We speak to Jennie about working for the largest children’s book publisher in Scotland.
Hi! I’m Jennie Skinner, Editor at Floris Books in Edinburgh. We’re the largest children’s book publisher in Scotland, publishing everything from board books to YA. How did you get into publishing? After a Foundation Diploma at art college, I studied English Literature and Language at Glasgow Uni. I’d always wanted to work with children’s books but had absolutely no idea how publishing worked or how to ‘get in’. My dissertation supervisor specialised in children’s fiction and suggested the Publishing MA at UCL. After my MA I worked at Waterstones as a children’s bookseller back home in Cumbria while saving to do internships and work experience at a few publishers in London, all of which confirmed that children’s editorial was where I really wanted to be. My first publishing job was as an Editorial Assistant at Orion Children’s Books (Hachette Children’s Group).
What does a typical day in your current role look like? It’s hugely varied. We’re an independent publisher with a small (but mighty!) editorial team, so we’re kept very busy. A working day can involve anything from structural editing a novel, drafting picture book text and assessing submissions to researching Stone Age Skara Brae or the life of Mary Queen of Scots for our non-fiction titles. I love that my work gives me the chance to be creative, and it’s certainly never boring!
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? I’ve always read a lot of children’s/YA and fantasy but working in publishing has pushed me to try genres I might not have otherwise explored. I think it’s really important to read widely, especially working in editorial.
Is there a book that you have worked on that you are particularly proud of? Why is that?
I’m proud of every book I’ve worked on! I feel very lucky to work with so many talented authors. Recently, I’m really proud of working on Emily Ilett’s The Girl Who Lost her Shadow with my brilliant editorial colleague Eleanor. When it came in as one of the entries for the Kelpies Prize (our annual prize to discover Scottish writing talent) I got goosebumps just reading the first line. Emily went on to win and we published the book last year. Being involved in bringing her beautiful writing to young readers has been such a privilege, and seeing it longlisted for the Branford Boase was just fantastic.
Where do you buy or access your books?
The library was where I learned to love books and I’m still an avid library goer now – they’re such vital places in so many ways. I tend to buy a lot of hardbacks and e-books (I’m torn between beauty and convenience!) and I try to buy predominantly from Waterstones and independent bookshops if I can. We’re spoilt for choice when it comes to bookshops in Edinburgh. Golden Hare Books and The Portobello Bookshop are favourites, as well as Bookends back home in Carlisle.
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 really struggled to finish anything at the beginning of lockdown and then A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll totally broke my reading slump. It’s brilliantly written, and I raced through it in a day. My other lockdown reading books are a bit of a mix: Ruthless Gods (Emily A. Duncan), Black and British: A Forgotten History (David Olusoga), Hormonal (Eleanor Morgan) and Children of Virtue and Vengeance (Tomi Adeyemi). I’m reading The Great Godden (Meg Rosoff) at the moment, and I’ve got The Court of Miracles (Kester Grant) lined up next.
What’s the best book you’ve received as a gift?
I’m a massive Angela Carter fan and when I graduated from university my mum surprised me with a first edition of The Magic Toyshop. It’s not a fancy or expensive copy, and the cover is horrendously ugly (and sooo creepy), but it means a lot to me.
What is your most beautiful book?
The Writer’s Map (Huw Lewis-Jones) is definitely one of the most beautiful books I own. I’m a sucker for any book with a map, and this is just so easy to get lost in. It’s a book to pore over.
What is the oldest book on your shelf?
Two very old and battered Beatrix Potters. They’re so tattered that they’re barely books at this point, and they smell delightful, but they have a real sense of being read and loved. I like that in a book.
What surprises you about your bookshelves? Is there a book that you own that you were surprised to love as much as you did?
I thought it would be all children’s books and fantasy but it’s actually quite a random collection. I’m not much of an essay reader but I loved Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino. I felt very seen...
Which authors or genres do you look forward to reading more of in the future? I always feel slightly lost when it comes to choosing poetry, but I’m trying to be braver! I loved Nadine Aisha Jassat’s Let Me Tell You This, Vanessa Kisuule’s A Recipe for Sorcery, and Witch by Rebecca Tamás. I’m always eager to hear recommendations if anyone has any! What are the best books you've read in 2020 so far? I’ve already mentioned it but A Kind of Spark (Elle McNicoll) was standout for me. I loved Orphans of the Tide by Struan Murray, The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta (a 2019 book but the paperback came out this year), and I thought Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia was stunning.
What are your most anticipated reads for the rest of the year? There are so many… I would read the phone book if Victoria Schwab put her name on the front so I’m definitely looking forward to The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue. The Betrayals (Bridget Collins), The Year of the Witching (Alexis Henderson), A Secret of Birds and Bone (Kiran Millwood Hargrave) and Eight Pieces of Silva (Patrice Lawrence) are all on my list too.
Which books should everybody read?
Anything Angela Carter has written, though The Bloody Chamber is my favourite. You can’t go wrong with Howl’s Moving Castle (Diana Wynne Jones), and nobody does YA better than Malorie Blackman, so the Noughts and Crosses series is a must-read.
You can find Jennie on Twitter @Jennie_Wren