It’s a happy tenth birthday to Flying Eye Books, a publisher consistently bringing us intriguing, original and distinctive books. Sam Arthur, Co-Founder/Creative Director looks back, and forward.
The story I tell about the creation of Flying Eye Books is probably not what most would expect. As a publishing business, Alex Spiro and I had already been going for four years with our ‘all ages’ Nobrow imprint. We had already gone through the excitement and adrenaline of creating a start-up enterprise. The creation of Flying Eye Books was much more pragmatic and in many ways a problem-solving exercise. Let me tell you the story, I haven’t really sold it to you so far, but bear with me… this storytelling thing; it’s why I got into to publishing in the first place.
It was a weekday mid-morning and I had gone for a scouting mission in the West End, I gravitated toward one of my favourite book shops – Foyles. It was still in its old location and back then you could find dusty first editions of books published in 1972 about Robotics or Goat Husbandry (I know this as I bought both). I’m pretty sure they hadn’t been touched since at least 1980. Anyway, my prime motivation was to check which of our titles they had stocked and where they had displayed them. I was conforming to the archetype of publisher on their day off perfectly. My heart leapt when I discovered an edition our new Hilda book on a shelf in the Graphic Novel department! It was face out on a prominent shelf. I gave myself a pat on the back – job done.
But then I noticed it was on the same shelf as some decidedly adult graphic novels, also face out. Books not appropriate for the age group intended for Hilda. I turned my gaze to the other side of the shop floor where the children’s department lay. I could see the perfect shelf for our Hilda books, and it lay in the heart of the cosy children’s book area, like King Arthur’s Stone waiting for its sword. In a bookcase next to a couple of Moomin comics in good view of any inquisitive child that might be perusing the department of the store designed especially to cater for their reading needs…
When I asked a children’s bookseller why they didn’t have Hilda in their department they gave me the matter of fact answer; ‘We don’t do the ordering for the graphic novel department’. This didn’t exactly give me the answer I was looking for – or even any answer at all… but it did give me the impetus (when no one was looking) to move the Hilda title from the somewhat adult graphic novel shelf across the shop to the wonderful children’s bookshelf which seemed to have its own golden ray of light beaming down on it. Job done.
This is the rightful place for a brilliant book that should be read and enjoyed by kids. I couldn’t help feeling quite pleased with my act of guerrilla shelf stacking. It took me until Tottenham Court Road tube station steps before I realised how difficult it would be to re-enact this anarchic marketing stunt in every book shop in the land. And so Flying Eye Books was born from the need to get our very good children’s books from our tiny Nobrow ‘all ages imprint’ – into the hands of children everywhere.
When I lecture in art schools this is the example I give when I discuss the importance of branding! Flying Eye gave us a dedicated children’s book brand which was recognised by booksellers and book buyers immediately. It was no coincidence that our sales of the Hilda series exploded with the new branding.
Over the 10 years of Flying Eye’s existence, I am very proud to have supported the careers and given debuts to some important creators. It is unfair to single out individuals but for me there are key moments that stand out and which have helped us find our foothold in the competitive children’s book market.
The first thing I should mention is the Flying Eye team over the years have been and continue to be an incredibly talented bunch – Harry Gwinner and Harriet Birkinshaw have both been instrumental in forming the list – for their belief, blood, sweat and tears in our project; I will be eternally grateful. Others I should mention who have also been influential are Lilly Gottwald, Camille Pichon, Ben Newman, Emma O’Donovan, Zoe Aubugeau Williams, Geoffrey Lapid and Marie Bedrune. It’s also important to mention the role of Robert Snuggs and his team at Bounce Sales and Marketing who have been dedicated to our project since day one. Thank you all for your invaluable input.
As for the publishing moments, a big one was the publication of William Grill’s debut book Shackleton’s Journey. Not only did this title win the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal, but it also helped change the face of children’s non-fiction publishing opening the door for many more illustrators into a field previously dominated by clip art and photography. It was one of the first books that we commissioned for the new list and it is still to this day one of our best selling titles. What a way to start!
Luke Pearson’s Hilda has also continued to be a great success story and seeing a 24pp saddle-stitched comic book develop into a series of graphic novels and then an animated TV show worthy of its BAFTAs and other awards has been incredibly exciting.
I am proud of the work we have done with Joe Todd Stanton who as well as creating prize winning picture books such as The Secret of Black Rock and The Comet, has also worked diligently on the Brownstone Mythical series. This series of graphic reader titles gave us a great platform to launch the careers of others such as Sarah Soh and Laura Suarez with debut titles in the range more recently.
Of course, every title we have worked on deserves its own mention and so I am especially grateful to all of our contributors and collaborators over the years as they have made Flying Eye Books the special list that it is today.
Children are very discerning; if they don’t like something they let it be known. Luckily, judging by the sales of our books, lots of kids seem to be getting hold of our titles and doing what we hoped they would: Enjoying reading them. Job done.
But here’s to the job of the next 10 years of Flying Eye Books!
Find out more about Flying Eye Books.