Are (were) your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself.
Everyone reads in my family: we are omnivores, and eclectic. At 86, my father still alternates a thriller with something more substantial. When I grew up on the farm we used to rush back to our books to read at lunch, and we often ate dinner on our knees, with our books. My mother says she would do that differently if she could do it again, and have us all up at the table.
Did you want to work in the publishing industry from the start?
I did. There wasn’t a publishing course in New Zealand at the time, so I became a journalist instead. I wanted to work with books right from when I was at school.
Has your vision from when you started Gecko Press 13 years ago changed?
The vision of Gecko Press is pretty much the same as it always was: that every child has the right to love to read.
The how is the same also: Gecko Press translates and publishes original, proven books from around the world, from internationally award-winning writers and illustrators; books excellent in story, illustration and design, that children and adults will want to read hundreds of times – books of good character, and with heart.
How do you balance originality and profitability?
Nice question! Gecko Press sells in four markets: the UK, US, Australia and New Zealand. Many of our books are strong backlisting titles that go on and on – some of them sell more now each year than when they were released. For us, originality is always more profitable in the long term.
What was the book that made you fall in love with reading?
I don’t remember not being in love with reading. But I love Ping, and I am David, and The Owl Called my Name – strong emotional books all of them.
What makes you decide to publish one writer, and not another?
Because we at Gecko Press love their writing and believe in their longevity and originality as a writer, and because they contribute something marvellous to books available for children.
Technology and the rise of Kindle and iPads etc have revolutionised the publishing industry. How well have publishers adapted to industry changes?
Digital formats are business as usual for us and for most publishers. Picture books are the exception, as we don’t have the device that does them justice yet. It is digital distraction that affects publishers, rather than kids reading e-books – that is something we worry about a lot.
Do you enjoy reading ebooks? Will the physical book die away eventually?
Like many, I read whatever format suits my circumstances and the book. I read thrillers digitally if I have to, but I, like many kids, prefer a paper version. No, the paper versions won’t die as far as I know, at least until a better format or device emerges – in my opinion.
Your views on marketing and distribution? And on social media?
We try to be savvy, targeted and to spend money wisely and well, whatever it is we are doing. Social media is great for community building, which is important.
Nearly 80% of the UK’s publishing industry wanted to remain in the EU. In the wake of Brexit, what are the implications for book publishing and translation in your view?
I absolutely supported Britain remaining in the EU. The result has certainly affected us in terms of exchange rate and uncertainty, which is never good for books or retail I believe. But we will continue to publish 85% translations, as we have done for the last 13 years.
How important is funding for independent publishers?
All funding is welcome! As a New Zealand-based publisher with sales and distribution in the UK, we don’t qualify for UK funding.
How do you relax?
Reading on the verandah or in front of the fire is my favourite, and cooking and eating with friends and family. And I walk. Normal things. Films. My biggest relaxation is on the farm where I spend half my time. I watch sheep and cows and try to figure out what makes them individual . . .
Your favourite qualities in a person?
A sense of humour and kindness.
For what faults do have you most tolerance?
Over-enthusiasm and risk-taking.
Your chief characteristic?
Your chief fault?
Easily distracted. I’m on the board of the Global Association for Seriously Distracted People.
Your bedside reading?
I’ve just finished the Otari series by Lian Hearn, an Australian writer of YA, that my nephew loved reading a few years ago. Fantastic sleep-stoppers.
Your favourite prose authors?
I’m an omnivore – currently I love Megumi Iwasa from Japan, now I have been able to read her. E.L. Konigsburg, Dickens, many!
Your favourite heroes and heroines in fiction?
Anyone who does better than they think they can do; I enjoy flawed heroes and heroines.
Your heroes and heroines in real life?
My partner, family, friends, children who love reading, children who struggle with reading, teachers, librarians, booksellers, all the people who work at and for Gecko Press, those who support and encourage all of the above, people who do the best they can every day . . .
Who are the five people, living or dead, you’d invite to be in your dream book club?
Book club with dinner maybe. E.L Konigsburg, Ulf Stark, Ursula Nordström, Madeleine L’Engle, TS Eliot
Plant firmly, walk straight.
Interview © Julia Marshall 2017. Questions format © BookBlast Ltd, London.