Alumna profile – Alice Dawes, Editorial Assistant at leading children’s book publisher Walker Books
We love catching up with our former students and finding out what they have been doing since they left us. We are thrilled to have had the opportunity to chat to Alice Dawes, who for any book lovers out there, has the most wonderful job working for Walker Books, who publish books for a host of well-known children’s authors including Michael Morpurgo, Michael Rosen and Sophie Dahl. Find out more about Alice’s role and her valuable advice to students who are interested in a career in writing or publishing in our Q&A below.
What A-levels did you study at Richmond Sixth Form College?
English Literature, History, and Maths, and I did an EPQ based on English Literature.
Where did you go to university and what did you study?
I went to University of Kent and got a First in English and American Literature with Creative Writing and a Year Abroad in Hong Kong (I know, what a mouthful!).
Why did you choose a career in book publishing?
In the creative writing modules at university, my seminars involved reading, editing, and offering feedback on others’ work. I found it so interesting and inspiring – I loved helping other people work on their stories to get them where they needed to be. I then learnt more about publishing from my careers advisor and thought that bookmaking sounded like a dream job. I had to do it!
Did you do any work experience?
Yes, in my final year of university I did work experience at three different publishing houses. I did one in the Publicity & Marketing team at Hachette Children’s Group, one in the Editorial, Sales, Marketing & Publicity teams at Icon Books which is a small non-fiction book publisher, and another in the Editorial team at Walker Books, where I work now.
What have you been doing since you finished your education?
To earn some money after graduating I started temping, doing various office-based admin work while I applied for publishing jobs. I wasn’t successful at first (sadly, publishing is a very competitive industry) so I ended up taking a post-university gap year and I am so, so happy I had that time to travel. That year I went to India from January–March and Fiji from May–July. I started applying for jobs when I got back and finally I got a call from Walker Books asking me for an interview.
Tell us a little about Walker Books
Walker Books is a children’s book publishing house in Vauxhall, South London. You might have heard of some of our authors like Michael Morpurgo, Kate DiCamillo, Sophie Dahl and Patrick Ness. Our more well-known books include We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, Guess How Much I Love You and the Where’s Wally? books. Walker publishes books everything from baby board books to novelty books, picture books, non-fiction, young-illustrated fiction, and young adult fiction.
What is your role at Walker Books?
I am an Editorial Assistant in the Picture Book team. My team mainly creates books for 2-6-year-olds, but we are flexible and creative in what we commission. For example, in addition to picture books I am currently working on a non-fiction book about mental health, and a young-illustrated fiction series. In my role I support the senior editors with discovering, developing and editing new stories, and then choosing artists to illustrate them. I work closely with both the authors and illustrators to create their books, and make sure the text and the illustrations are working well together. Stories often go through a lot of changes from when we first read them.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I love editing because every book is different, and as editors we have a responsibility to publish books that aren’t just great stories, but influence children and send positive messages. Working with authors to choose the right path for their characters and find the right words to engage a young audience is a fantastic challenge. And the artists are amazing. I feel very privileged to work with illustrators who bring the stories to life. My job is fairly social too since it involves going to book launches, art exhibitions, award ceremonies and book fairs. But ultimately, seeing children pore over these books in shops after months or years of work is something I don’t think I will ever tire of.
How long have you worked there?
I’ve been at Walker for just over 2 years. I started as a Junior Desk Editor in the Publishing Services team doing a 3-month maternity cover. While I was there an Editorial Assistant role came up in the Picture Book team, which I applied for and was successful. I have been with that team ever since.
What is your favourite book you have worked on?
That’s really tough! We’ve just published an young-illustrated fiction book called Zombierella which is in a new series called Fairytales Gone Bad. That was tremendous fun to work on (and a little bit gruesome!). I also really enjoyed working on Karate Kids which is a picture book that came out earlier this year, written and illustrated by the karate champion Holly Sterling.
We love the book Rain Before Rainbows. What was your involvement in this project and what is the background to this story?
I’m really happy you like it. This book was signed up a couple of years ago before I started at Walker, so I can’t take credit for the beautiful story. Smriti Halls, the author, submitted the text to Walker hoping that it would bring joy and optimism to children going through a tough time. Little did she know that in 2020 the rainbow would become such an important symbol of hope. My role mainly came into play when my team published Rain Before Rainbows as a free eBook earlier this year to support Save the Children’s #SaveWithStories campaign. I worked with the author, illustrator and their agents during the final edit and promoted the book on social media.
What advice would you give to a student who is interested in a career in writing or publishing?
- Try to get lots of work experience at different publishing houses and in a range of departments so you can see how each team works together.
- Subscribing to The Bookseller magazine would be a good place to start learning about the publishing world.
- Social media is a great platform to follow authors, illustrators and publishers to see what books are being made right now.
- Visit bookshops, see what books are being published and what people are buying, then sit down with a coffee while you read… It doesn’t sound like work, does it? But it’s research!
- Listen carefully to people. There might be a story in there somewhere.
- Read as much as you can.
What are some of your happy memories of Richmond School and Sixth Form?
I loved watching the school shows, that’s something Richmond always did really well. Les Mis, Oliver, The Sound of Music … they were all amazing! And I made friends for life at Richmond who I am still in touch with now. A few really close friends live in London too so we meet up every now and again.
Who were your favourite teachers?
The English Lit department has a whole bunch of terrific teachers. Miss Montgomery, Miss Weston and Mr Burton are my heroes. They made me really love books. I also owe so much to Miss Dakin for pushing me to my best, and to Ms Johnson who always believed in me.
I was immensely fond of Mr Gedye, my form tutor from years 7-11. He supported me a lot at school and was always very patient explaining maths problems to me again, and again … and again. He had such a kind heart. Then of course there’s Mr Clark who was always so positive and proud of everybody. He remembered who I was, and my family, even years after we’d all left. That says a lot about a person. Both of them have left incredible legacies at the school.
What were you interests and hobbies at school?
I’m not sure if this counts, but in my sixth form English Lit classes with Miss Weston we were all crazy about the Great British Bake Off and we took it in turns to bake something every week.
I also played the violin at school. I played in a couple of school shows and went on the school music tour to Holland and Belgium.
What support did you get at Richmond School and Sixth Form College when thinking about your further studies and career plans?
I remember the school careers advisor suggesting Law to me based on my A-Levels. A lot of my friends are lawyers now, but I don’t think that career would have suited me. I had no idea what I wanted to do at school. The best advice I was given was to go and study something I enjoyed, and go from there.
A final word?
I’m saying this to everybody I know, so it feels right to tell you too! Please buy books from bookshops rather than from Amazon. This is tricky in the lockdown era, I know, but ordering from bookshop.org is a great way to support independent bookshops.