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A Bite of the Apple

A Life with Books, Writers and Virago

Lennie Goodings

Publication Date - 11 November 2022

ISBN: 9780198828747

336 pages
7.7 x 5.1 inches

In Stock


'The moment I got my job at Virago in 1978 I knew it would be a long time before I would leave. I certainly wouldn't have had the brazen hope then-only twenty-five and very recently new to Britain-that I would ever become the Publisher, but I did know that I had found my home: where books, ideas, politics, imagination, feminism, and business was the air we breathed . . .'

A Bite of the Apple is part-memoir, part history of Virago, and part thoughts on over forty years of feminist publishing. This is the story of how the authors and staff who, driven by passion, conviction and excitement, have made Virago Press one of the most important and influential English-language publishers in the world. Lennie Goodings has been with the iconic press founded by Carmen Callil almost since the start. First a publicist and then for over twenty years, publisher and editor, she has worked with extraordinary authors: Margaret Atwood, Marilynne Robinson, Sarah Waters, Linda Grant, Natasha Walter, Naomi Wolf and Maya Angelou among many others.

Virago has been a life-changer for Lennie Goodings - but certainly not only for her. Following the chronology of the press and the enormous breadth of the Virago titles published over these years, she sets her story in the context of feminism, and segues into thoughts on editing, post-feminism, reading, breaking boundaries, and the Virago Modern Classics. Virago lives within the tension between idealism and pragmatism; between sisterhood and celebrity; between watching feminism wax and wane at the same time as knowing so many of the battles are still to be won. This book is about how it felt to be there.

A Bite of the Apple is a celebration of writing, of publishing, and of reading.


  • A behind-the-scenes glimpse of the history and workings of Virago Press
  • Explores the idea of idealistic publishing via Virago's journey from its early days of independence, through its various commercial incarnations
  • Casts light on Virago and the feminist movement, but also on any small and passionate publishing enterprise

About the Author(s)

Lennie Goodings, Publisher, Virago Press

Lennie Goodings is Chair of the UK publishing house Virago Press. Her authors include, amongst many others, Margaret Atwood, Maya Angelou, Sarah Waters, Natasha Walter, Sandi Toksvig and Marilynne Robinson. Goodings was part of Virago's management buy-out team of five who created a newly independent Virago in 1987 and became the Publishing Director in 1992. In 1995 Virago was sold to Little, Brown where Goodings remained the Publisher and Editorial Director. She stepped back from that position in 2017 and became Virago Chair, still editing and commissioning her authors. Lennie Goodings won the Bookseller's Industry Award: Editor and Imprint of the Year in 2010 and A Lifetime's Achievement at WOW, London's Southbank Women of the World festival in 2018. Born in Canada, she came to London in her early twenties and has remained there since. She is married with two children.


"An immersive, lovingly written memoir, whose story resonates beyond publishing." -- Johanna Thomas-Corr, The Sunday Times

"An inspiring book." -- Sarah Baxter, The Sunday Times

"Pensive and surprisingly poignant...this book glows with the gratitude of doing [the work of an editor], and in doing so, finding oneself occupying a front seat to feminist history...It's a memoir that doesn't merely look backward, but in its form, in all its limitations, gestures at the work to be done. It's a memoir of a Virago reader." -- Parul Sehgal, New York Times

"Moving and hugely inspiring ... As a cultural history, A Bite of the Apple is clear. As a reminder of female artists' ongoing fight for space and respect, it's necessary. As a riff on writers and writing, it's essential." -- Bidisha, The Observer

"What Goodings is so good at drawing out are the interrelations between various social and political movements and their correlatives in publishing and literature. Not only does she recover Virago's story, but she loops in the narratives of various authors and movements, building up a rich and textured historical fabric ... An inspiring, entertaining and insightful read, full of the energy and fervour of hard-won wisdom." -- Seán Hewitt, The Irish Times

"This history has it all: boardroom wrangles, bestsellers, legendary authors ... fascinating stuff on the complex alchemy of talent, political fashion and marketability that propels certain authors forward at certain times, and the loving effort and attention involved in editing a manuscript." -- Melissa Benn, New Statesman

"What runs through A Bite of the Apple, unifying it and contributing to its charm, is the passion for books you'd expect, but also an impressive idealism about the ways in which the published word can change society and help readers to become the people they want to be." -- Mark Bostridge, The Spectator

"This little book is as candid and charming as its cover ... One of the most interesting chapters relates to the craft closest to editor Goodings' heart, the craft of editing and the complex relationship between editor and author." -- Jane Hailé, New York Journal of Books

"[Goodings'] thoughts on the great industry issues of the day are well worth reading." -- DJ Taylor, Literary Review

"A Bite of the Apple feels effortless, and so alive to the conversations about women's rights today ... [Goodings'] voice is engaging and full of warmth." -- Julie Vuong, BookBrunch

"Goodings' account of her life at the inkface vividly, and with immediacy, transports us from those poky London rooms where the mouse that roared was born, into the realpolitik of international publishing." -- The Sydney Morning Herald

"Consistently fascinating ... a book that shows how Virago transformed the world." -- Colin Oehring, The Saturday Paper

"Fascinating and beautifully written." -- Dan Carrier, Camden New Journal

"Informative, lively, reflective, and somehow a poignant mix of honest, generous, and forgiving." -- Simon, Shiny New Books

"All an apple should be: crisp, tart but sweet, steeped in mysterious history and tangled symbolism, and not a bad missile when it comes to alleyway combat. Oh, and delicious!" -- Margaret Atwood

"There is so very much to enjoy -and learn about- in this engaging book. We meet a young Lennie from Canada, in love with books, who lands a job at Virago and over the years survives and steers many of its changes to ensure its safety and vibrancy. Along the way, we track the changes in the publishing industry, feminist practice, and encounter the magnificence of Virago authors. A wonderful memoir and such a great read." -- Susie Orbach

"An indispensable piece of feminist history; nothing less than the exciting story of how women found their voice and made society listen. I enjoyed it hugely." -- Caroline Criado Perez

"Lively, frank, fascinating and above all, inspiring. A celebration of boldness: of wanting something better and making change happen." -- Sarah Waters

"Behind every great book there is a great editor. And behind every feminist press, a remarkable set of women. Lennie Goodings is one of both." -- Sarah Dunant

"A fascinating, charming and sometimes fierce, but always beguiling memoir... A celebration of the power of women supporting women." -- Kate Mosse

"Enthralling ...the best book I've read on publishing since Diana Athill's Stet." -- Caroline Sanderson, The Bookseller

Table of Contents

    Part One: A New Kind of Being
    1. First Bites: The early years
    2. Setting the world on fire
    3. The acceptable face of feminism? Why not!
    Part Two: The Books
    4. The Virago Modern Classics
    5. Fuck the Patriarchy!: Nonfiction
    6. What Stories Can Do: Fiction
    Part Three: The Politics: office and otherwise
    7. The Dramas
    8. Disrupting the old stories
    9. Beyond Borders
    10. Up, Down and Up Again
    Part Four: The Power to Publish is a Wonderful Thing
    11. The Intimacy of Editing
    12. Does any other successful publisher get asked constantly if they are still necessary?
    13. Why can't a man read like a woman?
    14. Giving and taking courage