INTERVIEW Mother Goose, aka Imogen Cooper

What’s the view from the editorial director's chair? Fran Price went to meet Golden Egg Academy founder Imogen Cooper to find out.

FP: What drew you to children’s publishing? 

IC: After taking Theatre Studies at University and then training to be a teacher, I did an MA in European Culture and was thinking of directing or theatre administration but then met people in publishing on the course. With my interest in children, pedagogy and the direction of people on a stage – which I realised could be characters on a page – it was the culmination of everything, the perfect job.

Imogen Cooper with GEA Wales and SW Programme Leader Abigail Kohlhoff (left) and Firefly Publisher Penny Thomas.

FP: Does understanding our own psyche help us to be better children’s writers? 

IC: I think understanding ourselves is really important. These days a lot of people are going through psychotherapy in order to understand their own boundaries and to become aware of the patterns of what they do in life. And being aware of your own emotions in your writing as well is really valuable.
Because of my theatre training, I often refer to Stanislavski and emotional memory — how I felt when this happened to me, how can I use that emotion, how I felt physically, where my breath was, where the tension was in my body — you can use that in a scene where that type of emotion is being conveyed.

FP: What brought you to Somerset?

IC: I saw Barry (Cunningham) speak at a Federation of Children’s Book Groups event. I applied to Chicken House Publishing, became Managing Editor, didn’t really enjoy running the schedules, so moved to pure editing, which is more my forte.

You don’t need to pitch all the time, writers seem to worry that they will be forgotten but you’re more likely to be remembered if you have had an interesting discussion about a novel that you both really like

FP: So how did Golden Egg come about?

IC: I’d got to the stage where I thought ‘where can I go from here’? London and more management as a publisher, or something else? I loved the editing side of my job and was seeing so much potential come through the door but I didn’t have the time to do anything about it. There were some great concepts, great characters, but often the structure didn’t work or the voice faltered through lack of depth. I wondered, if they could have some really good editorial advice would it be possible to take many more of these people where they wanted to go? I then had the idea of setting up the Academy and at the start it was round my kitchen table chatting about structure and characters, one day a week, then occasional workshops and a bit of mentoring, and it grew from there.

FP: What’s your preference, MG, YA or picture books?

IC: I’m not so involved in picture books any more, but I love YA even though it’s incredibly tough to get anything taken up at the moment, although there is an interest in YA fantasy again — that was the talk of Frankfurt — which was nice to hear. I suppose Children of Blood and Bone and books like that will have helped. But MG is really where the heart is because I’m back with Susan Cooper and Alan Garner, aged nine!

FP: Which brings me conveniently on to my next question, what were your three fave books as a child?

IC: The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper
Alan Garner’s The Owl Service
Black Jack by Leon Garfield

FP: Do you turn to adult fiction almost like an antidote to children’s fiction?

IC: Yes, because I end up analysing children’s fiction, obviously I’ve got to keep up with the market so I do, and I do love it, but being able to lose yourself in adult fiction is great. It’s important to read widely and by reading I don’t just mean literature I also mean visual art, theatre, all of those things feed into the creative process, because if you only read your area of children’s fiction you are not feeding in new ‘blood’.
I remember going to the BP portrait awards and thinking ‘that’s wonderful for character’ — one picture that I’ve used quite a lot: a girl on horseback with an antelope over the front of her horse, instantly there’s a place to start a novel. CJ Sansom’s The Shardlake Series is the one that I turn to for an adult read at the moment. That’s one over there, all 900 pages of it. I love it.

FP: Do you ever suggest an idea to your students?

IC: No, but we have thought of doing something like SCBWI’s Slushpile Challenge or similar, it might be quite fun, but I’m not sure... We would never want to make people write the books that we want. Because it’s so dangerous, by the time it’s written, the moment is over and somebody has written it already.

FP: Are you still involved with Chicken House?

IC: No, my time is taken up with doing so much editing for Golden Egg. But I go to Bologna and London Book Fairs. I’m regularly in touch with Barry and other publishers and agents so I am aware of what’s happening in the publishing world.

FP: Have you ever dabbled with writing yourself?

IC: It’s much more about the person for me and the analytical process of editing. It’s like being a director and that’s the fascination, how the creative mind works, if you put the characters on the page in the psychiatrist’s chair, who are they really? That’s where the interest lies. I wrote plays when I was at university and terrible poetry (because we all do) but have never written a novel.

FP: What are your top tips for submitting?

IC: Do your research. Make sure you are submitting in exactly the way the agents are asking for. Look them up on Agent Hunter or on their websites. Don’t pitch to people unless invited to do so — I know agents who have been pitched to in loos and it really doesn’t go down very well!
Use those times when you do meet agents and publishers, what they want to know is that you are an interesting person they can work with. You don’t need to pitch all the time, writers seem to worry that they will be forgotten but you’re more likely to be remembered if you have had an interesting discussion about a novel that you both really like or someone on their list you have read recently, than if you’re pitching at them.
People like Molly Ker Hawn want the first 1000 words pasted into an email. Kate Shaw wants hard copy, which I completely understand – she’ll want to take it home and read it in a relaxed way. Make sure that you tell the agent why you want to be taken on by them in that first paragraph. It has to be genuine, you have to have read something on their list or have seen them give a talk, or if you really like someone that they represent, there’s an instant connection. Obviously make your pitch part of the covering letter.

Everyone seems to want funny 7 to 9 so if you have that right now it’s a good time to submit it

FP: So you prefer printed manuscripts?

IC: We’re in that instant world where we think digital is best, but I am getting all the authors in their final rounds of edits to print out their manuscript, mark it up with coloured tabs, do a continuity edit. When you’re only seeing a small chunk on a screen it’s very difficult to get a feel for the whole thing.

FP: Proudest achievement?

IC: Having trained some really good editors. And the amazing Golden Egg community. They support us as editors just as much as we support them. I didn’t think that was what it would be like. Vashti Hardy, James Nichols and others still stay in touch and still thank us every time they win an award. And I say, you don’t need to thank us any more! But I really treasure that.

Some of the egg-cellent works of fiction by Golden Egg members.

FP: Are you an introvert or extrovert?

IC: Absolutely an introvert! I have had to try very hard to appear extrovert. Things like the Big Honk and running workshops, I get terribly nervous and then I’m knackered after, despite loving it. Something drives me to push myself to make a difference, I think. And sometimes I just have to get my brave pants on and go for it! Conversely, I also believe in unveiling who I am, say in a character workshop, so that authors can unveil who they really are.

FP: What parts of your work do you enjoy the most?

IC: The editing and working one-to-one with people on a deep level. That’s incredibly rewarding. Being part of their story is a great privilege; that we’re allowed into their head as a writer.

FP: Any future trends you can foresee?

IC: It’s very difficult to predict. However, the Chinese market is what a lot of publishers are interested in at the moment. Also Chinese media companies are wanting content for children’s TV for streaming, so I think that’s going to be an interesting market, so that means novels need to be quite clean and they love heroes too.
At home, everyone seems to want funny 7 to 9 so if you have that right now it’s a good time to submit it. Things go round in a circle, children will always love MG fantasy they’ll always love dragons, magic, the perennial favourites and when the current YA drop out of favour there’ll be room for more.

There’s a recognition that if children can’t see themselves in a book, why would they want to buy it? 

People are still interested in inclusion and that will continue to develop. There’s a recognition that if children can’t see themselves in a book, why would they want to buy it? Hopefully there will be editors of different ethnicity too. Publishing will continue to develop into other markets. There is a big push to have more streaming of audio, so the idea is to have speakers like Alexa for audio with no screens involved.

FP: Are there voices yet to be heard?

IC: We’ve heard a lot of voices, but only in small amounts, so I think there should be more of every type of voice that children will come into contact with.

FP: Unexpected success stories?

IC: There are often surprises, things that you would think are so literary they’re not going to make it, or it’s been done before but something about the timing means it takes off. So it’s difficult for anyone to advise writers on what they should be writing.

FP: Thank you for talking to Words and Pictures magazine, Imogen. It's been fascinating.


Imogen Cooper is Mother Goose and Editorial Director for The Golden Egg Academy.


Fran Price is Events Editor for Words & Pictures magazine. Contact her at

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