Experienced Writer turned Publisher – Ruth Owen

In 2019, we were lucky to have 15-year-old Evie Croft join us for a week for her work experience. During that time, along with photo researching, proof-reading and reviewing our new books, Evie asked if she could interview me about the company. It was a real brain “work-out” and it was fun to stop the frantic day-to-day work on new books and think about and talk about the company I love. Thank you Evie!
(Ruth Owen)

What made you want to set up Ruby Tuesday Books?
It was almost by accident! I had been writing and producing books for other publishers and one of the US publishers I was working for said, “Why don’t you publish your own stuff?” It felt like a huge step to take, but they convinced me that I could produce good books and that I could do it. With my friend Shan onboard, I found that I really enjoyed making all the decisions (with Shan) and that I could write the books I wanted to write in the way I wanted to write them. I soon found that working on our own books felt so different to any publishing work I had done before. Every picture and every word feels so personal. Sometimes my head has to rule my heart and say: This book is finished! Otherwise I might just keep on going forever………..

Where do you think your love of books comes from?
If it’s a genetic thing, then it would have to come from my grannie because she read until the day she died and always had a big stack of library books next to her. When she grew ill as she got older, and people would collect books for her from the library, I wondered how they knew which books she’d read and which she hadn’t. It turned out she had her own little system of pencil marks on the inside covers of books that her friends would look for to know if she’d previously borrowed a title. Naughty! My grannie would even read while knitting the most beautiful and intricate pieces of clothing. I was very excited to learn how to read and would look at books as a toddler and want to be able to read them. I can still remember the moment when Peter, Jane and Pat the dog suddenly jumped off the page and I realised the words were making sense! Once I learnt how to read I didn’t stop. My passion for non-fiction books started very young. I’ve still got the first book I ever bought from my infant school book club. It’s called Gorilla Baby by Pearl Wolf. Once I knew you could go to the library and choose from rows of books, that just cemented my love of reading. While non-fiction was my first love, I also read plenty of fiction. My favourite children’s novel was Stig of the Dump by Clive King. The first time I read it, I was overwhelmed. As a child I could recognise the spine from the other side of the library and know that it was available to be borrowed again. I read it over and over. There’s a small area of woodland where I now live that all the neighbours use as a compost heap. It’s dark and feels somehow ancient. The ground slips away and we believe it was once a small quarry where the stone to build our houses was dug out. I can never go there to drop off weeds or grass trimmings without Stig and his inventions coming into my mind.

What’s your aim for Ruby Tuesday Books as a company?
I want to build a company in which we are proud of everything we produce and where people want to come to work because they enjoy working with us. I want to get good books out there to be sold all around the world so that kids who speak different languages and have different ways of life are reading Ruby’s books. To me that’s a very exciting idea because I’m a passionate believer in books.

How do you decide what topics to cover in your books?
Sometimes it’s something I’m really interested in so I incorporate it into a book. Sometimes we hear from teachers who say that they really need help with a certain subject so we look at the national curriculum and try to make a book that can help with teaching that topic.

What message do you want Ruby Tuesday Books to give to consumers?
I want to have very good quality books that are affordable for people. I want people to look at our books and think that’s a lovely book with really good information and it’s really good value. I was once told by a marketing person that saying your product is good value for money is a big no no. But in this case I disagree! Many schools struggle to have funds for books and many parents have limited spare cash for buying books. A huge amount of skill and effort goes into producing a high quality product that doesn’t cost a fortune and that’s something I think we should be proud of. I want our books to be useful. We still need books and books are still worth spending money on. When I see a child pick up a book and go running to show an adult a picture or fact they’re enjoying, it really warms my heart – especially if it’s a book that my company has produced!

What do you believe makes each Ruby Tuesday book special?
I think the care we bring to checking facts, getting experts on board and going the extra mile for every book really shows. Even though this is a business, even in our busiest times, on our hardest deadlines, we never let it stop us pouring our hearts into every book. I want to show that a good non-fiction book that has been produced with care and passion is as good as the latest big novel by a famous author.

 

What is your favourite book that Ruby Tuesday has published?
It does change because we are constantly adding to our collection. The Hi-Lo fiction series, Centauri, that we’re working on at the moment will, I’m sure, become an instant favourite because I’ve had it in my head for such a long time. (Centauri was published in 2020 and is now available!) At the moment, I think it would be one of two. The first is The Problem with Plastic. Every time I open it, I’m really pleased with the work we produced. I had to go digging for a lot of the information in the book and I love the way it looks. Every time I hear something about plastic pollution on the news, I think we’ve done a little something to help with the difficult situation the world has created and is now facing. (The Problem With Plastic has since won two children’s book awards.) My other favourite would be Little Scientists Big Questions: Why Is the Sky Blue?. This book was to answer a question that most young children will eventually ask and that most parents and even some teachers would struggle to answer. I wanted to explain something incredibly complicated in a way that could be explained to a very young child.

Do you feel passionately about educating children through your books?
I really do! I think a book is a long-term, solid form of information. The internet is a great thing, but there’s an element of seeing something one day and it being gone the next. The information in a book is always there and a reader can come back to it over and over again, feeling the excitement all over again. Many of our books are science based and that’s important to me. Science is all around us. If you don’t understand the water cycle, you can’t understand why it’s important not to waste water. If you don’t know about pollination, you won’t realise how vital bees and other insects are to life on Earth. I love the thought that perhaps long after I’m gone, there may still be some of my books out there and they won’t have changed.

If you could give one message to the children reading your books, what would it be?
Enjoy learning and enjoy reading. Our company motto is Books to spark a love of reading and discovery. A book can do that. I often say I’m a 10-year-old child trapped in an adult’s body. I love learning new things and am never embarassed to say “I don’t know” because “finding out” is one of the most fun things in life.

What would you like each child reading a Ruby Tuesday book to gain from the experience?
I’d like them to find it an enjoyable read and have it spark an interest in them, just as Gorilla Baby did for me. In fact, reading that book made me so fascinated by gorillas that I actually went to visit Patty Cake the gorilla in the Brooklyn Zoo a few years ago. She was a very old lady by then, but I can still just sit and watch gorillas, orangutans and chimps for hours! I like the thought that something in one of our books could spark a passion for a subject that could one day become a child’s job. I would like to think that in a tiny way our books are influencing children’s lives for the better. Learning to read and enjoying reading is good for your soul. I believe it’s one of the great joys in life

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