Philip PullmanSF SaidPhilip ReeveSarah McIntyreDave McKeanJon KlassenMichael MorpurgoLisa Williamson. That roll call of some of the very best writers and illustrators of our time share something very special. Besides all being incredible creators, they also all have work published by David Fickling Books (DFB) - one of the very best children’s publishers of our time. Founded as an imprint by publisher extraordinaire David Fickling in 2001, 2024 marks the 10th anniversary of DFB’s status as an independent publisher. 

All that considered — and in the context of DFB illustrator Jamie Smart recently winning two awards at the 2024 British Book Awards — we thought it was high time to talk to the fine folk at DFB about those ten years of independence, and to discover what gems we can look forward to this year. Read on to do exactly that…

We’ll kick off with some inspiring words from David Fickling himself …
"For me, ‘ten years and still going strong’ is living the dream with the team (and the team includes everybody now and everybody then who has ever worked with us and of course includes all the amazing DFB authors and artists). I have to pinch myself. 

The dream was always big. We wanted to bring the very best stories to all children wherever they are in the world. Stories are what make us human and we all need them and we need them to be the best from the best and from all cultures. That’s DFB’s job! Editing is not nothing and it is personal. The need for good stories on this planet has never been greater and the hunger never more demanding. The grin widens on my face as I think of all the great stories still to be told, drawn, and written and fingers crossed many of them will be published under the DFB logo. How lucky am I to be part of this! We don’t have to be big in money or power, I am not sure we can cope with that kind of big, but we do have to be big in story and writing and illustrating,  the best, the most popular and sometimes the most surprising. And the editor's decision is final."David Fickling, Founder and CEO.

Describe David Fickling Books in three words.
Small but mighty!

What sparked the founding of DFB?
We’ve been an independent publisher for 10 years now – but we’ve been around for a lot longer! For nearly twelve years DFB was run as an imprint – first as part of Scholastic, then of Random House. Since 2014 we’ve set up as an independent business. You might be wondering why DFB went independent at all? Here are four reasons:
Freedom - Independence gives us the autonomy to follow our instincts and back our own judgments.
Flexibility - We’re able to act more quickly – to come to an immediate understanding with an author, or to get a bid in to an agent, or to react at once to developments in the market or changes in technology. This is really important. We think that our link with our authors can be closer and stronger. We value this relationship above all others. It’s the source of creative energy in a publishing house.
Attention to Sales - We give close, vigorous and thoughtful attention to every single book we publish to ensure that they all reach as many readers as possible, in the most compelling formats.
New Technologies - In a fast-changing digital world, we don't pretend to know all the answers. But we think that a small, nimble publisher unencumbered by weighty overheads and protocols is well-placed to take quick decisions, to spot new ways of publishing, to get something new off the ground.

How much of a difference has being independent made to the books you publish, and how you work?
In our new form we’ve continued to publish the same sorts of books as before, and in the same sort of way – but with even greater enthusiasm and commitment, and with an even greater commitment to long-term relationships, intensive editorial work, and developing an exceptional strong partnership with The Phoenix comic!

How will you mark the occasion? Are any special events or anniversary books on the horizon?
2024 launched with the (best-selling!) January publication of Bunny vs Monkey: Bunny Bonanza! by Jamie Smart - a nod to the original Bunny vs Monkey: the very first book published by DFB, 10 years ago. As part of the celebrations, DFB hosted a special industry showcase in Spring, and we’ll be hosting a Summer Party for those who have supported Independence over the last 10 years.

David Fickling will be delivering select keynote speeches (most recently at the FCBG conference) throughout the year. DFB has launched partnerships designed to invest in the next generation of children’s writers and illustrators, including a brand-new innovative partnership between the Arvon Foundation and DFB, to find the next undiscovered talent in writing for children – our ‘Search for a Storyteller’ competition.

What’s the relationship between DFB and The Phoenix (a comic we just can’t get enough of)?
That’s absolutely brilliant to hear! DFB has a long history of hugely successful collaborations. Partnerships are at the core of David Fickling’s approach to publishing; from partnering with Scholastic and Penguin Random House to publish His Dark Materials and The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman, to collaborating with Blackpool Football Club to supply thousands of copies of Unstoppable by Dan Freeman to hard-to-reach readers, via their outreach scheme. DFB’s closest partnership of all, of course, is a family one, with DFB’s sister company The Phoenix: the first weekly comic for children published in the UK for a quarter of a century. We work hand-in-glove with The Phoenix comic every week, and a number of our best- selling comic books come from their pages!

Which books from the DFB backlist should everyone read? And what upcoming gems should we look out for?
From Liz Cross, Managing Director and Publishing Director:
From the DFB backlist I have to pick the incredible Thornhill by Pam Smy. This is such a special book – everything about it is beautifully considered and teeming with originality. With its twin narratives – one told graphically through Pam’s stunning artwork, and the other in deceptively simple prose – this is a book that looks and feels like no other. It is physically striking with its black cover and edges and its bulk – and the dark, mysterious atmosphere that creates permeates every page of the book. It’s totally unforgettable, the work of an extraordinary creator unbound by convention.

Looking ahead, I’m so excited by the publishing we have coming up in partnership with our brilliant sister company, the Phoenix comic. While Bunny vs Monkey flies high in the bestseller charts, reaching ever more delighted readers in the UK and around the world, we are laying plans together for many more really exciting and innovative comic books to be published over the next year and beyond. I can’t go into specifics now but as a team we can’t wait to reveal these new ranges – all fuelled by the Phoenix’s huge expertise in comic making, and their unrivalled direct dialogue with fans. There is no better way of creating comic books that get right to the heart of what children love, and it’s such a thrilling process to be part of.

From Rosie Ficking, Commissioning Editor:
For me, the most powerful book and absolute must-read on the DFB backlist has to be Tyger by SF Said. This story and idea developed and grew over many years and it has become an intrinsic part of my own story as it mirrored my growth and development as an editor. I love it and I love all it has given and taught me along the way. It is a truly beautiful example of the sometimes-hidden potential in any manuscript to become a powerful classic. Plus, the story itself is just totally brilliant, full of intensity and a very real kind of magic. It is a book for everyone.  

An upcoming DFB book that I am particularly excited by is A Riddle for a King by Mark Forsyth. It’s got all the usual good stuff: fun, easy to read and full of adventure. And yet its simplicity hides a wonderfully clever story, full of detail and intelligent humour. It gives a nod to classic stories that I adored growing up and yet brings its own entirely original approach. It is a wonderful paradox of a book: simple and complicated, clear and puzzling – and I am certain it will be loved by readers both old yet young and young yet old.

From Anthony Hinton, Commissioning Editor:
From the (recent) DFB backlist, one truly exceptional title everyone should read is Wild Song by Candy Gourlay. A companion novel to her equally brilliant Bone Talk, this story is an incredibly deft, beautifully written and extraordinarily powerful story with enormous heart. In 1904 Luki, a teenage girl of the Bontok tribe from the mountains of the Philippines, is taken to the St Louis World's Fair in the USA, where she discovers both the awesome possibilities of the freedom offered by the idea of America, and the underlying truth that the freedom of the West is not open to all. Candy puts you so firmly into the eyes of Luki that the way you see the world will be forever changed.

Upcoming, Tosh's Island by Linda Sargent, Joe Brady and Leo Marcell, coming out in October, is a spectacular graphic novel unlike any that we have published before - a story inspired by co-writer Linda's real-life childhood discovery of having Still's disease, a form of early-onset arthritis. Tosh's hopes and dreams for her life, her friendships and first love, as she moves into secondary school for the first time, are completely upturned. Exquisitely drawn by the brilliant Leo Marcell, Tosh's Island is heartbreaking and beautiful, and a glorious celebration of the power of imagination and stories in the face of difficulty. It's a graphic novel guaranteed to capture your heart.

From Meggie Dennis, Assistant Editor:
The Adventuremice series, by the inimitable creative powerhouses Philip Reeve & Sarah McIntyre, are absolute joy in book form! They are a truly special marriage of words and art, with umpteen gorgeous details for little ones (and their grown-ups) to enjoy. The books provide happiness, fun and a sense of being completely looked after – just like the Adventuremice themselves do! Each new book in the series becomes my favourite; they are all utterly charming, and gifts to readers. (Which Adventuremouse are you? I’m always torn between stylish Millie, practical Ivy, and kind-hearted Juniper: fan of a sensible jumper and never far from toasted cheese.)  

I am SO excited for the launch of Badgers Are GO! by Susannah Lloyd and Nici Gregory, coming this autumn! Chock-full of fun, anarchic energy and fizzing creativity, but also layered with emotion and pure heart — it’s a wonderful alchemy of hilarity and poignancy. The clever interplay between the text and illustrations are a joy, pushing the boundaries of what we expect from illustrated fiction… It provides pure escapist delight but is also a heartfelt fable for the ages. When I read this story on submission, I was having so much fun that I forgot to eat my lunch, which is the highest praise I can give a book. It is very special indeed!    

Huge thanks to Fraser Hutchinson (Publicity and Marketing Director), David Fickling (CEO), Liz Cross (Managing Director and Publishing Director), Rosie Fickling (Commissioning Editor), Anthony Hinton, (Commissioning Editor) and Meggie Dennis (Assistant Editor) for taking the time to talk to us.

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