When I began work on A Maker of Books, I had no idea that Alec Bolton had succeeded ‘Peter Pica’ (the publisher and bookseller Andrew Fabinyi) as a pseudonymous critic of Australian book design and production for Australian Book Review. He called himself ‘Martin Em’. I had set out to explore in detail Alec’s achievement as a letterpress printer of distinction at his private Brindabella Press, and also his long career in Australian publishing, but this was an unexpected discovery. The clue was a letter from Alec to John McLaren, the then editor of ABR, which I found in a completely unrelated file in the Alec Bolton papers at the National Library of Australia. When I looked at Martin Em’s ‘BookShapes’ columns, published between 1978 and 1982, Alec’s distinctive voice was quite apparent.
He began by chiding his fellow publishers, gathered for the Australian Book Publishers Association design awards of 1977–78, for inattentiveness during the presentation:
It seemed that many publishers who were present did not feel obliged to pay attention, their complacency abetting rudeness. One could almost hear them saying, ‘Well, yes, this was a disaster area up ’til the sixties, but we’ve fixed it now. Everyone knows that Australian books today are the equal of the world’s best.’
While he conceded that matters had improved in recent years, he attributed this to Peter Pica’s frequently critical remarks and promised to follow suit, beginning with a trenchant critique of a recent biography of Sir Robert Menzies as a ‘shoddy production’: