HB: Hi Fanny, you’ve had a pretty mighty career in publishing. Can you tell us a bit about that? What did you do – what did you love – and what most got you down?
Fanny Blake: Hi there. I worked in publishing for over twenty years, starting as an editorial assistant at Corgi Books, part of Transworld. I moved from company to company but I always had my sights set on Penguin and eventually I got the call. I became an acquiring editor and publisher there for about fifteen years. My principal role was to acquire and publish contemporary fiction though as the years passed that extended to general non-fiction too.
What I loved most of all was the thrill of discovering a writer for the first time who had written a book that I really appreciated and could see a way to publish successfully. There’s nothing like that buzz and that’s what I miss. I also loved working in a team of like-minded people, sharing opinions and supporting one another. I’m sure something must have got me down but now I’m viewing it through the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia nothing strikes me.
HB: How did you see publishing change over the years? And from your standpoint now, are you confident in its future or do you worry?
FB: When I started out, publishing was quite different. In those days, hardback publishers were largely independent and sold their books to the paperback companies, of which Penguin was one. Gradually the landscape changed as publishers amalgamated and began to publish all editions of the same book. Publishing is a pretty resilient business and I’m sure its future is bright. The platforms on which they deliver the books may change but I believe physical books are here for the long haul too.
HB: You chose to turn from publisher to writer, from farmer to farmed. What prompted that (wise, noble and excellent) transition?
FB: I was offered some journalism and, although I had never thought of myself as a writer, I enjoyed it more and more.
That lead to writing some non-fiction books that tied in with TV programmes such as Grand Designs, A Place in the Sun and more and then I moved on to ghosting celebrity autobiographies. Gradually I built up my confidence until I was ready to write a novel of my own.
I had a significant birthday approaching and I decided that would be my deadline. And that birthday, my agent called to say that she’d sold it to a publisher. I can hardly believe that my sixth novel Our Summer Together is out in July.
HB: And you now do some work for Quick Reads. Can you tell me about what QR is and does – and why you chose to support it.
FB: Quick Reads is a series of brilliant short books by bestselling authors that are specifically written for adults who are new to reading, have lost the reading habit or who prefer to read shorter books. They’re full of emotion and excitement and can be enjoyed by anyone.
I first found out about them when I was asked to write one (Red for Revenge) in 2015, and then I had a short story included in the Anniversary anthology last year.
When the job of commissioning editor came up, I jumped at it. Reading is a pleasure that should be available to everyone, and these are the only books aimed specifically at readers who, for whatever reason, are intimidated by a long novel. If reading a Quick Read gives them enough confidence to read another, and then to move on to longer novels – job done!
HB: Quick Reads sounds – and is – amazing. When you guys asked me to put a collection of crime short stories together, I was thrilled.
And, by the way, when I approached some of the absolute top-sellers in British crime fiction, the level of positive responses I got was just mind-blowing. That’s how come we’ve got super-sellers like Mark Billingham, Clare Mackintosh, Angela Marsons, Cally Taylor and so many more to squeeze up small in this one collection. If you guys had asked me to produce double the number of awesome writers, I could have done that easily. People really wanted to be involved.
And the brief you gave me was simple. We wanted to write stories that, in pure narrative terms, weren’t dumbed down in any way. After all, our Quick Reads audience deals in complex narrative all the time – in TV, in movies and the rest – it’s just that their confidence with the printed word is poor. So we wanted to write some smart, dangerous, unpredictable stories . . . just make sure that we wrote them in a way that was going to be accessible to a less-confident reader.
Anyone interested can get the DEAD SIMPLE collection right here, but I also wanted to ask you about the actual personal impact of this kind of reading matter on people’s lives. Can you share any stories with me? Maybe give me some illustrations of the difference that Quick Reads has made to its readers.
FB: We do get a lot of feedback on the books. For instance:
“With two kids it can be virtually impossible to read a 400-page book. But Quick Reads make it manageable. They have reignited my passion for reading!”
“I felt as though I’d climbed a mountain. I was very proud because it was the first proper book I’d read.”
“This was a lovely quick entertaining read. I don’t seem to have any time or inclination to read lately, however, this e-book has rekindled my love of the written word. Well worth buying.”
Comments like that make it all worthwhile.
HB: That’s just fantastic, Fanny. Final question then. Let’s suppose you happened to be in Central London on the evening of Wednesday 8 February, and let’s just say that you’d love to see Mark Billingham, Clare Mackintosh, Dreda Say Mitchell and me shooting the breeze about all things crimey – where exactly would you want to be at 6.30 pm?
FB: Mmmm, let me see … I think I’d want to be in Foyles Charing Cross Road where all five of us will be talking about Quick Reads and crime from 7pm onwards.