‘Reading Under Cover feels like eavesdropping on some of the most fascinating conversations in the history of Australian publishing.’
author of the night guest
‘Craig Munro has been a notable catalyst in the fermentation of Australia’s literary culture for over four decades. Under Cover is an enchanting celebration of the rollicking 1970s and 1980s, when Australian writers really hit their straps, and dedicated publishing people, such as Craig, were their exuberant accomplices.’
Craig Munro began his blue-pencil adventures at the University of Queensland Press in 1971. Over the next thirty years, he became friend, counsellor, and occasionally foil to some of the country’s leading authors. Championing the early works of Peter Carey, right up to the Booker–winning True History of the Kelly Gang, Craig also edited David Malouf’s first novel, Johnno. He was teased by Murray Bail’s tantalising mind games, discovered a passion for the fiction of Barbara Hanrahan and Olga Masters, become firm friends with Gerard Lee, and helped create UQP’s acclaimed Indigenous list. His non-fiction authors included former war correspondent Hugh Lunn.
Blending book history with memoir, Under Cover explores the invisible art of editing from an insider’s perspective. Told with warmth and humour, it is a wise, entertaining tour of three audacious, intoxicating, and ultimately inspiring decades of publishing mayhem.
Craig Munro is an award-winning biographer, and the founding chair of the Queensland Writers Centre. As the inaugural fiction editor at the University of Queensland Press, and later as publishing manager, he worked with many emerging writers who have since become celebrated authors. Craig won the Barbara Ramsden Award for editing in 1985, and studied book publishing in Canada and the United States on a Churchill Fellowship in 1991. His previous books include Wild Man of Letters: the story of P.R. Stephensen and Paper Empires: a history of the book in Australia, 1946–2005 (co-edited with Robyn Sheahan- Bright). Since 2012 he has been a judge of the Miles Franklin Literary Award.
I arranged to meet Peter Carey after lunch one day at his advertising agency in Melbourne: a converted warehouse in Erskine Street, Middle Park.Read More
I travelled southeast from Adelaide for a couple of hours... When the lake came into view, it was vast and forbidding, with a raw wind blasting up from the Southern Ocean.Read More
At the 1976 Adelaide Writers’ Week, I found myself billeted with a poet... Right from the beginning, the festival was a long series of maladies and misadventures.Read More
At the 1976 Adelaide Writers’ Week, I found myself billeted with a poet — just like Xavier Herbert in 1962. Although I didn’t throw any punches, my week in the city of churches was also memorable. Right from the beginning, the festival was a long series of maladies and misadventures. Geoffrey Dutton, chair of the Writers’ Week committee, sets the scene with this description from his autobiography:
[That] Writers’ Week involved some desperate dramas about visitors from overseas. Alberto Moravia, James Baldwin, Erica Jong, Kurt Vonnegut and several others had accepted invitations but in the last few weeks they began to drop out. The Festival Director had actually been to Baldwin’s house in the South of France and given him his air ticket to Adelaide, but a week before the Festival a cable arrived to say he could not come. Kurt Vonnegut rang me from New York and said his literary agent had just got him a contract so valuable he had to begin work immediately. Moravia cabled from North Africa to say he had pleurisy.
I had made a last-minute decision to attend the festival — an event that took over the city every two years — and could not find accommodation anywhere. My colleague Roger McDonald suggested I contact his friend, poet and literary academic Andrew Taylor, who could usually be relied upon to find room in his North Adelaide cottage.
Andrew agreed on the phone, and yet, arriving at his tiny cottage, I was shocked to find every room infested with poets. There were so many that Les Murray was sharing a shed in the backyard with another poet from Sydney. Andrew met me at the door, looking distracted and frazzled. He could only find one piece of vacant floor space on which I could doss down, and that was under his kitchen table.
It was a typically hot March in Adelaide, and with such close quarters, tensions were bound to emerge. After the first night, Les’s roommate announced that he couldn’t stand the ‘belching and farting’ any longer and was returning to Sydney. ‘Fuck the festival!’ were his parting words. Among the poets of all persuasions suddenly thrown together in Andrew’s house, I began to sense subterranean currents. As a young publisher in their midst, I also found myself being courted. One tall, Hawaiian-shirted versifier shared with me his radical plans for spelling reform, while another serenaded us with bloodthirsty stanzas from ancient Norse sagas.
What happened next took us all by surprise, as first one and then another of the poets came down with dysentery. Within hours, the whole overcrowded household — with the exception of Andrew and Les — was beating a path to the dunny. It was a very old stone house, built low to the ground in the characteristic Adelaide fashion, and the plumbing proved to be equally venerable. Without warning, the drainage pipes suffered a terminal hardening of the arteries. On the morning the toilet blocked (embarrassingly, I was the last to use it), the ever-patient Andrew finally cracked. Calling everyone to a meeting in his kitchen — where I was lying under the table, unable to move — he let us know that we were to vacate the house for two hours, between 12.30 and 2.30, that day. We did just that, despite our collective infirmity, and without knowing the reason for our banishment.
Not long after my meeting with the Bicentennial Indigenous director, I went to Adelaide for the 1988 Writers’ Week, where we were launching the hardback edition of Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda. I also wanted to visit the Ngarrindjeri community at Raukkan, on Lake Alexandrina, near the mouth of the Murray River. I knew how important it would be to consult with David Unaipon’s community and to ask for their permission to name our new award after this pioneering Aboriginal author.
The original Point McLeay Mission had been established at Raukkan in 1859 by the Aborigines’ Friends Association as a refuge for the Ngarrindjeri people of the Lower Lakes and Coorong. However, the land set aside for the mission was not suitable for agriculture, and land clearing by neighbouring farmers severely depleted the hunting and fishing grounds of the Ngarrindjeri. During World War I, the South Australian government took over the mission and ran it as a reserve for sixty years before finally handing it back to the Ngarrindjeri people, who renamed their community ‘Raukkan’ in 1982.
In a rented Toyota Camry, I travelled southeast from Adelaide for a couple of hours to reach the tiny settlement, the last fifty kilometres on powdery gravel roads. My sense of time, and even identity, became strangely disoriented as I drove along the sinuous road through dry, featureless grassland sweeping away to the horizon in every direction. Compared to the city of churches and boulevards I had just left behind, it seemed as remote as the high prairies of Montana. When the lake came into view, it was vast and forbidding, with a raw wind blasting up from the Southern Ocean over the adjacent Coorong — the setting for the film Storm Boy, starring David Gulpilil.
At Raukkan, I met the hospitable Henry and Jean Rankine, my contacts on the community council. Henry and Jean had called the council together in the community’s meeting room, and I spoke of UQP’s vision for the award and outlined the potential benefits for Aboriginal writers and readers. There was discussion about the key provision — guaranteed publication for each year’s winner — and the Elders were unanimous in wanting David Unaipon’s name and his community honoured in this way.
One of nine children of James Ngunaitponi and his wife, Nymbulda, David was born in 1872 at what was then a mission beside the lake. His father had lost an eye in a spear fight on the lower Murray River before converting to Christianity in 1861. James had been one of the first Ngarrindjeri to read and write English, and was instrumental in translating the Gospels into his own language.
David attended the Point McLeay Mission school before working in Adelaide, where his employer encouraged his interest in literature, philosophy, science, and music. Fastidious of speech and an evangelist like his father, David believed in the equivalence of Aboriginal and Christian spirituality, and relished the rich literary style of John Milton and John Bunyan. He was also an inventor. With the help of South Australia’s former Protector of Aborigines, he patented the first modern handpiece for sheep shearing in 1909.
In the mid 1920s, David travelled throughout southern Australia, compiling an extensive volume of Aboriginal legends. These came into the possession of unscrupulous anthropologist William Ramsay Smith, who edited and published them under his own name in 1930 as Myths and Legends of the Australian Aboriginals.
Before leaving the Raukkan community that day, I had my photo taken with Henry and Jean’s extended family, and afterwards threw a football around with one of the boys they’d brought down from a remote northern area of the state where petrol-sniffing was endemic. Henry showed me David Unaipon’s grave, in a cemetery buffeted by the ceaseless wind off the lake. There was no special headstone or memorial — just his name marking the place where his questing spirit had returned to Country. Yet it was very apparent to me that Unaipon’s legacy of cultural achievement had for generations shaped this small, proud community, still clinging tenaciously to the wild southern edge of the continent.
I arranged to meet Peter Carey after lunch one day at his advertising agency in Melbourne: a converted warehouse in Erskine Street, Middle Park, not far from picturesque Albert Park. I had not met Peter, although I was editing his first book, The Fat Man in History. It was 1974, and UQP was developing an ambitious series of recorded interviews with Australian writers. For our taped conversation, Peter ushered me into the agency’s boardroom, and we sat on either side of the conference table, the broadcast-quality tape recorder between us. I liked Peter immediately. He was seven years older than I was — which seemed a lot to me then, at twenty-three. Already a successful young creative director, he possessed an appealing sense of humour that was also sharp and iconoclastic. His clothes seemed to pay homage to Che Guevara, while his shoulder-length hair was as disordered as a rock guitarist’s. Only his round, horn-rimmed glasses looked in any way literary.
For maybe an hour, Peter discussed with me what writing meant to him. His rapid-fire wit and teasing sarcasm were spiked with a sharply intelligent appreciation of art, films, and books. I wondered if he had learned to survive on his wits among the future captains of industry during his many years of schooling at Geelong Grammar.
Thinking our interview was perfect for the Writers on Tape series, I switched off the recording lever with a satisfying clunk. It seemed like a good time to check on the quality, and I rewound the tape. Pressing play, I waited for the interview to start. But no sound came out of the speaker. As Peter and I continued to stare at the spools, slowly revolving in silence, it became clear there was nothing at all on the tape.
Speechless, I met Peter’s eyes across the table with a mixture of embarrassment and disbelief. Fortunately, he wasn’t fazed, and we retreated upstairs to a large kitchen with a view over the surrounding roofs and backyards. A battered old Frigidaire, full of beer, stood in one corner, so we sampled its contents and got the tape recorder going again. This time around we tested the equipment at the start, rather than the end. And this time it captured every word.
This second ‘interview’ seemed to go on for hours. The tape was on big spools, and we used up both tracks. With each tall bottle of Melbourne Bitter we consumed, my impertinent questions became more and more slurred and less and less pertinent. Peter, though, responded to my trite questions with impassioned and anarchic eloquence.
It was his birthday that day: 7 May. As the afternoon advanced, his voice took on a more astringent and assertive tone: ‘There are no simple answers for someone in my position, now, as I stand, at thirty-one years old today, who at nineteen years of age went into advertising with fuck-all political education — no reading, no nothing.’
Finally I got around to asking him about the literary scene in Australia.
‘There are a few people in this country that do things,’ he conceded, ‘but, Jesus, the competition is hardly intense.’ The one writer he singled out was Frank Moorhouse: ‘I’ve really got a lot of respect for that guy.’
On my return to Brisbane, I handed the tape player back to the audio-visual editor who just chuckled. He took my word for it that the long interview Peter and I had recorded would not be suitable for the Writers on Tape series.
If not for my technical incompetence, maybe we’d have ended up with little more than a conventional interview. Instead, my faux pas brought about a memorable encounter and a lasting friendship.
"I hope that people read Under Cover as Munro is good company and I can see why his writers liked him. I hope aspiring writers read him so that they can understand what an editor is and why you do really truly need one."
"This is a charming breeze of a book... It's a precious instance of what we get so little: a precise sense of the riches of our cultural past."
"... Taking cues from the zeitgeist, independent publishing houses certainly needed editors who believed they were engaged in a shared cultural adventure, and Craig Munro was definitely one of those."
The Sydney Morning Herald
"[Munro] swiftly carved a niche for himself as an editor of fiction. Along with future novelist Roger McDonald, the founding editor of UQP’s poetry list, Craig Munro made something remarkable out of this sociocultural sweet spot."
Last night I read Craig Munro’s fascinating new memoir Under Cover: Adventures in the Art of Editing
The book is an account of a career that began in early 1970s and saw Munro edit some of this nation’s finest writers. It offers its readers a glimpse into the complicated relationships writers and editors share. It is also an account of a golden time in Australia’s publishing history and of what this market has become. It is a book about the books produced by University of Queensland Press over many years – the ones that sold and those that needed to be published no matter their sales potential.
I enjoyed reading Munro’s accounts of his friendships with writers including Peter Carey, Hugh Lunn, Frank Moorhouse, David Marr and so many others. But as someone who has only lived in Australia for a very few years, what I really loved about the book was the way it creates a history of a time in publishing here in Australia. It explains who the players were and what they were doing – be it jousting for rights, watching the multi-nationals enter the market, suffering the defection of writers but above all it is an account of the books that were being published by UQP.
What surprised me most about the book was the place occupied by Adelaide Writers’ Week. Yet when reading this book I felt unsettled, like someone had told a story about a friend that I couldn’t quite understand, a story that I had never thought to ask about, and one which I wasn’t really sure I wanted to know. The Adelaide Writers’ Week in Munro’s book is nothing like the event I know. But then I arrived as the parties were ending, and until reading Under Cover I discover I didn’t really know what that meant.
A number of literary festivals pop up in this book, most frequently Adelaide and Brisbane, and when recounting his memories of these events Munro’s stories are private, they are about meeting writers, having drinks, negotiating stage fright, sharing stories, celebrating books, awards, careers and the simple act of endurance in an age seemingly indifferent to small publishing in faraway places. There is, in these encounters, an intimacy that surprises me.
I now see why my sense that the event could evolve was met with anxiety and some hostility. I sort of understand why everyone lamented the loss of the parties. I almost understand the sadness in the faces of the old guard as the white tents came down.
I often describe Adelaide Writers’ Week as a party. One that starts at about 9am and finishes up a bit after 6pm. It’s a garden party, and while there are always a lot of people about, it never feels too crowded. The kids get a bit loud, but come Monday order is restored.
You can get a bite to eat and there is plenty of coffee, but what everyone comes for is the conversation. On stage and off, the event is a celebration of books and ideas, often unexpected. Every year you will see some familiar faces, some new ones, and increasingly young ones. Almost everyone there is carrying a book and we are all readers.
I hope that people read Under Cover as Munro is good company and I can see why his writers liked him. I hope aspiring writers read him so that they can understand what an editor his and why you do really truly need one. I know that those who love books about books will enjoy this book as it is just that. I also hope that those who shared the journey enjoy the memories.
Laura Kroetsch Adelaide Festival
‘Most writers are in a state of gloom a good deal of the time; they need perpetual reassurance … What are we editors supposed to be – ghost writers, bankers, psychiatrists, income-tax experts, magicians?’
‘The fiction editors were arrogant and stupid enough to think themselves superior to their readers. You could only supply them with what they wished by thinking badly of human beings.’
As a very young fiction editor at the University of Queensland Press, I phoned Peter Carey in 1973 after reading one of his stories in a magazine. By then he had published a handful of short stories in Australian journals.
I had been given two phone numbers and finally tracked him down at SPASM advertising in inner Melbourne. Initially he seemed suspicious on the phone, but back then I knew nothing about his ten-year struggle to find a publisher for his edgy and challenging fiction. Somehow I managed to convince him of my interest and he promised to send up some stories.
Within a week I received a brown paper parcel containing the typescripts of eighteen stories. As I unwrapped and read them one by one, the thrill of discovery was intense. I encountered story after story of astonishing originality and imaginative power. Here was every fiction editor’s dream: a young, as yet unknown writer of prodigious talent.
I swiftly selected a dozen possible stories for the volume, put them in order, and then suggested that ‘The Fat Man in History’ would make a strong book title. For the book’s cover I found a chilling Jeffrey Smart painting, Cahill Expressway, at the National Gallery of Victoria. Peter knew and admired this painting, telling me: ‘That’s exactly how I’d like to write.’
A world rights agreement was signed for the book in early December, and I reported to the UQP Publications Committee that ‘Carey is undoubtedly one of the best short story writers in Australia at present – I would venture to say the best.’
A few weeks later I sent Peter the edited manuscript and page proofs of The Fat Man in History, asking for them to be read and returned within ten days. It took a week longer because Peter paid a “reliable friend” to read the pages against the MS before he read them again himself ‘for sense’.
Peter was the perfect author to deal with, I discovered, and I learned a lot from him. As well as being wryly amusing, his letters were always helpful and informative. His advertising background meant he took a special interest in his book’s cover and blurb, recommending I gather ‘a few nice words about the stories’ from other writers.
My intro to the blurb was brief:
This brilliant collection of stories is delightful, bizarre and immensely relevant. The characters are real – fantastically real – and they strip back reality and find it stuffed with menace and a weird kind of hope.
This was followed by a Barry Oakley quote:
Peter Carey is a maker of myths, a fabulist, a creator of compelling imaginative worlds … one of the most original writers in Australian fiction today.
And a witty one from Frank Moorhouse:
For some time now there has been a vacancy in the Sophisticated Fantasy Section of the Short Story Industry. It is my pleasure to announce that Peter Carey, 30, of has been appointed to fill the position. He will also do allegories, fables and astonishing tricks. He writes an intelligent, sizzling and rapid narrative … I commend his work to you with great enthusiasm.
In conclusion was a quote from Carey himself:
Sometimes I find myself visiting places I don’t really want to visit. I finished ‘Peeling’ at 3 a.m. It made me a little ill. I woke my wife to read her the story. She said, ‘I hope your mother never reads this.’
By mid 1974 Peter had moved to Sydney to work for Grey Advertising, living for a while in Wharf Road, Balmain. In August I sent him an advance copy of the $1.95 paperback edition, Literature Board subsidies having halved the production cost. The $4 hardback edition, with its wider page margins, took longer to bind in sewn sections. The book was published later that month in a simultaneous edition of 800 hardbacks and 1700 paperbacks.
The pre-Christmas sales were strong and continued unabated. Extraordinarily, for a slim volume of stories by a new writer, The Fat Man in History was reprinted within a year, and the collection became a cult classic, with copies of the original hardback edition now fetching as much as $2000 each.
Peter’s novels – until 2002 published by UQP – went on to win every major literary award in Australia as well as two Booker Prizes in the UK.
‘All my writing is about human behaviour. There’s not much drama and no violence. It’s about the violence that’s inside the human heart.’
In 1980 I judged a South Pacific story competition. The prize was shared by two writers, including Olga Masters – a woman in her sixties. As with Peter Carey, I asked Olga for more stories. When these turned up in my letterbox I put aside my other reading and became engrossed in Olga’s compelling world of strays, waifs, and other battlers.
Her competition-winning story, ‘The Rages of Mrs Torrens’, about a woman’s reaction to the mutilation of her husband’s hand in a mill accident, was included – but so were others of equal power.
A week later, I sent Olga’s story manuscript to UQP’s fiction editor, D’Arcy Randall, with a reader’s report hailing Masters as a new writer, ‘but one whose powerful stories will soon make her well known’.
In 1982, UQP published the collection under the title I suggested, The Home Girls. Margaret Whitlam launched it in style at the Seymour Centre in Sydney, and the book was warmly received by reviewers. ‘It is rare,’ wrote Mary Lord, ‘to find a new author so much in charge of the art that disguises art.’ The Home Girls went on to win the prestigious National Book Council Award.
I’d known very little about Olga’s own story when recommending her collection to UQP. Only later did I discover that she had grown up in poverty on the south coast of New South Wales. Her first job was with The Cobargo Chronicle, whose editor had encouraged her writing. She’d first written fiction in the 1930s, aged just fifteen, making her more precocious even than Peter Carey.
Married at twenty-one to a schoolteacher, Olga raised a family of seven children, continuing to work part-time as a journalist. Her equally talented children include writer and investigative reporter Chris Masters, and television producer Sue Masters.
All of Olga’s books were published by UQP, most edited by D’Arcy Randall who also worked closely with Elizabeth Jolley, Thea Astley and Kate Grenville. In Island magazine several years later, D’Arcy wrote that Olga was an ‘easy’ author to work with.
‘Her writing, on the other hand, was difficult to edit,’ comments D’Arcy. ‘Her copy was technically rough, full of awkward syntax and haphazard punctuation … We spoke on the phone frequently, so I could test out the editing of difficult sections with her.’
UQP editorial staff always formed close working relationships with authors, and we all became part of Olga’s extended family.
Sadly, Olga didn’t quite achieve her plan to write a book for each of her children. When she died of a brain tumour in September 1986, she was writing her fifth work of fiction — another collection of stories. The Rose Fancier was published posthumously, and was a labour of love for her editor, D’Arcy Randall.
Two years after her writing career was cut short, Olga began to achieve an international reputation, with The Home Girls translated into Italian and published by Feltrinelli in Milan, a leading literary house whose founder had funded the radical Red Brigades until he was blown up by a car bomb.
Then, after years of persistent effort on the part of D’Arcy and UQP’s New York agents, the prestigious publisher Norton agreed to take on several of Olga’s titles for the US market, beginning with Amy’s Children. She had only just completed this powerful autobiographical novel at the time of her death.
These attractive US editions brought Olga many new readers, as well as appreciative reviews in North America. As advance copies of each book arrived in Brisbane, it was a delight to see the quality of American hardback novel production, with lovely paper and binding, and the characteristically uneven deckle-edged pages.
Several of Olga’s books are now available as UQP editions and in the popular Text Classics series of inexpensive paperbacks.
‘Memory, like all forms of autobiography, is a work of fiction. Our lives, even our past lives, remain works in progress, subject to the editorial process.’
In the spring of 1993, I sat down beside my writer friend Geoffrey Dutton on the terrace of his Glasshouse Mountains retreat. I’d brought with me from Brisbane the edited manuscript of his 500-page autobiography, to be released by UQP the following year. As his editor and publisher, I wanted Out in the Open to make its way in the world with the sort of confidence and dash Geoff himself invariably exhibited.
Reading his MS for the first time some months before, I’d been struck by the opening sentence: ‘I was born in a house of books.’ Over several generations, Geoff’s wealthy family had inhabited the South Australian country mansion Anlaby, filling its grand library with many thousands of books.
‘My father was a collector, my mother an omnivorous reader,’ Geoff recalled. His mother’s Edwardian tastes ran to history and biography. There were no modern novels and hardly any Australian books. At age nine, Geoff had been packed off to board at Geelong Grammar while his mother travelled abroad to enjoy a flirtation with the European aristocracy.
This privileged milieu of the landed gentry was something he shared with his longtime friend, the patrician Patrick White. Their first books were slim volumes of poetry and they later championed the Republican cause, Geoff with great enthusiasm. White had been Cambridge educated; Dutton’s finishing school was Oxford where C.S. Lewis was his tutor.
Like Geoff Dutton, my father had been a flier during the war and I became acquainted with Geoff and his multi-faceted literary career during the 1980s. After he and his wife Robin Lucas moved from Mudgee to Queensland’s Sunshine Coast hinterland I got to know them well and enjoyed their company, visiting them several times at their architect-designed house at the foot of spectacular Mt Coonowrin.
Working with Geoff on his autobiographical MS that perfect spring day in 1993, I spent hours – interrupted briefly by lunch – turning over the pages one by one and discussing with him every pencilled query or suggestion of mine. The hardest part I saved till last – encouraging him to include an account of his long first marriage to Ninette Dutton.
I warned him that the frank revelations of his various affairs only highlighted her absence, something readers and reviewers would be certain to criticise. Which was exactly what happened. (White’s biographer David Marr, a friend of Ninette’s, even challenged Geoff about it during a radio interview.)
Editors need tact as well as patience, and not every impasse can be bridged. After I’d cooled off with a swim in their pool, Robin quietly took me aside.
‘Geoff can’t write about Ninette,’ she told me. ‘Even after all these years, he finds it difficult to think about her, and he just can’t face writing openly about their marriage.’
Monthly Q&A: Craig Munro
Interviewed by Sally Holdsworth
Craig Munro is an award-winning biographer and editor. He was the inaugural fiction editor, and later publishing manager, at the University of Queensland Press. He tells his editing adventures, with many of Australia’s best writers, in his new memoir Under Cover, reviewed here by Susan Pierotti.
What has been your biggest editing challenge to date, and why?
A decade ago I co-edited Paper Empires: A History of the Book in Australia 1946–2005 with Robyn Sheahan-Bright, and also wrote a couple of chapters. After assembling our draft manuscript, we realised it was 50,000 words over-length. As there were more than 60 contributors, one solution was to simply delete whole sections. Instead I wielded my blue pencil through everything, reducing some contributions by up to 50 per cent. This took many weeks of patient editing to condense and tighten the text. The University of Queensland Press then conspired, along with their experienced editor Felicity McKenzie and freelance indexer Kerry Biram, to publish Paper Empires as both a beautiful, well-bound hardback and as a sewn-section paperback.
How has the way you approach editing changed over the years? Do you think the editing profession is easier now or tougher – why?
Fact checking is much easier and quicker now online, while navigating or searching a digital file speeds up editing, as does the wonderful Word Count button and so many other features of Microsoft Word. Because most of my active copyediting was in the pre-computer era, I still prefer a hardcopy pencil edit and have never been comfortable with Track Changes. As a compromise, my indulgent Under Cover editor at Scribe, Julia Carlomagno, allowed me to use -strike-through-, square brackets and coloured text: blue for Julia’s suggestions; green for my revisions.
I find it difficult to generalise about our profession because in earlier decades we were largely invisible. Today’s editors are better trained, more sophisticated and savvy than when I was an apprentice wordsmith.
Is there a genre of books that you particularly enjoy editing? Authors with whom you have found a special affinity?
Memoir is one genre I’ve always enjoyed reading as well as editing, and I worked closely with Hugh Lunn on his autobiographical trilogy, beginning with his childhood memoir Over the Top with Jim and ending with Spies Like Us. Hugh’s wife, Helen Dash, is also an editor and they’re both good friends of mine, so working on Hugh’s books has always been both personally and professionally rewarding. Memoir should, above all, be entertaining, and we three former journos have laughed a lot together over the years. Hugh also made a funny speech at the launch of my own memoir Under Cover, which has a chapter on our decades-long editing relationship.
Do digital and print books each serve a different purpose or audience? And do you think these formats influence the way authors write and editors edit?
All books are now produced digitally. Some are then read on paper, some on electronic ‘paper’ (Kindle) and others on an endless array of backlit screens. Paper books may well be encoded somewhere deep in our cultural DNA because they’ve been around for at least two millennia. For travel, the Kindle is light and frugal in battery use. Although I still have some audio books on vinyl, I no longer have a record player, so rely on a variety of online sources, including Audible, for the childish pleasure of being read to. The primary platform for launching and promoting literary fiction and nonfiction, however, remains the paper book, and most other formats and adaptations (including film) hang off that.
Does the growth in self-publishing offer any particular opportunities or challenges for editors?
In New York recently I visited a bookstore with a Book Expresso machine that would print a book while you waited – either your own or one downloaded from an internet library or warehouse. Like a literary Tardis, this ingenious machine sat beside the store’s café so customers could enjoy a coffee while it spat out their customised paperback. Such instant gratification is illusory. Experienced authors and their editors know that professionally crafted books take years – not hours – to research, write, edit, redraft and finally publish. Unfortunately, faced with ever faster technology, the temptation has never been stronger to shortcut this labour-intensive and collaborative process. Close reading of drafts, for example, takes weeks and cannot be compressed because a really good editor is the most valuable reader an author will ever have.
Can you identify the one important quality an editor MUST have and why?
Enjoyment of reading is paramount. The other skills can be acquired with experience and with exposure to a range of authors and manuscript drafts at various stages of development. When an editor is temperamentally in tune with an author, both will learn from each other in a highly satisfying exchange. Early on, I learned that it was as important to get to know an author as it was to identify the potential strengths and weaknesses of their manuscript.
What advice would you give a young editor?
Pay attention first of all to an author’s personality and ambitions for their work in the light of any previous publications. Then, assess – for consistency and impact – the overall chapter structure and narrative strategy deployed in the manuscript. Finally, strive for the clarity, originality and elegance of every paragraph, sentence and even phrase, because they are all necessary for a book’s heart to beat true and strong.
Finally, what is the most joyful part of being an editor?
Holding an advance copy for the first time, turning it over, scanning the cover and blurb the way a bookshop customer might, before feeling its newborn weight and freshly minted identity – this living thing ready and eager to make its own way in the world of words.
1852 George Robertson of Melbourne establishes a bookshop, publishing 600 titles over the next 40 years.
1859 William Charles Rigby establishes a bookselling (and occasional publishing) business in Adelaide which becomes a major publisher 100 years later, before disappearing inside the Reed empire in the 1980s.
1870–72 Marcus Clarke’s For the Term of His Natural Life serialized in the Australian Journal.
1880 Rosa Praed’s An Australian Heroine published in London.
1882–83 Rolf Boldrewood’s Robbery Under Arms serialized in the Sydney Mail.
1886 Angus & Robertson (A&R) bookshop established in Sydney.
1887 Berne Convention on international copyright ratified.
1888 John Inglis Lothian begins bookselling (and later publishing) in Melbourne. This venerable family firm was finally sold to Time Warner in 2006.
1890 Catherine Martin’s An Australian Girl published in London.
1896 A&R publish Henry Lawson’s While the Billy Boils (after Banjo Paterson’s bestseller The Man from Snowy River in 1895).
1899 AG Stephens at Bulletin publishes Steele Rudd’s bestseller On Our Selection.
1901 Miles Franklin’s My Brilliant Career published in Edinburgh.
1903 AG Stephens at Bulletin publishes Joseph Furphy’s Such is Life.
1904 AC Rowlandson establishes the NSW Bookstall paperback series, selling five million copies over the next two decades.
1905 English Copyright Act adopted as the Australian Copyright Act.
1908 Henry Handel Richardson’s Maurice Guest published by Heinemann in London, followed in 1910 by The Getting of Wisdom.
1914 George Allen & Unwin established in London.
1915 Katharine Susannah Prichard’s The Pioneers published in London, winning first Australian prize in the ‘All-British’ novel competition.
1922 Melbourne University Press established.
1925 Geoffrey Faber, a British academic and poet, establishes Faber & Gwyer in London, with TS Eliot as literary adviser. The firm becomes Faber & Faber in 1929, the second ‘Faber’ being fabricated.
1928 Fellowship of Australian Writers established.
1932 Eleanor Dark’s Slow Dawning published in London.
Endeavour Press, with Bulletin Co. backing, established in Sydney by PR Stephensen and Norman Lindsay.
1934 Christina Stead’s The Salzburg Tales and Seven Poor Men of Sydney published in London.
1935 First Penguin paperbacks published by the Bodley Head in London, with Penguin Books Ltd established the following year by Allen, Richard and John Lane.
1938 Xavier Herbert’s Capricornia, published by PR Stephensen, wins the Sesqui- centenary novel competition.
1939 Patrick White’s first novel, Happy Valley, published in London and later suppressed by the author.
Faber publish TS Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, later adapted as the musical Cats, greatly boosting the company’s fortunes.
1939–45 Wartime paper shortage and reduced book imports lead to a local publishing boom in Australia.
1943 Peter Carey born in Bacchus Marsh, Victoria.
1944 Pan paperbacks established in London.
1946 Penguin establish a Melbourne office and warehouse, publishing their first Australian titles in 1963.
1948 Heinemann establish a Melbourne office (with warehouse in 1952).
Australian Book Publishers Association (ABPA) established.
University of Queensland Press (UQP) established, but without full-time publishing staff until 1961.
1949–56 George Ferguson (A&R publisher) is ABPA president.
1954 Bookseller Brian Clouston establishes Jacaranda Press in Brisbane.
1955 Australian publishers attend Frankfurt Book Fair for the first time.
1957 Ure Smith in Sydney publish Nino Culotta’s bestseller They’re a Weird Mob.
Patrick White wins the inaugural Miles Franklin Award for Voss.
1960 UK censorship case to challenge the 30-year ban on Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
Lloyd O’Neil, formerly of Jacaranda Press, establishes Lansdowne Press.
Australian government removes duty on book imports from US.
1961 Over 40% of UK book output exported, Australia taking a quarter of these.
Frank Thompson appointed UQP manager and begins publishing plays.
Ann Lahey appointed UQP’s first editor.
1963 Sydney University Press established (sold to Oxford University Press in 1989).
Australian Society of Authors established.
1964 Thomas Nelson (UK) establish an Australian publishing office.
1965 Macmillan (UK) establish an Australian publishing office.
Sun Books established by Brian Stonier with Geoff Dutton and Max Harris.
1966 ANU Press established in Canberra (later sold to Pergamon).
1968 UQP publish first volume of original verse, Citizens of Mist by Roger McDonald (UQP poetry editor from 1969).
UQP begin republishing Steele Rudd’s works.
1970 UQP launch the dollar-a-copy Paperback Poets series.
Australian entrepreneur Gordon Barton buys A&R.
1971–72 Frank Thompson (UQP) is ABPA president.
1972 UQP publish first books of original fiction and launch the Asian and Pacific Writing series under Michael Wilding’s general editorship.
Society of Editors established in Victoria.
Sonny Mehta launches UK paperback imprint Picador.
1973 Outback Press established in Melbourne by Fred Milgrom and Morry Schwartz who was to launch Black Inc and Schwartz Publishing in the late 1990s.
Literature Board of the Australia Council established.
Patrick White wins Australia’s only Nobel Prize for Literature.
1974 Wild & Woolley established in Sydney by Michael Wilding and Pat Woolley.
Peter Carey’s first book, the story collection The Fat Man in History, published by UQP to considerable acclaim, becoming a cult classic.
1975 David Malouf’s first novel Johnno and Murray Bail’s collection Contemporary Portraits (later retitled The Drover’s Wife) published by UQP.
McPhee Gribble founded in Melbourne by Hilary McPhee and Diana Gribble.
1976 Elizabeth Jolley’s first book, the story collection Five Acre Virgin, published by the newly established Fremantle Arts Centre Press.
Henry Rosenbloom founds Scribe Publications in Melbourne.
US begins to dismantle the Traditional Market Agreement, thereby allowing Australian publishers to buy US rights directly rather than being locked out by the UK’s traditional Commonwealth rights monopoly.
1977 Allen & Unwin Australia established in Sydney (Australian owned from 1990).
Hale & Iremonger established in Sydney by Sylvia Hale and John Iremonger.
Helen Garner’s novel Monkey Grip published by McPhee Gribble.
1978 Barbara Harrahan’s first UQP novel, Where the Queens All Strayed, published.
Gerard Lee’s collection Pieces for a Glass Piano published by UQP.
Hugh Lunn’s bestseller Joh: The Life and Political Adventures of Johannes Bjelke-Petersen published by UQP.
1979 Peter Carey’s second collection, War Crimes, published by UQP, winning the NSW Premier’s Award for fiction.
Roger McDonald’s bestselling Gallipoli novel 1915 published by UQP.
UQP’s Contemporary Russian Writing series established.
1980 A hardback selection of stories from Peter Carey’s two UQP collections published in UK by Faber and in US by Random House under the confusing title The Fat Man in History, reissued in paperback 1981 by Picador as Exotic Pleasures.
1981 Rupert Murdoch buys A&R which becomes part of News Corporation’s HarperCollins in 1989–90.
Peter Carey’s novel Bliss published by UQP and by Faber in UK, winning the Miles Franklin and other awards. Picador publishes paperback edition.
Gerard Lee’s novel True Love and How to Get It published by UQP.
1982 Olga Masters’ first story collection The Home Girls published by UQP, winning the National Book Council Award.
1983 Elizabeth Jolley’s novel Miss Peabody’s Inheritance published by UQP.
Laurie Muller, formerly with Lansdowne Press, appointed UQP manager.
1984 Kate Grenville’s first book, the story collection Bearded Ladies, published by UQP along with Olga Masters’ first novel Loving Daughters.
Helen Garner’s novel The Children’s Bach published by McPhee Gribble/Penguin Books Australia.
Penguin Australia begin distributing UQP books.
1985 Peter Carey’s Illywhacker published by UQP and by Faber and Harper & Row, winning the Age Book of the Year and NBC as well as other awards. Shortlisted for the Booker Prize.
Olga Masters’ A Long Time Dying published by UQP.
Hugh Lunn’s first memoir Vietnam: A Reporter’s War published by UQP, winning the Age Non-fiction Book of the Year.
1986 Bliss the film released, winning for Peter Carey and Ray Lawrence the AFI Award for adapted screenplay. Bliss: The Screenplay published by UQP as the first of a series of Australian screenplays which later included Oscar and Lucinda as well as Gerard Lee and Jane Campion’s Sweetie.
Olga Masters dies on 26 September of a brain tumour.
UQP Young Adult Fiction list begins under Barbara Ker Wilson.
1987 Penguin Australia take over Lloyd O’Neil imprint.
Pan and Macmillan merge to form Pan Macmillan.
Olga Masters’ last novel Amy’s Children published by UQP.
1988 Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda published by UQP and by Faber and Harper & Row, winning the Booker Prize, the Miles Franklin and other awards, and selling half a million copies worldwide.
Olga Masters’ last story collection The Rose Fancier published by UQP.
1989 Penguin Australia take over McPhee Gribble.
Random House take over Century Hutchinson.
Time and Warner merge.
Prices Surveillance Authority recommends territorial copyright be scrapped.
Peter Carey moves to New York’s Greenwich Village.
UQP establish the David Unaipon Award for Indigenous writing.
Hugh Lunn’s bestselling childhood memoir Over the Top with Jim published by UQP.
1989–90 Laurie Muller (UQP) is ABPA president.
Text Publishing established in Melbourne by Di Gribble and Eric Beecher.
1991 Copyright Amendment Act sets up a 30-day/90-day rule on book imports.
Peter Carey’s The Tax Inspector published by UQP and by Faber and Knopf.
1993 Oscar and Lucinda judged the second best novel in the history of the Booker Prize, after Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children.
1994 Peter Carey’s The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith published by UQP and by Faber and Knopf, winning the Age Book of the Year award.
Peter Carey’s Collected Stories published by UQP, and by Faber in 1995.
1997 Peter Carey’s Jack Maggs published by UQP and by Faber and Knopf, winning the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Miles Franklin Award.
1998 Oscar and Lucinda the film released, starring Cate Blanchett and Ralph Fiennes, with screenplay by Laura Jones, daughter of novelist Jessica Anderson.
UQP: The Writer’s Press, ed Craig Munro, celebrates UQP’s 50th anniversary.
2000 Peter Carey’s True History of the Kelly Gang published by UQP and by Faber and Knopf, winning Carey a second Booker Prize as well as the Miles Franklin and other awards, making it an international literary bestseller.
Novelist Stephen King signs US$48 million three-book publishing deal.
2001 Hilary McPhee’s publishing memoir Other People’s Words published.
2002 UQP and Peter Carey announce that their 30-year publishing relationship will terminate, with UQP to revert all rights in the Carey backlist by 2004.