We speak to Eishar about commissioning inclusive children’s books and her lockdown reading recommendations.
Hi, my name is Eishar, and I’m Editorial Director at Knights Of. My role is to commission inclusive children’s books (from often underrepresented voices) from young fiction through to YA.
How did you get into publishing?
My first job in publishing was an internship via Creative Access in the Penguin Random House Children’s Rights team – thankfully paid! After a few years in Rights, I finally achieved my dream of working in an editorial team and have been doing that ever since.
Has your attitude to reading changed since working in the publishing industry? How has it changed your reading taste or the genre of books you usually read?
Hmm, yes and no. I definitely find that my reading goes through phases – I still love reading YA outside of work, but sometimes I need to read a few adult books in a row as a palate cleanser. I’ve always loved a broad range of genres and that hasn’t changed, but I think since working in publishing I’m more likely to take a chance on a rogue choice if someone I trust recommends it (for me that’s often non-fiction or particularly literary fiction).
Is there a book or a campaign that you have worked on that you are particularly proud of? Why is that?
This year I’m particularly proud of publishing A Kind Of Spark by Elle McNicoll. It’s a gorgeously written middle-grade with an autistic protagonist who is campaigning for a memorial to the women who were persecuted in her small Scottish town during the witch trials. It published in June, right in the middle of lockdown, and the response has been unexpectedly brilliant. Booksellers have a lot of love for Elle and her writing (as they should), and it’s been particularly wonderful seeing the reactions of the kids who see themselves in the main character, Addie.
Where do you buy or access your books?
Waterstones, Round Table Books (based in Brixton but they also have an online shop), and I also read a lot on my Kindle so occasionally eBooks from Amazon.
What books have you been reading in lockdown? Do these books typify your usual reading taste, or have you found yourself reading other genres and authors?
When I’m stressed or anxious I find it really comforting to read thrillers or horror… it may sound counter-productive but I find them very soothing! During lockdown, I read even more of these than usual: the best ones were Harrow Lake by Kat Ellis (horror YA, so scary in parts I had to skim read a few pages), The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swainson, All My Lies Are True by Dorothy Koomson (love her rom-coms, love her thrillers – she can do it all!), The End Of Men by Christina Sweeney-Baird (literally about a virus that decimates half the population) and Girl A by Abigail Dean.
I also love a good rom-com for the same reason, so I re-read all the Jasmine Guillory books – they’re all on my Kindle as they tend to be holiday reading. (I also love that they’re all slightly interlinked with characters crossing over between books.)
What’s the best book you’ve received as a gift?
I rarely get books as gifts unless I’ve asked for them, but I’m a sucker for a signed edition and friends who also work in publishing have occasionally given me some surprise gems. My best friends between them have given me signed editions of My Own Devices by Dessa, If They Should Come For Us by Fatimah Asghar and Rise Up by Stormzy. (I’m a big fan of all three so these are precious to me).
One of those friends also gave me the most gorgeous edition of The Source of Self-Regard, a collection of Toni Morrison’s essays. I was gutted that this edition wasn’t available in the UK so she secretly got it from New York earlier this year (pre-pandemic), and then posted it to me during lockdown for my birthday. I cried real tears!
What is your most beautiful book?
The aforementioned Toni Morrison collection. Also these Terry Pratchett special editions (they technically aren’t all mine but I like to think I share joint custody of everything on these bookshelves with my best friend/flatmate).
Which authors or genres do you look forward to reading more of in the future?
I am desperately trying to get into more recent fantasy, so I’m looking forward to reading The City We Became by N. K. Jemison. I’ve also finally picked up Meaty, the first non-fic essay collection by Samantha Irby – I can’t wait to work my way through her books.
What are the best books you've read in 2020 so far?
I did a lot of re-reading this year, so I really want to mention They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib. It’s an anthology of essays that ties together music and culture in a really profound way. I re-read it every year, but this year, in particular, it ripped my heart out.
Of the books I read for the first time this year, my favourites so far are:
In adult fiction; All My Lies Are True by Dorothy Koomson, Royal Holiday & Party of Two by Jasmine Guillory, Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid, Grown Ups by Marian Keyes, If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha, The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, Sweetbitter by Stephanie Daniel, and After The Silence by Louise O’Neill.
In YA; Most Likely by Sarah Watson, The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta, Harrow Lake by Kat Ellis and Majesty by Katherine McGee.
In poetry; Homie by Danez Smith and My Darling from the Lions by Rachel Long.
And finally my absolute top two:
Love in Colour by Bolu Babalola; it was my most anticipated book of this year and it truly did not disappoint! No spoilers but I’ve already re-read Nefertiti’s story several times…
Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth; this is slightly cheating as I was lucky enough to receive a proof (it publishes in 2021), but WOW. It’s so so good – a gothic horror mixed in with a modern-day sapphic love triangle set on a film set. I literally cannot stop talking about it.
What are your most anticipated reads for the rest of the year?
I’m excited to get into The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones – a Native American horror story that comes highly recommended. I also can’t wait for Afterlove by Tanya Byrne which is publishing in 2021.
Which books should everybody read?
Anything mentioned above and also A Little Life.
Where can readers find you online?
On Twitter as @EisharKaur.