Today marks the first anniversary of Skylight’s foundation – or at least the day when I woke up with a strangely persistent desire, completely out of nowhere, to publish a playscript which had been hanging about in my bottom drawer for 12 years following a short-lived burst of success on the London stage. I don’t remember what I was thinking on that day, but I certainly wasn’t expecting that in the space of a year it would become a full-time occupation for both me and my partner Daniel, or that we would be celebrating the release of our 20th book. You’re supposed to plan businesses – make cashflow forecasts and growth projections and capital confloptions – not just start them up on a whim without thinking about it. But it has to be said that for a business started by accident, it has done pretty well for itself.
In some ways starting Skylight was the obvious thing for me to do with my life. I’m part of a kind of publishing dynasty, as my dad co-founded the legendary (in esoteric circles) publishing arm of Helios Books before working his way up to a senior position in Longmans, and I grew up with boxes of books all over the place. I started my publishing career as a typesetter back in the day when you had old phototypesetting machines which would practically snap your fingers off every time you changed the font (which came on a strip of film which had to be loaded manually) and made a noise like a load of old tin cans rattling around in a metal dustbin. To change the font size you had to use different magnifying lenses. I moved on, while I still had my fingers, to a junior position at Stanley Thornes Publishers, where I did a lot of crappy admin while being tormented by a bullying boss – but also received a brilliant training in book production and printing. In due course I found a better job within the company, and was trained in editorial and graphic design – giving me about as thorough a grounding in book publishing as anyone could wish for. I eventually went freelance as an editor and graphic designer, and my work with Skylight is really exactly the same as it was then, except that I’m doing books for us instead of other publishers. But there has still been a massive learning curve over the last year in all the areas of publishing I didn’t work in during my years with other publishers. And no doubt the learning curve will continue to send us round the bend in our second year and next 20 books.
To be honest my entire career in publishing has been a series of accidents, so the creation of Skylight on a casual whim is nothing out of the ordinary. Even my job with Stanley Thornes was an accident. I really didn’t want the job at the time, and having accidentally got an interview for a position I hadn’t even applied for, I found myself in the office of the then-managing director Roy Kendall, a lovely gentleman publisher of the kind you don’t see so much these days, trying to explain to him how rubbish I was and what a lousy employee I would be – how I was scared to answer the telephone and had spent my school years staring out of the window and not doing any work. Roy gave me the job because I’d made him laugh. He said he couldn’t remember the last time he’d been so entertained in a job interview. I felt morally obliged to accept it (plus I was skint). It’s only with 20 years of hindsight that I can see what a vital moment of destiny it was for me … and without it there would be no Skylight.
So that’s how it all started and that’s how it will all continue … with laughs and learning, impulses and inspirations, aspirations and accidents. It has brought us some wonderful friendships with some lovely authors, introduced us to some breathtaking literature, and given us a collection of books which we are really deeply proud of. Long may it continue.