Patricia Borlenghi has always had a passion for literature. After 30 years of working in publishing, she decided to undertake a part time MA in Creative Writing. She went on to set up her own publishing press and now tells us all about the journey.

I loved books as a very young child. My mother told me many stories and my father loved reading, so I was encouraged to read and write even before starting school.

Because of my love of books, I wanted to work in publishing. It was much easier to enter the industry back in the mid-70s. I was employed purely because I had a degree and I worked for, what was then, a very small children’s book company. Because the company was so small, I was able to learn the entire publishing process. For over 30 years, I worked for various publishing companies, mainly on a freelance basis, until I decided to join Essex and start an MA Creative Writing in 2010. 

In the 90s I started writing/packaging children’s books for other British publishers. ‘Packaging’ involved creating finished and combined texts and illustrations for a project, sometimes even printing finished copies. I had however always had a hankering to write books for adults, rather than children. I thought that an MA in Creative Writing would be a good introduction and help my writing process.

At the time, I lived half the year in Manningtree, and Essex was the nearest university. I didn’t know that much about it except for its involvement in the student protests during the 1960s. I did some further research and was pleased to discover that the poet and novelist Ben Okri had studied there.

I very much enjoyed the part-time MA creative writing degree and was delighted to be taught by Marina Warner (The Tale) and Philip Terry (OULIPO). For anyone considering re-entering education as a mature student, just enjoy it! It’s not only for the academic fulfilment you will obviously feel, but the social side too: make friends with all age-groups and don’t be afraid to try new activities.

After finishing my MA, I set up my own publishing house, Patrician Press. For me, it was a choice between financing a PhD or setting up a small press. I decided that at my age (60+) a PhD wasn’t particularly necessary, and that academia wasn’t really for me. I was also inspired by the idea of publishing books by people I had met on my MA course.

Since launching Patrician Press in 2013, I have published more than 40 books (mainly fiction and poetry) and count many Essex alumni and academics among my authors.

My publications are rather eclectic; earlier this year I was very proud to publish Northern Alchemy by Christine De Luca – a poetry collection in Shetlandic with versions in English.   And because of my background, some of the books have an Italian theme. I did a degree in Italian Studies and spent a year at Bologna University. Ever since I started work in publishing, I have returned virtually every year to Bologna for the Children’s Book Fair! Because of my frequent trips, either on business or to visit friends, I became interested in promoting a few Italian writers and poets alongside British ones.

One of the things I love about my job is the design process, especially thinking about the cover designs. I like to use original artwork for the cover images. Then I very much enjoy the entire production process, from editing, composing the text (with publishing software) to seeing the proof and finally the finished books.

The competition to enter the publishing industry nowadays is fierce, I think you need to decide what area of publishing you wish to enter, whether it’s editing, sales, production, publicity or digital. My advice would be not to work for a conglomerate but to find a small to medium-sized company where you could learn the ropes and then, if possible, switch to editing and commissioning (the best areas in my opinion). Another route would be to take a proof-reading course. It does upset me in the digital age when ‘apostrophe s’ is so ill-used. Spellchecks on computers are not always reliable!

If you are thinking of starting your own press, I would say you need to be prepared to take risks and have the courage of your convictions.

What do the next 5 years hold for me? Well, I will be well into my 70s in five years’ time! Hopefully my colleague, an alumna who is now a teaching fellow at Essex, will take over the press in the next year or two. Before that, I will be concentrating on new titles. This autumn I will be publishing two anthologies: Chaos – Poetry Anthology and Rebel Alliance – Short Story Anthology, both include contributions from University of Essex alumni and academics. Then, looking forward to next year, I hope to publish a collection of essays by visual artists about how Brexit and the present Covid-19 pandemic crisis have affected them and their work.