anything about yourself and your job that would surprise readers?

Susanne: I still love my work and feel lucky every morning when I sit down to work.

I am incredibly grateful when an editor rings up and offers me a new project.

I am glad I am not a writer (despite of what I said at the start, but that was when I was very young) and glad that somebody else has worked out the plot and the action and is in charge of the characters.

I sometimes feel I have stolen the author′s book, because there it is, his or her book, but they haven′t written a single word in it, nor do they understand what is written.

I love being a translator although I often have doubts that translation is really possible or even exists.


Read my interview with a reader in a literary agency
Read my interview with a literary agent
Read my interview with a Publishing Director at Fig Tree / Penguin
Read my interview with an Art Director at Tin House
Read my interview with a Foreign Rights Agent in a literary agency
Read my interview with an Editor at Tin House


Swimming Lessons

My second novel, Swimming Lessons, will be published in January 2017 in the UK, and Canada, and February 2017 in the USA. Click on the country links to pre-order.

Publishing Interviews: The Editor


Today’s interview is with Masie Cochran, Editor at Tin House Books, an independent publisher based in Portland, Oregon. As well as publishing books Tin House also publishes a renowned quarterly magazine and run summer and winter writing schools.


Claire: Hello Masie. Can you tell me a bit more about Tin House and the kinds of books that make it onto the company’s list?

Masie: I love working at Tin House. It’s a wonderful combination of a small house with a big reach. We publish about 18 titles a year, so each book gets a lot of detailed attention. All of the editors, everyone in publicity and marketing, and everyone in the art department reads every title. Pub day is a family affair. The collaboration Continue reading