SWF: My Day 1

The Sydney Writers’ Festival is off and running. I’m having a soft entry: just one event yesterday and none today, and  I don’t expect to see Walsh Bay until tomorrow morning.

Yesterday’s talk, Craig Munro: Under Cover, was at the State Library, just next door to the Mitchell Library, scene of last night’s awards ceremony. Craig Munro was in conversation with Rachel Franks from the library, talking about Under Cover, his memoir of three decades working as an editor at University of Queensland Press.

I’m lucky enough to have earned my living as an editor, and I have never found the work less than interesting, whether in the book trade, on a children’s magazine (that was the best!), or in the publications section of a government department. But it’s not glamorous, and I struggle to see why anyone not an editor would be interested to hear one of us talk about it. However, a respectable crowd turned out for this talk, and seemed to like what they got.

What we got was some tips about self editing (‘the most important thing is to create distance from the initial writing’), advice on how to write a pitch for a publisher or agent (spend at least a week honing it), information and opinions about the changing face of publishing (paper books are here to stay; a poetry book is best-seller in Australia if it sells 400 copies), and glimpses of famous authors (David Malouf and the underrated Barbara Hanrahan are the only two writers Munro has dealt with whose manuscripts arrive at the publisher pretty well word perfect).

The best thing about the session was the readings that topped and tailed it. The first told of the author’s first meeting with David Malouf, in which they worked out the name for Malouf’s first novel. The second, with brilliant timing, told the story of the infamous NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Dinner of 1985, at which the book people gathered in the Intercontinental Hotel grew unruly during Morris West’s sermonical Address (the poet Martin Johnston shouting ‘Bullshit!’ at one point), Nadia Wheatley criticised Premier Neville Wran’s housing policy when accepting her award from him, and Wran himself reverted to Parliamentary behaviour and called on someone to put a bun in the mouth of one rowdy interjector. The passage should be read aloud at the start of each Awards evening, to remind us all that slide shows, civility and smiling decorum may not always be preferable to honest ill temper and rowdiness. Craig Munro’s manifest pleasure in reading it to us cast a different light on his own quietly courteous, considered manner.

8 responses to “SWF: My Day 1

  1. Unfortunately I can’t be in Sydney for the fest this time, so I’m looking forward to reading all your dispatches, even if they are about editors (I’m one too).


  2. Thanks, Kirsten – I think from now on the dispatches will be about the writers!


  3. Pingback: My literary week, in a sense | Whispering Gums

  4. Well, Jonathan, I’m interested in what editors have to say, and in fact recently mouth Craig Munro’s book – though haven’t had time to read it. Then again, my Mum is an editor (mostly though on the Macquarie Dictionary rather than with general publishing, but she now does volunteer editing for the Jane Austen Society) – and my daughter would love to be one – so perhaps we are all weird!


  5. I’m reading Craig Munro’s book currently, Sue, and he characterises my attitude in the first couple of pages as part of ‘an underworld-style code of silence’: we know it’s terrific work, but it’s just not done to talk about it.


    • Yet, it should be talked about as it’s an important role. BTW Forget to say that I loved hearing about the quality of David Malouf and Barbara Harrahan’s manuscripts.


      • Well, yes. But I still feel uncomfortable about editors coming out from behind the mask and talking about their authors’ poor spelling (which Munro does not do), or the number of typos that went unnoticed in the first edition (which Munro does).


      • I agree re poor spelling, Jonathan. What are editors for after all ?! There are many reasons why some people can’t spell, which may have nothing to do with an ability to think and express themselves.


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