Interview with Sam Baker, co-founder of The Pool and Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2017 judge

Sam Baker has spent 20 years in magazine journalism, editing some of the UK’s biggest magazines, including Just Seventeen, Cosmopolitan and Red. In 2015, she co-founded and launched The Pool, with broadcaster Lauren Laverne, with a mission to celebrate and amplify women’s voices. An award-winning digital platform for women that has been described as redefining women’s media, The Pool was recently awarded Best Mobile Lifestyle Site/App at the Webbys (also known as the highest honour the internet can bestow). Here Norah Myers interviews Sam about The Pool and her role as a judge for the 2017 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction.

1) Why was it important to you to serve as a judge for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction?

Judging this prize is something that’s been on my bucketlist for as long as I can remember. I’ve judged others – Costa novel, Desmond Eliot – but of all of them, the Women’s Prize for Fiction is the one I most identify with. Over the years, I’ve watched it bring women’s writing – and women’s stories – to the fore, championing women’s voices globally and I was thrilled to be asked to be part of it – especially in such a strong year. It was a real challenge to get the longlist down to 16.

2) As a judge, how do you evaluate books differently than you do as a reader?

We agreed the criteria up-front and read with those in mind. As well as obviously looking for brilliant writing, we were looking for compellingly told women’s stories that resonated right now, novels that we believed would live on and that we all wanted to push into other people’s hands and say “read this”.

3) You’ve interviewed authors for the prize’s blog and your own venture, The Pool. Can you tell us about a recent interview that really stood out for you?

I love the diverse range of creators that we are able to feature on The Pool – not just I, but the whole team are able to champion women (particularly) whose work we love. It’s really impossible to pick a favourite, but I particularly enjoy doing “in conversation with” events that we then turn into videos that live on. Cheryl Strayed, Maggie O’Farrell, Maria Semple, just off the top of my head, were all exactly as smart and great company as you would hope. We recently did a tour with Joanna Trollope and SmartWorks which was such good fun (Joanna was unexpectedly, erm, irreverent!) And Harriet Harman appeared on a Gamechangers panel I hosted for The Pool – she was brilliant. She could have easily done the whole thing on her own and come back for more!

4) What do you like best about your work?

What’s not to like? I’m utterly spoilt.

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