Hamish Hamilton's influence on my literary education began some ten years ago – specifically when I was in my early teens and just beginning to develop an appetite for short fiction. Hamish Hamilton was the first UK publisher of a group of authors who, to me, best exemplified the form at the time: Truman Capote, J.D. Salinger, Haruki Murakami and subsequently, Dave Eggers. Where many publishers would have shied away from the short story (“There’s precious little economic incentive to write one,” lamented Lawrence Block), Hamish Hamilton seemed to me a loud and proud patron of it. Today, the imprint is still home to some of the boldest and most prolific names in literature — Zadie Smith, Paul Murray, Lydia Davis and Helon Habila, just to name some of my favourites. Founded in 1931, Hamish enjoys a long and established heritage that has managed to translate seamlessly into an intrepid spirit of multiculturalism and innovation – perhaps most directly manifested in its literary magazine Five Dials, the “heartbreaking PDF of staggering genius” that I first came across while trying out laptops in one of Tokyo’s electronic mega-malls, of all places.
It had always been clear to me that Penguin presented the ideal environment for one looking to learn the ropes of publishing, and this is why I feel incredibly fortunate to have been selected as the Helen Fraser Diversity Fellow for 2012 — Penguin's third since the programme's inception, and the first non-UK citizen to take on the role.
While working on my application for the 2012 fellowship, I was able to spend more time at Penguin after my initial internship placement at Viking, interning with Fig Tree and then moving on to an eight-week temp cover with the adult mono production team. In addition to equipping me with basic editorial skills, these roles steered away from the uni-mandated style of academic analysis and conditioned me to start approaching the book as a product instead. Which authors share a similar target demographic? Can something as simple as a font switch alter the tone of a book, or differentiate a celebrity biography from a work of literary non-fiction? These were only some of the questions I was encouraged to ask (plus I’m now able to identify the paper stock used in different editions of a book, which I still maintain is as cool a party trick as any other). All this helped strengthen my application, and I'm grateful to everyone who took time from their busy schedules to give me advice and share their experiences.
The fellowship runs from July to December, and I kick-started my first week on the placement with a sunny weekend in St. Germans, Cornwall, assisting the Hamish Hamilton team with our stage at the Port Eliot Festival — certainly not your typical work schedule. Some of the more generic jobs within the office include sorting through mail, making sure our book data is kept as up-to-date as possible and organizing author quote sheets – small but fundamental tasks that ensure our day-to-day operations run as smoothly as possible before we turn our attention to the more glamorous side of things (like when John Banville stops by for an interview with Five Dials).
While my favourite assignments are still largely editorial-based — reporting on submissions from agents or pitching ideas for Five Dials — the fellowship has been imperative in debunking the myth that the be-all-and-end-all for aspiring editors is knowing how to whip a manuscript into the best possible shape. There are a dozen other factors to consider simultaneously, and many of these occur beyond the pages of a book. The fellowship presents a wonderful opportunity to really delve into the minutiae of such processes. This could be anything from studying the buying patterns of online retailers to working with production to decide what type of paper finish goes on the book jacket. Needless to say, there’s quite a bit of spontaneity and variety from publishing one book to the next.
With the economy still picking up the pace, it has become more crucial than ever to take into account consumer patterns and developments in both the UK and the international scene. It just so happens that the upcoming Hamish Hamilton titles I'm most looking forward to are translations — Javier Marías’ The Infatuations (which had many of us making a beeline for his other beautiful re-issues from Penguin Modern Classics), three novels from the cult Argentine author César Aira and Sam Taylor's translation of The Victoria System by Eric Reinhardt. I'm also very excited to be present during the release of Zadie Smith's much-anticipated NW next month, as well as forthcoming issues of Five Dials that are due to be launched in Berlin, Cork and with a bit of luck, Tokyo. If you haven’t seen our latest ‘B’ issue (dispatched from the Edinburgh Book Festival by American essayist John Jeremiah Sullivan), here it is: http://fivedials.com/files/fivedials_no24.pdf
The highlight of my time here so far has been talking to people from various departments about the work they do and how it relates to the editorial process, and applying the ideas I have picked up from these interactions to my duties at Hamish. Everyone has been so generous with their time, and I’m confident that when the fellowship ends, I will be ready to embark on my first ‘real’ editorial job armed with a strong foundational knowledge of the book trade as a whole.
Helen Fraser Diversity Fellow, 2012