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Industry Insight: Q&A With Caroline Oakley (Honno Press)

Liz Robinson

By Liz Robinson on 11th May 2020

Have you heard of Honno Press? You may already be a fan like me, but if you haven’t come across them before, let me shout about them right now! Honno is "an independent co-operative press run by women and committed to bringing you the best in Welsh women’s writing”. The press which was established in 1986 still only publishes work by women of Wales, they have been awarded a host of awards, and: “are guided by the Honno Committee of volunteers who set the strategic direction of the Press, decide the publishing programme and manage the office and staff”. They have a real variety of books on offer, which include novels by Manon Steffan Ros: The Seasoning, and  Alison Layland: Riverflow and Someone Else’s Conflict. Here we hear from Editor Caroline Oakley, I am fascinated by her answers, love her link to DI John Rebus, and adore her book fact. Thank you Caroline!

Tell us about Honno Press and how it came into being.

Honno is a non-profit which came into being as a response to the lack of Welsh women's writing in print in the early 80s. The organisation was founded around a Cardiff kitchen table by a group of friends keen to see Welsh women's writing appreciated more widely - forgotten classics republished and new writing encouraged. 

When it comes to your particular roles, what makes your heart beat faster?

As Editor, for me it's reading a new voice with something interesting to say in a compelling manner - recent examples include Sara Gethin's Not Thomas and Jane Fraser's Advent. For the company as a whole it's seeing Welsh women's writing winning prizes (e.g. Crystal Jean's Light Switches are my Kryptonite's Welsh Book of the Year win), becoming bestsellers (e.g. Thorne Moore's A Time for Silence) and graduating to mainstream publishers - though we're always sad to lose them - (Juliet Greenwood's first novel from Orion is out now, her first three novels  - Eden's Garden, We That Are Left and The White Camellia are available from Honno).

Since you first arrived in the industry, what is the one thing that has remained constant, and what has been the biggest change or challenge?

The excitement of discovering new talent is and has been a constant - the biggest challenge is finding new ways to promote and sell books to a public constantly bombarded with new ways to spend limited funds, whether that's on new technologies or because of global pandemic-induced changes to our way of life; choosing to spend hours on Netflix or not being able to visit bookshops and browse.

Is there a fictional or historical character you would be thrilled to publish a book for, why is that and what type of book do you think it would be?

Having edited Ian Rankin's novels for twenty plus years, I'd like to publish a novel for DI John Rebus, something that would keep him awake in his chair all night - and for him to be spellbound - perhaps something set in a different time or space that would take him out of his Edinburgh comfort zone and into a world free of Ger Cafferty but with a mystery to solve that involved a philosophical puzzle rather than a dead body.

Who are your book world inspirations?

The late, lamented Patricia Parkin, editor par excellence, who taught me all I know about how to make the best of any manuscript. Ellen Datlow, who is the most adept living editor of horror and fantasy and has the best-decorated living room ever (Google it). Lastly, but by no means least, Luned Meredith and Rosanne Reeves: two of the founding females behind Honno - their achievement in keeping the flame alight and seeing the potential for an independent women's press in Wales is inspirational, no other word for it.

Describe your favourite place to read.

Any place - trains, boats, planes or the sofa in my living room. The only place I don't read is in the bath - books don't like it. 

What’s your favourite book from childhood, how did it make you feel?

Stig of the Dump vies with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe for top spot... I loved (and still love) losing myself in the world of another's imagination. My parents used to have to physically shake me to get me to leave the world of the book.  

Hardback, paperback, ebook, discuss: 

Each is wonderful in its own way and has devotees. If I had money to spare it would be hardback all the way for me (and was in the days when if you worked for a publishing house, and could order a book from its publisher on headed notepaper, you could buy at trade discount!). But I love a paperback for holidays - you can fit more in your bag and I pack at least one per day. I'm not an e-reader because I spend too much time staring at a screen for work, and probably because I'm too much in love with the book as object. My house full of such objects demonstrates this only too well. 

Any strange book habits?

What, apart from stockpiling them in case of Armageddon? I have more than I could possibly read in retirement waiting for retirement... Never rereading in case it's not as good the next time round?

What would be your desert island book?

The next one in the pile of to-be-reads - which at the moment is a pile six high chosen from the boxes that moved with me in December (eight still unopened as the shelves are all full) - see note above about not rereading old favourites.

Fun book fact:

More book-related than book fact: I'm distantly related by marriage to Dame Ngaio Marsh.

Keep up to date with Honno Press:

Website: www.honno.co.uk

Twitter: @honno

Facebook: @honnopress

If you would like to support our work to publish Welsh women's writing become a Friend of Honno - contact 01970 623150 for details.

If you enjoyed this article why not check out our other Industry Insight Features?

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