Margaret Mitchell (Assistant Editor) for Ringwood’s newsletter, spoke with Isobel Freeman, one of the members of the four person Ringwood Publishing Executive Group. If you didn’t catch Margaret’s article in our November newsletter, we’ve posted the entire feature below.

Isobel Freeman is very well known to Ringwood authors and Interns. Sandy Jamieson and Isobel started the company as a small operation many years ago and together they have continued to develop it into the thriving publisher that Ringwood is today. Isobel became interested in publishing quite simply because of her love of books and reading. Within the company, she delights in reading new manuscripts which should be promoted and pushed forward, and enjoys the essence of editing which is to “understand what the author is saying, and help make sure they say it clearly”. Over the years, reviewing manuscripts, editing, working with authors and marketing the books largely fell to Sandy and Isobel. However, now with the number and calibre of interns, these responsibilities are primarily carried out by Interns with Isobel being “responsive and available” when support is needed. As a strong supporter of Ringwood’s Intern model, she sees that her role, and the role of the company, is to nurture the young people who volunteer their time. To prepare for their career, she ensures the Interns experience a realistic workplace reflecting all aspects of publishing from the raw manuscript to marketing the finished books.

She encourages interns to “focus on what [they] need from the internship and to balance that with the company’s needs.” Ringwood’s responsibility, she believes, is to “facilitate interns to do what they can, and this is as important, if not more important, than the actual production of books.” Such is her trust in the interns’ abilities, she argues that Ringwood authors are “lucky– they get eager, newly trained young people editing their writing! Maybe my role is to mediate, when needed, between the author and the editing team.” This year, Ringwood commenced a strategy of attracting ‘mature mentors’, such as Christine McCrosson and Donny McIntyre, people with proven success in their professional field, who can also nurture and mentor the interns. Isobel sees this as an important step into the future, broadening the support that interns can access. 

Reflecting on Ringwood titles and other novels, Isobel is intrigued by the contexts of these stories. She is keen on crime novels for this reason because they tend to tell so much about the setting. “If I am going to visit somewhere I will read a crime novel about that place. I really liked Leela Soma’s Murder at the Mela because it told me so much about Glasgow, and reflected my own familiarity with Glasgow. That’s also true for Flora Johnston’s story of the Covenanters, What You Call Free, which is set in the Pentland Hills, and the narrow passageways of Edinburgh. The day after Flora presented at one of our outreach events, I walked in the Pentlands, a place I have been to many times, but this time I thought about the story and the new perspective it gave me.” Isobel notes that Val McDermid also takes time to describe the community at length in her stories; and re-reading Ian Rankin in the proper order, she found, formed a gripping history of Scotland and history of Edinburgh quite aside from the plot. 
Ringwood is further developing its outreach strategies: “I already think the discussions in the Newsletter and the Podcast are excellent and I would like to see a much higher readership and listening audience for them … If you’d asked me three years ago whether we should do a Podcast, I’d have said ‘oh no, we don’t want to do that. That’ll take up time!’ But I see that these are important contributions providing intriguing contexts for our books.” Isobel is excited by other outreach possibilities into the future.

“For me, holding events in Hillhead Library or Leith Library or even Arlington Baths in Glasgow has been very, very good. And we do seem to have built up a bit of a following, especially at Hillhead Library. It’s not something I envisaged happening at all! We have the opportunity to diversify beyond the book launches, successful though these are, to holding events where there is a deeper analysis of the books, and their setting.” For instance, Carol Margaret Davison’s Bodysnatcher, is set in Edinburgh. In June, Ringwood held a public ‘Walk and Talk’ event where Carol led participants through the backstreets of Edinburgh to illustrate the ‘untold story of Burke and Hare.’ More recently, following the very successful Short Story Seminar at Hillhead Library on 22nd October and in view of Ringwood’s Short Story Competition, “Donny (McIntyre) suggested setting up a writers’ support group, which we could do. I’d like to see where these ideas take us. We have shown the capacity to run high quality events, and this is mostly due to our talented and energetic interns.”

As a main backbone of Ringwood, Isobel welcomes the new Executive Group structure, equally sharing corporate responsibilities with Donny McIntyre, Christine McCrosson and, of course, Sandy Jamieson.  Isobel’s dedication to developing interns and to producing high quality original Scottish titles is obvious. However, her respect for her colleagues and her admiration for Ringwood’s interns creates a working culture that makes her a pleasure to work with.
Thank you for your time, Isobel!

And thank you Margaret for this amazing article!