The Starlight Stables Gang goes to print!

Yesterday, I got on a train very early and set off on an adventure! Over half the published books in the UK are printed at Clays, near Norfolk, and The Starlight Stables Gang, the first book in my new series with equestrian vlogger and superstar ThisEsme, is one of them! It’s very unusual for an author to be taken to see their book being printed, but Esme had asked our publisher Puffin if she could film it for her social media channels – and I was allowed to tag along!

The Starlight Stables Gang is being published in paperback and a limited edition hardback simultaneously on 30th March, and until we got there, I didn’t know which edition we were going to see. I have visited Clays once before in 2017 to see A Storm of Strawberries being printed, but because there was a very Top Secret book being published that day too, I wasn’t allowed to take any photos or video footage. This time, however, cameras were allowed, and I LOVED it! As an author, you only ever see a tiny part of the process of publishing – sometimes, you’ll never even go to your publisher’s offices because everything is done online these days – and being in a printing factory, seeing the SIZE of the paper and machines and colour and sheer volume of books, not to mention the noise (you have to wear earplugs) – well, it’s a really amazing experience.

Look at those enormous rolls of paper! That’s Esme, standing next to one, for scale. There are different departments for the different processes: for example, in the Colour Department, there are machines that add the ‘spot lamination’ (shiny bits) to the covers, as well as machines for embossing (the raised bits) and foiling (the metallic bits). There’s a small area where books get sprayed edges, which still has to be done by hand – and several large factory floors holding huge clacking and whirling machines.

There are two main types of printer: conventional presses, where the text is etched into huge steel plates and then inked and printed onto paper, which is then sliced and glued in a most complicated manner. And there are digital printers, which are basically gigantic versions of your home inkjet printer – these are so large they’re twice the height of a person!

But the most exciting bit was, as I expected, the moment when we arrived at a printer that was churning out OUR BOOK! And it was the hardback edition, which was fantastic because I’d only ever seen a paperback before. I could have watched those machines for hours: there were so many parts that did specific things like gluing, pushing, twisting, adding ribbon, swivelling, chopping, folding, denting…it was quite hypnotic! You could walk alongside the machine following the progress of a book as it had its dustjacket added, like this below:

That machine can run 70 books per minute – that’s 4,200 books per hour! And what a beautiful book it’s turned out to be. As you can see, under the dustjacket is a beautiful deep purple cover embossed with foil horseshoes and stars. The font is bigger than I expected, and that’s BRILLIANT because I know Esme has some fans who have dyslexia. Bigger font means that the text will be much easier for them to read. Esme and I both made quite a lot of squeaky excited noises when we saw the finished copies! The Starlight Stables Gang is my FIFTIETH published book, but hand on heart I can say that every single new book is exciting to see for the first time; that novelty never wears off!

Enormous thank you to Puffin for organising the trip and to Clays for showing us round and answering all my questions (including: ‘How often do these machines break down?’ Answer: ‘Quite a lot…’). Thank you also to talented illustrator Hannah George for the beautiful cover and internal illustrations. What a fantastic, privileged day.

L-R editor Lowri, me, Esme, publicist Chess
Esme and me, proud as can be!

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