Following our recent award announcement, we thought it only right for you to get to know this year’s Trailblazers. We’ll be featuring each winner with Grace Keane up first.
I joined New Writing North in 2017, and in 2019 I became Programme Manager (Festivals, Events and Awards). This role primarily focuses on organising events such as the Durham Book Festival, the Gordon Burn Prize and the David Cohen Prize for Literature. I also work for the Northern Writers’ Awards and our library events programme. I am a graduate of the University of Manchester, where I gained a BA Hons in English Literature. I run a YouTube and Instagram talking about books, which you can find at @gkreads.
Tell us what you do in 20 words.
I work to help Northern writers develop their writing and connect readers in the North of England with excellent literature.
What is the one piece of advice you’d give to someone starting out in publishing today?
I would say don’t worry if you don’t know precisely what you want to do. I always knew I wanted to work with books or literature, but I didn’t necessarily have the vocabulary or the knowledge of what jobs were out there until I started looking. I think it’s easy to feel intimidated by an industry that you know nothing about, but don’t start to feel like that means it’s too competitive or ‘not for you’. I had no idea what a Writing Development Agency was until I came across my first role at New Writing North. When you’re just starting out, I think my advice would be to just be open and flexible. It’s likely you won’t know exactly what part of the industry you want to work in until you’ve experienced it, or perhaps you think you’re set on one aspect and actually you discover you’re more interested or better suited to a different kind of role.
What was the last book you read, and where did you buy it from?
The last book I read was Early Morning Riser by Katherine Heiny. It’s not out yet, so it was very kindly sent to me by the publisher. I welcome any chance I get to rave about this book! It’s totally charming, genuinely laugh out loud and just the perfect read for these bleak times.
What’s next on your reading list?
I’ve just picked up Mr Loverman by Bernardine Evaristo. Like everyone, I adored Girl, Woman, Other and immediately sought out her backlist. I’ve only heard brilliant things about this one, and I’m very much enjoying it so far.
Which writer would you have loved to have met and why?
It’s kind of a basic answer but probably Jane Austen. I feel like she would be fun to go to the pub with and mercilessly judge the other customers. Also, I would love to get her thoughts on the Colin Firth vs. Matthew McFayden as Mr Darcy debate. (She will obviously be, like me, #TeamColin).
You’re stranded on a desert island. What three books would you want with you?
Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding because no matter how many times I read it never fails to make me laugh. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara because it is brilliant, 800 pages and because it might be nice to cry over something other than my own doomed fate on the island. On Beauty by Zadie Smith because it has everything you could want in a novel and I could probably spend at least a few days just reading the line, ‘And so it happened again, the daily miracle whereby interiority opens out and brings to bloom the million-petalled flower of being here, in the world, with other people.’
What would be the title of your autobiography?
Like all the best celebrity autobiographies, it would have to be some sort of pun on my name. As I’ve discovered throughout my life, both my first and surname are pun goldmines. I’ve had to completely eradicate the word keen from my vocabulary, and, as a clumsy person, being named grace is a cruel burden to bear.
How does social media aid the publishing industry?
As someone who has an Instagram and YouTube dedicated to talking about books, I think social media is brilliant for the industry. It’s a community based on sharing a love of books and constantly recommending new titles and authors. It’s great seeing people get behind new releases and hyping up debut authors, but it’s also my favourite way to find backlist books. I often notice an older book having a resurgence because someone talks about it on social media, and other people get interested. Ultimately, I think people love getting a personalised recommendation. Especially during the pandemic where people can’t go into their local bookshop and speak to booksellers, social media provides a way for readers to connect. The internet can be a weird place, but bookish social media is, on the whole, a lovely place to be.
Tell us about a passion you have outside the business.
During a moment of lockdown madness, I bought a table tennis table and have now become obsessed with it. The jury is still out on whether this will be an enduring passion. I also love travelling, music and food, and I can’t wait to return to holidays, festivals and takeaways that are more than 3 miles away from my home.