Publisher of the Month

I am in publishing to make a positive difference to society, so when one feels that, with the author, we’re doing that, it’s gratifying. The greatest challenge is trying to explain why not all good books find the readership they deserve, despite marketing efforts and positive media and reviews. For some books, the time is not right.

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My first job in publishing was a paid editorial internship with legal house CCH in the early 1990s. It taught me a lot: not least the importance of being meticulous (and earnest). However, the glitz and glamour of trade publishing caught my eye and I soon jumped ship, spending twelve or so years at HarperCollins, Hardie Grant, and Pan Macmillan before co-founding Brio in 2011.

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What was your pathway to publishing? In 1971 I founded the weekly newspaper that became Nation Review. Soon afterwards my proprietor, Gordon Barton, acquired Angus & Robertson and offered me the job of running the publishing company. I jumped at the opportunity.

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As an English and Comparative Literature graduate whose childhood had been circumscribed by chronic asthma and excessive reading of Enid Blyton stories of naughty school girls, I was ill equipped for any other form of employment ...

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I had been a writer and editor at school and university, I’d worked in the Whitlam government, I’d been a freelance journalist, and I was interested in politics, history, books, and writing, so it was a natural progression – though I didn’t realise it at the time.

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I was about to land a cadetship with The Age, or so I thought. When I missed out, I applied for a job as a publishing assistant with Cambridge University Press. Before long I was working in CUP’s Sydney office, a terrace in Surry Hills. Bits of crumbling wall would fall onto our desks, so manuscripts were often covered in sand. It has always been a glamorous industry, but one I’m very glad I fell into.

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After university I knew I didn’t want to do deconstruction; I wanted to be involved with contemporary writing, so I looked for an editorial job and eventually found one, in Boston, which was no longer the Athens of America, in 1973.

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In 1979, when I was twenty, I took Vincent Buckley’s poetry seminar at Melbourne University. He introduced us to the work of the Northumbrian poet Basil Bunting, by then in his late seventies. That summer I went to Britain in pursuit of Bunting. In Newcastle I knocked on the door of Bloodaxe Books and explained my mission to Neil Astley, the publisher. It was the first publishing office I had ever been in. I thought: this is what I am going to do. Neil phoned Bunting and I caught a bus to the council estate where he lived. We talked until the light faded. My future had found me. After I came back to Melbourne, I set up Scripsi with Peter Craven.

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