Publishing at Derby

As a topic for study publishing at the university has come a long way. As we approach our third anniversary, I thought it might be interesting and informative to describe our journey.

(All of the programmes of study we now offer are still accepting applications for September start! Wherever you’re from – be it Nottingham or New York; Melbourne (either the one near Derby or the other one farther away) or Mumbai – your application to study with us will be welcome.)

(NB This is a personal blog and the views and recollections are my own: Alistair)

Publishing and the UoD final report, front cover

Small beginnings …

In April 2015 a report was delivered to the University of Derby, a modern (post-1992) university with large ambitions, an excellent reputation for teaching, and great student experience. Entitled Publishing and the University of Derby, it was printed and bound (as any good report about publishing should be) in the form of a full-colour book. I had been commissioned by the Deputy VC to research academic provision here, and to him, at our Buxton campus, I duly delivered 12 bound copies of my final report.

In that report I contended that Derby could be an ideal nucleus of publishing education, the first in the Midlands. The university’s ethos of real-world learning, and its experience of courses that are designed with a balance of academic and professional elements, would be ideal for publishing courses, I argued. We could, perhaps, build a suite of programmes at different levels, base our teaching on the twin foundations of research and industry experience, and tap into the growing demand for professional training among those who want to embark on careers in the creative industries.

Let’s start with a postgraduate taught Masters in Publishing, I contended, then think about developing some undergraduate courses, then maybe some online delivery. Perhaps some Ph.D. students …

And how about starting up our own in-house publishing unit to give our students some realistic experience of how exciting, creative and stimulating it can be to work with authors, to edit and typeset text, to market and sell books, and become real publishers? All within their courses of study. That sounded difficult to achieve, but definitely do-able.

Small beginnings … but it’s remarkable and gratifying that most of what we set out to build has already been created, thanks in large part to continuing support from college and university, and the immeasurable input from large numbers of experienced academics, industry professionals, and students.

First, we validated our MA Publishing, and we welcomed our first cohort of students, all 26 of them (the understandably cautious accountants in the college thought we might attract five … five!) in September 2016. What a bunch of terrific, enthusiastic and talented book lovers and aspiring publishers they were (photographed here at the Brontë Parsonage Museum, Haworth, at the start of their course).


On this degree our students learn and gain experience about every aspect of book and magazine publishing, including Editorial and advanced English; Print and Digital Production (in which they all produce fully functioning ebooks from scratch); Marketing and Sales taught brilliantly by Dr Alison Lawson from the Business School; Legal Frameworks; and principles of business leadership and management.

By this time publishing at the University of Derby had got off to a flying start, and somewhat self-consciously I and others recorded some videos of what we had been up to … (the students’ contributions are terrific and worth watching).

(Note to all: applications for the MA Publishing for September 2018 start will be accepted throughout the spring and summer. Please do apply.)

Undergraduate courses …

Following the success of the MA I was asked to develop not one, but two, new undergraduate programmes. With nothing much else on my plate at the time (spring 2017), I set to work …

The first, a three-year Joint Honours Publishing course, was fairly straightforward in concept: students are now able to study Publishing alongside almost any other subject, including English, History, Journalism, Business, and so on.

The second new undergraduate degree was not my idea, but that of our Head of Department, who persuaded me that we could combine parts of our existing Creative & Professional Writing degree, with relevant bits of publishing, to create a coherent, bespoke new course.

I poked around for inspiration. I thought long and hard about what students with a love of writing and books might need to study. I scratched my head, consulted lots of students and industry professionals, scratched my head again, and along with Dr David Barker, our then recently appointed Senior Lecturer in Publishing, began putting pen to paper in what was to become (almost certainly the world’s first) BA Writing and Publishing. And so, exactly a year after our MA started we welcomed 14 wonderful students on to the first year of this great new course (which, by the way, deserves to be much better and more widely known, so spread the word please: applications for September start still being accepted!).

The idea for this degree, elegantly simple, is that anyone who aspires to work with books – to write them, edit them, publish or promote them, to become an author, a literary agent, an editor, a publisher, or set up a business in any part of the literary industries – will come to understand the whole process of writing and publishing from every angle. The degree offers a holistic overview of the entire process of literary creation and curation (to use the current buzzword coined or popularised – I’m not sure which – by Dr Michael Bhaskar).

By this time (Autumn 2017) we had already successfully recruited three more academic staff, one of whom, Dr Matthew Cheeseman, was asked to lead the new Writing and Publishing programme, which he has done with considerable aplomb (the students are absolutely loving the course). Other academic staff contribute their specialist experience in areas such as Law, Business, and advanced English, with the result that the students on our publishing courses are taught by no fewer than nine academic staff. And among those, there is almost 80 years’ experience of working in the publishing industry (mind you, I alone account for 34 of those!).

A publishing unit …

And what of the real-world publishing unit? We set it up and named it ‘Peregrine’. We even have a logo:

peregrine logoand we have released our first major book (June 2017), published to coincide with the 40th anniversary of Derby becoming a city:

Yearbook cover

Every part of The Derby Yearbook was done by our publishing students, from commissioning the text (forty authors, about forty subjects, for the fortieth anniversary … clever), to finding the illustrations, designing the cover, typesetting and editing the book, and organising the book launch. (Not surprisingly, the managing editor of this project, one of our MA Publishing students who graduated with a Distinction in October 2017, was quickly snapped up by Penguin Random House, where he now works.)

And why the name ‘Peregrine’? Well, peregrine falcons nest on the tower of Derby Cathedral; but the main reason was to follow in the footsteps of Allen Lane’s famous twentieth-century publishing brands that were each named after bird species: Penguin; Pelican; Puffin. Well, now we have Peregrine, and, being a raptor, it will devour all of the others!

Now the next major project for Peregrine is already well in hand, with Dr David Barker (formerly of Bloomsbury Academic but now Senior Lecturer in Publishing with us) helping a group of students to publish in June 2018 an illustrated children’s edition of the story Fox 8 by the 2017 Man Booker Prize winner, George Saunders.

Other publishing-related developments …

What else to report about our breathless first two-and-a-bit years here at the University of Derby?

Well, we have developed links with regional and national publishers and literary organisations. We have appointed the marvellously talented and experienced Dr Alison Baverstock (Kingston University) as Visiting Professor in Publishing. And last October (2017) the university bestowed an honorary doctorate on Stephen Page, CEO of the most famous (and best) literary house in the world, Faber & Faber. Public lectures will surely follow …

Recently, too, Matthew Cheeseman has led a development team from Creative & Professional Writing and Publishing to create an all-new MA Creative Writing (which also has a Publishing pathway, so that students can study MA Creative Writing with Publishing). This new programme is already attracting lots of interest and will welcome its first students in September 2018.

And please don’t form the impression that it has all been about new degrees and teaching. We have also embarked upon an ambitious programme of research, with no fewer than four staff seeking to contribute to our institutional submission for the next Research Excellence Framework, and several already busy writing books or articles. We now have three research-active Ph.D.-qualified academics within the discipline of Publishing, and we are currently (spring 2018) advertising for a post-doctoral research fellow in the History of Publishing. The aspiration is to develop this growing team into a nationally significant centre of publishing research, with specialisms in the history and culture of publishing, the future of publishing, and international/global publishing. Thanks to Dr Paul Elliott for helping steer us in the right directions.

Next on the horizon? Some of our better ideas will remain under wraps … for now.

April 2015 was when I delivered my little report. As we approach the third anniversary of that, my reflections combine a chunk of pride in what we’ve already achieved, a great deal of gratitude to all those at the university who have made it possible, considerable admiration for the myriad achievements of our students, and a strong sense of optimism that the next three years may be even more exciting (though hopefully less breathless) than the first.

Do join us: as undergrad, as postgrad, as Ph.D. student, as post-doc research fellow. If you have any queries drop me a line at

(NB This is a personal blog and the views are very much my own.)