We speak to Megan about HarperCollins’s new Manchester-based division, HarperNorth, and her top reads of 2020.
Firstly, could you introduce yourself and your current role?
Of course! Hi everyone, I’m Megan and I am the Editorial Assistant for HarperCollins’s new Manchester-based division, HarperNorth.
How did you get into publishing?
Well, to be honest, my journey into publishing feels like quite the whirlwind! I graduated from the University of Aberdeen with my MA in English with Creative Writing in 2019 and as I approached the end of my degree I started to panic about what on earth I was going to do next. I have always been an avid reader, like most of us in the industry, and for as long as I can remember all I could think of in terms of a career was ‘something to do with books’. However, in one of my creative writing seminars, I realised that I enjoyed scrutinising and offering suggestions on my classmates’ pieces more than writing itself. It was then that editorial really clicked for me.
Anyway, back to how I got here: I would regularly check the careers service page and literally ANYWHERE else for anything that could lead me to the publishing industry. After many laboured searches, one day the opportunity was right there: the HarperCollins Graduate Scheme. I applied for the scheme with the attitude of ‘I may as well give it a go’. I remember attending the first assessment day and being told that there had been over 1700 applicants, and wondering how on earth I’d made it to the final 100. After hearing the news that I’d made it to the final 30 I was absolutely over the moon and by the second assessment day, I was completely invested. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to have made it that far and of course by then I really wanted it.
I started on the scheme in October of 2019 as one of two grads, and only months later interviewed for the permanent position of editorial assistant for HarperNorth and here I am!
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?
This is such a good question because I think it’s really important for people in editorial to express just how much we have to read to those wanting to get into the field. Think about having to do A LOT of reading – THE MOST – and then triple it! I would say that my attitude to the act of reading itself hasn’t changed, because I still very much enjoy it, especially in my personal time. I can work all day, read multiple manuscripts and then gladly sit down with whatever book I’m reading for myself straight afterwards.
On the other hand, my attitude to what I should/what I want to read has definitely shifted. This leads on to the second part of the question really. Whilst at uni I was definitely a big reader of very literary books, whereas now I understand the need to branch out. It’s really important to have a good idea of the market (across all genres). So, with that in mind I have started to read more commercial and non-fiction titles to better my understanding of possible competition, and also what my imprint is looking for.
Is there a book or a campaign that you have worked on that you are particularly proud of? Why is that?
HarperNorth recently launched and so we are in the foundation stage of building our list, which is really interesting and exciting. Our first acquisition was Melissa Reddy’s Believe Us: How Jürgen Klopp transformed Liverpool into title winners. This title has a really special place in my heart, as I’m both a Scouser and a mad Liverpool FC fan. It’s great to work on books that you are genuinely invested in, and that is definitely the case with this title. It’s been great to be a part of the marketing, editorial and even audio discussions.
Where do you buy or access your books?
I most definitely have a book-buying problem – so I could talk about this all day! I try and find an indie wherever I am. So when I was at uni in Aberdeen I used to shop at a café/bookshop called Book and Beans. When I was in London I was an avid shopper at Daunt Books and had a soft spot for South Kensington Books, as I visited the shop when I was a kid during my first trip to London. Now that I’m back home in Liverpool we have the beautiful Reid of Liverpool and amazing News from Nowhere I am a regular at Waterstones too. As well as this, I’m also a very grateful recipient of the upcoming book proofs. I think this is one of the best parts of the job, especially when other divisions share titles that they are excited about with you. My latest read was Abigail Dean’s Girl A and next on my proof list is Girl in the Walls by A. J. Gnuse.
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 have read A LOT of manuscripts – I managed to get through 3 in a weekend at one point, which is a personal best! In terms of reading in my own time, my lockdown list consists of around 20 books. I won’t list them all but I’ll give you my highlights:
• Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
• Common People: An Anthology of Working-Class Writers by Various Authors
• Natives by Akala
At the beginning of lockdown, I set myself a goal to read those books that I had gathering dust in my bedroom in Liverpool but also tasked myself with reading more non-fiction (which isn’t my usual go-to). Of course, I always enjoy rereading old loves too.
What’s the best book you’ve received as a gift?
This is such a difficult question (sorry to anyone reading this who has gifted me a book – I promise I’ve loved them all!). Okay, I’m going to go with a blast from the past. When I was a kid my best friend queued up for hours to get me a signed copy of Cathy Cassidy’s Angel Cake. I remember it was just before my little brother was born because she put a personalised message in about me being a sister and I was shook.
What is your most beautiful book?
These questions are not getting easier! I think I am going to go with a recent purchase, which is my latest edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass (it was a childhood favourite and I now have 4 different editions).
What is the oldest book on your shelf?
I am blessed to have a number of really old books on my shelf. The oldest is The Poems of Alfred Lord Tennyson, which was published in 1890 and came into my possession when a friend’s parents cleared out their loft when I was in sixth form. They found the book and the first person they thought of was apparently me! They said it was because I ‘love all things books and all things vintage’.
What surprises you about your bookshelves? Is there a book that you own that you were surprised to love as much as you did?
Right now I would say what surprises me the most is the state of them. I love an organised bookshelf, but after graduating I moved back home to Liverpool and piled up my books from Scotland on top of those I’d owned pre-uni. A few months later I then moved to London and bought even more books, which I’ve now brought back with me. So, all my books are currently in several storage boxes and piles around the house *please don’t judge me*.
There are several books I have on my shelf that I had doubts about before reading, but I ended up loving them. A few titles come to mind actually, but the first is Han Kang’s The Vegetarian – I’d set myself up for a gruesome tale, but instead was consumed by the story and its themes of violence, patriarchy, isolation and madness.
Which authors or genres do you look forward to reading more of in the future?
I have a newfound love for non-fiction, especially for those texts that are topical and relevant to the current state of our society. It’s important that we actively educate ourselves and non-fiction is a great way to do this. I’m looking forward to reading more from Sally Rooney, I read Conversations with Friends back in 2017 and knew that I’d love Normal People. I am also a BIG H. G. Wells fan and have a really old but beautiful leather-bound copy of his short stories, so I’m eager to sink my teeth into them too.
What are the best books you've read in 2020 so far?
I’m limiting myself to 5 books because otherwise you’ll be reading this feature all night. My top 5 reads of 2020 are:
• Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
• Before the Coffee gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi
• The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
• This Lovely City by Louise Hare
• Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
What are your most anticipated reads for the rest of the year? Oh so many books! But top on my list and currently sitting on my ‘to be read’ pile are:
• Boy Parts by Eliza Clark
• Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi
• Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk
Which books should everybody read?
This is a really difficult question because everyone has different tastes! However, if I think of the books that gave me the most then I would pick the following:
• Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge (because I found it really educational).
• Lord of the Flies by William Golding (because this was my gateway into reading H. G Wells and Gothic literature).
• Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (because it is an emotional rollercoaster and deeply evocative).
• To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (because its exploration of morality is really thought-provoking and got me asking questions).
• The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (because I love the depiction of deterioration and descent into madness).
Where can readers find you online?
You can find me talking about the latest book buys, how I’m really craving a cup of tea and what playlist is getting me through the day on Twitter @_MegJonesy. Instagram under the same handle will be coming soon - when I get over the fear of making the first post…