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.