We speak to Isabelle about publishing with a conscience, her favourite weird books and writing her first novel.
My name is Isabelle Kenyon and I am the Managing Director of Fly on the Wall Press, a publisher with a conscience, based in the heart of Manchester. Basically, my role is every single role within the publishing company… Such is small press life!
How did you get into the publishing industry?
I did a collaborative project so that I could start writing with other writers at the back end of 2017, which culminated in our flagship mental health anthology in February 2018, Please Hear What I’m Not Saying. I published 116 poets across the globe for UK mental health charity Mind. At that kind of scale, it was an excellent crash course into global marketing, distribution and project management. Naturally, everyone thought I was a publisher at this stage, and my website was already christened Fly on the Wall. When our next charity anthology came along, I think people thought the press had been around much longer than it had existed as an idea in my head! Now we have over 26 titles in just three years, and we’ve been a regional finalist in the British Book Awards twice now, but unfortunately I have not ever been able to work for another publisher in order to gain experience. Everything I’ve learned about publishing I have taught myself through the power of the Internet and have not invested any money into this training apart from purchasing InDesign software!
Has your attitude to reading changed since working in publishing? How has it changed your reading taste or the genre of books you usually read?
I don’t think that my reading taste has changed, in fact I think I’m publishing exactly what I like to read all the time. I love to read weird narratives and writers such as The Vegetarian by Han Kang, and The First Bad Man by Miranda July. I’m not really interested in commercial plots because I find them too predictable and the characters forgettable. I definitely read vast amounts of poetry, but I’m definitely super picky about this now. So perhaps you could say that my attitude towards reading poetry has changed, because now I pick holes in absolutely everything!
Is there a book or project that you have worked on that you are particularly proud of? It would definitely be Planet in Peril because I was able to produce a large-scale, sustainably printed and shipped hardback with international writers from the age of 8 to 80. We are also fundraising for phenomenal charities which could not be any more important now, as we sit right in the middle of a mass extinction. It also gave me opportunities to meet people across the UK and in the Isle of Man, purely because the writers within the anthology are so passionate about spreading the word and showing people the educational sides of the anthology. Our anthologies feel like a family and each anthology project takes at least a year to culminate. There is never a thought in my mind about an anthology not being one of our bestselling books. You have to fully believe in an anthology before you even announce submissions, because it is all-encompassing.
Where do you buy or access your books?
Mainly I go to the library because I read so many books that I genuinely would not be able to afford to fund my reading habit! If I’m not in the library, I will purchase from small publishers, mostly Northern. I hate reading online because I suffered with extreme RSI for three years now, so give me paperbacks!
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?
I’m currently attempting my first novel, so I’m reading more non-fiction than usual. Reading about Mormons and fundamentalism within religions in the US. Definitely not typical!
What is your most beautiful book?
From the Fly on the wall catalogue there definitely is Planet in Peril, closely followed by a February 2021 release with charity, Street Child United: We Are All Somebody (entirely featuring street-connected children and their talent). Aside from this, The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy- a Christmas treat!
What surprises you about your bookshelves? Is there a book that you were surprised to love as much as you did?
I’m not all that surprised that I loved The Colour Purple by Alice Walker, is it such a classic, but I am surprised that it took me so long to read it!
What are your most anticipated reads for 2021 and do you have any reading goals?
I am really looking forward to the new Sally Rooney as she just feels like a trip away from the current pandemic! I think I set myself a challenge on Goodreads to read 90 books this year and in terms of goals I would like to read more non-chronological thrillers to help me with my novel…
What are your ultimate book recommendations?
I really love the short stories and novels which Helen Dunmore has written, and to be honest, you still can’t go wrong with Inkheart by Cornelia Funke - if you’re feeling young at heart!
Where can readers find you online?
Literally almost everywhere…