We speak to Emma Layfield, Picture Book Development Director, North at Hachette Children’s Group, about her recent move up to Manchester, as well as her search for new northern picture-book writers.
You’ve just moved to Manchester to work in Hachette UK’s first northern office. How important is it for the large publishers to have a presence outside of London?
It’s vital that publishers have a presence outside of London to give an even greater focus on discovering, publishing and promoting more authors with different voices, from different backgrounds and writing from various points of view.
A move outside of London will help publishers have a greater focus on reflecting readers and society and create a more diverse workforce and product. It will also help improve access to the publishing industry for those who don’t live or have connections in the capital.
It’s important that creative industries move north so that we can help develop and retain the amazing talent here.
What inspired you to make such a big professional and personal change?
I am from Lancashire originally so personally and professionally this move means a lot to me. I am really excited and very proud to be working in Hachette UK’s first northern office.
Diversity and authenticity are key to the future of publishing and it is important that we are on the ground and plugged in to what’s happening around the whole country.
What are you excited about in your new role?
There is a huge creative talent pool in the north of England and Scotland and I can’t wait to discover, nurture and encourage even more budding new picture book writers and illustrators for the HCG list.
What kind of qualities are you looking for in picture book illustrators and writers?
I want to be surprised with original takes on important themes, show-stopping concepts, breath-taking artwork and fresh voices with playful use of language and form.
From heart and emotion to hilarious and madcap, I am looking for the very best picture books; timeless storytelling that can grow into evergreens, exquisitely crafted books, and strong character-led titles that can expand beyond the book.
Are there stories out there that haven’t been told yet and you’re wishing someone would create a picture book idea for?
The North has a rich history of stories and songs that are still passed down through word of mouth. There may well be stories here that would make an exciting picture book …
Do you have any advice for writers who have ideas for picture books but aren’t certain where to start?
Read, read, read! Before you start writing your own picture book, go into a good book shop or library and take a look at the wonderful picture books on the market.
Look for gaps in the market and have a clear idea of where your book will sell and who it will appeal to.
It’s also important to understand how a picture book works in terms of the format, pace and page turns, character appeal, and how it will be read aloud to a child.
And, finally, know your audience. Share your idea with children, parents and teachers to get their feedback.
Please recommend two or three picture books either set in the north of England or by northern writers and illustrators.
The Dam by David Almond and illustrated by Levi Pinfold is set in Northumberland. It’s a captivating story of villagers who pay homage to the valley that will be flooded when a dam is built.
My Pet Star by Corrinne Averiss and illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw who both live in the North. It’s a magical story about kindness, friendship and caring for others.
How to Hide a Lion by Helen Stephens who also lives in the North. This is an enchanting story of a girl who strikes up a friendship with a forlorn lion.