Double Act 7: Anna Solding of Midnight Sun

anna soldingToday,  I’m revisiting my ‘Double Act’ series of interviews with authors who are also publishers, and who started their own publishing houses.  And I’m interviewing Anna Solding of Midnight Sun Publishing, a small press that has gone from strength to strength since it started a few short years ago.

Anna, when and how did Midnight Sun start? What motivated you to start your own publishing company?

It started one day when I had lunch with a close friend who is an entrepreneur. Even though my novel manuscript The Hum of Concrete had been nominated for three awards for unpublished manuscripts, no publisher had picked it up. My friend thought this was a shame so he suggested: ‘Why don’t we start a publishing company?’ You know, as you do, over lunch, just like that. My, quite logical and heartfelt, reply was: ‘Because we are not crazy…’ Five years later, we are crazier than ever and MidnightSun is beginning to take off in a big way. My friend’s initial expertise and help was invaluable and I would never have contemplated starting a publishing company if he hadn’t come up with the idea. My novel The Hum of Concrete went on to be nominated for another three awards once it was published, including the Commonwealth Book Awards, which meant we were off to a promising start and we felt that perhaps we could keep doing this.

How did you initially persuade booksellers to stock your books?

I was lucky enough to convince Wakefield Press, another independent Adelaide publisher, to distribute our books nationwide. It’s not really what they normally do so they only did it to be kind and give me a break, which was very nice of them. For the last couple of years our books have been distributed by NewSouth Books, who do a terrific job, getting our books into bookshops (and occasionally even into discount departments stores) around Australia and New Zealand.

Have your aims and strategies as a publisher changed from the beginning? How?

Yes and no. The aim has always been to publish amazing books, both in terms of content and design; books that you can lose An-Ordinary-Epidemic-Amanda-Hickie-The-Clothesline-192x300yourself in, books that look stylish and feel good in your hand. That is still our main aim. On our website we say: ‘MidnightSun Publishing has grown out of a disenchantment with the established publishing houses in Australia. We know there are plenty of fabulous manuscripts about unusual topics floating around, but publishing new and unknown writers poses a big risk. MidnightSun is prepared to take that risk. We want our readers to be entertained. We want to challenge, excite, enrage and overwhelm.’

When we started, we were mainly focused on adult literary fiction but now we also publish a wide range of books for children, from picture books to YA. I have always said that I will only publish books that I love and I think that is a good strategy for a small publisher. Because we spend so much time with each book, we really need to be comfortable talking about all aspects of it to anyone who will listen. Originally, I thought we’d just publish one or two books to see how they went but as all our books have made a profit it has always been easy to keep moving on to the next project. The more well-known MidnightSun becomes, the more high quality manuscripts are sent our way and the more projects we take on. When we started publishing in 2012, we did two books per year, in 2017 we are planning to do five. To publish five or six books per year would secure a more regular cash flow situation, which is something MidnightSun is still struggling with. The more I learn about the business, the more confident I get about all the small steps that need to happen for each book, including the metadata, the AI sheet, different ways to promote the book and which festivals and media contacts to approach.

Has working as a publisher impacted on your own career as an author–whether that be positive or negative?

Yes, I don’t think of myself as a writer first and foremost any more. Publishing has taken over my life, but I have let it happen and I love my job passionately so I’m certainly not complaining. I work with interesting people who all love books, so that has to count for something. Last year, I was fortunate enough to be awarded two writers’ retreat residencies, one month in Finland and one month in Perth, which were both fantastic months when I felt like a writer again. For years, I’ve been working on a ‘companion novel’ to The Hum of Concrete, also set in Sweden where I grew up, and it’s almost finished but I think I need one more retreat to get there. I would like to incorporate more writing into my everyday life, but when I can’t even get a Q&A like this one written until weeks after I should have delivered it, I’m not quite sure how to manage it.

What are the challenges and pleasures of small-press publishing, in your experience? Any memorable anecdotes?

IPLKS_cover love finding new talent and nurturing the writers from the beginning. Kim Lock, whose novel Peace, Love and Khaki Socks, was published by MidnightSun in 2013 has since evolved into being our regular designer. Her new novel has recently been published by big publisher Macmillan, which we think is fantastic. Last year, we published Amanda Hickie’s An Ordinary Epidemic and that book will come out with a new cover and new title (Before This Is Over) in the US next year. There are so many pleasures.

The challenges are plentiful, as they should be. It took almost a year to design the cover for Cameron Raynes’ First Person Shooter and we finally decided on one we all liked after rejecting about 30 others. Fortunately, we have a very patient designer. However, one of the biggest challenges for small publishers is to get noticed in the mainstream press. MidnightSun has a loyal following in Adelaide but it’s always a struggle to even get a tiny review in the larger newspapers, let alone a feature article. The other main challenge, at least for us, is to manage our cash flow. Because MidnightSun is doing really well, our first picture book One Step at a Time by Jane Jolly and Sally Heinrich has been nominated for several awards including the important CBCA award, we are in a position where we need to reprint the book but we have had to take out a loan to be able to do so.

As much as there are plenty of challenges for small publishers, the pleasures of seeing a project through from manuscript form to the final product, a beautiful and thought-provoking book, clearly outweigh the challenges. The buzz of opening a box from the printer to see a new book for the first time is very special and I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of that feeling.

Any advice for aspiring author-publishers?

Go for it! If you are passionate about books and have some sense of business, publishing might be the perfect place for you. I’m not going to pretend that it is easy, because it certainly isn’t, but if you surround yourself people who can help you with aspect that you might be less familiar with, it could be worth giving publishing a go. I have had a bookkeeper and a designer from the start as those were two aspect of the business that I didn’t know that much about. Other than that, you have to learn to wear many different hats; as editor, publicist, sales director, head of marketing and the one who is ultimately responsible – whether things go fabulously or the complete opposite.

Distribution is extremely important and it’s very hard to find a distributor so it’s worth doing some research on this before you take the plunge. Dennis Jones distributes many small publishers. Talk to other small publishers, research printers, become a member of Small Press Network, learn the terminology (what is metadata? AI sheets? ISBN?), subscribe to the daily newsletter from Books+Publishing and, most importantly, find amazing manuscripts to publish. Without intriguing content One-Stepand stunning production your books won’t be noticed. MidnightSun started in 2011 and we published our first book a year later, which felt right as that is how long it took to learn a bit about how the business works. The longer you have to prepare for a book, with marketing material, review copies, interviews, the better. Now that we are more established, we often work on a book for two years before publication. But don’t be scared, if publishing is your passion, just go for it!

Anna Solding

P.S. Metadata is the information that is put into search engines so that it will be easy to find. AI sheets are advance information sheets about the book, which often contain the cover image, a blurb, an author bio and photo, size, price, publication date and the all-important ISBN. The ISBN is the 13 digit number that is under the barcode, which is used by booksellers to identify the book.


The translator’s art: an interview with Stephanie Smee

Stephanie Smee portraitTranslation is an art both precise and subtle, and the work of distinguished Australian translator Stephanie Smee has those qualities in abundance. Stephanie has translated several works of French literature into English, and I first met her some years ago, after the publication of her translations of classic French children’s titles by the Countess de Ségur. We got talking about other French classics, and I happened to talk to her about one of my favourite books growing up as a French-speaking child: Michel Strogoff, a great adventure novel by the legendary author Jules Verne.

Well, that conversation has led to today, and the publication by Eagle Books of Jules Verne’s Mikhail Strogoff. This is the first English translation of this wonderful book in over a hundred years, and as one of the publishing team at Eagle Books, I worked closely with Stephanie on the project, impressed as ever by her great attention to detail and her thoughtful and perceptive understanding of the literary work she was translating. And so today, to celebrate the release of Jules Verne’s Mikhail Strogoff, I talk to Stephanie about translating the book–and the art of translation in general.

Stephanie, translating Jules Verne’s Mikhail Strogoff was a massive and painstaking undertaking. How did you prepare for it initially?
Like many Anglophone readers, I was really only familiar with those books of Jules Verne that have always been popular with English readers… Around the World in Eighty Days, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and I confess it had been many years since I had read those tales.
So, when discussing with you possible ideas to pitch to English language publishers, your enthusiasm for this historical adventure tale took me a little unawares. However, after getting my hands on an original French edition, and spending some considerable time researching, I realised how enduringly popular Michel Strogoff has been with its French readers. And I became increasingly nonplussed as to how it had slipped from the catalogue of Verne’s other, perennially popular tales which had been translated into English.
How does one prepare for a translation task such as this? A number of readings of the text, of course, which serves to allow your mind to “relax” into the rhythm of the text, but then the close readings are required, and the true breadth of Verne’s rich vocabulary and sentence structure sinks in. At that point, there’s nothing for it but to “dive in”!
 What challenges came up for you as you worked on the book?
mikhail strogoff finished 1 front coverVerne’s vocabulary is encyclopaedic, and one can almost sense the glee with which he displays his research into the historical, geographical and cultural specificities of his setting. I was very fortunate to have been given some magnificent 19th century French/French and French/English dictionaries by my father-in-law, Jim Schoff, and there is no doubt these proved very useful in grappling with some of the more obscure terms that came up from time to time. I also found some of the 19th century maps of Russia, Siberia and “Independent Tartary” (again, supplied by my father-in-law) absolutely invaluable. One editorial challenge, with which you were very helpful, was determining the appropriate transliteration of place names. Of course, Verne had transliterated place names from the Russian cyrillic into 19th century French. We then had to settle upon the appropriate way of spelling all of these names for our 21st century Anglophone readership while remaining authentic to the historical setting of the novel. As readers will be aware, customs surrounding the spelling of Russian names can be a moveable feast and often differ from one current newspaper or novel to another, depending on the editorial decisions made. The historical maps I had at my disposal were certainly useful, but again, it was customary in the 19th century for many mapmakers to use French spelling of Russian place names, as it was assumed that educated readers and scholars would have French at their fingertips and unfortunately, we can’t make such assumptions for our readership anymore!  
I did often wonder how translators used to manage before the internet allowed us access to so many superb resources, including to such things as 19th century accounts of travellers making their way through the same or similar parts of the world as our hero, Mikhail Strogoff! Images of Tartar battle dress or Siberian towns which I was able to access through Google books often allowed me to create a mental picture of the word-image I was trying to paint with my translation of Verne’s detailed text.
Verne’s narrative is quite straightforward but his style is richly laced with idiomatic and other flourishes. How did you capture that very particular spirit?

The longevity of Verne’s popularity, in my opinion, derives from his masterful skills as a storyteller. His tales are built on a driving narrative force that reveals itself to the reader – and thus, to the translator – as we turn the pages. Verne is a great “scene-setter”. And so, he interlaces his chapters with scene-setting descriptions, often packed with information, followed by “lighter” chapters of spirited dialogue. There is nothing staid about his evocative descriptions. Rather, he successfully evokes a landscape which will then be the setting for the following dialogue between his characters, all of whom are very brightly drawn, from the main protagonists, Mikhail Strogoff and Nadia, to the testy muzhik responsible for leading them across the Urals, and to the jocular journalists who act as the entertaining Greek chorus to events as they unfold. All of this to say that the

Strogoff 6

Illustration by David Allan

translator’s task really has to be to imagine herself into the landscape, listen to the rhythm of the descriptions and the dialogue and try to render that same rhythm into English. Where there is a particular urgency to the events unfolding on the page, I’d like to think that a good translator will be able to reflect that same urgency – whether it’s as simple as adhering to similar sentence length, or perhaps through a choice of words that will help make the narrative pop and crackle with that same sense of urgency. Of course, 19th century literature often uses tenses  and moods that are rarely employed in modern literature and ideally, those grammatical nuances will be reflected in the English too, although there is a fine line to be drawn sometimes when translating tenses which would perhaps seem “clunky” or awkward to a modern reader’s ear. As for the dialogue, there is no doubt Verne’s own skill in drawing his characters rendered it a joy to translate their dialogue as it meant I had little difficulty imagining myself into their conversations and under their skins.

At this point, I should also underline my gratitude, not only to my editor and publisher–yourself!–but also to my father, Michael Smee, whose assistance in proof-reading – offering second and third pairs of eyes and ears to “hear” the rhythm of the text – were quite invaluable.
How different was it working on this translation as opposed to those you have worked on before, such as the Countess de Ségur’s classic children’s books?
The translation of Mikhail Strogoff was indeed quite an undertaking, and in this respect, it really felt quite different to sitting down to translate the Countess de Ségur’s books, which although quite lengthy for their genre, have a considerably younger target audience to that of Strogoff. (That said, I just received a very enthusiastic message from my 11 year old nephew telling me how much he loved this Mikhail Strogoff finished 2 back coverlatest translation, but that while he had been waiting for his copy to arrive in Boston, he had eagerly revisited all of my translations of the Countess’s books, so there is obviously a little bit of audience cross-over!) In attacking a work like Strogoff, there is a different level of stamina required both in respect of the novel‘slength and the complexity of its vocabulary. Julie Rose’s masterful translation of Les Misérables of course takes that degree of difficulty to a different place altogether! Verne and the Countess de Ségur did at least share some similarities of the epoch in which they were written, being works penned in the 19th century.
Russian-French writer Andrei Makine, in one of his novels, Le Testament Francais, has his narrator say ‘the translator of poetry is the poet’s rival; the translator of prose is the novelist’s slave.’ What is your opinion? Do you have a philosophy of translation? 
I can quite understand narrator’s standpoint in Makine’s novel. It suggests a degree of “freedom” that perhaps a translator of poetry might enjoy, compared to the prose translator. But I’m not sure I agree entirely.
While the quote from Makine acknowledges the “originality” of the poet/translator’s new work, I disagree with the suggestion that the translator of prose is in any way more the novelist’s slave, to use that same imagery.  The rules relating to the translation of the ‘form work’ and ‘scaffolding’ of prose might be different to that of a work of poetry but at the end of the day, translators of prose and poetry are both working creatively and originally, both limited by a desire to remain as faithful as possible, not only to the original text, but to its emotion and rhythm. In many ways, as illuminated by the comments below of John Edmunds, renowned translator of the verse-dramas of the likes of Racine and Corneille, translators of poetry might feel more “enslaved” by the need to adhere to the particular poetic structure and rhythm of the original work.
As a translator, I stand most in awe of those who translate poetry but are they the original poet’s “rival”? A good translator of poetry is truly not just any ordinary linguist – they must hear the poetic rhythm in the source language and be able to recreate that beauty, that mystery, that imagery in the target language. It requires decisions about meters, rhyming – whether it is best to try to retain those rhythms in the target translation or stray a little from the source language in order to recreate a rhythm that somehow best captures the original imagery and magic of the poetry.
I recently read John Edmunds’ notes on his extraordinary translations of the plays of Corneille, Racine and Molière (Penguin Classics, 2013). They are illuminating, and in fact suggest that the translator of these “verse-dramas” are, in a way, just as much these play-wright/poet’s slave as their rival. He says:
A translation intended for performance not only must be immediately intelligible to the listening ear, but ideally, I have always thought, should be capable of delivery by a putative bilingual cast in precisely the same way in either version. Like musical scores these verse-dramas have their crescendos, staccatos and rallentandos: in the new medium they need to be preserved. This can be achieved only by maintaining the sentence-structure so that the actor’s breathing-pattern is reproduced, because the pulsation of the performer’s vocal energy is the life of the play. And, clearly, the action has to flow at the same pace as the original. This necessitates a line-by-line rendering.
A play written in verse is truly recreated in another language only when it has the formality of disciplined verse-structure. Which form to employ?
And Edmunds then goes on to discuss his choice of Shakespearian blank verse “which has a driving impetus and the rhythm of colloquial speech” over the English alexandrine which, he suggests, is “too stately for drama; and the rhythmic beat of our heavily stressed language does not need rhyme to create form.” He also comments that rhyming couplets can sound jokey, at least to British theatre goers “reared on pantomime.” Ultimately, he says, the translator can only do his best with the tools available to him in his own language in reverence to the “supremely gifted authors” one has the privilege of translating.
My own “philosophy” of translating? Many scholars and practitioners have penned many thoughts on this topic and I’m not sure I should be so bold as to add my own. I do know, like John Edmunds, that I feel an enormous sense of privilege to be working as a literary translator, particularly translating the work of a literary figure such as Jules Verne. And even though I am not a translator of poetry, I also know that beautiful prose, too, has its own rhythm, its own fluidity, its own internal mysteries which any good translator must try to encompass in their work. So, if a translator can recreate that original sense of wonder and excitement generated by any good piece of literature, whether it be a work for children or the most fiendishly obscure piece of poetry, then perhaps the translator has succeeded in her task.
It’s been said that there aren’t enough novels from non-anglophone countries translated into English. Would you agree? And why do you think that is? 
Yes, indeed I do agree – as both an avid reader of translated literature and as a literary translator! Although I hasten to add that I have been very, very fortunate to have a number of my translations published beautifully by both Simon & Schuster (Aust) and of course, Eagle Books. That said, Linda Jaivin, in her essay Found in Translation published in the Quarterly Essay (issue #52, 2013), referred to statistics that are enough to make any literary translator cry.
 “[H]alf of all books available in translation around the world have been translated from English, and only 6 percent are translated into English. The rest are translations between non-English languages… In 1950, American publishers produced 11,022 books, of which 563 were translations. In 2010, the number of books published there climbed past 200,000, but only 341 were originally in other languages. … In 2012, according to Bloomberg, American publishers bought translation rights to only 453 foreign titles; figures in the UK are said to be similar.”
And, she goes on to say, there is no reason to believe the situation is any better in Australia – in fact, she says, it’s probably more dire.
Why is this the case? There are many reasons, but most of them come down to the fact that English has become the “default” language of the world. And at the same time as the rest of the world has adopted an educational approach that emphasises the need to learn English, largely for trade reasons, the number of people who still learn foreign languages in English speaking countries is plummeting. This can only lead to serious cultural insularity and, while learning a foreign language is not an easy task, as Jaivin acknowledges, “a sensible corrective is access to a rich body of global literature in translation.” Yet we are failing on that front, too. Monolingual publishers/editors make it difficult for foreign language publishers to sell their works into the English language market, as they are forced to rely on potted descriptions, quickly translated excerpts, and, only if they’re lucky, some healthy sales figures or reviews in the original language market. The same difficulties confront literary translators trying to pitch ideas to Anglophone publishers. Even when books have earned their stripes in sales and reviews in their native market, I have often been met with the response: “translations are very hard to find space for in the market”.
Why  they are any harder to find space for than untested English language books is quite mysterious to this literary translator. Sales in Anglophone markets of Pippi Longstocking and Asterix would, I’m sure, rival sales in their own market, due to their very skilled translators and to the fact that they are quite wonderful books! Yet I do know why. In a market where publishers are being forced to tighten their belts, there is little cash to spare to pay for English language publishing rights, as well as a skilled translator. And I can only assume also that sales and marketing teams must know there is an inherent reluctance or suspicion on the part of readers when it comes to foreign literature. Fortunately, at the same time as so many of the large publishing houses are publishing fewer and fewer works in translation, there are increasing numbers of independent publishers, like Eagle Books, who recognise the need to take a stand against the cultural hegemony of the Anglophone publishing industry and who are making it their business to publish works in translation.
Our wonderfully cosmopolitan and plural society deserves no less, particularly if we mean to engage in a meaningful, reciprocal and generous way with the billions of people on this planet for whom English is not their mother tongue. We need to be able to hear everybody’s stories!
What are you looking at translating next? 
I’ve in fact embarked on a terribly entertaining translation project with my Swedish mother. We are translating some very well-known (in the Swedish market) children’s stories by Gösta Knutsson about a little cat called Pelle whose tail was bitten off by a rat when he was a kitten. They were first published in Sweden in the late 1930’s-1940’s and Knutsson continued to write for many decades. They’ve been enormously popular in Sweden since they were first published.  The first three in the series are to be published next year by Piccolo Nero, the children’s imprint of Black Inc publishers.
I’m also working on some submissions involving the translation of some modern French novellas and short stories which I’m very excited about. They’re written in very different language to the 19th century text of Jules Verne, but I’m loving the challenge. They’re wry and erudite, fanciful and yet thoroughly modern… works that are very much for and of our time.

From publisher to author: an interview with Michael Johnson

Michael Johnson headshotToday, I’m interviewing Michael Johnson, publisher turned author.
Michael Johnson has lived in Bundeena for the last eighteen years. He graduated M.A. (Law Tripos) Trinity College Cambridge followed by four tumultuous, exciting years in Nigeria with British American Tobacco followed by then thirty years in book publishing & book selling in the U.K, Asia and Australia after moving to  Sydney in 1968 with his wife and three children. Retirement has seen him assume a variety of interests including book reviewer, slush pile reader, columnist with the late lamented Village Noise and now a published novelist, with a second novel in progress.
Michael, your first novel, Noah’s Park, has just been published. Can you tell us about it?
The trigger for Noah’s Park was a drive past a Circus setting up the Big Top. It looked bedraggled. The posters showing lions, tigers, and horses were plastered on every telegraph pole. Returning home through the National Park I started to muse about the feasibility of transporting those animals at night and releasing them. The ammunition was my twenty years living in a quiet seaside village at the heart of Australia’s oldest National Park. The lives, feuds, passions, friendships, pecadillos were a powerful incentive to create what one kind friend called ‘a beautiful example of magic realism…comparable with The Life Of Pi’. A faithful fan group know it as ‘That dirty book about Bundeena’! Perhaps due to some fairly explicit lesbian sex scenes, which caused several people to query my research. My many gay women friends are far more understanding. I stress that it is fiction, of my imagining. I pursue the effect of the Circus animals on the village, the Park Rangers, the State Government and the wider public. It is a light brush I use, gentle satire, hopefully perceptive of the human condition.
What was the journey to publication like? What challenges and discoveries did you make along the way? And what have the reactions of readers been like?
It took about a year to write. An agent showed interest but finally felt ‘it was not commercial enough’. Experienced in the use of the notorious ‘slush pile’ I made a decision to go the eBooks route, the Fifty Shades of Grey highway. My artist friend Garry Shead offered cover artwork and we settled on Rosie the elephant, the heroine of the plot.
 It was a good decision. Sales on Amazon and iBooks are steady. Friends of Bundeena Library launched Noah’s Park and more than 100 people seemed to enjoy the evening, listening to my stories about the book and my publishing/bookselling life. There may be a paperback edition on the horizon.noahs-park-cover
Before becoming a published novelist, you’ve had a long career in the book industry, as a publisher. Is writing something you’ve always wanted to do? Or something you have only recently been inspired to take up? And how does it feel, being on ‘the other side of the fence’, as it were?
I have always loved to write. In the 1970’s I wrote a cover story for Richard Walsh’s Nation Review, under a pseudonym. Titled The Sensuous Politician, modelled on the bestseller The Sensuous Woman. My piece is still scarily relevant today. I reviewed books for SMH, ABR, Herald Sun and had a regular ABR column. In retirement I, with like minds, ran a newspaper The Village Noise

There are no fences. For me publishing, bookselling, authors, readers, should be a seamless holistic experience.

I believe that over your many years in publishing, you met some extraordinary people. Can you tell us about some of them, and about some of your experiences over that time?
My memories?
*Being interviewed by Allen Lane, founder, with his brothers, of Penguin Books. I still have his signed letter of appointment to the Management Group in the U.K in 1964. ‘ 2000 pounds sterling p.a and an interest free loan to purchase a car’!

 I was entranced by the Albert Tucker painting on his wall which was the cover of The Lucky Country. He seemed intrigued by my sales technique in Nigeria with British American Tobacco, which involved standing on the roof of my Landrover, in some remote village market, blowing a hunting horn!

*My first appointment at Penguin as Export Manager for the World outside Europe.

*Setting up Granada Publishing here in Sydney.

* Key memories from this time include buying paperback rights for Frank Hardy’s Power Without Glory from Sphere and capitalising on the ABC TV series. Those unforgettable lunches with Frank


the-female-eunuch1In 1970 we published the Paladin edition with the iconic John Holmes cover of Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch.  The promotional tour I set up included events in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Adelaide (she taught me to love oysters), and I witnessed her literally change womens’ lives.

*Don Chipp phoning to tell me that he was releasing our Henry Miller titles from the prohibited import list. Griffin Press started printing two days later.

*Selling 500 copies of the hardback edition of Robert Ludlum’s first book The Scarlatti Inheritance firm sale to Hedley Jefferies at A&R.

*The great booksellers. Hedley, Ron & Eve Abbey, Jim Thorburn, Norma Chapman, Nan Jacka, Wattie Thompson, Cedric Pearce, Charley Dickens, Mark Rubbo, David Gaunt, Peter Milne, and those long lunches.

Do you think publishing has changed over the time you were a publisher, till now? In what way? How do you see the book industry at the moment–both from a publisher’s and an author’s points of view?
Publishing, bookselling, authors are a fluid formula in times of constant change and challenge. Existing models of distribution, retailing and the shibboleth of ‘sale or return’ need forensic examination. If, with honourable exceptions, the acceptance of a manuscript is wholly dependent on how many copies Big W is likely to take then a disruptive approach to the art, science and soul of publishing, that indescribable ‘gut’ feel, the awareness of the reader (o.k consumer), the awareness of a global revolution in the carriage of the written word become mandatory. In this the author should be an equal partner, dovetailing with his or her publisher in a symbiotic relationship. My daughter Lou Johnson, co-founder of The Author People is one face of this new thinking.
TAP_logo_pos (small)(ED Note: An interview with Lou was published on this blog a few months ago.)
What are you working on now?

I am writing another novel drawing on my experiences in Nigeria, linking the conquest and imposition of fundamental Islam in Northern Nigeria 200 years ago and the terrorism of today’s Boko Haram. It’s an ambitious project and I have dedicated 2016 to it.

Double Act 6: Raghid Nahhas

raghid picI first met writer, publisher, editor and translator Dr Raghid Nahhas some years ago when he was editor and publisher of a bilingual Arabic/English literary magazine, Kalimat. But publishing a magazine certainly isn’t the full extent of Raghid’s work, as readers will discover from this very interesting interview.

Raghid, for a number of years, you were the publisher and editor of a unique literary magazine, Kalimat, a bilingual Arabic/English production. Can you tell us how it started, what your aims for it were, and whether you felt those aims were achieved? And how was the magazine received, both in Australia and Lebanon? What are some of the scenes, that stand out, for you, in the time Kalimat was published?

I come originally from Syria, born to a Syrian father and a Lebanese mother. About 1998, a group of enthusiastic well-educated Australian-Syrians wanted me to group them in some sort of an organisation where they would feel useful to society. However, I was more inclined to reject any sort of another “ethnic” organisation added to the multitude of societies and even “political party groups” that are irrelevant to Australia (there are tens of such groups that carry the names of militias and political parties that have been active in the Lebanese civil war and its consequences. I find this very odd). I mentioned to those people that I would be interested in presiding over such a group if I had something meaningful to offer to Australian society at large, and that the group should be inclusive of any Australian who shares our aspirations.

Two years later, I felt I could realise an idea that was with me since I arrived in Australia in 1988. Back then, my scientific career and my occupation with supporting my family did not leave me much time for literary activities.

Perhaps the best answer to your question about the “aims” can be found in my first editorial titled Kalimat:Creativity, the Joy of the Word and Cultural Access (Kalimat 1, March 2000). Here are some excerpts:


Kalimat’ is the Arabic for ‘words’. It is the plural of ‘kalima’. We believe in the power and the beauty of words. We believe that the word is the gate of cultural heritage, and that writing is the key to its permanence. This is what the Arabic words on the back cover of this issue say.

Kalimat seeks to expose the beauty of words and explore their creative dimensions in poetry and prose, in any form or style. Kalimat will seek quality, without being too academic.

Kalimat, an Australian-Arabic Literary Quarterly, is produced alternately in English and Arabic. It seeks creativity in both languages, and fosters access between English-speaking and Arabic-speaking individuals and the worlds and cultures they represent. In doing so, Kalimat aims at providing direct enjoyment of the written word in either languages, or in both for those who are bilingual. Those who have one of the languages only, can have access to other ideas through translations and commentary. Kalimat’s mission is to provide a medium for cultural access and enhanced creative communications between writers from diverse communities, who are united by their quest to have their words read, heard and felt by everyone.

Kalimat will focus on Australian-Arab access by being representative of the widest possible contemporary writings in each culture. It will also attempt to promote Australian and Arabic writings throughout the migrant communities around the World.

We have already begun establishing links with major literary bodies and individuals in the Middle East and among migrant communities. The fruits of these contacts will start appearing in subsequent issues, ripe for everyone to enjoy.

We are very clear about what access means. A very dear friend who comes from a different background, holds some contrasting views to mine. We both believe that ‘boundaries’ are inevitable, or at least necessary or healthy. We believe that we are such good and close friends because we recognise each other’s boundaries. We are also able to cross those boundaries, move freely, enjoy their essence and move out again without undermining the integrity of the core.

The overwhelming response we have received indicates a great interest in the goal Kalimat is pursuing. It also indicates that there is a need for a new outlet for all those talents.

We would like to see more spontaneous, creative and emerging talents knocking on our door. To this end, we say that Kalimat is your words. And my word! Without you and your contributions to this exercise, it becomes null and void.



kalimat last issue

The last issue of Kalimat, in 2006

I would say that the aims were partially achieved, because they were limited to an elite group. This is due to two reasons in my opinion. One is the quality of the magazine. Another is our inability to market it on a wider scale. The latter was mainly due to severe financial difficulties at an era when digital printing was non-existent, making it costly to print. You see, my real aspiration was to make such a magazine popular without compromising its standards. In this way, I was hoping to engage the common reader with material of a more literary value than the one this reader was used to. I felt there was a need to make creative writing more accessible. I don’t think that we succeeded in that.

The magazine was received well in Australia, Canada, USA and England. It was also received well in some European countries, mainly by organisations and individuals with links to Arabic.

In the Middle East, it was received well by individuals and by one organisation in Syria that has links with Syrian migrants abroad. The Ministry for Culture in Syria subscribed to the magazine. Major Arab well-funded literary organisations never bothered to answer my mail despite sending them full sets and despite that some of their employees had material published in Kalimat.

I was interviewed by TV and radio whenever I visited Syria and Lebanon and the reception was excellent, but this was based on some individual initiatives by prominent people who appreciated the work.

Kalimat was published between 2000 and 2006. These years, and indeed the decade, will be remembered in history as truly fundamental in laying the foundation for a different world.

The year 2000 was prominent as the start of the 21st Century. It was preceded by a lot of anxiety about the “Millennium Bug” and the usual superstitions associated with “landmarks”. The real anxieties during that year were related to more real-world issues, mainly matters related to al-Qaeda and to Iraq. Between 2001 and 2006, the situation worsened with USA leading the war on Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks, George W. Bush became president, a blast in Bali killed many Australians, the USA invaded Iraq with devastating consequence for years to come, a tsunami in south east Asia killed thousands of people, terrorism struck the heart of London, Syria withdrew its forces from Lebanon and the Lebanese prime minister was assassinated, Saddam Hussein was executed, Islamists captured the Somalian capital and Hamas won the elections in Gaza.

There were some bright moments. For example, the euro started circulation and a European spacecraft landed on Titan (a moon of Saturn). Add to this scientific discoveries and literary achievements, many of which might go unnoticed.

You are an author as well as a publisher. Tell us something about that. How did you start writing? What genres do you write in? And is your work mainly in Arabic or English?

raghid dew and sparks

Dew and Sparks, a collection of writing by Raghid Nahhas


My main literary work is mainly in Arabic, but with Kalimat my English writings had a boost. I started writing at a very young age and I was known at school for my abilities in Arabic and English, despite my scientific choice of courses. I contributed to the school magazine in Damascus when I was in primary school and afterwards. Our school had a distinguished publication that was taken seriously. My first article in a leading Lebanese magazine was published in the sixties when I was fourteen. In England, whilst I was undertaking my PhD in Experimental Zoology, I met another Syrian who was undertaking a PhD in English literature. We became close friends and he showed me an issue of al-Adaab, the leading literary magazine in the Arab world at that time, with a short story of his published in it. This encouraged me to show him a short story I had written. He dismissed it as unpublishable by that magazine. Nevertheless, I did send it for publication and it was accepted. Ironically, it was my friend who broke the news to me, because he was a subscriber to the magazine.

I write short stories, prose, essays and socio-political articles. My work is full of social critique, sarcasm, humour and some dramatic sad stories from the start of the civil war in Lebanon where I lived for a while and escaped tragic circumstances on a few occasions. There is also a lot of happiness and love stories from Beirut between 1970 and 1975, a period during which I considered Beirut my darling city and the best place on earth.

In any piece I write, I mostly tend to include all the above elements. Although some of my work is a complete fiction, it is based on real experiences or understanding of real events. I believe in an integral approach to life: things are more related to each other than we think.

You come from a  well-read family, I believe. As a child, and a young person growing up, what books and writers inspired you? And what books and writers inspire you now?

My maternal grandfather was a distinguished journalist and a pioneer reformist in south Lebanon for the first half of the twentieth century until his death in 1960. Interestingly, my paternal grandfather was a business man and so was my father. My father, who only finished year five at school, was a devoted reader. I remember when TV was introduced to our household about 1960, the whole family would spend every evening watching, except for my father who would retire to bed and read for hours. We had many books, but mostly classical and traditional material and definitely nothing progressive, leftist or atheist. These I had to pursue myself. No one stopped me from doing that.raghid translation 2

My mother had a collection of Shakespeare’s plays translated into Arabic. I read it all with fascination, particularly “Midsummer Night’s Dream”. I read translations of works by most of the renowned Russian novelists. War & Peace by Tolstoy comes to mind. Les Misérables by Victor Hugo was greatly admired by almost everyone. I loved it! I read Mariana Pineda by Federico Garcia Lorca.

One of the very first Arabic novels I read was Dua’ al-Karawan (The Call of the Curlew), by Taha Hussein, considered the most important literary figure in Arabic literature. He was not a novelist. His writings, however, are of a great literary integrity. Later (still a teenager) I read all of Naguib Mahfouz’ novels. One day, after class, a group of my classmates and I (four of us who were the best achievers) were discussing various issues as we always did during recess. I remember telling them that Naguib Mahfouz was soon going to get the Nobel Prize. Little had I known that politics would delay him the honour for twenty-five years!

Although I am not a poet, my main reading interest was poetry. I read a lot of the classical Arab poets, but I was more attracted to the modern ones, particularly Nizar Qabbany, a Damascene like me. I was born in the same locality where he was and in an architecturally Arabic house similar to his. I am very familiar with the Environment where he lived as a child and adult. Like him, I also lived in Beirut for a while.

In my twenties and until now, my major readings have been focused on science and philosophy. Examples of thinkers I admired over the years are (at no particular order): Rachel Carson, Bertrand Russell, Charles Darwin, Nizar Qabbani, Mahmoud Darwish, Adunis, Sadiq Jalal al-Azm, Simone de Beauvoir, Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, AC Grayling, Paul Davies, David Attenborough, Salman Rushdie, Noam Chomsky, Sigmund Freud and Albert Einstein.

raghid translation 3My favourite person in history is Hypatia of Alexandria (died 415 AD), a philosopher, mathematician and astronomer. She was an advocate of the value of science and stood for her principles. She paid for this with her life when a Christian mob, including monks, tore her to death.

What’s the publishing scene like, not only in Lebanon but other Arabic-speaking countries?

Before the Lebanese civil war that started in 1975, Beirut had been the cultural centre of the Arab world due to the freedom of press and the relative democracy enjoyed. Many Arab intellectuals used Beirut to publish and some prominent ones moved there and established their own publishing houses, such as Nizar Qabbani and Ghada Samman.

Beirut still enjoys a lot of freedom in that respect, but it no longer occupies the same status as before. Dealing with publishers there would now cost you an arm and a leg. Not only do they want to sell you the number of copies you require, but also they force you to buy some 1000 copies and to forfeit any rights for a period of five years. I wanted to publish my recent Arabic books there (a logical thing to do), but aside from the few who never respond to you, some leading ones were difficult to deal with. I can see now why even some of the greatest of Arab writers opted to self-publish.

raghid verses across tasman

Verses across the Tasman, contemporary poetry from Australia and New Zealand, translated by Raghid Nahhas, 2015

raghid translation 5

I don’t feel that the situation in other Arabic-speaking countries would be any different, but I am no expert on that except to say that some of the Gulf states have managed to publish literary magazines of a very high quality and they ought to be congratulated on their efforts. One example is the monthly Arrafid (published by the government of Sharjah, UAE). With every issue there are three extra little books, and each deals with a certain genre. The problem, of course, is whether they will be open minded about publishing material that does not meet their values. The problem I have with them is that so far I was not able to deal with them, because they don’t answer my emails or letters.

You have translated many works, from English to Arabic and vice versa. How do you view translation? What are its challenges and pleasures?

Unlike other literary translators who feel that once they put the work into the target language they possess it and it becomes their creative work, I consider myself a “trustee” of the work. The work is not mine and it can or should never be mine. I believe that a translation is a responsibility.

Integrity and honesty mean that a true translation should reflect the original work and never be better or worse. In the literary word, an accurate translation does not mean “a true copy of the original”. However, it should be a true reflection of the spirit of the original and as much as possible of the original style. This can never be achieved, particularly in poetry where the metre and musicality are very much dictated by how each language is established.

Creativity in translations is thus limited to how the translator is able to adapt the target language in order to meaningfully and structurally express the original work. Translators should remember that the most vital part of any piece is the ideas. Everything else is the “clothing”, and of course it can be as important as the ideas in creative terms. However, translators should not unnecessarily devise a different garment simply to stretch their linguistic muscle. What they should be doing, to re-introduce the original work, is to find equivalent phrases from the target language that match – in meaning – those of the original. I am stressing this because it is wrong to assume that the lexical meaning of a raghid translationword is going to convey the actual meaning of a phrase. This is a major issue in translations and a trap translators fall into very easily. As a simple example, in English you can say to someone you love, ‘You are my cup of tea!’ You can’t say the same in Arabic to convey the same meaning. You could say, ‘You are as tasty as a cup of tea!’ This, however, diminishes the power of the English phrase in my opinion. In Arabic, I would use something like, ‘You are my flower!’ Another example is one verse in Arabic I had to translate. It starts by ‘A citizen whose profession is to write…’ The Arabic version sounds great and seems acceptable, possibly because of its musicality. Left as it is, it sounds bizarre in English. It should simply be ‘A writer…’

As well as your work as a publisher, editor, author and translator, you also worked as a scientist for many years. Do you think all of these strands complemented each other, or did you have to struggle to fit them all together?

I don’t believe it is a question of “fitting together” or “complementing each other”. Some people, like me, have varied interests. As such, the “struggle” is to find time to achieve in every case. No, I did not have to struggle, because for twenty-five years my involvement was with research and consulting. It did not leave me much time to consider my other main hobby in writing. This remained dormant and I was happy doing what I was doing. As soon as I had the opportunity, I embarked on a more serious literary path by publishing Kalimat.

raghid thirty four tales

Thirty-four tales from Australia, translated by Raghid Nahhas, published 2015

My philosophy in life is very much dominated by “integration of disciplines”. I believe that we can specialise in certain fields and this is necessary for achieving specific goals and targets. Specialists, however, must not lose sight of the total picture if they want their achievements to be better and more accessible. For example, a geneticist must be conversed in the ethics associated with the consequences of genetic engineering.

What are your current publishing and writing projects?

This year I published three translation works: two into Arabic (short stories, poetry) and one into English (poetry). From now on, I hope to have the time to complete two novels, one in English and one in Arabic.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I would like to express my appreciation of a number of writers, poets and academics who stood by me when I published Kalimat. This was the best reward I received, because it meant that those people appreciated the value of what I was doing. I am saddened, however, by the fact that since Kalimat ceased publication, only a handful kept in touch.



Double Act 5: Kathy and Peter Creamer

pink dog Choc LogoA new interview in my Double Act series of interviews with author/publishers, this time with Kathy Creamer, who with her husband Peter has just launched into the creation of their second publishing house, but first in Australia, Little Pink Dog Books. Some years earlier, while living in Singapore, Kathy and Peter had started their first publishing house, Creative Characters Partnership, and continued with that later in the UK, before coming to Australia. It’s a fascinating story Kathy has to tell. Read on!

How did you get into publishing?

My first venture into publishing came about in 1998, when I was working as an illustrator and writer for Oxford University Press and Reed International in Singapore. At that time, I had become concerned about the massive fires in Indonesia, and the destruction of the rainforest to Ah Meng Launchmake way for palm oil crops. Together with Singapore Zoological Gardens and sponsorship from HSBC, I produced a picture book about orangutans and their diminishing habitat. It sold over thirty thousand copies and raised funds for orangutan Ah Mengconservation. Unfortunately,  the star of the book, the zoo’s much-loved Ah Meng, died a few years later at the grand old age of forty-eight. A good innings for an orangutan!

Shortly after the success of the book, My Cousin, Ah Meng, I set up Creative Characters Partnership with my husband, Peter. It began as a children’s book publishing business to help raise awareness, and funding for animal conservation projects. We enjoyed the whole end to end creative ahmengprocess and felt that it was something we could both work on as a team as follows:

*Peter: upfront Marketing, Research, Negotiation and contract management.

*Kathy: all the creative elements of concept, storyboards, layout, words and illustration.

*Peter: preparing all materials for production, sourcing and negotiating with printers, proofing copy with Kathy, taking delivery of stock, and final delivery of the stock to the client.

We published over twenty children’s picture book titles for zoos, nature reserves, country clubs and historic houses, to hopefully interest children in conservation, heritage and history.

Parrots, Pythons and Pots of Paint for Longleat House, was our first picture book in England, and meeting Lord Bath, who is such an interesting and charmingly eccentric character, was quite the highlight of this project.Lord Bath001

 Have your aims and strategies as a publisher changed from the beginning? How?

We have always concentrated on high quality, small to medium volume book production. As a two person business we feel that we need to bring more resources to help deliver the products, and with people who are comfortable working within the business model – as there are no royalties, just a flat fee payment for work done. With Little Pink Dog Books, however, we hope to eventually to be able to pay royalties some day.

Has working as a publisher impacted on your own career as an author and illustrator-whether that be positive or negative?

Working as a publisher did, unfortunately, have a negative impact on my career as a children’s illustrator and author, as running the end-to-end production process, with just two people, there wasn’t much time to be innovative, especially with the artwork. Once you have your working model it was too tempting to continue with the same, rather than experiment. My artwork and writing suffered, so we decided to close Creative Characters Partnership in order to refresh my work by studying for a Masters in children’s illustration, together with a BA degree, and some other courses in literature and creative writing at Dinosaur Discovery001university.

Little Pink Dog Books came into being when we moved to Armidale from Melbourne. We had been meaning to restart our children’s publishing business for some time, as we both enjoyed the challenge. It will be a different model than before, in that we are not looking to publish for clients or any organizations, but will be self funded. We also want to help new writers and illustrators to get their work published and will be actively looking for new picture book manuscripts and illustration.

We have three picture book titles on our list for 2016; a refresh of Mr Mr Ming001Ming and the Mooncake Dragon, one of my first ever picture books; a new fairy story, and a rather naughty rhyming tale from a very talented emerging writer.

The new website for Little Pink Dog Books ( will be up shortly.

How do you market your books-do you sell direct to booksellers and readers, or do you have a distributor?

The marketing component for Creative Characters Partnership was about finding someone or some organisation where our concept worked for the client and fulfilled their need.

This concept is based around niche market publication and holding zero stock i.e. the client commits to take all stock and pays in full upfront.

In addition small quantities were offered for sale either directly or through online companies such as Amazon etc.Rear End Papers v2

We may now change the model for Little Pink Dog Books, and go to direct marketing, but keeping full end-to-end production under our direct control.

What are the challenges and pleasures of small-press publishing, in your experience so far? Any memorable anecdotes?

The challenges have been mainly financial ones, in that the cost of colour printing and other production costs require careful management to ensure you end up with a surplus to re-invest in the business. In the Namecard Picturebeginning we learned the hard way, but soon made adjustments to our own pricing and then eventually we began to make a profit.

kathy creamer 2Managing a reasonable workload can also be challenging and very stressful.

Contracts for books did not come on a regular basis or cycle – the client wants the product when they want the product, and hence there can be very high workload pressure when multiple contracts arrive simultaneously, with only two people in the partnership.

 Any advice for aspiring author-publishers?

Start small; build a reputation for online delivery and a high quality product. Ensure all contracts are tight and don’t be afraid to resort to legal means to protect your work and enforce any contracts.

Make sure you have time to be creative.The Bad Tooth Fairy by Kathy Creamer

Recognize that there are many types of skills in the whole end-to-end book production process and an individual is unlikely to be good at all of them.

Some skills are creative, some technical, some legal, and always work with partners who look after their part of the workload and are committed to work to the deadlines required by the clients.

Ensure that it remains fun and enjoyable and does not become over burdening.

Be brave and just do it! Whether you choose to publish hard copy or ebook, it’s all about editing, attention to detail, an eye for design, clever marketing, working all hours, but having fun and enjoying what you do. Learn by your mistakes, but most of all, believe in yourself.


Kathy PhotoMore about Kathy

As a toddler, I first started drawing pictures as soon as I could hold a crayon, and I quickly learned that bedroom walls were much more fun to draw on than paper.

I’ve always been interested in conservation and decided that I would try writing and illustrating books for children about conservation issues related to animals and historical buildings.

My first four children’s books were published by Oxford University Press in Singapore, and I went on to illustrate over 70 books for OUP and a few written by Joy Cowley, for Reed International.

Since that time I have written and illustrated over 20 books for a variety of clients and have published these via our own company – Creative Characters Partnership, now known as Little Pink Dog Books.

I work mostly in watercolor, colour pencil and ink.



Peter Creamer APU1More about Peter 

I was trained as a mechanical engineer in aerospace and admit that until I met Kathy I had never even thought about children’s books, let alone running a publishing business.

As Kathy began her work in Children’s book creation, I found that I had an interest in the production of creating a book from a process point of view.

I have always been interested in computers since my early days and enjoyed learning to use tools such as Pagemaker, Photoshop and InDesign, and I found it natural to help Kathy create books. We then naturally worked in our own areas as a team, and found it both enjoyable and rewarding, but also quite stressful in terms of meeting client demands and having the overall responsibility for the quality of the final product.

We now look forward to restarting the business as Little Pink Dog Books and to seeing the excitement such books bring to children who read them.kathy creamer 3

Stories Inc: A new way with children’s fiction series

stories incRecently, well-known Australian children’s authors and publishers, Susannah McFarlane and Louise Park, announced the launch of Stories Inc., a unique new consultancy service for children’s book publishers, helping them to create new fiction series.  Intrigued by the concept, I got in touch with Susannah and Louise, and asked them a few questions.

First of all, Susannah and Louise, congratulations on the launch of Stories Inc – such a bold and innovative venture! Can you tell us about the concept, and how you came up with it?

Thank you! Stories Inc has been created to cater to what we see as an opportunity and a demand to work with publishers in a more flexible, creative way to produce great book series for kids developed especially to sit within the publisher’s list. Stories Inc isn’t PARKjust a packaging service that a publisher can buy into: we offer a strategic and creative partnership to publishers that allows them to leverage our quite different but complementary skills to make a series for them. Louise brings years of senior educational and editorial experience and Susannah the same in trade publishing and marketing. It means we can help them make books that kids can and want to read.

We each have our own companies, (Susannah, Lemonfizz Media and Louise, Paddlepop Press) and through these we have independently worked with most of Australia’s major publishers – and each other! Five years ago we formed Pop & Fizz to create the Boy vs Beast series with Scholastic, a series that has now sold nearly half a million copies. We developed the concept, co-wrote the series and worked with independent illustrators and designers to deliver print-ready files. Working closely with the wonderful team at Scholastic was critical: not just to leverage their own and considerable in-house expertise, but also to ensure the series SMCFworked for them and their list needs. It was a very successful and fun project – and now we want to do more like it!

What has it been like bringing Stories Inc from idea to reality? What were the challenges and discoveries?

Stories Inc is really a natural progression, a development of what we are already doing. It spins off the reputation and success of body of work that we each have generated over the combined 50 years of our industry experience and achievements. A lot of the hard structural work was done when we established Pop & Fizz and the decisions and business structure that we already have in place will continue for Stories Inc. While we will continue to work independently as well, it’s incredibly exciting to be developing a partnership that has been both fun and successful.

What do you offer publishers with Stories Inc?

We offer them a suite of services that they can choose from. They may just want an external audit of their list, pure consultancy with recommendations, or they may want us to then work with them to develop those recommendations. And with that, we can deliver anything from a fleshed-out concept that they then develop internally to  the print-ready files for a whole series with marketing plan. The collaboration can be as small or large as the publisher wants or the opportunity suggests.

What about authors? Will you be working with other authors, as creators of individual books in series? 

Yes, absolutely, and illustrators and designers. We are continuing to conceptualise series and package to print ready files but we now looking to commission authors to write within these concepts, rather than writing everything ourselves. This will allow us to offer a diversity of voice and meet the increasing demand. It’s probably worth pointing out however that we can’t accept unsolicited manuscripts: our model is not about trying to fit existing stories and concepts into lists but develop them specifically for those lists.

What kinds of series are you aiming to create? 

That will be driven by what our publishing partners need but our age range covers first chapter books through to young adult fiction

 You have both had very successful careers as authors of series. Can you tell us something about your backgrounds and how you came to be writing series yourselves? 


In my last year at Scholastic Australia I was both Publisher and General Manager, heading up the Education division. At that time I had conceptualized, written and ghost written hundreds titles for extensive reading programs such as Reading Discovery, Reconciliation, Bookshelf and more, along with many Trade titles. But it was mostly my extensive work with reluctant readers and indigenous children that had sparked a long love affair with writing for this group as well as the general primary school-aged reader. So, when I left in 2005 I decided to start my own company offering conceptualizing, writing and packaging services that catered for the primary school child.

When Susannah and I joined forces in 2010, the working partnership added a new dimension to conceptualisng and packaging. The era of the truly hilarious 3-hour Skype planning and scoping meetings, and the wonderfully lengthy working lunches had begun. It was evident fairly early on that the way we worked together and what we produced was a successful recipe worth continuing. 10 years later, series created by me or co-created by Susannah and I include Zac Power Test Drives—a massively successful global-best-seller, Boy vs Beast— a series that sold over 250,000 titles in its first 6 months of selling in its home territory, Star Girl—a series currently being adapted for television, SmartyCat, Bella Dancerella and Harriet Clare.


At Hardie Grant Egmont when I was conceiving the world of Zac Power, I realized how much fun it was on ‘the other side of the fence’. After I sold my share in the company, I had some time away from publishing. I started writing a story for my daughter, Emma, then 9. I wanted to write her a story that might show her that she, girls, could do anything they wanted so I hijacked the boy spy genre and created Emma Jacks, EJ12 Girl Hero and it kind of went on from there. I think being a publisher you are perhaps better able to trouble-shoot some of the issues in your own writing – but I would never fly solo without an independent editor! Equally as a writer yourself, I think it makes it easier to work with other writers: it’s not surprising that an increasing number of people are wearing two hats!

You have also worked as publishers, and in the educational sector. What insights do you think you bring from those experiences? And what’s your view of the children’s book publishing industry in Australia currently? 

Our partnership rests on a unique blend of Trade and Education publishing experience. This allows us to create high-end trade series’ that we know our target audience want to read and can  read. Our years of experience driving publishing lists also means we are old hands at reading the market, finding gaps and understanding what will fill those gaps. And it’s fun to work with different people – very hard to call it work really!

We think the Australian children’s book industry is very buoyant with lots of committed professionals all looking for new ways to bring great stories to kids. Yes, the printed word story –in all formats – has some intense competition from other entertainment options but we think we are meeting that challenge with real energy and innovation, just as we need to. Part of that is looking at different ways to work and harness the talents of people outside a company. Publishers have always been good at that with authors, illustrators and designers and Stories Inc now extends the resources they can draw on.

More about Susannah McFarlane:

Series conceived and published by Susannah McFarlane have now sold over 3 million copies in Australia alone. EJ12 Girl Hero, Go Girl!, Zac Power and Boy vs Beast have provided Australian kids with scores of books they love and their parents trust.

A leading figure in Australian children’s publishing, Susannah works on both sides of the publishing fence combining over twenty years of senior publishing experience in both Australia and the UK with her ‘other job’ as a bestselling author with combined sales in excess of half a million copies.

Susannah held a number of editorial and marketing positions before becoming the Marketing Director of Reed for Kids in Melbourne in 1994. She then moved to London in 1996 to become Licensing Director of Reed Children’s Books working and subsequently Publishing Director and then Managing Director of Egmont Books UK and vice-president of the Egmont Group.

Susannah returned home to Australia in 2002, when her children confused Hyde Park with nature, and co-founded Hardie Grant Egmont where was she was co‐owner, managing director and publisher until 2008.  In 2009 she founded Lemonfizz Media, a boutique children’s publisher that focuses on developing a small number of projects with major publishing and media partners.

She is the creator and writer of the awarding-winning EJ12 Girl Hero series which has now sold over half a million copies, the creator and co-author of the popular series for reluctant-reading boys, Boy vs Beast, and the author of the Little Mates series of alphabet books for under fives. EJ12 Girl Hero was shortlisted for the Australian Children’s Choice Awards in 2010 and 2011, with Book 4 Rocky Road being awarded a KOALA Award Honour Book in 2011

Susannah was also a member of the Children’s Publishing Committee of the Australian Publishers’ Association from 2005-2008 and Convenor of the CPC and Board Director of the Australian Publishers’ Association 2010-2012. A former contributor to the UK trade journal Publishing News, Susannah also talked annually on children’s publishing to the RMIT Editing and Publishing course in Melbourne from 2007- 2012.

She lives in Melbourne with her husband and two children: her son Edvard (whose lack of reading inspired the Zac Power series) and her daughter Emma (who inspired the EJ12 Girl Hero series). Her husband is relieved that she has no plans for a series for or about him ….

More about Louise Park: 

Louise has been involved in education and publishing for over 25 years. Today, she continues to combine her knowledge of literacy and reading acquisition with children’s publishing whilst running her own publishing company.

Louise began in schools as a primary school classroom teacher and then moved into teaching literacy and English to new arrival students in primary schools across Sydney, NSW.

Louise began training primary teachers in literacy teaching in the late 80s when she became a literacy advisor to schools and she continued in this role for 6 years. She has spent more than two decades running training courses, seminars and lectures for teachers in the teaching of guided reading, guided writing and literacy acquisition.

As part of her role as seminar presenter and advisor Louise has written numerous training modules, literacy guides and early literacy acquisition programs that are still implemented in primary schools today. In the early 90s she combined her love of literacy with a publishing career and has since moved through a wide variety of publishing roles within the industry including author, editorial, production, project management and Publisher.

In these roles she has been heavily involved in the creation of a large number of popular primary school and trade reading programs, Trade titles and multi-media resources. She has scoped and created and collaborated on some of the biggest reading programs sold worldwide today including Bookshelf and Reading Discovery.

Louise’s last position inside a large publishing house was as general manager and publisher at Scholastic Australia. She left Scholastic to start her own publishing company, Paddlepop Press, in 2005 where she continues to write, package, produce and create children’s books and resources for several prominent publishers including Scholastic, Pan Macmillan, Macmillan Education, ABC books, HarperCollins, Hinkler Books, Lemonfizz Media and more.

Louise continues to deliver seminars to librarians, teachers and parents on literacy and reading.

As an Author

Louise’s work with reluctant readers sparked a long love affair with writing for this group as well as the general reader. Her series successes include Zac Power Test Drives—a massively successful global-best-seller, Boy vs Beast— a series that sold over 250,000 titles in its first 6 months of selling in its home territory, Star Girl—a series currently being adapted for television, SmartyCat, Bella Dancerella and her latest series,  Harriet Clare.

In 2013 Louise had a title make it onto the prestigious list: 10 best selling books of all time in Australia (adults, children’s, fiction and nonfiction) with the Sydney Morning Herald reporting it at no.9. She also held 8 of the top 10 slots on the children’s charts for almost two months during February and March 2013.

‘No.9 on a list which includes Jamie Oliver, Jodi Picoult and Nora Roberts. Nielsen BookScan’s general manager Shaun Symonds believes it is the first time such a title has ever made it to the top 10. (May 9, 2013)

Louise writes under the following pseudonyms:

I. Larry

Mac Park

Poppy Rose


A brand-new model: interview with Lou Johnson, of The Author People

Lou JohnsonThe whole business of being an author today has changed a great deal, in a time when the publishing industry is going through rapid transformations. And so today I’m very pleased to present an interview with Lou Johnson, one of the founders and directors of The Author People, a brand new kind of business which aims to help authors negotiate these tricky times.

Lou is highly regarded within the international publishing industry. She has over twenty five years of publishing experience, including senior roles at Random House, Allen & Unwin and Simon & Schuster Australia where she was Managing Director between 2010–2014, overseeing a period of transformative change and the establishment of an Australian publishing division. She is also currently on the board of The Stella Prize. Her book industry representation includes Joint Vice-Presidency of the Australian Publisher’s Association (2012–2014) and membership of the Book Industry Collaborative Council (BICC) established by The Dept of Industry & Innovation (Dec 2012–June 2013). She is a regular panelist and speaker and has judged, chaired and developed numerous industry awards and initiatives.

Lou, the Author People is a very different concept to what’s around now in terms of publishing and author services. Can you tell us about it? What can an author who signs up with you expect?

We know that people’s love affair with authors and their books is as strong as ever but the way in which they discover, share, buy and interact with them is changing, driven by technology and the rise in social networking and online member communities.  As a result we have found that authors are now looking for an alternative and more collaborative approach from their publishers.

The Author People is author and people centric and we want to give people meaningful and direct ways in which to engage with authors and also pave the way for authors and people to interact in the future in ways yet to be imagined.

We see the relationship between authors and people transcending individual books, book format types and geographical borders.We really want to streamline the connection between authors and people by providing a different type of publishing approach, really relevant promotional support and a direct global transactional capability. We view our relationship with authors as one of co-producers and are very clear that there isn’t necessarily a one size fits all approach. If we are also representing authors we will be looking for opportunities beyond books like licensing, brand partnerships, content sales and events.

In terms of the audience, the whole focus is on making it easy for them to engage with and access authors and their work and we are working on the premise that we and the authors we represent will be responsible for creating that interest and demand, rather than the traditional reliance on retailers to do that.

Our promotional strategy is focussed on outreach so we can help bridge a connection between authors and the people who may be interested in them. This is largely driven via social media but we can also incorporate more traditional PR activities. Ultimately what we are trying to do is enhance or amplify authors’ own connection with people.  Our website is also a key component of this as it serves as an easy portal  for people to get to know a bit more about individual authors and purchase their books. In addition to our own shopping cart, we will have a number of local and global retail partners links on our site.  Our paper books are also available for any bookseller who would like to stock them via Ingram Content Group and ebooks available to multiple retailers globally via a third party distributor.

Apart from a different outlook, another key difference between us and other publishers is that we have an entirely different business model and structure and have also re-engineered the supply chain to support a more direct author/people link as well as flexibility, condensed production timelines and a lower cost base that we can pass the benefits of onto authors and their audiences. We also differ from traditional publishers in that we don’t provide advances, though we underwrite the development and promotional costs and still work with a royalty structure. Royalties are calculated on a case by case basis depending on scope, though in the majority of cases we would be offering higher than industry average royalties – especially for ebooks. In instances where we also represent authors we retain a commission on any additional revenue opportunities we source for them.

How did you and co-founder and director Tom Galletta first come up with the idea?Tom Galletta

The idea was borne out of the insights I gained through many years working in publishing. There is so much value that traditional publishers still offer but I felt there was a need for a disruptive approach to conventional publishing in order to be relevant in a continually changing environment and could see that authors were increasingly questioning the value of the traditional publishing approach. My thinking was further refined during my time as part of the Book Industry Collaborative Council and the final gap we identified was very much influenced by the findings of the Do You Love Your Publisher? survey research project conducted earlier this year, co-produced by authors Harry Bingham (in the UK) and Jane Friedman (in the US) which has just been reinforced by the Macquarie University research.

I had been thinking about my own venture for some time and finally resigned from my role at Simon & Schuster last year to give myself the space the develop my thinking. Tom doesn’t have any background in publishing which was really important to me as I felt that I needed the input from someone external to industry. I approached Tom to help me with the business modelling and we worked out very quickly that it made sense to become partners.

What has it been like bringing the concept from idea to reality? What were the challenges and discoveries?

Exhilarating and terrifying in equal measure, though my time in the industry and specifically my role as MD at Simon & Schuster served as a very good apprenticeship. Having said that, there has been an enormous amount to learn along the way and a huge amount of multi-tasking so one key challenge is managing our own work processes and resourcing and staying calm and focussed. Getting the right partners is also crucial.

You were a publisher for many years. What insights do you think you bring from that side of the industry? What about Tom?

During my time in publishing I developed a deep understanding about the functions and value publishers can provide but also what can be done differently if you approach things through a different lens.  I also participated in enormous change and it’s not slowing down. I feel that in order to be successful in this environment its critical to be open minded and adaptable and that the exisiting industry paradigms don’t really support that. Given I have a really detailed understanding of the areas that I feel are getting in the way of that I thought we’d create a new paradigm.

Tom brings a really refreshing external and impartial view which further serves to challenge exisiting industry thinking. He also worked previously in artist management and digital so he brings a lot of insight, experience and capability from his previous roles.

You also have access to a team of partners with extensive knowledge of the industry. Can you tell us something about them and their roles?

Tom and I are the nucleus of The Author People and work with an international network of partners and providers. We’ve featured our founding partners on the website but none of them are employed by us or work exclusively with us and we will continue to build our network. We are a proverbial “lean startup”. That is an integral element of our business DNA. Our leanness, efficiency and expertise enables us to pass on all the value and benefits to authors and audiences.

The first books you’ve helped to bring into being have just come out. Tell us about them, and their authors.

Our first author was Adrian Simon. There is a big backstory to the relationship between the two of us. Adrian really liked the concept of The Author People and wanted to work with me so bringing his book to the world was another driving force behind bringing the vision behind The Author People to life. Adrian is the son of Warren Fellows, the infamous heroin smuggler who was imprisoned in Bangkwang Prison in Bangkok and later wrote the best-selling book The Damage Done. Adrian’s own story is extraordinary and its very exciting seeing him able to finally tell the other side of the story in his memoir Milk-Blood: Growing Up The Son Of A Convicted Drug Trafficker. However, Adrian’s book is just one way for Adrian to tell his story and connect with people so we are working with Adrian to develop other mediums like speaking events, partnerships and other content forms.

Our second author is ABC Northern Tasmania’s radio host and start up guru Polly McGee. Polly and her debut novel Dogs of India are a perfect fit for The Author People. Polly is an innovator and a natural connector, and Dogs of India also comes from her own “lived experience,” which is one of our key content areas. She originally crowd funded Dogs through Indiegogo, which served as a brilliant proving ground for her and the novel (as well as raising $8,500 for Vets Without Borders). Dogs of India is my favourite kind of book. It’s an enormously entertaining, warm and witty novel that packs a powerful message into a velvet glove. It is quite likely that Polly’s next book will be entirely different and may not even be fiction and our model completely support that.

What has been the response so far from booksellers and readers?

Authors love it, booksellers are supportive of it, especially our affiliate partners and it’s too soon to comment on the reader response but the early signs are good.

Where are you hoping The Author People will be, five years from now?


Seriously, we expect the business to continue evolving just like the external landscape. Our vision is to have the capability and flexibility to continue to diversify to ensure an ongoing deep relationship between authors and people as technology continues to develop and book forms continuing to evolve along with the ways people can interact with them and their creators.