Questions for: Fiona McMorrough

News - Interviews Wednesday, 27th May 2020

The CEO of arts communications consultancy FMcM contributes to our Q&A series

Describe your current job
One task right now - hold the team together, while remote; keep our heads above water and the business afloat!

What was your first job in the book industry?
I arrived from Ireland and asked Office Angels to place me in any publishing house, doing anything - so while the permanent receptionist was off having ear operations, I was the stand-in receptionist at Unwin Hyman. From there I wangled my way into the trade division, including Pandora Press, which had just published Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson. Yes, I was very excited by that!

Who has been the most influential person in your career?
I left London and lived in the States for a few years before returning to Hamish Hamilton, Penguin, where I worked for five formative years as promotions executive for Andrew Franklin and Alexandra Pringle. They had a huge impact on me and my career, alongside Karen Geary and the late and brilliant Kate Jones. The big four taught me how to be ambitious for a book and to care for the author - a formidable bunch to learn from. They set me up!

How has the industry changed since your first job?
When I worked at Penguin and then Virago and Bloomsbury decisions were still primarily editorially led - now everything is market-led. This is definitely a time when I hope the industry can take good care of our authors, as a priority, our life blood.

What's the biggest challenge in your job?
The media market continues to change at break-neck speed, and the biggest challenge is to ensure my team continue to connect and communicate with all media, across all platforms, for our authors and clients - and they do!

What's the best piece of book-related advice you've ever been given?
Continue to work with books and authors you feel passionate about.

What are the most interesting things you're seeing at the moment in the industry?
The speed with which the industry is adapting under lockdown is remarkable - the full embrace of digital and the next big push towards direct to consumer sales and communications. A huge rush of creativity and collaboration, support and goodwill.

What do you think might be the next big thing?
New platforms. Hybrid campaigns. Working from home.

How are you coping with working from a home environment?
I love it. The team are working as hard as ever. Zoom. Facebook live. Regular meetings. The weather. But missing seeing people.

How do you think the industry will come out of the Covid-19 crisis?
I think there will be a shakedown, but essentially I think books and publishing will thrive. I am delighted to see small presses and authors are benefiting from Arts Council Grants - essential - and I am sure the big ships can help too if necessary.

What do you most like doing when you're not working?
I like being out in the woods or by the sea, travelling, movement - yoga, running, tennis, walking. Eating and drinking with Diane and our friends. Going to Ireland to see my family.

What is the best book you've read in the last year?
Best! Well, I have loved 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World (Penguin) by Elif Shafak and Inside the Wave (Bloodaxe), Helen Dunmore's final collection of poems. But if I have to choose only one it has to be Girl (Faber) by Edna O'Brien, which I have read slowly under lockdown. This book rocked me to my core - ferocious truth, deep humanity, word by word stunning to read, great storytelling. She is a seer! We need to treasure her.

What are you reading now?
Amora (Amazon Crossing). A brilliant collection of short stories by a critically acclaimed and prizewinning Brazilian writer, Natalia Borges Polesso, and Negative Capability: A diary of surviving (Sandstone Press) by Michele Roberts - her memoir of perseverance following rejection by her publisher and an identity crisis. Which reminds me, I also loved The Perseverance (Penned in the Margins) by Raymond Antrobus, his multiple prize-winning (Rathbones Folio Prize and Sunday Times Young Writer Prize) debut collection of poems.

Fiona McMorrough is CEO, FMcM Associates.

How do you like to read: on screen, on paper, or do you listen to audio books?

Physical books! Sorry, not quite digitally adapted yet.