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  • Writer's pictureDavid Salariya

Behind the Pages: An Inside Look at Patricia Borlenghi's Journey in Publishing and Patrician Press

In this interview, we look into the publishing career of Patricia Borlenghi, her career in foreign rights, and as the founder of Patrician Press, a beacon for emerging voices in literature. Born into an Italian extended-family household in Islington, London, with roots tracing back to the region of Emilia Romagna in Italy, Patricia's journey is as rich and diverse as the stories she has championed throughout her career.

Question 1

Can you share with us some insights into your background, including the origins of your name and your journey in education and career within the publishing industry before founding Patrician Press?

I grew up in Islington, London in an Italian extended-family house. My parents were also born in London but both their families originate from the region of Emilia Romagna in Italy.

The quite rare surname ‘Borlenghi’ comes from there (but also has origins in Lombardy). Many Italians from this area, including members of my own family, started emigrating to England, Canada, the USA, Argentina and Brazil in the late 19th century.

I started visiting Italy regularly in my teens, visiting my maternal grandmother’s village and then Florence which inspired me to study Italian. I gained O-level and A-level in Italian and then a degree in Italian Studies at Reading University. My year abroad was spent at Bologna University. After I graduated, I wanted to go into publishing. I have always loved books and libraries (as did my father) so it seemed to be a natural progression. 

My first job was at Usborne Publishing where I worked in Foreign Rights and Production. And fortuitously I returned to Bologna every year for the Children’s Book Fair. It gave me great pleasure introducing Peter Usborne and my other colleagues to some of my old haunts. I spent eleven years at Usborne and then decided to go freelance. I worked for various children’s publishers such as Belitha, Templar, Aladdin, Franklin Watts, Orchard and Two Can, mainly as a foreign rights consultant. I did however build up quite a good knowledge about editing, design and illustration and children’s book creation in general. It made me realise that I too wanted to write children’s books. 

Patricia Borlenghi - On The Salariya Book Company's Stand at the Frankfurt book Fair
Patricia Borlenghi

My first endeavour was to create an animal alphabet that would work in more than one language. Something not normally possible in my experience of foreign rights. After about two years’ research, including at the Natural History Museum, my first book was published - From Albatross to Zoo - an animal alphabet in five languages. I then went on to write or package several children’s books, including for Bloomsbury. My favourite being Chaucer the Cat and the Animal Pilgrims - a take on the Canterbury Tales. I also continued working as a consultant for The Salariya Book Company.

I then moved to Italy for six years. During this time I worked on my first book for adults, an historical novel set in Italy and entitled Zaira. This led me to enrol on a part-time MA Creative Writing course at the University of Essex, quite close to where we started to live half the year, dividing our time between Essex and Italy. At the end of the course I decided to set up Patrician Press to publish my own work and that of the students or professors I had met on my course. At this time I was aged 61, so it’s never too late!

Front Cover in yellow and green repeating pattern for Zaira A Girl Before her Time
Zaira A Girl Before Her Time By Patricia Borlenghi

Question 2

What were the main motivations behind the decision to cease accepting submissions at Patrician Press and your decision to retire?

At one point I was receiving hundreds of submissions from all over the world. At first I took time to respond to them all but it just proved too time-consuming. And when I hit 70, thoughts of retirement did start surfacing so I stopped accepting submissions.

Question 3

How do you reflect on the legacy of Patrician Press, considering its unique focus on high-quality fiction, poetry, and charitable contributions?

I tried to be innovative and take risks rather than publish mainstream commercial titles. I started my press because of my passion for books, not because I was interested in profit. And I wanted to give authors a new opportunity and nurture the new authors.

Question 4

What have been some of the most memorable moments or achievements during your time at the helm of Patrician Press?

In the early days we ran a poetry and short story competition on the subject of refugees which was very rewarding. I am also proud of how many wide-ranged books, a small press such as mine, managed to publish in ten years. I also very much enjoyed holding our various book events in so many different places. And I also discovered I liked editing the books, although I did have others to help with this.

Question 5

Could you elaborate on the impact that Patrician Press has had on the literary landscape, particularly in terms of promoting diverse voices and genres?

Because it is a very small press I really don’t think I have had much impact on the literary landscape. Even though we have had umpteen book events both in the UK and in Italy, I didn’t spend much on promotion or advertising. As far as promoting diverse voices and genres, I did try to publish as many books as I could by women writers. Going back to the subject of submissions, I was actually quite surprised that at least 80% were from men. I got the impression that women were too unconfident to submit their work so I tried to address this. And because of my family background I was keen to promote books with an Italian theme. I am also interested in minority languages.

For the above reasons, I am very pleased that we published the bestselling: Northern Alchemy - Shetlandic poems with versions in English by Christine De Luca and The Unseen  - a detective novel by Valerio Varesi which we translated into English from Italian. 

Question 6

With the changing dynamics of the publishing industry, what do you see as the future role and significance of independent presses like Patrician Press?

Some independent small presses are doing incredibly well. They are the ones challenging the mainstream and taking risks. Small presses encourage new writers rather than publishing established authors or books by celebrities.

There is now much more recognition of small presses by The Bookseller and indeed the wonderful ‘Republic of Consciousness’ Prize. There also seems to be more translated literature by small presses than ever before.

Question 7

The charitable donations from book proceeds have been a distinctive aspect of Patrician Press. Could you discuss the charities supported and the broader social impact of these contributions? 

For the Refugees anthology, I donated regularly to Help Refugees (now Choose Love), Care4Calais and Safe Passage and one or two others on a one-off basis. The refugee problem will never go away but it is imperative not to lose sight of our humanity and compassion when organising living accommodation and defining refugee status. For the My European thology, this was more difficult, for instance I couldn’t donate to Erasmus, but we did donate to Europaeum, based in Oxford. It is a 'university without walls' for students to come together in multidisciplinary groups to discuss European issues. I was then kindly invited to give a talk on publishing to a group of students at the Charles University in Prague. Then for the Tempest anthology we donate to Amnesty International.

Question 8

"Now This – Reflections on our Arts and Cultures" stands out as a significant publication from Patrician Press. What inspired this collection of essays, and what message do you hope it conveys to readers?

It was actually an idea of an artist acquaintance. The fact that we’d had the Brexit referendum and then the Covid pandemic led to reflections on what was happening in the arts. The brief however for contributing fine artists was quite wide, in that they could write about their personal experiences during Covid; or the decline of arts education; or their working processes. For this book, we donated to the Helen Bamber Foundation.

Question 9

Looking back on your career, what advice would you give to aspiring publishers or writers based on your experiences with Patrician Press? 

I look back at my publishing career and mainly I think I enjoyed it very much and had great fun. I’ve met so many wonderful people. When you stop enjoying your work or you’re growing tired, then it’s time to make a change in direction. For writers: never give up, keep writing every day, keep researching, keep experimenting…

Patricia Borlenghi with five authors published by Patrician Press.
Patricia Borlenghi - second from left with five authors published by Patrician Press

Question 10

As you embark on retirement, what are your plans and aspirations for the future, and do you foresee any continued involvement in the literary or publishing world?

I still have to administer accounts for the sales and six-monthly royalties of existing titles. And I do try to help and advise my authors about finding new publishers or agents. I have also contributed to MA students’ dissertations or to their research about publishing. 

I would be happy to give talks on my publishing experiences in the future.


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