Like Charlie in the Chocolate Factory: Studying at the Seagull School, and Meeting Fiona McRae, Publisher, Graywolf Press

Posted on Apr 28, 2016


When you see the Seagull School of Publishing, you will agree that it is an art gallery in its own right. During the coffee breaks in the first few weeks, we used to guess the thought-processes behind each work of art on the walls. I was amazed every day—I was in my own version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I looked forward to every class, and that’s certainly a first! When I was doing my Bachelors and then my Masters, I could pop out a different reason for every class I bunked. If you saw my attendance levels, you would realize that I am talking about a LOT of reasons. But nobody had to push me to attend my classes at the Seagull School—I was too excited with all the stuff I was learning every day.

At the School, we learnt about editing, proofreading, grammar, punctuation and house styles, to name a few. We were also told that the job of an editor is one that is the least glorified. Before I joined the Seagull School of Publishing, I knew that an editor helped in crafting the book— but that’s about it. After two weeks, I began to appreciate the tremendous amount of work that actually goes in. I was set right regarding a number of things that I had thus far simply assumed. Such as the idea that it takes a maximum of 6 months to bring out a book. I couldn’t be further from the truth.

We were administered reasonable doses of reality in each class.

The masterclasses were a totally different ball game—they were our glimpses into the life that lay waiting for us. By the time I thought I had a fair idea about publishing, I was knocked down a peg or two by the wonderful Fiona McCrae, Director and Publisher, Graywolf Press, who came to take 3 masterclasses with us. She talked about grants, commissions and sponsorships which, though they are not prevalent in India, did help us look at publishing from a different point of view. She explained the organizational structure at Graywolf and the way in which it operates, and then talked us through the process of content editing, step by step. To make us understand better, she showed us a manuscript that she had edited and the corresponding email she then wrote to the author, regarding the changes that she had made. Showing us the email was a great idea because it made things more real and took the entire discussion beyond the bounds of a hypothetical exercise.

Fiona’s husband John Coy accompanied her on the first day. He specializes in children’s books. Until then I had never given much thought to children’s books. Have you ever wondered how a children’s book is created? How do people come up with stories that appeal to children? How do they decide the right story, the right words for children of a specific age? John took us through the nitty-gritty and it was fascinating. He also made us Vroomaloom-Zoomaloom-Vroom-Zoom (my 3-year-old niece would have been delighted!) at the end, and it was such joy to be a child again!


Sirisha Vegulla
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