Emma and Richard

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Richard and Emma

Rather than write bios, we opted to interview each other. First up, Richard…

Richard Pike as interviewed by Emma Herdman

1. Firstly, are you part of, or have you ever been part of, a book group yourself? If no, did you set this whole group up just so that you’d be part of one…?

This will actually be my first adventure into the world of a formal book group – for one reason or another I’ve never found one that quite fits around work and family, so the idea of setting up an online group was one that I was really excited about.  I’m lucky enough to get to talk about books every day at Curtis Brown, and I’m always banging on about books that I love to my friends, so it’s great to have the chance to have the same discussions with a group of passionate readers.

2. How did you begin your career in publishing?

Funnily enough, I started out by not going in to publishing at all.  My first job was in the world of insurance, but after nine months of that I very quickly realised that I needed to be involved in something that inspired me.  I spent a month sending off speculative letters and attending interviews, before finally a London publisher offered me work experience and I haven’t looked back since.  I started at Curtis Brown at the end of 2012 and it’s been so rewarding being involved with books from the very beginning of the creative process.  I think one of the most delightful benefits for book group members is that they’ll also get sneak preview of books before publication, sharing in the thrill of early discovery.

3. Do you read on an E-reader or physical books? Do you have strong feelings either way?

I read on both and I have to say I like having the option to do either.  I love the feel of a real book when I have the time to sit back and relax on the weekend, the small details like cover finishes or beautiful end papers are all part of the experience of reading that make it so unique.  Equally, I always reach for my e-reader on my morning commute. I’m defiantly on the fence here.

4. EITHER what’s your favourite book that you’ve ever worked on? OR What book do you wish you had worked on? OR What is your favourite book of all time? And yes, you can only have one.

This is an impossible question!  A book I’ve really been privileged to work on in the last year is Burial Rites by Hannah Kent, which was recently shortlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction.  For me it had that irresistible combination of interesting setting, beautiful writing, arresting plot and characters that you felt drawn to.  It was one of those books that immediately led me to Google the history that inspired it and it’s one that I’ve been forcing into the hands of friends all year.  That for me is a perfect reading group book.

5. Finally, if you could invite five famous people to your book group, who would they be?

Miranda Hart – for hilarity.

Martin Luther King – for impassioned argument.

Mary Berry – for cakes.

T. S. Eliot – for literary prestige.

Emma Herdman – to guarantee that someone has actually read the book.


Emma Herdman as interviewed by Richard Pike

1. Same question- are you part of a book group, or have you ever been?

I actually am part of a book group- we realised a few weeks ago that we’ve been going for three and a half years! We were very proud. We’ve read a huge number of books together, and have tried to cover every genre, from 1935 crime novels to a YA graphic novel, and travel writing to poetry. We take it in turns to choose books, and try to read outside what we would normally pick up in a book shop. I’ve discovered some really wonderful books- and genres!- that I wouldn’t have normally picked up as a result. Since we’ve started, we’ve had two weddings, four house moves and copious bottles of wine.

2. How did you end up at Curtis Brown?

Reading has always been my ‘thing’, ever since I was little- I recently found a school report from when I was 6 that said ‘Emma is a real bookworm.’ So when I finished my Masters and was deciding what to do next, the natural choice was to get a job in a bookshop in the interim. From Waterstones in Reading I moved to Waterstones Piccadilly, the biggest bookshop in Europe, then on to head office working as an administrator, before moving up to be a buyer in the fiction team. It was a wonderful job, but when I saw the Curtis Brown role advertised, I thought it would be fascinating to learn about the process from the very other end of the spectrum-I felt at first a bit like I was seeing behind the curtain. Working in a literary agency, and seeing a book progress from slush pile to the shelf of a bookshop is a huge thrill. And I’m still a real book worm.

3. What are you most looking forward to for the 2015 reading group?

I think I’m most looking forward to the discussions online. Seeing what themes other people pick up on in a book is always fascinating, and can really make you see a plot or a character in a new way. To get so many voices weighing in and debating on things like ‘what did that tree really symbolise?’ can be both fascinating and hilarious. In this case, having the author there to ask what they meant is a golden opportunity for readers, especially as we’ll get to interrogate authors before the book even comes out.

4. What do you think are the qualities of an ideal reading group book?

Well, a lot of the answers to this actually depend on the people reading it- you need debate, people with strong opinions who aren’t afraid to share them. But those people also have to be interested in what others think- there’s nothing worse than someone who bulldozes their way through a group session! Also open minds, people prepared to try something new or unusual. You often get the most interesting discussions when you’re reading a book that takes people out of their comfort zones, as there’s so much to discuss. So in that case, the ideal reading group book would be one that divides opinion, that has lots of grey areas, that poses questions and, most importantly, is readable.

5.  Finally, if you could invite five famous people to your book group, who would they be?

This is tough.

Iris Murdoch- to provide a benchmark and also for challenging discussion.

Peggy Lee- for musical intervals/glamour/feisty-ness.

Ottolenghi- for food and sparkling discussion.

Stephen Fry- because- well, I don’t need to explain.

Richard Pike- because it would be mean to chuck him out of book group at this point.

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