Commissioning Editor, Scholastic UK
Young and fresh-faced and commissioning new titles for Scholastic UK at the age of 30… How did this happen?
To ACHUKA and others who avidly follow children’s books news online it doesn’t come as that big a surprise. Maybury has had a prominent web presence for years. But anyone not a close online follower may wonder how an Irishman with limited UK publishing experience has found himself in such a role at such a young age.
I meet him at 5pm in a room in the Scholastic offices set aside for air hockey. Maybury has provided me with a glass of water, which I decline, and a bowl of chocolate crunchie pieces that are stuck to one another. He is wearing a dark shirt and a bow tie, a daring sartorial reference to another David [Fickling], who held the same position at the end of the last century (a phrase used knowingly) and achieved such high regard and renown.
I take off my jacket and we play air hockey. Maybury snaps me with his iPhone at the start of the game and later tweets a photo of me in which I look like a scarecrow. (Before leaving home the next day I am at pains to improve my appearance.)
The game begins competitively. For a while there is no score. But then Maybury engages in conversation aimed (I believe) to distract me. He sneaks one in. Then another couple. The score reaches 4 – 0 and I am in danger of being whitewashed. Relieved as one ricochets off the side and gets behind his remarkably solid defence, I opt for first to five. It’s quickly over. 5 – 1. Better than 9 – 1. He tells me colleagues often beat him, but that Sarah McIntyre has never succeeded. I vow to do better than that. Next time.
It’s a while since I have conducted a feature interview for ACHUKA and at the end of our chat it turns out that the Record button on my iPad voice recorder was pressed with insufficient firmness.
So I am forced to rely on notes and memory.
Despite being so prominent online it is difficult to find a coherent version of Maybury’s career path. So I begin by establishing that. And what I’m told is proof that people very rarely get to positions of prominence except by devotion, hard graft and talent.
Maybury entered the Irish literary scene at the age of 16, when he did a two-week intern at Poetry Ireland. He was kept on for the summer, and did that two years running. After studying Journalism and Editorial Design at Wolverhampton he did an MA in English at University College Dublin, where his day started at 4am. He would spend the first three hours of every morning collating news reports for the European Commission. And, burning those proverbial candles at both ends, in the evening was an assiduous attender of bookish events.
Following his MA he joined Poetry Ireland full-time and met and worked with Irish authors (Eoin Colfer, Siobhan Parkinson, Derek Landy, Niamh Sharkey) through the Writers in Schools scheme. He was invited to be a Bisto Book Awards judge (Now the CBI Children’s Book of the Year Award) and did that for three years.
All this time he had had some ambitions to be a writer himself and briefly had a contract with Mercier Press for a novel provisionally titled ‘Haberdashed’ and scheduled for a 2010 release. Maybury explains the non-appearance of the book by saying the contract had been based on the first third and in the end the rest of the book had not been liked sufficiently to proceed. He seems not, now, to be overly concerned.
While editing the children’s books magazine Inis, and being closely involved with its redesign, Maybury was approached by Shannon Cullen and offered a job at Penguin working out of their Dublin office, with a particular focus on multimedia (which was also his brief at Poetry Ireland).
The Penguin editorial gig involved regular contact with London and regular trips over. Then two years ago he joined Brown Bag Films, a company he is fair rhapsodic about.
At the time of being made the offer to join Scholastic (last summer) he had two other options on the table from other companies. He doesn’t say which.
So here he is. At Scholastic with free rein to develop the list from 5+ all the way through to YA working with his editorial colleagues Helen Thomas, Genevieve Herr, Emily Lamm, Lucy Rogers and Lena McCauley.
There is a dedicated picture book team which leaves the five of them to concentrate on the non-PB market.
Maybury bought a book in his first month – something he gets animated about, debut fiction from the Irish illustrator Chris Judge – but bided his time before announcing a major signing at the end of last year.
Maybury’s announcement that Scholastic would be working with the teenage Scottish singer and performer, Tallia Storm, to develop a fiction series based on her life experiences was made close to the time of the controversy around Penguin’s handling of the publication of Zoella’s Girl Online. Maybury and I both share a view that that was something of a phoney, newspaper-driven controversy (as if a young blogger who had never written a full-length book before was NOT going to have in-house assistance of some kind) and my betting is that he is savvy enough to avoid any similar issues in Tallia’s case.
He met the Scottish singer when she was presenting at TedXTeen and immediately thought there was a character and a story there. He invited the girl and her parents to the Scholastic office the following day and a publishing agreement quickly followed.
[recorded at a TedXTeen event over a year previously]
Maybury tells me he spends as much of his time meeting creative teams from games and animation studios, as he does with traditional authors and illustrators, and I dare say we will see a shift in the type of books that Scholastic publishes as a result. After we meet I discover his LinkedIn entry says: “I’m happiest at the younger end of the spectrum, and come from a media and animation background, so I want to find books that are full of energy. I love breaking new ground with projects, collaborations with game designers, toy creators as well as great author/illustrator teams…”
Does this mean that the new David is not likely to be the new publisher of the next Philip Pullman? Who knows, but I suspect any agent representing a novelist of Pullman’s type would be wise to find at least some kind of collaborative hook when pitching the book.
We live in exciting times for publishing as the more optimistic of us are fond of saying. Maybury’s appointment to this venerable position at Scholastic last year was certainly an exciting event. He’s only just beginning and I fancy we ain’t seen nothing yet.
After the formal interview he takes me on a tour of the open plan office and sits at his computer to have some photographs taken. Unknown to me at the time, his colleagues are arranged behind me, pulling faces and good-naturedly trying to put him off his stride.
One of his team, passing the air hockey room as I’m packing up ready to leave, spills the beans. I succumb to a couple of the chocolate coated crunchie morsels as he and she exchange friendly end-of-day banter.