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Industry Insight: Q&A with Karen Sullivan (Orenda Books)

By Liz Robinson on 9th July 2018

We meet some fascinating people in our line of work, and we’d love to share some of their stories with you. Check in each month to see the inside track on the book world’s stars! Our first chat is with Karen Sullivan, owner of Orenda Books. Karen was a Bookseller Rising Star in 2016 and she has an amazing talent for finding authors who write with an original flare. Our Reviews Editor Liz Robinson has developed a serious book crush on Karen and her fabulous team.

Tell us about your role in the book world?

I’m owner and publisher of Orenda Books, a small independent publishing company based in London. We publish literary fiction with a heavy emphasis on crime/thrillers, and about half in translation.

What three words best sum up your job?

Rewarding, nerve-wracking, fabulous

Which fictional character or person from history would you love to read a book by (why is that) and what type of book do you think it would be?

This is probably a little cliched, but I’m going to say Jack the Ripper (partly inspired by Johana Gustawsson’s Keeper). He was one of the most prolific known serial killers and although there have been dozens (if not more) books about him, I’d love to have insight into the twisted mind that was capable of such barbaric acts. An examination of the psychology of evil, if you like. I publish a lot of crime fiction, and one of the most fascinating elements for me is getting inside the heads of those who perpetrate acts of evil.

Who are your book world inspirations?

I’m inspired by some of the great PRs … Alison Barrow at Transworld, Kerry Hood at Hodder, Sam Eades at Trapeze … largely because I know how hard it is to do that job. On the editorial side, I am always in awe of Alison Hennessey at Bloomsbury Raven, Trish Jackson at Pan Mac and Juliet Mabey at One World. They are doing the kinds of things that I aspire to do.

Describe your favourite place to read.

On the deck of my family’s summer home in Canada. We spend three weeks there every year, and it’s bliss … the waves lapping in the background, the sun on my shoulders, and a gentle breeze.

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

It was definitely Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery. I think I read the book (and the remaining titles in the series) about six or seven times. I loved Anne’s pluckiness and determination to do the right thing, even when everything went wrong (and usually as a result of her actions). I suppose it filled me with youthful hope that mistakes weren’t the end of the world. My favourite quote, to this day, remains, ‘Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?' She was also strong, imaginative and ‘different’, which is hugely inspiring for a young girl. 

Hbk, pbk, ebook?

Paperback all the way. Hardbacks are too heavy, even though I love to stroke and even collect them. Given that we sell so many ebooks, I’m almost embarrassed to say that I’ve never read an ebook. I stare at a screen all day long, and the last thing I want is for my relaxation to come from there.

Any strange book habits?

I love a well-produced book, on good-quality paper, with a spine that doesn’t go CRACK the moment you open it. I often give them a little sniff before I start reading.

Fun book fact?

Icelandic people read more books than any other country/culture, and in the lead-up to Christmas there is the Jólabókaflóðið or ‘book flood’. Almost all new books in Iceland are published in the months before Christmas, and it is tradition to give and receive books, which are read on Christmas Eve, while eating chocolate. Perfection!