A Day with an Alumna


For “Take Your Daughter To Work Day”, two years ago now, since my mother has a small business at home, and my father was on leave, I visited my Dad’s cousin, Frances Wollen, an ex Wimbledon High Pupil (she attended WHS from 1959-1971), who works at a book publishing company. Seeing my sister go to my dad’s work a few weeks ago made me realise that it would be a shame to not document this wonderful day I had with a WHS alumna.

The overall company is called Hachette UK, owned by Hachette Livre, the world’s second largest trade and educational publisher. It has many imprints which you may recognise if you look at your bookshelf, such as: Headline, Hodder & Stoughton, Little Brown, Quercus, Orchard Books, Enid Blyton and Octopus. It publishes books by well known authors, for example: Anthony Horowitz, Alexander McCall Smith, A.A. Milne, Robert Muchamore and Cressida Cowell to name a few. I realised that I had read books from several of these imprints, such as “The Danish Girl” and “I am Malala”; and recognised some of my childhood books such as “How to Train you Dragon”, “Charlie and Lola” and “The Roman Mysteries”. I even saw a few of our school textbooks!

I arrived at the extremely modern building, Carmelite House at 9:30. Frances works for the Contracts Department and I was introduced to her colleagues. We then read her emails and looked at “The Bookseller”, a news outlet for the publishing world, and from that I was interested to learn that Amazon was deciding to open physical bookstores in the UK.

She then arranged for me to have a meeting with Felicity Johnson who works for Orion Children’s books. We looked at a book cover, a “blurb”, and then read together a new children’s story; and she explained to me how she works with authors to establish a book and goes through an editing process to ensure the word choices are suitable for the age range and that the illustrations match the text. She then kindly gave me an unpublished teenage novel to read throughout the day and if possible to give her some feedback. This was very exciting for me, the fact that I was trusted with a highly confidential new novel!

I then scanned contracts, which was actually quite fun as I had never used an office scanner before! I read bits of the contracts before scanning them and one was concerning a very esteemed author PL Travers who wrote “Mary Poppins”. I had an insight on Frances’ job which includes permissions. Basically if an author needs to use material from another author’s book, they write to the publishing company to ask for permission to use it. Then someone like Frances will agree on a price. She can receive very bizarre requests, such as a puppet theatre in Latvia which had written to her that morning. I then wrote some contracts for CGP books which was quite funny seeing as I had used their revision guides for almost everything!

I was glad to have lunch in the amazing 6th storey restaurant and we looked at the beautiful rooftop gardens with views overlooking famous London landmarks. After lunch I started to read the teenage novel submission and interviewed Frances.

I found out that her job consists of children’s publishing contracts and permissions. This involves negotiating with agents and authors to get a finished contract in order to publish books, and thus protect the author’s copyright. For example when we were looking at the CGP contract, they asked Frances if they could use some material from an author who has published a book though Hachette UK. This process is absolutely necessary to publish a book; the editor will start the process and once approved it is sent to the contracts department to finalise the contract.

She enjoys her job and loves books as she is “producing something that is enriching” whilst meeting and talking to authors; it is also satisfying to finish a complicated negotiation. The difficulties, however, are negotiating with agents. I asked if it was difficult to publish a book without an agent and she explained that is was hard, yet sometimes authors get spotted through what publishers call “the slush pile”, yet this tends to happen rarely, and if so in the children’s book area. Her favourite book to be involved with was “Empire of the Sun” by JG Ballard, which is based on his own experience in a prisoner of war camp.

One distinct memory from WHS for Frances was that Hastings used to be a sort of “wild-garden”. She did Classics for A-Level at WHS, and mentioned that her grounding in Latin encouraged her interest in reading. I asked her what she wanted to be when she was younger, she said: “No idea, possibly a vet”. Frances then read Archaeology and Anthropology at Cambridge. She learned how to type and was offered to interview for Orion. When I visited her she was working part-time but before that she was the UK rights director for Orion for TV, Film and Radio.

At 3.30pm I was eager to go to the Orion Art department and I met Lou Clark who designs book covers. I love art and books so it was nice to see a job that combines both. She was using photoshop to design the cover, but she mentioned that she sometimes gets to illustrate the covers herself.

I finished reading the teenage novel which was great as it was modern, diverse and tackled issues like bullying very well.

Then I was surprised as Frances told me that we were going to a publication party for a new book called “Arthur” by Mikael Lindnord. The true story recounts a rescue of a sick stray dog called Arthur who followed Mikael and his hiking team in Ecuador throughout the intense “Amazon Race”. Despite the dog being close to death and having sixth month old wounds in his shoulders he joined them for the entire race. Mikael adopted the dog and after having him in quarantine for four months. Now Arthur lives with Mikael’s lovely family in Sweden. Arthur the dog came to the event and I got to play with him which was really fun, until Arthur decided to use the room as his loo…

My family found it funny that I went to the publication party of the new book and met Arthur as we had followed his story last year. I never knew that when watching the viral video of his incredible rescue that I would get to meet the dog himself! I absolutely loved my day at the publishing company, an industry which is actually female-dominated, and it may be a possible career for me in the future and perhaps for many WHS girls.