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Write On! Interviews: Publisher Isabelle Kenyon

Words Take Flight!

Publisher Isabelle Kenyon In Conversation With Julie Dexter

Being a writer myself, I am in awe and fascinated to discover more about the powerhouse that is Isabelle Kenyon. She is founder of Fly on the Wall Press, the recent winner of Small Press of the Year in the North of England for: “Imaginative, forward-looking and diverse publishing.” Says Isabelle: “Small presses are the hidden lifeblood that would otherwise go missing from our cultural landscape.” She publishes writers whose work is concerned with matters of social conscience or exclusion, often tackling themes that illustrate the complex nature of life and its challenges.

What Isabelle has achieved is amazing. Fly on the Wall has published over 70 books, including poetry, short stories, anthologies, chapbooks, pamphlets, as well as novels. And, with profits up by nearly 50 per cent over the last financial year, Fly on the Wall Press has bucked market trends. I want to know what makes her tick, or should I say buzz, and how it all started.

“Although I write across a range of forms, Fly on the Wall Press came to fruition when I was a poet,” Isabelle tells me. “There was a community, with each of us sharing writing as a way of connecting and cultivating the confidence of other writers. At that time, I had a blog, ‘Fly on the Wall Poetry’ and, after a call out, I received 600 submissions. Over 100 were selected and the Fly on the Wall Press anthology, Please Hear What I’m Not Saying, raising money for charities Crisis and Mind, was born!”

Quite how Isabelle finds time to juggle so many roles is astounding. Although her main interest is publishing, she seems to fly between what matters to her, giving more or less time to each aspect, according to her current focus. Though she tells me, what’s closest to her heart is cultivating other writers, which nicely leans into the more outward-looking public relations role. To Isabelle, this part of the process is crucial:

“Publishing is a strange world in which it appears as though things happen behind closed doors. Although the publishing world is changing, the North of England still has far less opportunities to get involved in. Despite this, I like to be part of the discussion. It’s also worth remembering that, whereas writing is solitary, in publishing, people like to talk about it.

I remember taking my feminist poetry collection Growing Pains to an event, doubting whether anyone would want to hear it. When I started reading my poetry out to an elderly all-male audience, I found myself thinking, ‘They’re really not loving it!’”

As a publisher you’re the one finding the audience, which means you know you’re connecting with the right people from the outset.”

Listening to Isabelle speak about what motivates her, I realise what a difference she’s made to the publishing world, bringing talented writers, who might not otherwise have found publication, to the forefront. This total dedication to her craft, as well as a prolific output, has stirred my own determination to push forward with my novel.

“Though you get so much out of writing your own work (getting my novel out there made me put the writer’s hat back on), I do love publishing; in particular the PR and marketing elements running through. There’s a symbiosis between being a writer and a publisher. You have to have a creative brain for both.

There are a lot of ways into a story: the PR element itself is a story, the back story to the author’s life is a story. The story itself is a story. When you go on to make a book marketable you have to think whether the characters are likeable, and I don’t think they always have to be.”

Isabelle tells me that, like me, she started writing as a child, day dreaming and sometimes writing comics and creating stories about what life was going to be like.  After she’d published her first poetry collection Digging Holes To Another Continent with Clare Songbirds Publishing, she went on to dabble in self-publishing, but then decided to turn her attention to fiction. Knowing her debut crime novel, The Dark Within Them is due for release at the end of March, I’m eager to find out more about this part of her journey.

“Telling stories is joy. We all have a story to tell and it’s important to show others’ life stories. To come up with the idea behind with The Dark Within Them, I mined news stories and found the Doomsday Couple from Utah and Arizona.  Believing Doomsday was coming, they’d become lost in their imaginary world in which their increasingly violent behaviour was acceptable. The couple thought they were married when they weren’t, believed their children were zombies, and so on. I was transfixed by the psychology of their conviction in their right to do to something so utterly horrific and call it religion. That’s where the novel started.”

It sounds like it will be a riveting read.  The human condition has always fascinated me, as has our ability to change and transform. As a writer, I’ve long been concerned with the interiority of writing and reading novels and am interested in how readers grow and can be changed by good writing. I love the sense of satisfaction from making readers feel an emotional response. I know I’m not alone in this and wanted to know what Isabelle’s thoughts were.

“To show and describe is a natural part of us as humans; helping others to feel an emotional response in response to your story is our responsibility as writers. In order to put ourselves in our characters’ shoes, we also have to develop our empathy as readers. This helps us writers make a character relatable and four-dimensional.”

I’ve themed my second novel around green issues and, knowing how politically and environmentally engaged Fly on the Wall Press is, I want to understand more about the submissions process from Isabelle’s perspective.

“We have open submissions from May to July. To us, it’s important to get to know who is submitting, so using your cover letter to tell us about the type of person you are as a writer is essential. Do you have the vocabulary for what you and the book are about? Have you read our publications; do you know what type of thing we publish? As we might be working closely together, it’s also really good to know why you’ve chosen to submit to us specifically.”

Perhaps I should adopt Isabelle’s approach to completing novels. Although my routine is different. I’ll write for days on end and then can go for a few weeks without producing any material. I don’t think I’ll manage the Fly on the Wall submission window this time! It took her three years to complete her debut and I’ve got a way to go with mine. Still, I love the simplicity of her word goal of 150 words per day, which she handwrites and then types up.

“It’s super-helpful to work to a routine. Don’t tell yourself you’re too tired to write. I’ve abandoned projects and then returned to them. You soon get up to 50,000 words! To control the material, you can also write scenes at synopsis level as a reference to what’s happening in the journey and structure and plot of the novel.”

She also shares that the support of her mentors has helped her set the story free. They highlighted how there were three stories within her initial draft: the police procedural, the legal thriller and the fallout. This included the repercussions of how the two protagonists were pitted against one another, fighting a psychological battle. The latter is what Isabelle eventually flew with.

She adds that cutting the novel was a brutal process but, once it gets to the editor stage, a question that is typically asked is: “Is the central heart of the story clear? Are you passionate about it? If you have three people and they all think it is done, then it’s time to put the pen down.” In my case, I think it’s time for me to pick my pen up again.

Isabelle has given me every hope I can and will finish my own novel.  One thing is clear, though the writing journey is never as you’d expect it to be, if you just keep going, something is bound to happen. It’s been a wonderful experience talking to Isabelle and watch this space, I’ll be submitting in the very near future!

The Dark Within Them has taken flight, landing in Amazon and all good bookshops on March 28, 2024. You can find out more about Fly On the Wall Press here.

You can connect with Julie on Instagram: @LateNightSwimmer and X: @JulieADexter


Issue 20  will be out on 10 April. Find it in libraries and other outlets. ln the meantime, you can read issue 19 online here and find previous editions of our magazines here.

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Small presses are the hidden lifeblood that would otherwise go missing from our cultural landscape.