Industry Insight: Q&A with Joanne Owen (A LoveReading Very Short Story Award Judge)

Our LoveReading Industry Insight pieces are going to be slightly different for the next two months, as we will be focusing in turn, on each of the other judges for our LoveReading Very Short Story Award 2020.  I am hugely thrilled to be able to introduce you to Rachel Edwards, Matt Bates, Joanne Owen, Maxim Jakubowski, (and I will be the fifth member of the team). We have asked our judges a number of booky questions, and they have answered beautifully. Their knowledge really shines through and I’m sure you will be able to appreciate that each will bring their own unique talents, as well as a love of writing and books to the table. 

Our third judge to be introduced is Joanne Owen, Joanne and I talked books long before we actually met. Joanne was at the time working in the publishing industry, and I adored her enthusiasm and knowledge. I reviewed one of her books, the completely gorgeous (chilling and bizarre) Circus of the Unseen, written for teens (also loved by me). Her latest books form the Martha Mayhem series (for children). As well as an author, Joanne is also one of our Editorial Experts for both the LoveReading, and LoveReading4Kids sites. She has a beautiful insight into the written word, and I am so looking forward to working with her on the judging panel.

Born in Pembrokeshire, Joanne Owen is a writer, reviewer, workshop-deliverer and publishing marketing professional. After reading Social and Political Sciences with Archaeology and Anthropology at St John’s College, Cambridge, she worked as a Book Buyer, and then in marketing roles for a number of publishers, among them Bloomsbury Children’s Books, Macmillan Children’s Books, Walker Books, Nosy Crow and, latterly, Rough Guides. Her recent writing work includes the Martha Mayhem young fiction series for Piccadilly Press and Story Quest, a community project commissioned by the National Literacy Trust.

We are thrilled that you have agreed to be one of our judges for the LoveReading Very Short Story Award, what in particular do you love about short stories?

Short stories mean writers have to make their words work harder, which can make for a satisfying - and often intense - reading experience. I also love how short story anthologies often take me to genres I don’t usually read.

Do you have a favourite anthology of short stories, or type of short story that you like to read?

I’m usually drawn to an anthology by its theme. For example, I recently loved So Many Islands, a globally-scoped collection of short stories that encompass the richness of island life in the Caribbean, Mediterranean, Indian and Pacific Oceans.

The authors’ styles, settings and takes on the theme are very different, and this has led me to discover new names.

If reading a short story anthology, do you start with the first story, look for a favourite author, or open at a random spot?

I tend to jump straight to my favourite author, or if all the contributors are new to me, I’ll start at the beginning and read my way through.

Where do you like to read, do you have a photo of one of your favourite reading spots?

Anywhere and everywhere! Preferably on a verandah overlooking a tropical forest or beach but as that’s a regrettably intermittent occurrence, my London balcony or sofa will do!

What (and why) are your top three favourite books of all time (sorry, mean question, and I’m sure your answers could change from one day to the next!)?

Everything by Jean Rhys! But let’s say her exquisite short story collection Sleep It Off Lady, or her unfinished autobiography, Smile Please. Small Island by Andrea Levy, which interweaves the author’s exceptional character-driven story-telling prowess with an illuminating, pertinent social history of the Windrush generation. Eva Ibbotson’s Journey to the River Sea, a timeless, joyous classic of children’s literature set in the Amazon.

What was your favourite book to read as a child, do you still have that book, and have you read it since?

I still have a treasured fairy tale collection from childhood, which I’ve read many times since, and the same goes for my much-loved Mrs. Pepperpot books.

Do you have one particular booky moment that still stands out for you and makes you smile?

As an author, I’ll never forget the moment I first held a proof of my first book (actually, the thrill of first holding a new book I’ve written never fades!). As a publisher, I was part of the marketing team that launched the final two Harry Potter books – truly a stand-out, unforgettable experience!

Have you ever been star-struck by an author, who was it and what happened when you met them? 

Through my publishing work I’ve been fortunate to meet some of today’s finest children’s authors. While I haven’t really been star-struck as such, it was pretty surreal and wonderful meeting JK Rowling while working at the Edinburgh Castle launch of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and it was a pleasure to meet and work with Neil Gaiman on a few of his children’s books.

Which author, no longer with us, would you loved to have met, and what is it about their work that calls to you?

Jean Rhys - my all-time favourite writer. Her short stories and novels are sublimely succinct and affecting, with each re-reading yielding fresh discoveries.

Is there anything in particular that you will be looking for when you read the LoveReading submissions?

Above everything, originality - in concept, voice, language or character, or perhaps all four. I want the stories to grab me, move me, entertain me, make me think.

You can follow Joanne on social media here: 

Twitter: @JoanneOwen


You can find her LoveReading bio here. 

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