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Department of Information Studies


Interview with Samantha Rayner

By uczcmsm, on 26 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)!

Interview with Daniel Boswell

By uczcmsm, on 8 December 2017

The blog team thought it might be fun to use this opportunity to find out more about our lovely lecturers! So, first up: Daniel Boswell!

Favourite book.
Don Quixote de La Mancha – Of all the classics this is my favourite. Arguably the first ‘novel’, certainly one of the earliest examples of the form, I don’t really think it has ever been surpassed; themes of love, hope, ambition, ageing, class and comedy all seamlessly interlinked. It’s a book about a bibliophile who takes his passion a little too far. Publishing students take note. If you can read the original, not in translation.

How did you get into publishing?
Getting into publishing was as much about getting out of a series of successive industries I didn’t belong in after I finished my first degree. Life assurance was a low point. However, I’d always been around writers, my father was a journalist. The direct answer is that I attended a panel discussion at the Edinburgh Book Festival in the mid 2000s about changing trends in genre fiction and ended up having a very long and interesting conversation with, Marion Sinclair, the director of Publishing Scotland. She encouraged me towards some postgraduate study which led me to the Scottish Centre for the Book (SCOB) at Edinburgh Napier and the rest is (21st century) history.

How do you interact with your chosen field?
Publishing Studies is a small and developing field. This has pros and cons. The challenge is being able to draw diversely on a established body of contemporary academic sources. On the other hand, as a developing discipline, most academics working in this area know one another, at least in passing, and we have a wonderful, friendly network for collaboration. Over the past few years we have been gathering in Florence for a developing, publishing focused conference called ‘By the Book’, which is helping to ground this network. At the level of teaching, all of the UK Publishing courses are members of the Association for Publishing Education (APE) and we meet on a regular basis.

Favourite piece of research you’ve been part of?
Well, I should probably say my PhD thesis, a comparative analysis of industrial dynamics in Scottish and Catalan Publishing fields, but I also really enjoy the editorial and development side of journal and special issue publication, and have been involved with pieces for Book 2.0 and Scottish Comics that were fun. And a few MA dissertations that I’ve supervised stick in my mind as well.

What advice would you give a Publishing MA student?
Don’t Panic (That’s an SF joke)

A fun fact about yourself.
I collect pink elephant related paraphernalia.

A book that we might be surprised you have read?
Oh wow, that’s a doozy of a question. How am I to interpret this – would you be surprised because it’s not something you would expect me to like, or do we simply mean the sheer perseverance of a long, difficult text, or is this more about introducing the unfamiliar? Is the question designed to propel me towards confessing some inner shame or should I reinforce the idea that there is no such thing as a guilty pleasure? Hmm… I hope this will do…

As far as supervising dissertations go, when students want to consider particular genres or authors I do try to make sure (as far as possible) that I am familiar with the material as well (this does not stretch as far as Harry Potter, do not push me) I did read all of the Hunger Games, Maze Runner, and Divergent YA dystopian series in order to be more familiar with these for studies. I thought the Hunger Games series was quite good.

Shame confession – I managed 20 pages of fifty shades, what’s all the fuss about?


Thank you to Daniel for giving some time to these questions amongst a busy term and lots of marking! If any of his answers have interested you, I’m sure he’d be happy to talk about them further!

Finally, here are the answers to the literature quiz:

1) The Catcher in the Rye
2) 1984
3) Harper Lee
4) Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
5) Stephen Hawking
6) Bridget Jones Diary
7) The Adventures of Pinocchio
8) Roald Dahl
9) A Hegdehog
10) Yann Martel