In Conversation with Olivia Houston
By Annabella Costantino
Olivia Houston is a recent BA (Hons) Creative Writing and Publishing graduate from the University of Derby. Recently, she finished her final-year project, where she researched, wrote and illustrated a children’s picture book about overcoming a fear of dogs, aimed at three-to-five-year-olds. For this project, Olivia commissioned me as a copyeditor and I had the pleasure of working on several drafts of the text that would accompany her illustrations. I worked with Olivia through structural and line edits to refine her narrative and create the best possible story, following her storyboard and brief. Currently, Olivia is working on a cover design portfolio while applying for design roles. She is also writing her first YA fantasy novel, with the hopes that it will be the first of a quartet.
So, Olivia, what have you learnt during your degree that has helped you discover a career path in publishing?
“My degree has taught me about the wide variety of paths into publishing that I didn’t know existed before I started the course. Two modules that helped me greatly were ‘Writing and Publishing: Children and Young Adults’, and ‘Print and Digital Production’. ‘Writing and Publishing: Children and Young Adults’ taught me what it takes to be an author of children’s and YA fiction and that I could specialise in children’s publishing. Bethan Woollvin’s guest talk was especially fascinating, making me fall in love with picture books and cementing my final project idea. ‘Print and Digital Production’ taught me about Design and Production, which I had not previously thought about. Originally, I wasn’t sure which path in publishing I wanted to take, but after this module, I knew I wanted to go into Design or Production. Learning how to design a book cover and typeset a text was challenging, yet I loved it. This led me to want to gain more experience typesetting for The Publishing Post.”
Could you describe any challenges that you faced during your final project and what helped you overcome them?
“My biggest challenge was completing the book’s illustrations, as I had never illustrated before and had only just got used to Adobe Photoshop. My biggest help came from YouTube, specifically Gareth David Studio, whose tutorials were amazing in teaching me how to use Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. Peer feedback was also a huge help – whenever I finished an illustration, I would send it to my coursemate who would give feedback and tell me I was doing great. This helped boost my confidence and made me want to complete more illustrations.”
What inspired you to study your course and what did you take away from the experience of creating your own children’s picture book?
“Whilst studying my A-Levels, I didn’t know what I wanted to be, other than an author. I found my degree whilst looking for creative writing courses, and after meeting lecturer Alistair Hodge, I was hooked on the course. I’d always loved reading and thought what would be better than learning how books are made! My biggest takeaway from my final project is how much work goes into creating a children’s picture book. I didn’t know how to make a dummy book, how hard it is to write a story in around twenty-six pages, or how long illustrations can take. I now have a newfound respect for anyone in the children’s picture book industry and have learnt so much over the past five months.”
What skills do you think are the most important to develop if you want to work in the publishing industry?
“The most important skills would be communication and networking, which go hand in hand. Networking is a great way to meet and communicate with publishing hopefuls and publishing professionals. The Publishing Hopefuls Facebook group is amazing for asking questions on, receiving job notifications and learning from others. Without it, I wouldn’t have had the chance to work for The Publishing Post or found my amazing copyeditor, Annabella, who worked with me on my final project.”
From your perspective, if you could give any advice to publishing hopefuls, what advice would you give?
“My advice is to keep trying, as I’ve seen how hard it can be to break into publishing and I know this is my beginning in the climb to get a job. For those looking to get into Design, a portfolio is always great and there are so many resources available, from YouTube to Instagram. Even learning just the basics of Adobe Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator is a good start.”
Thank you to Olivia for sharing her story! To find out more about her Creative Writing and Publishing course, you can check out the University of Derby’s website. You can also find Olivia on her website, Twitter and Instagram.