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  • Writer's pictureBelle Kenyon

WORKER BEE: MEET ISABELLE KENYON, FOUNDER OF AN AWARD-WINNING ONE-WOMAN PUBLISHING COMPANY

We were interviewed for I Love Manchester! Below is the interview or go here to read on the I Love Manchester website. Big love to Cara for interviewing us.


Isabelle Kenyon set up her own publishing company Fly on the Wall Press when she was just 21.

It produces around eight books a year and she runs it entirely on her own, editing the books, designing the covers, organising the physical book production and running innovative marketing campaigns.

She grew up in New Mills and came to Manchester regularly to watch her grandmother, the celebrated local poet Olga Kenyon, perform.

Since Isabelle founded Fly on the Wall in 2018, it has published 70 books. It also runs around 30 literary events a year, including the much-loved Northern Publishers’ Fair.

Her company won Small Press of the Year for North England at the British Book Awards 2024, beating competition from larger and longer-established rivals.

When it first started, Fly on the Wall published anthologies about political and social issues, as Isabelle was interested in ‘driving social change’. She wanted to follow in the footsteps of her grandmother who regularly wrote and campaigned about women’s issues.

Over the years, the press has widened its scope to include short story collections, fiction and poetry. It accepts submissions from anyone, anywhere in the world.

Isabelle has a real interest in Manchester writers. One of her popular releases was Mancunian Ways, a collection of poetry, art and photography about our city.

The book included contributions from the acclaimed poets Lemn Sissay and Jackie Hagan and highlighted local resilience after the bombing at Manchester Arena.


(Image - Jak Stocker, The Purple Snapping Turtle, Manchester)


What got you started in your field of work?

I wrote poetry when I was a child and when I was 21 I decided to be brave and publish my collection on Amazon.

This process taught me about the industry, and the first official Fly on the Wall book was a collaborative anthology with the mental health charity Mind.

It was before people were writing much about this subject, and we were amazed to receive 600 submissions from the public. It was an anthology that spoke to people.


What is a recent project you have enjoyed?

In December 2023 we published a book called The Process of Poetry, where we interviewed 15 poets at the height of their craft. It did well and was reviewed on Front Row on Radio 4. The next day it was an Amazon Bestseller.

This just goes to show the power of radio marketing, not something that is often available to small presses like ours.

The editor of the book Rosanna McGlone was interviewed alongside the other guests that night, actors Adam Driver and Bill Nighy. We felt proud to be making poetry glamorous and mainstream.


Who have been your biggest influences?

There are two female-run small presses that I admire because they have a distinct identity, which is my goal with Fly On The Wall. One of them is the Emma Press in Birmingham, owned by a very dynamic woman. The other one is 404 Ink in Scotland, run by two feminists who publish quirky books with a distinctly cool vibe.


What is your proudest achievement?

I am proud of all the books that I’ve worked on, but this year I also brought out my debut novel. It’s a psychological thriller called The Dark Within Them about a sudden death in a tight-knit Mormon community in Utah.

Since its publication, I’ve seen it take on a life of its own and have loved hearing people discussing the characters as if they were real people.

Of course, winning the Small Press of the Year 2024 was also a proud moment because I was competing against some very accomplished publishers with years of experience.

I think we were chosen because we do things a bit differently. We put a lot of heart into our marketing campaigns and we’ve built up a loyal readership.


What does a typical day involve?

First thing in the morning I might work on doing a Facebook ad campaign for one of our publications. Then I’ll do some editing, followed by a bit of PR which usually involves chasing up reviewers to see if they have written their pieces yet.

In the afternoon I might post some reviews or images of our products on social media, or I might work on tweaking a book before it goes to print.

If it’s a specific time of the year, I’ll work on the cover designs for our books – all the covers get done in one block. In the summer I read submissions, that period usually ends in August.

I also like to do some accounting daily, to keep on top of it.


How do you relax on your days off?

I like to go for a walk, get some nice food, and have some quality time with family and friends. Or I might read a novel that has had nothing to do with me. In the evening I might go out to eat or to the cinema, something to turn my brain off a bit.


What advice do you have for authors in Manchester who want to get their work published?

Not enough authors go to a writing group. There’s a good one in Manchester called the Monday Night Group that meets every week at the Britons Protection pub.

Often I receive submissions from people who have never shared their work and I end up thinking, this is not the right time for you to approach a publisher. It’s not nice to get rejections, so before authors send their writing to me, they need to give themselves a fighting chance by getting feedback from other people first.

I also advise having a blog where you can share extracts from your book, or you could share them on social media.


If things hadn’t worked out, what else could you have seen yourself doing?

I’d work as a freelance editor and PR, which I currently do alongside Fly On The Wall. But if I completely abandoned the book industry then I’d probably do some kind of corporate marketing. It’d have to be something to do with the arts otherwise it wouldn’t interest me.


Tell us one thing about yourself people might be surprised to hear.

Lots of people who work in the publishing industry are introverted but I’m not introverted at all. I love parties and dancing, especially at salsa clubs, and I love live bands.


Red or Blue?

I’m going to say red because all my family are red, but honestly, I’m not that into football.


If you could change one thing about Manchester, what would it be?

In the Northern Quarter where I live, they are building three new high-rise buildings surrounding my block of flats. I think it’s disappointing for Manchester that space gets more squashed like that and people get boxed in.


What do you love most about Manchester?

Some amazing things are happening on the Manchester literary scene.

In January next year we’re publishing Your Sons and Daughters Are Beyond, a very exciting short story collection by the Manchester punk performer Rosie Garland.

Coming up, we’ve also got the Northern Publishers Fair on Sat 27th April 2024 at Manchester Central Library, where sixteen publishing companies from all over the north will congregate.

We’ve got a huge variety of genres covered at the fair, including children’s fiction and non-fiction. It’s a good chance for authors to network and for students from schools and universities to find out about doing future work experience. There’s a great atmosphere and is a real celebration of the writing talent in Manchester and the north.

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