Journalist Gaby Wood on why she’ll never forget this one-word answer from Donald Trump

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Hannah Keegan

Work/Life is Stylist’s regular column about the professional routines of successful women. Here, literary director Gaby Wood talks us through her one-day diary, from morning latte to lights out.  

Gaby Wood, 47, is a journalist and the literary director of the Booker Prize Foundation. She lives in London with her two daughters.

My alarm goes off…

At 6.30am. When I’m writing I wake up before my alarm because it’s on my mind. I check The Guardian, The Times and The New York Times online while drinking a cup of tea and answering emails. Most days, I’ll wear dark jeans from Mother and a jumper from Rag & Bone or Vince. If I have a meeting, though, I’ll dress the polar opposite in a pencil skirt and silk blouse. I start work properly about 9.30am.

I’m responsible for…

Selecting each year’s judges for the Man Booker Prize and looking after them through the process. I’m also involved in choosing the candidates for the Booker Prize Foundation scholarship; the winner receives funding for an MA in creative writing. As a journalist, I’m also responsible for meeting deadlines for various publications.

I got the job…

Through a series of happy accidents. I read French literature at Cambridge and went on to work for The Observer, where I was a features writer but involved in the books pages, too. I worked for them in New York for seven years, then returned to the UK to become books editor at The Telegraph, which led to my position at the Booker Foundation.

From the household name to the next big thing, Gaby reads them all

My typical day…

Begins at my desk in the corner of my living room. I’ve had to decorate it pretty extremely to distinguish it from everyone else’s territory. I’ll go through emails, make calls and read. I work twice a week for the Booker Foundation from home.

A big part of my role is selecting the panel of five judges for the prize. This year’s judges are currently creating a longlist of 13 books, which will be announced in July. You have to make sure there is chemistry between them. I ask myself, ‘What are their interests? Will all books be welcome? Will they get along?’ I sit in on their meetings, which are like the most high-powered, enjoyable book club you can imagine. Conversation can range from whether we expect female protagonists to be more likeable than male ones to whether ‘authenticity’ is an issue anyone should care about in fiction. They discuss 30 books at one time and last year they read 172 in total.

I stop for lunch around 1pm and have a salad or sandwich, then I work on something different to break up the day. I always have at least one piece of writing on the go for publications like The New York Times, The Telegraph or American Vogue. I’m also usually reading 25 books at a time for work. I put my work away by 6pm.

Words are her tools: calligraphy is a potential Plan B

My most memorable moment…

Was interviewing Donald Trump in 2007. I asked him, “If no one was looking at you, do you think you’d still exist?” And he replied, “No.” I think about it all the time now.

The worst part of my job…

Is the fact that it is lots of different jobs in one.

The best part of my job…

Is feeling like you can spread the word about great books and promote diversity of taste.

After work…

I spend time with my daughters. I’ll make dinner, often salmon or risotto, and then I go out to see friends or drop by a book launch. I go to a spin class twice a week, too. It’s helpful for anxiety: it’s like therapy, but you don’t have to talk to anyone. I’m asleep by midnight.

My Plan B: Midwife

After I had my children, I had this fantasy of becoming a midwife for a while. Then it evolved into a fantasy of becoming a florist and a calligrapher – I thought I could deliver the children, send the flowers and write the cards.

Photography: Holly McGlynn


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Hannah Keegan

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