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Interview with Samantha Rayner

uczcmsm26 February 2018

Following on from our interview with Daniel last term, we’ve heard from Sam about how she fell into publishing, her favourite books and her advice for Publishing MA students!

Sam Rayner Head Shot

Favourite book:

What kind of fiendish question is that?! There are old-time children’s favourites (Anne of Green Gables, Little House on the Prairie, anything by Alison Uttley, Susan Cooper, Joan Aiken…..); favourites for comfort reading (Georgette Heyer); favourites for historical fiction (Dorothy Dunnett), for fantasy/sci fi fiction (Robin Hobbs, Tolkien, Lois McMaster Bujold), for literary fiction (A. S. Byatt, Ishiguro, Sarah Perry)….and, of course, for my academic work, it has to be Le Morte d’Arthur, by Thomas Malory!

How did you get into publishing?

It’s a story of happenstance, perseverance, fate, and how sometimes being pushed to do something can result in amazing things! Books have been the one constant in all my jobs – except, like Daniel, for a miserable few weeks working for an insurance company, and doing lots of farm work while I was at school (I grew up on a fruit and hop farm). I started with a Saturday job in my local town library, Tonbridge, and then worked in a bookshop, Hammicks in Tunbridge Wells, during my gap year and then every vacation whilst I was at university in Bangor, doing a degree in English. I went on to do an MA in Literature (on the poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins), and then got married, did more bookshop work, and then a PGCE in Secondary English and Drama. A few years of teaching in Kent schools followed, before I had my son: and then my tutors from Bangor suggested that it would be a good time to do a PhD! So I did – in medieval poetry, and during the course of this, fate took our family back to Bangor, so I was able to start teaching English at the university part-time, whilst I finished my thesis. When that was done I was asked to take on a Research and Development Manager role to help set up a new School of Creative Studies and Media. This gave me interesting experiences not just of putting together new courses (including publishing ones!), hiring staff, and helping to facilitate research bids, but also useful things like having to kit out a new building, from scratch (I am still very proud that ten years on the red sofas I chose are going strong in the lobby area!) This was a two year contract, so when that ended my boss pushed me to apply for a part-time, senior lecturer post at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, in Publishing. It seemed a crazy idea at the time, but I applied, setting out what I’d do if I had to build a new MA in Publishing, and got the job!

Moving to a new place was hard, but this job allowed me to spend time within a publishing company (Cambridge University Press mentored me for the first couple of months I was in post, so I got to see all the different depts there), and I loved seeing the course develop. After a year, I was also involved in setting up a new Research Institute about Digital Culture, so that also linked in my existing developmental facilitation experience and skills.

And then, in 2012, I was encouraged to apply for a job at UCL, and did, again not thinking I stood a chance of getting it – and the rest is history! I am living proof that at some point, all those random bits of work experience do come together (even the fruit and hop-picking have been useful training in perseverance, and attention to detail!).

How do you interact with your chosen field?

That’s a good question! Publishing is such a truly dynamic area, and is moving so fast, so you have to keep up with what’s happening. Twitter is a vital tool, as is The Bookseller, and all the different conferences and seminars that happen. The London Book Fair is a great annual hub of activity. On the academic side, I have two academic families – my publishing one, and my Arthurian/ medieval one, and I interact with them by attending conferences, meetings, and collaborating with people on research. You are always learning something new, and I love that!

Favourite piece of research you’ve been part of?  

I really enjoyed the Academic Book of the Future research, which was a huge project, with lots of different strands and activities. I worked with some amazing people, and got the chance to make real impact within the academic book world. At the moment, I am really loving the research I am doing with two friends and Arthurian/ publishing colleagues (yes, there are more of us!) Dr Leah Tether and Dr Bex Lyons, on the Penguin Archive at Bristol University. We’re looking at how Penguin worked to make classic texts available to a more general readership, and finding some fascinating stuff…it’s detective work, and finding material that sheds new light on how we perceive these canonical works. Publishers do more than you might think!

What advice would you give a Publishing MA student?

Make the most of your investment. Use all the opportunities the course and UCL offer you – not just the classes, but beyond that. Be prepared to push outside of your comfort zone, to take creative risks, and to use the space the MA gives you to explore what your strengths are, and what kind of job you really want to pursue….

A fun fact about yourself:

Um….I’ll confess to being a complete Alan Rickman fan!

A book that we might be surprised you have read? 

Well, when doing Admissions interviews, I always take note of any books people say they enjoy when they answer that first question! So, this past year, I have enjoyed reading Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore, and Sigrid Unset’s Kristin Lavransdatter as a result of student recommendations: so I do listen! (and thanks, guys!)


Thank you Sam for your wonderful answers. I was pleased to note I’m not the only one who struggles to choose a favourite book (or ten)!

3 Book Blogs to Follow Right Now

uczcrot21 February 2018

It’s no secret that the digital age has modified the publishing industry in significant ways. In the modern publishing world, readers engage with texts electronically, Amazon has transformed the way we shop for books, and online reading communities continue to emerge around such outlets as Twitter and Goodreads. The Internet, moreover, has altered and strengthened the way we discuss the books we read and love. The emergence of book blogs, for example, has created a valuable network for readers of all ages to share what they are reading, what they think about it, and what they think fellow book lovers might (or might not!) enjoy. There is an abundance of wonderful book blogs online today, and you can read about three of our favourites below.

Folded Pages Distillery

Folded Pages Distillery is a book review blog run by Hikari Loftus, Doni Faber, and Brittney Jensen. As reviewers, these women aim to focus on the ideas and feelings at the heart of books, and they consistently deliver thorough and well-considered reviews of titles across several genres. They also create and share beautiful, book-inspired photography over on Instagram.


Katherine Sunderland has created a book lover’s paradise with her blog, Bibliomaniac. We adore this site for Katherine’s frequent, highly readable reviews and attention to modern, best-selling books. Some of our favourite posts include Katherine’s Weeks in Books, in which she relays books she has purchased, reader events she has attended, and more. The site also features a Bibliomaniac Book Club, which is the perfect opportunity for readers to discover and engage with new titles.


BookRiot is a comprehensive review site that discusses a variety of literary genres and book-related topics. Whether you are seeking thrillers to keep you up at night, romances for your next holiday, or inspiring non-fiction picks, BookRiot will help you find the titles for you. We also appreciate that BookRiot goes beyond book reviews to discuss other facets of publishing, from writing culture to issues of diversity to reader lifestyle and more.

Image from Folded Pages Distillery

The Woman in the Window: An Editor’s Smash Hit

uczcrot11 February 2018

Whether they’re psychological hits like The Woman in Cabin 10 or tales of domesticity gone wrong, it’s safe to say that literary thrillers are established and well-loved in today’s publishing world. So far in 2018, one particular crime thriller, The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn, has skyrocketed to the top of bestseller lists and to the forefront of public awareness.

As mentioned in our previous ‘Books We Can’t Wait to Read This Month’ post, the novel focuses on Anna Fox, a children’s psychologist who, due to a mysterious past trauma, has isolated herself in her home. She passes her days sipping wine, watching old movies, and perhaps most prominently, spying on her plethora of neighbors. One day, she believes she may have witnessed something sinister, and the plot unfolds as Anna, and those around her, try to make sense of what she might have seen. We can’t wait to delve into this mystery characterized by foggy pasts, questionable perspective, and issues of mental health.

We are excited about this release for reasons outside of its captivating plot, however. Its author, Dan Mallory writing as A.J. Finn, is not only a debut writer but also a longtime editor and publisher. Mallory previously published with Sphere in the U.K. and now works for William Morrow in New York City. We love seeing a publishing fellow make the jump to authorship and receive such resounding praise. How inspiring!

Have you read The Woman in the Window? Let us know what you think!


uczcwtu7 February 2018

Ah, bookstagram – one of the best places on the Internet where book lovers can congregate and show off their newest purchases. However, sometimes it can be a bit discouraging when you follow loads of beautiful accounts, and you just aren’t getting the same number of followers and comments as them!

So, here are some tips for making your bookstagram the best it can be!

1. Props – Whether that be flowers, candles, bookmarks, or Funko pops, people go nuts for photographs with props. There’s something about that cosy clutter that really works with books, especially if the props are somehow related to the book that is being photographed. Related to that, food and drink (often tea) can be used as a prop as well!

2. Lighting – the best time to take photographs of books is during the

day, particularly when it is sunny and bright. This makes it a bit difficult in the winter, but what I do is take all of my photographs on the weekend.

3. Pick a theme/filter and stick to it – this what the proper professional bookstagrammers do – so there’s no reason why you can’t do it too! Alternatively, pick a prop or a background that will feature in all of your photographs. That’ll give them that streamlined look too.

4. Background – you can take the best picture in the world, but if it has your bedroom clutter in the background, it’s going to be let down. Some easy backgrounds are bedspreads, other books, and white poster board.

5. Practice makes perfect – unless you’re a photography goddess, there’s no way you’re going to be able to nail it the first time around. So just play around with your photos!

6. Finally, don’t worry about it – ultimately this is a way to have fun with your books, and to show the world what you’re reading! So don’t worry about followers and comments, but rather just enjoy it.

Come follow me @whatthelog!

A Night of Reading Aloud with Francesco Dimitri: A Review

uczcmsm6 February 2018

This guest post was written by fellow student, Vicky Joss.

In an endeavour to rediscover the lost art of reading aloud, several UCL Publishing students attended ‘A Night of Reading Aloud’ at Waterstones Gower Street, led by Francesco Dimitri, the author of To Read Aloud. His new book is a curated collection of excerpts from well known (and some lesser known) books that are designed to be read aloud. They are categorised thematically through experiences such as change, pleasure, loss, love and wonder. In becoming the reader, or the listener, you are challenged to remain completely in the present, focusing solely on the words.

The evening started with a little history. Whilst we now consider reading aloud as an activity for a child’s bedtime, it only went out of fashion in the twentieth century. It was so popular with Cuban miners in the nineteenth century that they would pay to have a lector during their working hours! The room was set up in a speed-dating format, and we were told that if we didn’t sit with a stranger we would be moved (gulp). There were three rounds, each one consisting of a reader and a listener. The first was a warm-up round, with an extract under seven minutes. The second was slightly longer, and the listener got to choose their extract this time. The third round was much like the second, except the listener had to wear a blindfold.

The evening was not only interesting, but also surprisingly insightful. Reading is, of course, nothing new to us. Yet reading aloud introduced several new elements. Firstly, it forces a busy mind to stop and simply be present (simultaneously reading and thinking is just not possible. I tried!). As a reader, it was odd to hear my voice shape words in to existence for the sole purpose that this stranger would listen. As a listener, I focused less on their voice and more on shaping the words to form a picture in my head. I had one chance to fully grasp this; there were no pages to look back on to remind myself of crucial details.

Yet perhaps the most surprising part of the evening was that Francesco was right: reading aloud formed a connection with a stranger that completely bypassed any formalities. I talked to my partners about ambitions, politics and their grandchildren without hesitation.

I, for one, am behind this quiet revolution to re-introduce reading aloud to adults as normal once again.


Books We Can’t Wait to Read This Month

uczcrot2 February 2018

Hello everyone, and happy February! With the onset of a new month comes an exciting new reading list to delve into, and the publishing world has truly been delivering lately. Continue on for a number of titles we can’t wait to read, be they new releases, recent award winners, or buzz-worthy crowd favorites. Enjoy!

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Though released in the middle of 2017, this charming debut novel has come to the forefront of publishing news as a recent winner of the Costa First Novel Book Award. This tale follows hilarious but  lonely Eleanor as her orderly, uneventful life transforms and she experiences new and unexpected relationships. Throughout its pages, Eleanor must confront her fears and learn to see the magic in others—and in herself.

Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon

Joanna Cannon addresses sentimentality and the human spirit in this novel that centers upon 84-year-old Florence, a resident at Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly. The story opens as Florence collapses in her flat, and while awaiting rescue, she reflects upon the arrival of a mysterious new Cherry Tree resident, her lifelong friendship with best friend Elsie, and a secret she’s kept hidden for years. The Guardian describes this novel as ‘powerful and profound,’ and we think it’d pair perfectly with a rainy afternoon.

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

Fans of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train are likely to enjoy this new thriller by Daniel Mallory (pen name A.J. Finn). Dr. Anna Fox is a former child psychologist who spends her days tucked away in her townhouse, spying on and following the lives of her neighbours. On one seemingly ordinary day, Anna believes she has witnessed a murder. Mallory’s novel channels the eerie, unsettling mood of its literary thriller counterparts but also explores such themes as family, mental health, and the unreliable narrator.

The Jhalak Prize

uczcwtu31 January 2018

The second annual Jhalak Prize is upon us! The Jhalak Prize was founded in 2017, and celebrates the best books by British and British resident BAME writers, and awards one writer £1000. The first book to win the Jhalak Prize was Jacob Ross’ The Bone Readers.

Started by authors Sunny Singh and Nikesh Shukla and Media Diversified, with support from The Authors’ Club and a prize donated by an anonymous benefactor, the prize exists to celebrate the achievements of British writers of colour.

Excitingly, the 2018 longlist has recently been announced! It includes:

John Agard, Come All You Little Persons (Faber)

Nadeem Aslam, The Golden Legend (Faber)

Jeffrey Boakye, Hold Tight: Black Masculinity, Millennials and the Meaning of Grime (Influx Press)

Sita Brahmachari, Worry Angels (Barrington Stoke)

Kayo Chongonyi, Kumakanda (Chatto & Windus)

Yrsa Daley-Ward, Bone (Penguin)

Reni Eddo-Lodge, Why I ‘m No Longer Talking to White People About Race (Bloomsbury Circus)

Xialou Guo, Once Upon a Time in the East (Chatto & Windus)

Meena Kandasamy, When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife (Atlantic Books)

Kiran Millwood Hargrave, The Island at the End of Everything (Chicken House)

Leone Ross, Come Let Us Sing Anyway (Peepal Tree Press)

Preti Taneja, We That Are Young (Galley Beggar Press)

This longlist was chosen by the all-female judging panel, which includes writer Sunny Singh, YA author Catherine Johnson, novelist Tanya Byrne, writer and performer Vera Chok and travel writer and journalist Noo Saro-Wiwa.

Judge Vera Chok spoke about the prize: “An incredible thing about the Jhalak Prize is that it’s open across genres. I’ve been especially delighted to discover writers of colour beyond literary fiction and memoir, making their mark in the fields of non-fiction, children’s writing, and experimental forms.”

The shortlist will be announced on the 20th of February, and the winner will be announced on the 15th March 2018.

What’s Coming Up: February and Beyond!

uczcwtu25 January 2018

There are lots of events going on in the next few months – here’s just a couple of gems that we discovered!

29 JAN 2018: SYP AGM
The SYP meets every year in January in the beautiful Stationers’ Hall to say goodbye to old SYP UK and London committees and welcome in new. There will be a recap of the whole SYP year from different committee members, followed by our panel. To delve more into the creation and popularity of audiobooks, the impact of podcasts on our industry, and what might be next, we’ll be joined by Miles Stevens-Hoare of RB Media, the company behind audiobooks.com, and the team from the amazing Mostly Lit podcast.

8 FEB 2018: Bitch Lit
Bitch Lit is a monthly book club devoted to new feminist writing and cult classics by women. Join us for endless wine, cheese and irreverent, fun discussion led by literary critic Lucy Scholes and Gower Street’s Elizabeth Morris. On February 8th we will be discussing Diana Athill’s Stet: An Editors Life.

9 FEB 2018 – 11 FEB 2018: London Bookshop Crawl
Now in its’ third year it aims to bring booklovers together in a joyful celebration of all things bookish and give some much needed support to (mainly independent) bookshops in the otherwise fairly grim retail month of February. Over the course of the weekend we encourage you to visit as many bookshops as possible, post about how great they are on social media (using #LondonBookshopCrawl), buy some books and grab some of the amazing freebies and discounts on offer and meet some new bookish friends.

15 FEB 2018: The Hogwarts Curriculum Lectures: Divination with Marc Salem
A look at how we deduce, or divine, meaning from non-verbal signs with Marc Salem, performer, mind reader and expert in non-verbal communication. This event is aimed at an adult audience, although children are welcome to attend.

20 FEB 2018: Laura Bates – Misogynation: The True Scale of Sexism
Feminist, activist and bestselling author Laura Bates joins us to once again shine a light on the gender inequality lurking in the shadows of our society with her new collections of essays. At this exclusive London event Laura will be discussing her work with the freelance journalist and contributing editor at The Pool, Marisa Bate, followed by a signing of her books.

1 MARCH 2018: World Book Day
World Book Day is a celebration! It’s a celebration of authors, illustrators, books and (most importantly) it’s a celebration of reading. In fact, it’s the biggest celebration of its kind, designated by UNESCO as a worldwide celebration of books and reading, and marked in over 100 countries all over the world.

7 MARCH 2018 – 11 MARCH 2018: Women of the World 2018
WOW – Women of the World festival celebrates women and girls, and looks at the obstacles that stop them from achieving their potential. This will include talks by Sandi Toksvig, the women behind the Black Lives Matter movement and a drag king performance of the story of Joan of Arc.

Let us know if you end up going to any of these events!

Independent Bookshop Alliance

uczcmsm24 January 2018

You may have heard of Simon Key: the Big Green Bookshop Twitter star? He is famed for his phrases ‘I am in a train’ and ‘My kids are asleep’ and his incredible customer service over Twitter. His refreshing openness about the trials and tribulations of being a bookseller and even honest sales numbers posted on Twitter are appreciated by his many followers.

Following the deep discounting of Philip Pullman’s Book of Dust, Simon proposed an ‘Indie Alliance’. Philip Pullman is a huge supporter of bookshops and sees deep discounting as ‘the true book lovers enemy’. Book of Dust, however, was being hugely discounted at 50% by Waterstones, Foyles, WHSmith and Amazon. Pullman was criticised for signing 5,000 copies of the title exclusively for Waterstones and therefore excluding the independent bookshops for whom he so often campaigns. For an in-depth commentary on the controversy, take a look at The Secret Bookseller.

Anyway, back to the ‘Indie Alliance’ (which, by the way,  I think would be a good movie title). Simon, the Big Green Bookshop man I’ve mentioned already, posted a call out to bookshops to express interest in his idea. He believes that independent bookshops can work together to negotiate better discounts and indie offers. Within 6 days Simon had an overwhelming response from more than 90 independent bookshops across the UK. Now that should make publishers listen.

Simon told the bookseller that the next stage is to set up a forum so independent bookshops can communicate and discuss what they’d like from the alliance. He is also meeting various trade members this week who have expressed interest in ways they can help. The alliance has also ‘tentatively’ received an offer of funding – so watch this space!


uczcmsm17 January 2018

If there’s one thing publishing students are known for other than reading, it’s for drinking tea! Here’s a couple of my favourite places to buy and drink tea – but be warned. Your wallets will be burning by the end of this post!

  1. Bluebird Tea

Bluebird Tea is without a doubt one of my favourite places to get tea. Their flavours are so unique! One of the best things about Bluebird is that they do a monthly subscription service where you get 3 sachets of some of their best tea! Themes have included cocktail-based teas, Christmas teas, and ones that make great iced teas!

Check out their website here!


  1. Teapigs

Teapigs is my go-to tea – they too have amazing flavours. I mean, matcha mint? Jelly and ice cream? What more could I possibly need? Their bags are also really nice, which somehow makes a difference to my tea experience.

More information about teapigs’ great flavours can be found here!

  1. Birdhouse

    Birdhouse is an independent tea company found in Sheffield. They have a TEA STUDIO where they blend all of the tea, and where you can go for tea consultations and advice on how to blend your own. How awesome is that?! They also have the most beautiful Instagram, which I highly recommend you check out.

Their website can be found here.

  1. Last but certainly not least is the London Tea Company.

    Situated right here in London, this is a FairTrade company that focuses on their love for London and tea! (I’m already a fan!)  Their packing is also A+, which is always a bonus. Gotta have your tea in cute tins and things!

Check them out at London Tea Company.