|Rachel Williams and Jenny Broom
(photo: ©Erik Niemi)
Rachel Williams grew up in Melbourne, Australia, studied literature at university and received a Masters in Business and Publishing at RMIT University. She began her book-making career at Lonely Planet. Emigrating to the UK in her mid-20s, she fell in love with children's books at Templar Publishing, where she met her business partner, Jenny Broom, and Magic Cat's chairwoman, Amanda Wood. At Templar, she and Broom launched the Big Picture Press imprint. In 2014 she and Broom moved to The Quarto Group to start Wide Eyed Editions and Williams subsequently also became Publisher of Frances Lincoln Children's Books. She also writes, authoring titles like Atlas of Adventures, Illuminature and more recently, Slow Down.
Jenny Broom studied at the prestigious Slade School of Fine Art at University College London before taking up a career in children's publishing. She cut her teeth at packaging company Brown Wells and Jacobs before moving to Bonnier-owned Templar Publishing, where she met Williams and helped found the imprint Big Picture Press.
In 2019, Broom and Williams together embarked on their third and most exciting venture, founding an all-female-led independent publishing house, Magic Cat Publishing, featuring nonfiction and gift books for children.
Rachel Williams: How would you sum up our launch list for Magic Cat?
Jenny Broom: For me, the list is built on three pillars: each book is timely, child-friendly and visually compelling. I feel our launch list stakes out the parameters of where we hope to take Magic Cat. We cater to preschool through middle grade, with a list of illustrated non-fiction and gift books that includes one stand-out innovative novelty title, Magical Creatures and Mythical Beasts. The advances have just come in on that.... It's pretty spectacular to have these imaginary beasts appear from nowhere under the UV flashlight!
Williams: Do you think that Magic Cat feels different to what we have done before?
Broom: Magic Cat feels like an evolution to me built on our 10 years of making illustrated children's books together. Part of the difference, I think, is how we've commissioned the list with more of an awareness of important issues, focusing on how to make books for children growing up now, trying to make sense of a complicated world. Our industry as a whole is having really big conversations around diversity and the human impact on the planet. We've talked about how we're keen not to shield young readers from these issues but instead find ways to open them up in an accessible and responsible manner.
Williams: Yes, Old Enough to Save the Planet is a good example of how we address a big issue like climate change from a child's perspective, showing how even the smallest of us can make a big difference. And now, of course, we are commissioning as parents, too, making it our mission to find ways for families to connect both head and heart around a non-fiction or story book.
Broom: Starting up two new imprints with you for Bonnier and Quarto over the last decade has helped me understand how important it is to pour your heart and soul into a list.
Williams: And commissioning a series like Little People Big Dreams helped me see the value in giving an imprint a really distinct brand ethos that readers can relate to and remember. Our mission statement at Magic Cat--to make books with the belief that the stories you are told in childhood shape the person you grow up to be--feels like an extension of that; recognizing that behind each book there has to be a consciousness about each one's reason for existing, and that each individual title contributes to the list's credibility as a whole.
Broom: The Magic Cat dream was born out of a series of conversations reflecting on past successes and failures, and thinking about how we might reimagine our working practice through setting up an independent publishing house--as women, and as mothers--to better reflect the world we live in. Although our London-based team is small, we have a broad perspective with more than half of us originally hailing from overseas, and all of us bringing our own varied personal experiences.
Williams: A huge part of achieving that has been establishing who we could work with overseas to ensure we retain the integrity and agility of an indie whilst amplifying our reach.
Broom: The collaboration with ABRAMS has felt like a real meeting of minds, hasn't it?
Williams: Yes, for so long I have admired the ABRAMS list and their approach to making and selling great books, but also to building brands with longevity and purpose. Their commitment to innovative formats and design makes them second to none, when it comes to the art of the book.
Broom: Production quality and design have always been really important to us, but this time around I feel so much more child-focused. ABRAMS really understands that perspective: they have a sense of responsibility to their young readers.
Williams: And with both of us having kids under the age of 5, we are so focused on the power of storytelling, which I think shows up in all titles on the launch list--whether it's mindful non-fiction, like Slow Down, which was inspired by my daughter who asked me to stop and watch a bee pollinate a flower one day, or a more narrative approach like the Baby Animal Tales, which came about through watching your little boy latch onto photography.
Broom: Being able to work on a curated list of just six launch titles after overseeing close to 100 new titles a year in past roles has been such a joy, hasn't it? It has allowed us to pay a really high level of attention to each title. I've loved it!
|Coming Spring 2021
Williams: I'm looking forward to fleshing out the list a bit next spring, branching out into new areas including poetry, with If You Go Down to the Woods Today, a search-and-find anthology set in a magical woodland forest, and 365 Words for Clever Kids, a preschool anthology of smart words to dip into every day of the year. There's no doubt though that launching a list in the midst of a global pandemic has had its challenges!
Broom: While the recent events have been difficult to deal with in lots of ways, they have made me grateful for the agility we've gained through being independent and therefore being nimble enough to respond quickly to what we think our readers need and want. Being able to communicate with our audience directly through social media and sharing learning activities and creative projects has been so rewarding. I've loved watching our relationship grow over the last few weeks.
|Coming Spring 2021
Williams: Old Enough to Save the Planet has really tapped into an amazing community, hasn't it? I have to say, that is probably my favorite title--the kids in the book inspire me to get off my butt and do something for others and the world around us! Have you got a favorite on the list?
Broom: Mine is probably The Dragon Ark. On the one hand, it's fantasy escapism at its grandest, drawing on folklore and mythology from centuries back; and on the other, it's an up-to-the minute analogy for the world we find ourselves living in today. Plus, the chance of working with a talent like Tomislav Tomić is something I've waited basically my whole career for!
Williams: Working with passionate contributors on books that help us to reflect on the world we live in.... I guess that is what we set out to do with Magic Cat in a nutshell, isn't it?
Broom: That's it!