Bella Pearson introduces her publishing house, Guppy Books.
During the balmy summer of 2018, I was invited to a Golden Egg Academy conference in Bath; I had recently left my job as publishing director at David Fickling Books and at lunch, someone asked what I was thinking of doing next. When I tentatively mentioned that I was contemplating setting up an indie publisher, the enthusiasm and positivity from those around blew me away. Did they really think I could do it? I talked further to authors and colleagues – and before I knew it, in September 2019 Guppy Books published its first book. (Let’s not talk about the pandemic or timing now…) But why did I want to do it in the first place?
Having worked with David helping to set up his list in 2001 firstly with Random House and then as an independent company, I acquired some extraordinary books and edited some amazing authors. But it had long been a dream to have the creative freedom to publish a balanced, varied, diverse and eclectic list of my own, producing the most entertaining books to encourage and captivate children from all backgrounds and reading capabilities, from young emerging readers to older teenagers.
And lo, Guppy was born. We’re in our third year of publishing and produce 10 books a year, most originated in the UK but one or two a year bought in from other countries. We don’t stick with any particular genre – indeed I want to publish as many different genres as possible – and my aim is that in a few years’ time, every child of any age and background, with any interest or ability, should be able to swim through the Guppy porthole and find something that reflects themselves in the books we produce.
It’s also important to me that we don’t only acquire books in the traditional way (author finds agent, agent finds publisher). So in the spring of 2020, we launched an Open Submissions Competition for unpublished/unagented writers, casting the net as far and wide as possible. What a response – and what finds! The two authors from our first two competitions are stunning additions to the Guppy list, true writers of the future, and I feel so very lucky to be publishing them. (More on these below.)
So what kind of stories do we publish? A look at the eclectic mix here:
Gloves Off by Louisa Reid is a page-turning and immersive verse novel for young adults, tackling difficult subjects yet conveying acres of love and tenderness to its characters and readers. Contrast its intense power with the anarchic Ghost Scouts series – a wickedly funny, diverse illustrated series about a human girl who accidentally ends up in an unusual scout summer camp… Lexie makes friends with a werewolf, a zombie and a ghost, all unique and different in their own ways but difference is simply a part of the zany, warm storytelling of Taylor Dolan – not obviously signposted but simply there. Maggie Blue and the Dark World by Anna Goodall, recently shortlisted for the Costa Children’s Book Award 2021 is ‘awash in sinister villains and perplexing plights’ (Financial Times) – perfect for Year 6/7/8 children to get their teeth into.
Or Tsunami Girl, a part-prose, part-manga book for young adults by Julian Sedgwick and Chie Kutsuwada which absorbs you in the ghostly world of Japan and post-catastrophe trauma, an intense story told in the most original and emotionally astute way. Contrast it with the quirky Bronte Mettlestone series by Jaclyn Moriarty for readers who love intricately-drawn adventures that meander through a magical world and tie up events in the most satisfying way. Saving Winslow by Sharon Creech (yes, the Sharon Creech!) tells the moving story of a 10-year-old boy and a baby donkey, indirectly dealing with loss and friendships (check out Moo as well). Or escape with the absurdly funny Knight Sir Louis series by the Brothers McLeod – witty and highly illustrated with jokes on every page, perfect for readers with post-Tom-Gatesitis or those who struggle with books containing solid text. So what about the young adult who is passionate about history, their place in the world and injustice? Try Song Beneath the Tides by Beverley Birch, a thriller set in Africa, with an extraordinary sense of place.
And how does 2022 look? Three exciting debut titles to launch: the beautiful The Cats We Meet Along the Way by Nadia Mikail (winner of the first Guppy Open Submissions Competition), which tells of a teenager’s road trip around Malaysia in search of her sister, a story full of family angst, love and kindness set against the background of an apocalyptic event; Anthony Burt’s The Animal Lighthouse, illustrated by Ciara Flood is a hugely fun and inventive adventure story bringing together The Jungle Book and Treasure Island; and James Dixon’s David Almond-esque evocative selkie tale, The Billow Maiden (our second competition winner)… As well as an excoriating new verse novel from Louisa Reid, more from our adventurous middle-grade series and a terrifying YA thriller from acclaimed Canadian author, Kenneth Oppel.
We are only at the start of our journey to build the balanced, varied, diverse and eclectic list I want Guppy to be, where every child can find themselves – but what a start it has been! I’m so incredibly grateful to all the Guppy authors, illustrators, colleagues and most of all readers who have made it possible – thank you all.