Working For an Independent Publisher.
If you think of being a writer as someone who does nothing but sit in a room, hammering away on a keyboard, then think again. The truth is a writer’s life is extremely diverse.
Pippa Hennessy, who has just graduated from the University of Nottingham with a First in a BA in Creative and Professional Writing, is an example of this diversity.
Amongst the many things she does (as you will see), she works for a Nottingham based independent publishing company.
How did you get involved with Five Leaves?
It’s a long story… After a career in the IT industry where I was a software developer, team leader and also project managed, I was made redundant. I twiddled around a bit with creative writing and somehow (I thank my lucky stars) ended up studying for a BA in Creative and Professional Writing at the University of Nottingham.
It was a very new degree course – the first graduates left last year – so it didn’t have a student anthology.
‘What?’ said I. ‘A Creative Writing course without a student anthology? I’ll just start one, shall I?’
One thing led to another, and in 2010 we published the first anthology. Round about that time, Ross Bradshaw (who is Five Leaves) was looking for an assistant to join his one-man band. As I’d managed the anthology project, as well as doing the typesetting and layout for the book, I had the qualifications necessary, and was lucky enough to be recommended to Ross by someone in the writing industry whose judgment he trusts.
So I got the job and started in August 2010 on two days a week. Now I’ve finished my degree I’m working there for three days a week.
What sort of things do you do with the Five Leaves?
I’m officially a marketing assistant, but I do anything and everything. I’ve arranged book launches, created a database and a mailing list, typeset books, designed covers, made e-books, as well as liaising with authors. I’ve also done a bit of work on the website.
Ross has just given me my first copy-editing task, which is a bit scary, but also exciting at the same time. I haven’t really done any professional copy-editing yet (although editing students’ writing on the anthology was a good start). So it’s a chance to put those skills I acquired on my degree to work. I’m so glad I did a Creative Writing degree with a strong professional element.
On top of the book production, I’ve sourced and constructed bookshelves for the office, fixed the trolley, done various bits of design for posters, flyers and catalogues, made the odd cup of tea, as well as parcelling up and sending off books… Really… anything and everything, so it’s been a good all round experience for me to see how a publishing company operates.
Have you been to any interesting book fairs or places as a result of working for Five Leaves?
One of the best days I’ve had for good many years was early October 2011, on the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street.
There was a huge celebration in London, with a march and speeches, a fair and a music hall evening at Wilton’s Music Hall.
Five Leaves had published five books to commemorate the anniversary, and we had a book stall right outside the entrance to Wilton’s. I took Blake (my sixteen-year-old son) with me, and we both had the most amazing day. We pretended to be Jewish Socialists so we could walk at the front of the march, marvelled at the Cable Street mural, listened to some of the speeches, then spent an afternoon selling books. And did we ever sell books… Ross says it was the most he’s ever taken or is ever likely to take at a single event.
The evening was fantastic – the atmosphere at Wilton’s is brilliant, and the performers were superb. I met Shappi Khorsandi and Billy Bragg in the bar afterwards, and clapped so hard for The Men They Couldn’t Hang I ended up with a bruise on my hand. I felt so proud to be a part of Five Leaves on that day.
Has working for an independent publisher been as useful experience and why?
It’s been invaluable, for so many reasons, but mainly because there are only two of us and Ross is by nature someone who shares his knowledge.
I’ve learned about every aspect of the publishing trade and met independent publishers from across the region and the UK, which has meant I’ve learned how to liaise with all sorts of people tactfully and diplomatically.
I’ve now got plenty of experience of most of the processes that go into producing a book – typesetting and layout, proofreading, getting it to the printer, and even making e-books.
I also know a lot more about marketing and the way the book trade works (basically, you need to get into Amazon and Waterstones to make any money. Sad but true).
I’ve become involved with several events and projects that Five Leaves supports (such as Lowdham Book Festival and Beeston Poets), which has widened my network and my experience, and will hopefully lead to bigger and better things in the future.
How do you think working for an independent publisher compares with working for a large multinational publisher?
Not having worked for a multinational, I couldn’t say for sure, but I guess the main difference is the range of work I do.
I’m not stuck in the marketing department of a big company, or the editing department, so as I said earlier, I do pretty much everything.
Another big difference is the feeling of belonging. Five Leaves is Ross’s baby, but he involves me in decisions and lets me take on projects of my own (I recently launched Joanne Limburg’s collection ‘The Oxygen Man’, for which I did pretty much everything – helped edit, typeset, proofread, designed the cover, sent to the printer, and organized the launch…) so I learn so much more than if I were focused on just one task.
I also feel personally proud of everything Five Leaves does.
Finally, I don’t feel part of a business – sure, we need to cover costs and make a bit of money, but that’s not the main aim of the company. We do it because we love books and we love writers. There’s a point to it which isn’t the bottom line, and that makes such a refreshing change from the IT business that I was originally in.
You’ve recently started your own press. How do you see this developing?
Serotine is more than a press. It was going to be an independent press producing high-quality beautiful books – and I hope it will be at some point in the future.
At the moment it’s limited to typesetting and layout/cover design for other people’s projects, of which I’ve done four so far, with a couple more on the cards.
I’m presenting my first Serotine event soon, with a couple of local poets I’m very fond of – that won’t make any money but it will make me happy!
My next big project will be to start up a magazine for creative non-fiction. This will be mainly electronic, but I’m hoping to get some funding to produce printed copies, and maybe even multimedia content as well as associated smartphone and iPad/Android apps.
There are many other things I want to do with Serotine. It’s just a question of time, energy and money. But it will happen!
What other projects are you involved in?
Um. Where do you want me to start?
I’m heading a bid for Heritage Lottery Funding to investigate forgotten Nottinghamshire poets.
I’m on the steering committee for the first Nottingham Festival of Words, which will take place in February 2013 (and will be HUGE!).
I’ve just landed a €25,000 grant for a European project working with partners in Karlsruhe and Budapest to run workshops with adult learners to write and tell stories about local culture and heritage, and share what we write.
I teach on the Humanities BA course at the University of Nottingham, where we work with Southwell Workhouse on student projects about the history of the workhouse. Next year I’ll be teaching on the Creative and Professional Writing course too.
I’m part of the Beeston Poets managing group – we’re working with Beeston Library to reinstate the successful series of poetry readings that ran from 1983 for about twenty years.
I’m working with Nottinghamshire Archives on a Youth Heritage day conference due to take place shortly at the University of Nottingham.
I’m redesigning a local bookshop’s website.
I’m a member of the editorial board of the University of Nottingham’s Jubilee Press.
Sometimes I even find time to do my own writing – I’ve just heard that four of my poems will be published soon in Obsessed with Pipework, which I’m very excited about.
As for sleeping, eating, breathing, etc… I suppose that happens at some point, but I’m not sure when.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.
(And as if this wasn’t enough. Just after finishing this interview Pippa, who is a demon cake baker, could be found in the kitchen knocking out her latest confectionery delight).