Having a Hoot

Having a Hoot

Two Hoots founder Suzanne Carnell looks back on the imprint’s nascent publishing years, and tells Tom Tivnan why readers and booksellers should expect the unexpected.

Can you tell us why you launched Two Hoots?

It’s every editor’s dream to have their own imprint, so of course when the opportunity arose, I couldn’t resist. My ambition was to create a list of exceptional illustrated books with no boundaries of format, age group, style or content. Beautiful, quality books with careful attention paid to everything from text and illustration, to design and production. I wanted to offer the most gifted authors, illustrators and designers the creative space to explore and experiment, and for the list to be one of wit and personality.

It was a chance for me to publish broadly, and to work hands-on with authors and illustrators, which has always been the best part of my job. Also, by keeping the list relatively small we could engender a real sense of belonging for those who publish with us.

How have the two years or so gone?

They’ve gone by in a flash. We’ve been lucky enough to work with some extraordinary authors and illustrators, and I’m very proud of the results. They have created wonderful books, which have had a great reception in the UK and internationally. Last year we were shortlisted for all the major UK prizes and won Independent Bookshop Week and Association of Illustrators awards, as well as the Kate Greenaway Medal, which was a tremendous thrill.

Little Red by Bethan Woollvin was selected for the White Ravens catalogue of the best children’s books from around the world; both Emily Gravett and Morag Hood had their work exhibited at the US Society of Illustrators Exhibition in New York; and all our books have achieved multiple foreign-language deals.

Suzanne Carnell (back row, centre) with the Two Hoots team of authors, illustrators and staff

How do you see Two Hoots evolving?

I expect the list to remain roughly the same size (approximately 12 new titles a year)—deciding exactly what those books will be is all part of the joy of running a small imprint. I always planned to publish books in different genres and for different age groups. Alongside picture books, last year we published two poetry titles: Fish Dream of Trees by Franz Wittkamp, adapted by Roger McGough and illustrated by Axel Scheffler; and I’m Just No Good at Rhyming by Chris Harris and Lane Smith.

This year we have Suffragette: The Battle for Equality by David Roberts, 128 pages of extraordinary illustrations and compelling text aimed at an older audience. In the autumn there’s a breathtaking alphabet book by Julia Donaldson, designed and illustrated by Sharon King-Chai: Animalphabet is richly illustrated with intricate, die-cut fold-out pages. It’s already sold in four languages, which is quite an achievement in an alphabet genre that’s notoriously unpopular with any rights department. Both books are quite unlike anything the writers have done before, which is what I hoped Two Hoots would encourage. An agent told me recently that I am very hard to please. I don’t agree: any idea, story, character or illustration style that lights a spark can be a Two Hoots book.

Two Hoots launched at a time when there seemed to be a lot of smaller, “boutique” imprints popping up. Why do you think this is, and what advantages do they have?

After the initial explosion of digital publishing, there has clearly been a renewed interest in printed books, and more attention than ever on design and production values. New imprints allow a personal curation from the publisher’s point of view, and space and attention and focus from the author/illustrator/book’s point of view. It can also offer a freedom to try new things, to be playful and have fun.

What are some of the titles you’ll be talking about at this Bologna?

We have another selection of terrific new titles, including brand new talent Puck Koper, whose brilliant Where is Your Sister? offers a very real, very funny, chase through a department store in a distinctively sophisticated two-colour illustration style. From Elina Ellis, winner of the 2016 Macmillan Prize for Illustration, we have the warm and witty The Truth About Old People, and there are also new titles from Gravett (Cyril and Pat, a squirrel and rat who dare to be friends) and Hood, who is adding a pair of gay aardvarks to her growing menagerie in Aalfred and Aalbert.