As part of our brilliant getting-to-know-you season at JM, I interviewed Orion Publishing editor Jemima Forrester, resident queen of cover art (the lady responsible for our weekly book by its cover column.) I found out all about Jemima’s life and loves in literary London and developed a mild case of jealousy due to her dreamy job. It’s a beautifully bookish read!
You’re an editor at Orion, a London publishing house. What does a typical day involve?
There is no typical day in my job, and the books I’m working on are all at various stages of development, so I tend to be doing anything and everything, from writing cover copy and liaising with authors and agents; to preparing contracts, planning acquisitions and having endless meetings with other departments, all while drinking a lot of Earl Grey Tea! I tend to have two or three manuscripts that need structural editing on the go as well. This involves making relatively big plot, style and character changes, and working with authors to make their books even better.
The most exciting part of my job, though, is reading book submissions from agents and searching for that fantastic new author for us to buy. It’s always fun to be on the look out for the next Dan Brown or Stieg Larsson – you never know when a major new bestseller is just around the corner.
Have you always loved books?
Yes, definitely, but not really consciously. I didn’t consider myself – and still don’t – particularly bookish. But I grew up in a house filled with books, for all ages and in every genre, and I don’t remember a time when I didn’t have a book by my bedside and at least one in my bag. Currently I tend to have about five on the go at once!
Which books or authors first got you interested in reading?
I’ve always had a soft spot for the classics: Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, etc. And I’ve always loved P.G. Wodehouse – a hilarious writer in a league of his own. Now though, I tend to read commercial over classic and you’ll probably find me with my nose in a grisly serial killer thriller or a contemporary crime novel!
What do you love about your job?
What don’t I love about my job?! I get to read amazing, thrilling, brilliant novels and call it work! Who could fail to love that job?!
The books you work on include crime fiction and thrillers, do you ever get scared by the stuff you read?
Yes! I don’t work on much full-on horror but sometimes when I’m reading late at night while home alone, I can get really freaked out. I think it goes to show the calibre of some of the authors that I have the pleasure of working with that I can be reading their book for sometimes the third or fourth time and it still gives me goose bumps!
I’ve just finished the manuscript of The Demonologist (which come out early next year) and that was one that made me wish I wasn’t alone while I read it! I love books that cause you to question yourself more closely than is comfortable; the ones that are not gory or violent, but domestic, claustrophobic and truly chilling.
Do you ever think about writing a book of your own?
Ah, the million dollar question! At the moment, I’m very happy being on the editorial side of the manuscripts. I’m in awe of all the incredible ideas writers are thinking up day in day out and the really big-concept books dominating the market at the moment. I’d like to think if I did write a book it would be an intelligent thriller or something a bit more literary.
You live in London, what do you love about being based there? And what do you enjoy doing outside of work?
I absolutely love west London. For me it’s the most convenient, least pretentious part of the city, with lovely parks and nice areas like Notting Hill just a short walk away.
Outside of work, I love to relax and unwind with friends. London is chock-a-block with more cool bars and restaurants than I’ll ever be able to visit in one lifetime, but I’m enjoying the challenge of trying to sample them all! I also love visiting galleries. I adore the Wallace Collection and now I have the gorgeous and serene National Gallery just round the corner from where I work. It’s amazing to be able to leave my desk at lunchtime after a particularly fraught morning and in two minutes I can be standing in front of a Botticelli or Velazquez.
Name your top 5 all time favourite books.
That is such a hard question and I have no idea where I would even begin to start answering it. No doubt my list will change tomorrow, but for now I’m going with:
To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee
His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
Bleak House by Charles Dickens
I know that’s six, I just couldn’t decide!
Which authors, alive or dead, would you invite to a dream dinner party (or book club meet up)?
I would love to have a dinner with P.G. Wodehouse; I’d invite Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie (he is an author, yes) and Richard Briars along so we could talk about the Drones Club, Gussie Fink-Nottle and Aunt Agatha (the one who chews bottles and kills rats with her teeth) all night!
You’re a big fan of book covers. Which illustrators or styles always catch your eye?
I have recently been completely taken with the work of Petra Borner. She’s incredibly talented and has done some really bold, bright, funky covers as well as fully illustrated books. I also really love all the designs that Coralie Bickford-Smith does for Penguin. Obviously the Jackie Magpie team includes some pretty stonking illustration talent, but that goes without saying!
Can you give us any hot tips for great books that will be coming out this Summer/ Autumn?
I’m really looking forward to rereading a book I read last year, waaaay before it was published (mega perk of the job), called Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann - it’s a fantastic, post-second world war literary novel and it’s got a fabulous cover. I’d also recommend a book called Elijah’s Mermaid by Essie Fox that’s coming out in November. It’s weird and wonderful, full of gothic touches and flamboyant characters. It’s set in Victorian London… oh, and the jacket is completely gorgeous! I don’t always judge a book by its cover… but it certainly helps!
Thanks Jemima, nice to get to know you better!
Later today Jemima will be giving away a bundle of beautiful books – so watch this space!