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Hilary Bell, Publicity Executive at Egmont

We speak to Hilary about her journey into publicity and supporting independent bookshops during lockdown.

I’m a Publicity Executive at Egmont, working on PR campaigns across picture books, middle-grade, YA and brands.

How did you get into publishing?

It felt like a bit of a slog! I did an English Master’s at Edinburgh Uni, and during the summer I interned at two indie presses: Black and White and Luath Press. I’d come back from a day of interning and either go straight to my part-time job at the uni or to writing my Master’s dissertation. After that, I was offered a job as Editorial and Production Manager at Luath. It was an incredible way to learn the job – working at a small independent, you learn about all departments, across the whole publishing process, from commission to publication. After that, I relocated to London, first working in a temp role at independent publishers Duckworth, before a permanent role at the Bookseller, where I worked on The British Book Awards, the YA Book Prize and the trade conferences. I was super excited to move into children’s publishing, and I adore working across the list I work on now.

Has your role in publishing widened your reading taste, and how has it changed your attitude to different genres of books?

Before I worked in publishing, I read a lot of classics and not a lot of contemporary literature. I’m not sure why – studying English at uni, I didn’t have a lot of space left in my brain for reading, maybe? I get sent proofs from across the trade which means I now read really widely. I also read a lot of kids lit for my job, which I love. It’s amazing how the words and illustrations can transport you to another world, and I love thinking about what that can mean for a child – if that helps them find their place in the world a bit more.

What reading formats do you prefer? Do you prefer hardbacks, paperbacks, eBooks, audiobooks, library books, or a mixture?

It definitely depends on the situation! Paperbacks are probably a sturdy favourite because I can sling them in my rucksack and bend the pages and generally not worry about them. Ebooks are a saving grace because it means I can request them from NetGalley and have a whole bunch on my Kindle. (I hated my Kindle when it was first bought for me, but it turns out it is very, very useful.) I loved Michelle Obama’s Becoming on audio – I’d just had a bad cycling accident and surgery when I bought it, and I listened to it constantly when I was getting better.

Is there a book that you have worked on that you are particularly proud of? Why is that?

There are so many books I’ve worked on that make me so proud! Holly Jackson’s A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder just won Children’s Fiction of the Year at the Nibbies which is EXCELLENT, and so well-deserved. Llama Out Loud by Annabelle Sami and Allen Fatimaharan has also been recently published. Already it’s had so many sparkling reviews – it’s one of those books that’s going to bring warmth and joy to so many children, especially quiet ones.

What is your most-read genre? Do you have niche sub-genres that you are often attracted to?

I love a good book about a millennial gal feeling sad, and then feeling not so sad. Candice Carty-Williams’ Queenie, Eimear McBride’s The Lesser Bohemians, Sally Rooney’s Normal People, Elif Batuman’s The Idiot, Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation. Pitch a book to me like that and I’m IN.

Where do you buy or access your books?

During lockdown I’ve done a lot of shopping on Hive, trying to support indie bookshops. I bought a bunch for my Nan as a present and she seemed confused at how they had arrived (she offered to pay for the postage!). I can’t go past a Waterstones without going in. There’s a dearth of indie bookshops in Tooting, where I live – I’m just waiting for one to open up around the corner – unless anyone knows of one I’ve missed?!

What is the oldest book on your shelf?

The oldest book on my shelf is probably a dictionary I found at my grandparents’ house that belonged to my Grandpa’s brother. It’s falling apart and is covered in sellotape, but there must be so many memories inside it.

What’s the most beautiful book you own?

Wing Jones by Katherine Webber has beautiful pink and purple sprayed edges. It’s a really special book to me as it got me back into YA, and now I work on Katherine Webber’s middle-grade which she writes as Katie Tsang with her husband, Kevin Tsang.

Who is your most read author, and why?

Sally Rooney; all of the Brontës; Deborah Levy’s non-fiction. The first two for devastating love stories, the latter for memoirs on social expectations.

What surprises you about your shelves? Is there a book you own that you were surprised to love as much as you did?

I’m surprised I love non-fiction as much as I do! My Past is a Foreign Country by Zeba Talkhani brought me so much peace. Zeba’s launch event with Sarah Shaffi was one of the best literary events I’ve ever been to. Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror is an astonishingly clever essay collection. Oh, and Mother Ship – about giving birth to premature twins – by Francesca Segal, which made me sob even though I have no knowledge of what being a mother is like. Non-fiction is so powerful! So is fiction, though, and poetry…

What are your favourite books of 2020 so far?

I use the Reading List app to keep track of everything I read. It’s really simple and is completely private, which is far less stressful than Goodreads. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo is obviously fantastic. Dear Damsels’ crowd-funded collection on friendship, Let Me Know When You’re Home, simultaneously warmed and ripped apart by heart.

What are your most anticipated reads for the rest of 2020?

In terms of adult fiction, I can’t wait to read Love in Colour by Bolu Babalola, Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan and Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo. I keep a to-read list on my reading list app too, it is quite long at the moment…

What book should everyone read?

At the moment I’m reading Me and White Supremacy by Layla F Saad. It’s hard going, but it’s necessary work. Everyone with white privilege should be reading it.

You can find Hilary on Twitter at @Hilary_Alison.


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