Meet the team

Meet the team from Chicken House ...

Barry Cunningham, OBE
Publisher and Managing Director

Barry Cunningham has had an impressive career in publishing. After an English degree at Cambridge, he joined Penguin Books in 1977. As Children’s Marketing Director for Puffin, he worked with all the great names in children’s books including Roald Dahl and Spike Milligan, and was responsible for the re-launch of Beatrix Potter. In 1984 he was promoted to the Penguin Board and became responsible for the marketing of all Penguin Books, a position he held until 1988, when he was headhunted by Random House.

In 1994 he was approached by Bloomsbury to set up their first children’s book list. Not only was the new list a success, but Barry soon became one of the best known names in publishing after he signed up J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

‘If it wasn’t for Barry Cunningham, Harry Potter might still be languishing in his cupboard under the stairs … I doubt any of the writers with whom he has worked could be more grateful to him.’
J.K Rowling

Barry left Bloomsbury at the height of its success and, in early 2000, decided to start his own publishing company. The result was Chicken House, a lively and creative company publishing highly original and enjoyable children’s books, with a special emphasis on new fiction.

Rachel Hickman
Deputy Managing Director

Rachel Hickman has been with Chicken House since its inception. She has worked with Barry Cunningham for more than 15 years – forming a professional relationship that combines Barry’s boundless enthusiasm, entrepreneurial spirit and talent spotting ability with her own good strategic planning, lateral thinking, creative marketing and art management.

Rachel wanted to work in children’s books since joining the Puffin Club as a child. After a degree in English and Publishing at Oxford Brookes, she began a career that has now spanned 25 years. In 1987, Rachel Hickman was recruited by Barry Cunningham to work at Penguin Children’s Books where she was Publicity and Promotions Manager. In 1994, she left to head the children’s marketing department at Harper Collins Children’s Books. Throughout her career, Rachel has worked with the most famous names in children’s publishing including Roald Dahl, Dick King-Smith, Ursula Moray Williams, Roger McGough and Posy Simmonds.

She lives in the countryside in Hampshire with her husband and two children (plus the dog and horse!). Her first novel for children, One Silver Summer, will be published by Scholastic Inc. in 2016.

Elinor Bagenal
Rights Director

Elinor Bagenal has been with Chicken House since the very start.

Until recently, Elinor edited the picture book list while also selling licences for Chicken House titles all over the world. She is now focused on selling rights and working with our export sales customers.

Elinor first became involved with books when she needed a day job while trying to become a famous musician. She started her career at BBC Books before moving to Somerset to become Editorial Director at Mathew Price. Elinor later moved to America, working as a rights consultant for a variety of different publishers. Upon her return to the UK she met Barry Cunningham, and assisted him in setting up the Bloomsbury children’s list. When Barry founded Chicken House in 2000, Elinor moved with him and has been here ever since.

Rachel Leyshon
Editorial Director

Rachel Leyshon grew up in Northern Ireland and South Wales. She read English at the University of Birmingham and at the Open University, and began her career in publishing in 1994, shortly after graduating. Her first job was at a literary agency, though she went on to work as an editor of adult fiction and non-fiction, notably at Weidenfeld & Nicolson and Orion, before finding her natural home in children’s books at the Chicken House. Her authors have been translated into many languages and shortlisted for multiple awards, including the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize. In 2017 she won the Branford Boase, and was shortlisted for Editor of the Year at the British Book Awards.

Shalu Vallepur

Like many bibliophiles, Shalu found a home reading English literature at university. Never forgetting the magic of exploring new worlds in books as a child, she began to pursue a career in children’s publishing. Starting with writing and editing children’s non-fiction, she found a passion for editing fiction. Primarily a devourer of fantasy, sci-fi and spec fic, Shalu’s reading tastes have no boundaries and she adores everything from horror and heroes, to mythology and manga.

Having swapped Norfolk for Somerset, when she’s not reading she’ll be out hiking, practising yoga or indoors cooking up a feast and playing video games.

Esther Waller
Publishing Manager

After exhausting the children’s section of her local library, Esther’s main aim in pre-teen life was to sneak books from the YA section past her mum. Aged sixteen she spent a year in Romania, which led to a Romanian language course. Realizing that English was actually the language love of her life, she left to study English Literature at the University of Sussex. She interviewed a certain Barry Cunningham for a dissertation on children’s publishing.

Esther became an intern at Chicken House after graduation, which then turned into a proper job. After over a decade she is very happily institutionalized, now as Publishing Manager. She lives with her husband and three children.

Laura Myers
Publishing Manager

Laura Myers joined Chicken House as Publishing Manager in 2010. Having previously worked in Publicity, Sales and Marketing, she has found her home in the Production and Editorial department, where being a pedant is a good thing.

Graduating with a degree in Publishing, Laura always planned to work with children’s fiction, having never quite let go of children’s books as she grew up. Her reading tastes could be called eclectic, but perhaps are more accurately described as random and haphazard. Lover of fiction, fonts, cats and very specific music, Laura lives in Somerset with her husband, daughter and two cats with human names.

Jazz Bartlett Love
Head of Marketing

Jazz knew she wanted to work in publishing from the age of 15, when she realised that was as close as she would get to being a professional reader. After a degree in English Language she worked in production at Macmillan Children’s Books, before Chicken House gave in to her relentless badgering and offered her an interview.

She now looks after Chicken House’s sales, publicity and marketing strategy, spreading the word about our great books and getting them to as many young readers as possible. In 2021 she won a BMS Award for her work on Maz Evans’s Vi Spy: Licence to Chill.

Emily Groom-Collis
Publishing Assistant

Growing up in the middle of nowhere in Dorset, Emily was left with not much to do but stick her head into a book. Her long-lasting fondness for children’s classics such as Winnie the Pooh, The Wind in the Willows and The Secret Garden inspired her to pursue a career in children’s publishing. She joined the Chicken House team in 2022 and now works mainly to assist the sales and rights departments.

She spends her free time running, travelling and reading as much as she can, from historical fiction to contemporary romance or YA fantasy.


Ruth Hoey
Publicity & Marketing Assistant

Ruth has always had her nose stuck in a book and, whilst growing up on a farm in Northern Ireland, she was most likely to be found up a tree devouring every YA fantasy novel she could get her hands on. Now she reads anything and everything, from Elif Shafak to Jane Austen, but she still holds a special place in her heart for everything YA.

After moving to Cardiff to study Journalism, Media and English Literature, which allowed her to combine her love for all things bookish with her passion for creative media, Ruth then found her natural home as Publicity and Marketing Assistant here at Chicken House.