What does your day-to-day entail?
As a publicist at Scribe, I organise media coverage, interviews, festival appearances, events, and launches for Scribe’s books and authors. I’m also the publicist for Scribble, Scribe’s children’s imprint, so I get to work across a really varied list of titles. I spend a lot of my time pitching our titles to a wide range of media, whether they be reviewers, literary editors, radio and television producers and presenters, news editors, bloggers or podcasters. I’m on the phone and email quite a lot (all the time) to journalists, writers festival programmers, bookstores, and the authors themselves. Of course there’s loads of reading to be done — I’m always reading and re-reading the books I’m working on with an eye for different angles that might interest a particular media outlet or combing a manuscript looking for a great section to extract. Throughout the year I travel quite a bit for work, accompanying authors on interstate tours, or heading to writers festivals. I work closely with each author on their campaign, planning interviews and touring schedules.
What was your favourite book to work on?
I’m going to cheat and pick three of the most recent titles that I’ve worked on because I have loved working on each of them, and because together they illustrate the brilliant and varied list of books that I get to work on for both Scribe and Scribble. My publicity brain will also not pass up this opportunity to plug as many of our front-list titles as possible.
Trace: who killed Maria James by Rachael Brown (Scribe)
Trace is based on Rachael Brown’s ground-breaking ABC podcast of the same name and details her cold-case investigation into the 1980 murder of Maria James in the home behind her Thornbury bookstore. I was a huge fan of the podcast, so was thrilled to work on this book. As a journalist, Rachael’s tenacity and dedication to this case is awe-inspiring. Her investigation has uncovered monumental failings within both the Catholic Church and Victoria Police, and given a voice to survivors of horrific abuse. Working on publicity for the book and helping to get this story to new audiences has felt really important. Rachael wrote an exceptional piece for Good Weekend on her experience producing the podcast and writing the book, there’s also a wonderful interview piece with Rachael by Jenny Valentish on The Guardian website. Meeting Maria’s two sons, Adam and Mark James, at Rachael Brown’s recent in conversation event with Barrie Cassidy at Readings was very special. I’m really looking forward to the upcoming Trace event at The Wheeler Centre in October with Rachael, Mark, and Ron Iddles — the original detective assigned to Maria James’s case. It will be the first time the three of them have been interviewed together and it will be fascinating. It’s booked out but will be live streamed via The Wheeler Centre website on October 17.
Wren by Katrina Lehman and Sophie Beer (Scribble)
Being from a large family, this simple yet moving story of finding your place within a noisy rabble, and the shift that accompanies the arrival of a new brother or sister really resonated with me. Sophie Beer’s beautiful, bright, and distinct illustrations help convey that story so well. It got a five star review in Books+Publishing. It’s really bloody good. Katrina Lehman recently read at a storytime event at The Little Book Room (if you live in Melbourne and have young children, go to these) and I spotted several grown ups crying in the audience. Spoiler alert The book has a happy ending, so I am quite sure they were happy tears.
The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley
The Mere Wife is US author Maria Dahvana Headley’s retelling of the legend of Beowulf, set in a modern day gated suburban community. For the first time, Headley tells the story from the perspective of Grendel’s mother — recast as a returned soldier, Dana Mills, suffering from PTSD living on the fringes of this community. It’s otherworldly, yet also unmistakably set in contemporary America, and turns the monster/hero narrative on it’s head. It’s unlike anything I’ve read and I loved it. Maria was recently in Australia for Melbourne Writers Festival and I organised a tour and media around her trip here. The Mere Wife was book of the month on ABC Melbourne Drive’s ‘Read with Raf’ segment, and since its release, it has picked up stunning reviews here and overseas, as well as features in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.
It was such a treat to hear Maria speak at her MWF event, discussing race, class, gender and contemporary politics, and how we create monsters. She’s also a dead-set legend. We got tattoos together immediately after her event, and drank heaps of margaritas so I am not going to forget working on her book any time soon.
What’s your all-time favourite life-changing book that’s too precious to lend out?
Growing up with many younger siblings and a large extended family no text was sacred and most of my childhood and adolescent favourites made their way onto the shelves of brothers, sisters and cousins, which is lovely. If I love a book I’m also very likely to foist it onto as many people as possible. This year I thrust Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie into the hands of many friends, while exclaiming: ‘This is beautiful and will break you and when you finish reading it you may spend many hours staring silently into space, feeling quite numb and deeply affected.’
With that said though, there are a couple of precious books on my shelf that I will try very hard not to lose. A friend of mine gave me a hard cover copy of Stoner by John Williams a year or so ago. It’s a stunningly beautiful, sad, and elegant account of a remarkably unremarkable life.
My Mum gave me a very old edition of The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens. It’s one of the only things of hers that I own so I certainly won’t be lending it out. It’s so fragile that I haven’t dared read it.
Tell us about your journey from school to Scribe.
It was a fairly round about trip from school to Scribe. After high school I completed a Bachelor of Arts (Media and Communications) with a major in Literature at Swinburne University. From there I worked for an events management company, before moving to a music management and publicity company. I worked in music and arts publicity, managing publicity campaigns for touring bands, album launches, music festivals, theatre, and comedy shows for a number of years. I also worked for a Melbourne-based creative events company on music programming and event production for Melbourne Festival, Dark MOFO and Mona Foma. Most of my work was freelance or contract based so a couple of years ago I decided to look for a full time gig and happened upon an ad for a Publicist role at Scribe. I’d read and loved many of their books and felt that the skills I’d acquired working as an arts and music publicist were easily transferrable, so I applied and they offered me the job. I was glad to take it.
Tell us about your debut book (Definitely) The Best Dogs of All Time.
It’s a book about the best dogs from throughout, history, mythology, literature, film, television and the internet, and it’s called (Definitely) The Best Dogs of All Time. It’s illustrated by the incredibly talented Molly Dyson, and it’s out through Scribe in November. I am so excited!
How did this idea come about?
It happened in an all staff meeting in February this year. We were discussing our end of year list when Henry, our publisher, mentioned that he was looking for light-hearted gift books to publish in November for Christmas, and finished by saying ‘So if anyone has any ideas…’
He may have meant that comment to be taken rhetorically, but I took it quite literally.
Dogs are the best. There are, and have been, so many great dogs in this world. I reeled off a list of my favourite dogs from throughout history and suggested that we publish a humorous illustrated gift book about the best dogs of all time and call it (Definitely) The Best Dogs of All Time. I was happy enough just to make the rest of the office laugh, but everyone seemed to be very on board with the idea. I took a couple of nights to write up a proposal and it was jointly commissioned by our Senior Commissioning editor Marika Webb-Pullman and our Art Director Miriam Rosenbloom the following week.
The whole thing was turned around very quickly; I researched and wrote it in about three months at night or on weekends. Miriam Rosenbloom, our art director, suggested approaching Molly Dyson to illustrate it, I already knew Molly and was a huge fan of her work so I was quite thrilled by that happy coincidence and even more so when she said yes. She did such an amazing job working to a very tight schedule and the finished book looks amazing. She has such a unique style, and is fast becoming a highly in-demand designer and illustrator in the music and arts scenes in both Australia and Germany, so I felt very lucky to have her involved.
Our production manager Mick Pilkington described it as ‘shot-gun publishing’ and this seems like an apt description. It was such a fun project to work on and I’m very proud of it.
In your opinion, who is the best dog of all time?
For the book I’ve chosen 42 of the best dogs of all time so I cannot narrow it down to one dog I’m sorry. I will say though, that the dog that I have chosen to have tattooed onto my body forever is Hachikō — an Akita dog from Shibuya, Japan owned by Professor Hidesaburō Ueno. Each afternoon, Hachikō would greet Professor Ueno at Shibuya railway station, following the professor’s commute home from work at The University of Tokyo.
When Professor Ueno died while giving a lecture in 1925, Hachikō was left at the station waiting. And for the next nine years he would wait at the station every afternoon for his master, who would never return. By the time Hachikō died in 1935, he had become famous across Japan, and a national icon of loyalty and devotion. He was even present at the unveiling of a statue in his honour in 1934. There’s a film starring Richard Gere based on his story and a whole episode of Futurama. Great dog.
What advice would you give to someone aspiring to work in publishing?
As I mentioned above it was hardly a straight line for me to a job in publishing, so with that in mind I don’t feel like I can give great advice on forging a career in publishing specifically. But if you want to work in a creative industry (and I see publishing as something that fits into that category) then my advice is to work, work, work, work, work. Work whenever possible. For free to begin with if you need to. Volunteer on friends creative projects or for organisations you’re passionate about. It’s how you meet people, develop skills and find opportunities for the next thing. I got the music-programming role because I had volunteered as an artist liaison on Melbourne Festival one year (I helped Patti Smith set up her wifi!). All of my freelance jobs flowed from one to another from recommendations or from the connections that I made on previous jobs.