23 October 2013


So it seems we are not the only workplace at which colleagues adopt similar sartorial sensibilities.

The good folk at I Like Looking Like Other People - who are in the business of celebrating that awkward moment at work when you realise you're wearing pretty much the same thing as someone else - reveal we are not alone. We give a great big two thumbs up to your excellent tumblr.*

* For a while we were curious about why Ffion and Terry are holding a pumpkin - then we remembered... (Beware: swears.)

18 October 2013

Friday Stuff and items

1) Remember how this happened?

And then this happened?

Well, now this has happened ...

We should just institute a uniform and be done with it. Now... I wonder what that should look like...?

2) Neil Gaiman says fiction is a gateway drug. We reckon if you mainline Neil Gaiman, you'll be on the way to a full-blown fiction addiction. Eeeexcellent.

3) You know we love Our Colleague Jarvis Cocker. Well here he is reading Seamus Heaney's poem 'Digging'. This Onion spent most of Year Twelve studying Seamus Heaney, and studying Jarvis Cocker - so this is something of a ... moment.

08 October 2013

How the Guinea Pigs got their Mystery

This, O my Best Beloved, is a story - a new and a wonderful story - a story quite different from the other stories - a story of co-operation.

We tend to think of book-writing as a solo occupation. One writer, head exploding with ideas. One writer, alone with a blank page. One writer, huddled over their typewriter [Macbook Air], in a drafty garret [comfortable study], looking out over Paris [Preston], their housekeeper [husband] putting plates of cheese sandwiches [cheese sandwiches] through the door in a desperate attempt to sustain the lonely genius.

Well, sometimes that's true (especially the Paris bit), but sometimes books are a much more collaborative effort. Sometimes it takes brains sparking off each other to create the magic.

Sometime-solo-genius Ursula Dubosarsky talks about what it was like to be part of the brain stew that created The Cryptic Casebooks of Coco Carlomagno (and Alberta) :


They often tell you in writing classes - write about something you love. Well, three things I love are:
guinea pigs,
detective stories,
and the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

I have always loved guinea pigs. The first book I published for children was about a guinea pig, and they have scampered into several of my other books since. My love of detective stories also began in childhood, and it's been a long-term ambition to write one myself.  Buenos Aires, admittedly, is a love that appeared later in life. My husband grew up there, so we have returned to visit several times over the years, and what a grand, intense and beautiful city it is. And of course, guinea pigs do come from South America...

But how did these three loves find each other? 

Usually I sit quietly at home thinking of things to write, but in this case, publisher Anna MacFarlane suggested that she, I and illustrator Terry Denton get together one day and see if we might come up with an idea for a series of books that combined puzzles and problem-solving with the pleasures of character and narrative.

We sat and ate and drank and chatted and wondered and thought aloud, and Terry drew and doodled, and made us laugh (of course). And eventually, in one of those mysteries of creation, by the end of the day there was Coco, head poised, looking nervously about the room for possible clues for the most improbable of crimes...

Three books later, Coco and Alberta, Ursula, Terry and Anna have proved themselves a cracking good team.

17 September 2013

How the Whirlpool Got Its Spin

In the High and Far-Off Times, O Best Beloved, the Publisher had no stories. But she had a friend, a Literary Agent. And so that was all right, Best Beloved. Do you see?

Sometimes, publishing is like trying to find your true love at a bar in the CBD on a Friday night. There are a lot of fish in the sea, and not all of them are going to *ahem* meet your exacting criteria. So, to narrow the field and increase their chances of finding their one true love/the perfect book, publishers often look to a matchmaker - otherwise known as a literary agent.

Agents know their clients' work, obviously, but one of their other great skills is building deep and lasting relationships with publishers and editors, and knowing exactly which book and author might suit which publisher. If a literary agent you trust sets you up, chances are you'll be going home together.*
Publisher Anna McFarlane remembers one such match-made-in-heaven:

My first day at Allen & Unwin was 20 July 2010. And while I was excited, I was also discombobulated. I had a desk, a print-out of procedures, a phone, a wall of bookshelves without any books in it, and an email address (although only one email -- the subject being 'Testing your email'). I was a blank slate and even though I was happy, Bad Thoughts were starting to pop into my head. Was this the right thing to be doing? Could I still publish books? Would I ever fall in love with a manuscript again? It was all rather nerve-wracking.

But at 1:40pm on that very first day, I received my (second ever) email, subject: 'New Book'.

Hello Anna
Welcome to your new home!! I know that today is your first day and you probably haven't even found the mail room yet (first door on the left) but wanted this to be the first thing I send you.


It was from Curtis Brown agent and MD Fiona Inglis and the 'this' was a new novel by the award-winning writer Andrew McGahan. Rather surprisingly to all involved (even him), Andrew had written a young-adult novel set on the high seas in a strange-but-familiar world. Luckily, I was able to read it straight away (empty inbox, after all) and very quickly I was captivated by the Great Ocean and the splendor of those tall ships, and longed to read more about Dow's journey from timber cutter to great mariner.

Reading the manuscript was a beautiful experience, not just because I was being transported by the story to a world of wild storms, terrible beauty and that dangerous and mysterious ocean, but also because those Bad Thoughts had disappeared.

It was day one and I had fallen in love with a manuscript. I desperately wanted to publish it. And (ironically if you know the story, which questions the very concept of destiny, and challenges the idea of portents and superstitions) it was also a sign that this was indeed the right thing to be doing.

And there you have it. True love fostered, fears allayed and zeal renewed, all without Anna needing to leave her shiny** new desk.

Thank you, Fiona - and thank you to all the other agents who help us to find stories we love and authors we adore.

* Metaphorically. METAPHORICALLY.
** Metaphorically. This is publishing, after all.

10 September 2013

How the Tashi Got His Tale

 Before the Chapter Books and the Bind Ups and the Box Sets, O my Best Beloved, came the Time of the Very Beginnings.

When an author brings a work to us they often imagine it in a particular shape or form. But part of the publisher's job is to know the market, to understand the material, and to see possibilities that the author or illustrator never even considered. Often, the author's initial vision is very close to the final product. But sometimes, with time and discussion and consultation it grows (or metamorphoses) into something else entirely. 

You might think of the editorial process as a bit like helping the sculptor to find David in the block of marble. 'Chip that nose a bit. A bit more. A bit more. Perfect!' And mostly, that's true.

But it can also be about thinking differently about what's already there: 'You've been going for David, but actually we think you've made a very handsome Daniel.'*

Other times it's about plucking up your courage and saying, 'Look, Michaelangelo, I don't think marble is your medium; have you considered watercolours?'

In the case of Tashi - Anna and Barbara Fienberg's much-loved hero - it was perhaps a bit like encouraging a minnow, to grow to a school of fish, to become a blue whale - while still being Tashi all the time.

Anna Fienberg conceived the original Tashi story as a picture-book text. It had so many appealing qualities: a rich friendship between boy and friend (or alter ego); a teasing relationship between boy and father; a fresh take on the 'tall tale'; a fearless blend of European and Asian folk story traditions; larger-than-life villains; an irrepressible hero living by his wits (brain not brawn always triumphs); action aplenty; exotic landscapes; and scope for cinematic pictures…

And Kim Gamble was the perfect illustrator, given his previous collaborations with Anna, his talent for characterisation and his lovingly intricate scenery.

But the manuscript was too long for a standard picture book, and the writing too good to cut.

Rosalind Price, head of children's publishing at Allen & Unwin at the time, knew there was a need for short, engaging 'chapter books' for young readers and nearly-readers. So instead of chopping back the text, she said 'write another story!' We chose a slim, economical paperback novel format, with two stories and lots of black-and-white illustrations. It was hard to forego Kim's delicious watercolours, but his detailed pencil drawings have their own intimate appeal, and leave room for the reader to imagine the world of the stories. And suddenly there was scope for all the further adventures that Anna wanted to explore!

That first little Tashi book led to 18 years (so far) of publishing Tashi. There have been sixteen chapter books, an activity books, a few bind-ups, and a couple of box sets.

In 2004, Tashi finally appeared in the form that Anna had originally envisioned - in the beautiful full-colour picture book There Once Was a Boy Called Tashi.  This November, Tashi goes picture book again in Once Tashi Met a Dragon, which features a beautiful - but very hard to photograph - sparkly dragon on the cover.

So in some ways, Tashi has come full circle. But he's also branching out into brave new worlds. Next year, Flying Bark Productions and ABC TV will let loose Tashi and Jack and Lotus Blossum in animated form!

But whatever the format, with or without the sparkles and glitter, no matter how fat or how skinny the book, at the core of Tashi are the rich, warm, imaginative characters and stories that Anna and Barbara Fienberg and Kim Gamble created. 

Our original marketing copy included the line 'Tashi tells the best stories …', and 18 years later that line still appears on almost all of the book jackets, and in much of our marketing material. Because he does; Tashi tells the best stories.

* 'And there's a gap in the market for a good Daniel.'

09 September 2013

Just So Stories

For our 25th anniversary we've been sharing the Origin stories of the Onions. We walked a lot of different paths to the House of Onion, some smooth, some thorny and some with a higher-than-expected number of door-to-door encyclopedia sales.*

But what of the books themselves? How do we find our authors and our books - or how do they find us?

Pure and simple: how do the books become?

Well, we must begin with the confession that, as Algernon Moncrieff so tartly put it, 'the truth is rarely pure and never simple. Modern life would be very tedious if it were either, and modern literature a complete impossibility!'

Sometimes they come to us.

Sometimes we go to them.

Sometimes they arrive fully formed.

Sometimes the gestation is long, and the incarnations are many.

Sometimes, we feel like Kipling's whale, opening its throat and swallowing all the stories in the world.**

Sometimes we feel like Taffy, creating the alphabet from scratch

Often, we feel like Pooh and Piglet - keeping company with authors and stories, lending a paw, navigating heffalump traps and having a little smackerel of something at eleven.  

So hear and attend and listen; for this befell and behappened and became and was.

Tomorrow: How the Tashi Got His Tale

The first two illustrations are Rudyard Kipling's own woodcuts from Just So Stories, the third, of course, is the wonderful EH Shephard.

*For a brilliant short story about door-to-door salesmen, we highly recommend 'The Devil and the Corner Grocer' in the collection The Chewing Gum Rescue and other stories by Margaret Mahy.

** Until a Mariner of infinite-resource-and-sagacity used a lifeboat and suspenders to create a grating to stem the flow. We call this grating The Friday Pitch, but more of that in due course.

06 August 2013

A Cake for All Seasons

On Sunday at the Little Bookroom in Carlton, Ann James launched Kirsty Murray's enchanting time-slip novel The Four Seasons of Lucy McKenzie out into the world. It was a lovely celebration; there was laughter, and champagne and there was a book cake. The best of all cakes...

And to make up for the fact that public holidays are thin on the ground about now, several Onions had the consideration to be born at this time of year, to give us something to celebrate.

We've had the ethereal, beautiful, delicious dacquoise for SB,

the wallowingly indulgent Chocolate Peanut Butter cheesecake for ALG,

and, because not everyone has a sweet tooth, party pies and tomato sauce for EJ.

Sadly the pies were eaten too fast to capture on film.*

Happy birthday to the birthday ladies!

Thank you, bakers!

And congratulations, Kirsty!

* Well, there's an obsolete expression. 

25 July 2013

It's not all sunshine and roses over here

To be sung, mournfully, to the tune of Red River Valley...

From this office they say you are going.
We will miss your dry wit and great style.
For from us you are taking the sunshine,
that has brightened our workday a while.

Come and eat gluten-free cupcakes, if you love us.
Do not hasten to bid us adieu.
But remember this old terrace building,
and the Onions who love you so true.

Tracy O'Shaughnessy - publisher extraordinaire - is leaving us.

Even though she publishes books for grown-up people, Tracy is a kindred sprit, and we will miss her very much - especially her warmth and humour ... and her willingness to go on the coffee run, even in the vilest weather.

Tracy is moving on to exciting new things at RMIT, and we wish her the very very best, but we're just going to sing a few more cowboy dirges and stuff our face with cupcakes while we get used to the idea.


23 July 2013

Breaking news!

We don't have a town cryer, or a gilt easel, but we have news. 
Hear ye.... Hear ye...

Not the royal one. Well, she's Fitzroyalty*, but not the other, more British, more expensive, more interesting to the newspapers kind.

HR** and her delicious new daughter celebrated five years (for mum) and almost-a-month (for daughter) of being an Onion and an Onion Sprout, respectively. Very good work, on all your productions, HR.

JW has clearly reached the straight mile of her long and winding road, because she's been an Onion for ten years! Amazing. AMAZING. We're so pleased your perambulations brought you this way, JW.

Our Lovely Leader LB, has been keeping A&U on the cutting edge***  of marketing for 15 years! Congratulations and thank you, LB - for everything, but especially for telling our story so well.

So how to celebrate...? How to properly mark such an occasion...? Oh, who are we kidding. You know full well...

with three cakes of course.

And also with brownies.

You probably think you know brownies too - well, think again. These brownies had Caramello Koalas in them. 


They came express from the kitchen of Amie Kaufman, and brought with them love from Meagan Spooner.  Amie and Meagan are the co-authors of These Broken Stars, which we are super super excited to be publishing in December this year, partly because we can use three of our favourite words to describe it: Thriller, Romance and Science-fiction.****

We've decided we are keeping them. Meagan and Amie, that is. The brownies are alllll gone.

Caramello koalas.

Inside the brownies.

All in all, it's been a very good day.

* Sorry everyone outside Melbourne, this is an inner-city elite gag.
** No, this is not short for Her Royal.
*** We know about the cutting edge because LB showed us the colour-photocopied, hand-cut, hand-assembled, recycled paper envelopes she made for booksellers circa 1999. CUTTING EDGE! (And very pretty.)
**** Okay - maybe we wouldn't normally hyphenate science fiction unless it was being an adjective, but then it would have been four words and that didn't scan so well. Editor's prerogative.

26 June 2013

Onion Origins - LB

In celebration of our 25th anniversary of children's publishing we are delighted to present the twelfth edition of Onion Origins - our Fearless Leader in the Mothership.

An 8-month maternity-leave position... (15 years later)

After managing a bookshop for four years I concluded that retail wasn't for me and that I wanted to try publishing. I decided the places to start were Allen & Unwin or Random House - purely based on the books they published and the fact they were in Sydney. As good a logic as any!

Allen & Unwin were then the distributors of Dava Sobel and Annie Proulx - authors I loved reading and recommending - and had published some of the Australian history and sociology titles I'd been inspired by at uni. And they had two jobs available - one in the Sales Department and one in Marketing/Product Management.

My first interview was with Robert Gorman* and he asked if I wanted to be an editor (I didn't). I'd read somewhere that being positive about where a company was located was a good thing in an interview so I was possibly too effusive about the lovely trees on Atchison Street and the proximity to cafes and a bookshop. I didn't get that job - Caitlin Withey did, and she, like me, is still at A&U today.

Liane Poulton was the A&U sales rep who called on the bookshop where I worked. She was wonderful and eccentric and a wildlife warrior. And also famously prone to injury. She was very funny, passionate about books and the book business, and bought me coffees and talked inappropriately loudly in the local cafe until I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cringe. She got my vote for Sydney Rep of the Year every year.

And I suspect she had a role in the outcome of my next - successful - interview at A&U, which was with Paul Donovan. I knew from experience that Liane had that skill of talking at you till you gave in, and I found out several years after the fact that she had cornered Paul in his office and talked at him about giving me a job. So I'm still not sure to what degree my employment was due to my own talents and to what degree it was about Paul buying himself a quiet life. But regardless, I'm grateful to both Liane and Paul.**

I started on an 8-month maternity-leave position; 15 years later I'm still here.

The original role was an odd combination of jobs: managing A&U's relationship with ABC Books & Audio (which we distributed at the time), as well as ABC Retail. Coordinating Special Sales. And Children's Marketing. I landed in the Children's Department a little by accident because it happened to be the job that was going - and I had enjoyed reading and recommending children's books as part of my bookselling role. I'd learned 'how to do it' by talking to kids who came into the store, reading the books, remembering what I had liked as a kid and why, listening to more experienced booksellers and soaking up any information I could get from my sales reps.

That first year the A&U local children's list was about 28 books compared to the 85 or so we do each year now, and marketing was almost entirely to bookshops with a little bit of school liaison. One of my first tasks was to make a poster for the Minton books by Anna Fienberg and Kim Gamble which we originally published in 1999 and then repackaged in a brand new format in 2008 . There was a launch event at a school near the bookshop I'd worked in, with a Minton cake, and the Year 6 girls made up a 'Go, Minton, Go' cheer performed with pompoms.

As well as working on our own list, I spent hours talking to David Francis, then Children's Publisher at ABC Books, often quite late into the evening, phone glued to my left ear, legs kicking out under my big old brown veneer desk. It was answering questions from David and his colleagues and solving their issues that forced me to develop my understanding of the market. And it was through the ABC that I learned how you can find a different market for a book by changing its format, and how to market both author-led titles, and those that weren't - Bananas in Pyjamas, The Play School Useful Book.

I also worked on the Bloomsbury children's list, at first under the guidance of Miranda Van Asch and increasingly on my own. Bloomsbury were kicking up a gear at the time, and publishing wonderful fiction including Sharon Creech's Love That DogCelia Rees's Witch Child and the extraordinary, and still best-selling, Holes by Louis Sachar. I learned the value of passion and word-of-mouth and how to start a chain of enthusiasm from inside the company.

From the beginning, A&U, and Paul in particular, put a huge amount of trust in me, allowing me to take on more responsibilities and run with new ideas. My role changed, our list and the Bloomsbury list grew, marketing strategies developed over time - and soon I had to shed some responsibilities in favour of others.

I'd started at A&U in 1998 around the time of the release of the second Harry Potter book, and during the 2000s, as that series became a phenomenon, large chunks of my days, evenings, weekends - life - were consumed by working on it while the rest of my job somehow went on. My work during 'The Harry Years' could be a blog post or three of its own, but suffice to say it was a unique project and an incredible opportunity, and not a week goes by that I don't use something I learned at that time in my current role.

And nine years later, when the final Harry Potter book was published, my role at A&U was focused entirely on children's books.

And now I oversee all our Children's publishing, marketing and distribution activities. Most of the time I work a suburb away from the trees of Atchison St in A&U's 'new' offices, with regular trips to Melbourne where more than half the team are based. My desk is modern grey rather than brown veneer; there are more contracts on it than design briefs for posters, and I'm more likely to create a spreadsheet than a promotional flyer. But I still have the plant that I inherited from my predecessor in that triple ABC/special sales/children's role all those years ago.

And it's still all about the books we publish, and making sure they reach and resonate with readers of all ages.
- Liz Bray, Children's Books Director

* RG was then A&U's Sales Manager. These days after moving to and returning from HarperCollins, he's our CEO.
** Very sadly, Liane died a few years later.

19 June 2013

Onion Origins - SB

In celebration of our 25th anniversary of children's publishing we are delighted to present the eleventh edition of Onion Origins.

Offering a bribe...

In December 1994 - so long ago! - I went to a Little Ark Christmas party where the publisher, Rosalind Price, casually mentioned that she was on the lookout for an editor. Little Ark was the children's books imprint Rosalind had established at Allen & Unwin. She said, 'Whoever it is, they've got to have the right sensibility. After all, I'll be spending more time with this person each day than I do with my husband!'

I'd been freelancing and mothering for fifteen years and longed for something different; moreover, I had been acquainted with Rosalind since the 1970s and knew her quality.

The interview was friendly, but not an unmitigated success and, after a week of silence, I feared the worst. I phoned Rosalind and rashly said, 'I know we could work together, I just know it!' and offered to bribe her with pictures - by sending her my favourite postcards as a starting point for a second interview. She laughed, and said would I at least like to work with her on a three-month trial, to keep things moving while she went to the Bologna Children's Book Fair. I said yes.

Among the books being published at the time were Margo Lanagan's The Best Thing, which I had done a reader's report on months earlier and found extraordinary; various non-fiction titles in the True Stories series; John Nicholson's The First Fleet; Natalie Jane Prior's detective story The Paw in Brazil, illustrated by Terry Denton. I revelled in the variety, the creative collaboration with Rosalind, and the chance to engage with authors (a rarity out there in freelance world). 

Then Sue Flockhart came in for an interview. Rosalind told me that whatever decision she made about Sue would not affect any decision she made about me, but I didn't believe her, and assumed that at the end of my three-month trial, I'd be out. 

At about this time I was offered an editorial job at Penguin. At the second interview with one of the senior people it was suggested I could soon be hobnobbing with famous authors from the adult book world and surfing the net (then a novelty) in a world-class multinational company; why would I even think of working in the narrow world of books for children?

During these negotiations Rosalind announced that she'd loved working with me and would like to offer me a permanent job at Little Ark. I explained about Penguin, and went away to agonise. The nimble, creative small outfit in the inner city appealed more - as did the chance to work with Rosalind - but would a period in the Penguin empire be wiser in the long run? Would I paint myself into a corner if I specialised in children's books?

That was eighteen years ago, and I am still here, and since then I have often had cause to bless the day I tried to bribe Rosalind Price.

Sarah wearing a possum-skin cloak (used by John Danalis in talks at schools) 
at the launch of Riding the Black Cockatoo.

- Sarah Brenan, Commissioning Editor

12 June 2013

Onion Origins - AMcF

In celebration of our 25th anniversary of children's publishing we are delighted to present the tenth edition of Onion Origins.

Impossible possibilities

I find it hard, almost impossible, to explain how I ended up in children’s books because no matter how I try to tell the story, the road from being a some-time childcare worker, a disenchanted actor and Dramatic Arts graduate living in Adelaide, to that of a publisher of children’s books living in Sydney is not linear. In fact, it seems kind of improbable when I look at it on paper, although the reality of my groaning book shelves, overflowing inbox and occasional parking tickets, reminds me that, yes, it is indeed true. That earnest and vocationally challenged person in Adelaide did indeed finally find her way into the job she wanted.

The first person to ever interview me for a publishing job was incredibly influential. I didn’t get the job, but my interviewer was kind and passionate about what she did, and it ignited a real passion in me to work in the industry.

The second job I applied for was at Allen & Unwin’s Melbourne office as an editorial assistant, assisting the non-fiction adult books publisher. I was keen for a job in children’s books, but any job in the industry would have made me happy. At the same time I applied for a position as a junior trainee assistant children’s book editor in Sydney. I felt the Sydney position was unlikely and I anticipated that I would be moving to Melbourne to be an editorial assistant.

But I did get the job as a trainee editor - my first job in publishing. And so, I thought it was goodbye to Allen & Unwin and off I set to make my home in Sydney and my career at HarperCollins Publishers.

I spent five interesting years at HarperCollins learning to be an editor and then ten exciting years at Pan Macmillan where I ended up as the publisher of children’s books. It seems ridiculous to summarise those years so swiftly here, because they were fantastic and hugely effecting, however, even though I loved my job, the Dramatic Arts graduate still lurked and when the opportunity to work for an independent film production company arose, I took the leap. I spent the next two years helping produce an animated short, as well as developing other projects, all of which was a great experience.

Me, producer Garth Nix & writer, director and animator Jonathan Nix
at the 2011 IF Award ceremony.
The Missing Key won Best Short Animation.

But as the film neared completion, my publishing instincts started twitching again. I was irresistibly drawn back to the world of books, but not sure where I should go or where I could work.

Then, in 2010, at a party during Adelaide Writer’s Week, I met A&U’s chairman Patrick Gallagher. Patrick and I discussed all matters of publishing and children’s books, though in my mind it was just an enjoyable conversation – the actual prospect of me joining Allen & Unwin didn’t seem possible.

A few weeks’ later, after more pleasant phone calls and lovely meetings with Robert Gorman and Liz Bray, the impossible was starting to feel perhaps possible. And I liked these people, this company – but would they want a children’s publisher in Sydney when the rest of the publishing and editorial children’s team was in Melbourne? And would they want me?

During yet another conversation, the possibility of working for Allen & Unwin finally felt real and I was assured that it definitely could work – there could be a publisher based in Sydney with regular meetings in Melbourne... And I was thinking, ‘Wow, this job sounds awesome, just what I’m looking for, with this great company, and terrific people, and that idea I have about a book, maybe I can look into it …’ And I was so busy thinking about all of this, I kind of missed the moment when I was actually asked if I was interested. Please don’t tell anyone that my pause on that day in April 2010 wasn’t strategic, I wasn’t playing hard to get. In fact, I was lucky the question was repeated and I was able to answer: ‘Yes.’

So after seventeen years, numerous publishing industry positions, two multi-national companies and a side-trip into independent film production, I finally work at Allen & Unwin. I count myself incredibly lucky to be working with such a wonderful team, which, by the way, includes the very first person ever to interview me.

- Anna McFarlane, Publisher

05 June 2013

Onion Origins - LW

In celebration of our 25th anniversary of children's publishing we are delighted to present the ninth edition of Onion Origins.

A happy surprise

When I was at school I loved to read, liked writing and hated maths. At uni I did a Bachelor of Media in Writing, which luckily required no maths skills whatsoever. While I was studying I had the idea that I’d like to work as a journalist so I did some work experience at newspapers and magazines, but when I graduated there weren’t any full-time jobs in journalism so I accepted a job as a marketing and publicity co-ordinator with a local book distributor. I learnt a huge amount while I was there and discovered that the publicity side of working on the books was what I enjoyed most. My boss had previously worked at Allen & Unwin and after hearing her talk about A&U, I thought that might be somewhere I’d like to work one day.

After two years at the book distributor I decided I wanted a change, and I left for London with a working visa and not nearly enough warm clothes. When I arrived I was fortunate enough to be offered a job as a publicist for a small publisher based in London. Before I started with the publisher I went to the London Book Fair as a volunteer. I still remember how big it felt when I walked through the doors, and how insignificant I felt in comparison. I had a great time there and met some lovely people, the most lovely of all being Bridget Shine, the Director of the Independent Publisher’s Guild, who was endlessly patient and kind.

I lived in London for a year and then decided I missed the sun and blue sky too much to stay another year. So I travelled around Europe a little before I moved back to Sydney where I was offered a job as a publicist at HarperCollins on a twelve-month maternity-cover contract. As the year was coming to an end, I applied for a job as the Children’s and Young Adult Publicist at Allen & Unwin. I had always loved children’s books and had worked on some great children’s and YA titles while I was at HarperCollins. Lo and behold, a happy surprise: I got the job, and I was delighted.

I started at A&U the week of our annual sales conference and those first few days are still a blur, but after being here for just over a year now, I still feel as happy as I did that first week. Allen & Unwin is filled with kind, funny, generous and supportive people who all LOVE books. The children’s team are endlessly hard-working, kind, patient and best of all, fun! It’s been a fantastic twelve months and I’ve worked on some amazing books with some incredible authors – including the fabulous Libba Bray. Here we are at the recent Sydney Writer’s Festival.

I can’t wait to see what the next twelve months will hold!

- Lara Wallace, Publicist

30 May 2013

Onion Origins - JW

In celebration of our 25th anniversary of children's publishing we are delighted to present the eighth edition of Onion Origins.

Finding my people

I was a sporty, bookish kind of girl, and at the end of my first year of university I realised that Accountancy was not for me. Accountancy was so not for me that I had to leave the state. 

So I moved to Sydney. The only qualifications I had were one year of an abandoned Accountancy degree and a one-week bartending course. Despite this lack of experience, I quickly secured three waitressing jobs. One at a restaurant in St Leonards where I quit before the end of the first shift, one at the brand new Powerhouse Museum where I spilled a tray of champagne all over myself on opening night, and one at the Pitt Street Pizza Hut where the pay was $4.25 an hour. The actual bonuses were the occasional free pizza and stolen bacon bits from the salad bar, and the unexpected bonus happened only once, when I left work and found myself outside Town Hall Station accidentally face-to-face with the Queen. There was a barricade between me and her majesty, but it was flimsy.

After three months I asked for a raise and when denied it, I quit in order to sell encyclopedias door-to-door in Queensland. Yes. Encyclopedias. Door-to-door. In Queensland. My friends tried to talk me out of it. But I was determined. I'd never been to Queensland. And encyclopedias were books, right? I started in Ipswich, then went to Toowoomba, then Roma, then Chinchilla, Dalby, Kingaroy, Gimpy, Noosa, Maryborough, Childers, Bunderberg, Rockhampton, Mackay, Townsville, Innisfail, Cairns, Port Douglas, then back down to Gladstone. We were young and reckless and it was Queensland and we had adventures. Many adventures. But three months was enough, so in Gladstone I boarded a late-night bus bound for Sydney and wept quietly every time 'Better Be Home Soon' played over the coach stereo. Crowded House was on repeat for the entire 17-hour trip. Quite a lot of quiet weeping.

So, seeking less adventure, I took a job in the watch department of a Prouds Jewellery store. We sold Longines. We sold Seiko. We sold Swatches. Sometimes there were sailors. There were time-cards and we had to clock in and clock out. They were not my people.

When I returned to Melbourne, most of my friends were finishing degrees and taking their first 'career' jobs. I knew that I didn't want to be an accountant, and I didn't want to work in hospitality, and I didn't want to work in retail. But what did I want? I just wanted to read books and talk about them and that wasn't a job, was it? Oh? Publishing.

Investigations revealed that the trick to getting a job in publishing was to know someone who could help get one's foot in the door at a publishing house. But I didn't know what a publishing house was, and I didn't know anyone who worked in publishing, and I didn't have any idea how to even find the door, let alone get a foot in it.

Eventually I went for a job as typesetter (even though I didn't know what typesetting was) at a company that designed and printed advertising material. I didn't get the typesetting job because most people who applied were already doing a typesetting apprenticeship. But unexpectedly I did get a job as a proofreader. I had no proofreading experience and I suspect I only landed the job because the HR manager was sick that day and the Boss interviewed me and we talked about books and he was impressed that I had lasted a whole year in accountancy - he'd only lasted six weeks.

I was incredibly fortunate to work with three tremendously knowledgeable professional proofreaders who taught me many wonderful things about words and how to proofread them, and proofreading marks and layout and typography and fonts - and that the dictionary was my very best friend.

After a year though, I remembered that I really really wanted to go to university. I wanted to go to university because I wanted to learn all the things. I wanted to go to university because I wanted my parents to be proud of me. I wanted to go to university because the walls of the Old Arts building were so solid and impressive and the grass on the South Lawn was so green and inviting. I wanted to go to university because that meant having a student card - so everything would be cheaper.

And I knew a little bit more about the world by then. Many of my friends had done Arts degrees, and I realised that I was foolish not to have done Arts the first time around. Why had I done Accountancy instead of Arts? Who ever knows. Well, I know, but I'm not telling. Okay, I'll whisper it. I didn't know what Arts was. I thought it was painting. There, so now the secret is out. Let us not speak of it again. After all, I learned A LOT selling encyclopedias and that probably would never have happened if I had chosen Arts over Accountancy.

I was excited about my first day of classes. I knew in my heart that the other Arts students would be my people. I was so excited that I missed my first two lectures because I was overcome with nerves and vomiting on the banks of the Yarra River. My boyfriend tried to calm me down enough to stop the vomiting but when that failed, he went to my first two lectures for me. And took notes.

Oh how I loved studying Arts. I loved it. And then, three years later it was finished, but I didn't want it to be finished so I enrolled in an Honours degree. And I tried very hard to do it full time. I really tried, but I needed money and found it was easier to survive if I studied part-time and worked the night shift as a ward assistant in the delivery suite at the Mercy Hospital. Every night there were new babies born, there were exhausted mothers and exuberant fathers, and there were delivery suites to clean, and delivery trolleys to ... wrangle. I was sleep-deprived and I had a nauseous-linen allowance, but I had enough money.

More than enough. I discovered that I had enough money to go overseas and why not do that instead of finishing my Honours degree. No reason I could think of. So I did. I lived in London for six months, and sailed around the Greek Islands with five friends for two weeks, and saw the Acropolis and admired the pebbled beaches of Nice and went to a casino in Monaco and camped in a thunderstorm on the side of a hill in Florence and discovered that Venice was real and got a hire-car wedged between buildings in the pedestrian precinct of Verona and almost acquired a taste for Guinness in a lovely old wooden pub in the south of Ireland where a Dutch couple told me I spoke very good English for an Australian.

And then I came home. And went back to uni. And needed a job. Again. A friend helped me secure employment in the mailroom of a law firm while I finished my Honours year (okay, sometimes I was also the tea lady - but I infinitely preferred the mail room with its fancy mail train system and the whizzbang of the new photocopiers). And then I was done. Degree completed. And I never ever in my life wanted to study again.

So there I was, a somewhat over-qualified mailroom attendant, surrounded by lawyers. And I still didn't know anyone in publishing. I sat the public service test and made it to the last round of interviews and might have been successful had I not just read The First Stone by Helen Garner. The question for the group interview was about how best to handle a sexual-harassment complaint from a female student against a male housemaster. I had PLENTY of ideas about that.

Then my (musician) partner thought he was interested in a job at the Australian Music Examinations Board, but on enquiry he discovered that the position description was not for him, so I applied for it. After all, they had a music publishing program. Perhaps this was the door I had been looking for? Almost, but not quite. It was a wonderful job and I worked with fabulous, dedicated people, but it was not book publishing. Clearly.

And then one day, an acquaintance invited me to a launch of Visible Ink. I didn't know what Visible Ink was, but I didn't have anything else to do that day, so I went.

It turned out that Visible Ink was the anthology of writing from the students of the RMIT Professional Writing and Editing course. That afternoon, in the Lounge on Swanston Street, I truly found my people. There they were. All in one place. And even though I had promised myself I would never ever in my life study again, I enrolled in the RMIT course and I loved every minute of it. Every single minute. And in the second half of my second year I did the Practical Placement subject at a children's books publishing house.

Ten years earlier I had realised I wanted to work in publishing. Eighteen months earlier I had found my people in a bar on Swanston Street and since then had spent countless hours with them, talking books and writing and short stories and poetry and ideas and editing and publishing and works-in-progress. And life and art and the creative process. And now I was doing the first day of my work experience placement. I stood on Gertrude Street outside Black Dog Books. I took a deep breath. Here, finally, was the door. In I walked.

And then ten years ago, I had the great fortune of being swept into the House of Onion on the wings of Margo Lanagan's heartbreaking short story Singing My Sister Down from Black Juice. Ten years ago.* Ten tremendously rewarding years.

- Jodie Webster, Commissioning Editor

* TEN YEARS! Ten years of working in this wonderful House with so many brilliant creators and colleagues. Ten years of being endlessly inspired, delighted and  encouraged. And incredibly proud of the wonderful books we have produced together. Thank you all for being so extraordinarily fabulous.

28 May 2013

The Beatrice Davis Editorial Fellowship

Dear Readers,

We have news. Very exciting news!

On Saturday, at the Sydney Writers' Festival the recipient of the 2013/2014 Beatrice Davis Editorial Fellowship was announced.

And we are thrilled to bits and pieces that the winner is our very own Susannah Chambers.

Yes! It's true. And it is the bestest news.

Named after distinguished literary editor Beatrice Davis, and awarded biennially, the Fellowship is the 'highest national recognition and reward for the contribution editors make to Australian writing and publishing'. The Highest National Recognition. One million HOORAYS!

But wait, there's more. The Fellowship winner is awarded an airfare to the USA, and living and accommodation expenses for three months to complete a professional development research project at a range of US publishing houses. Yes, dear readers - this means Susannah will be going to NYC! Her mission will be to 'examine young adult editing and publishing at a time of fascinating growth and transition'.

We Onions are bursting with pride.

Alas. We are unable to bestow our congratulations on her in person. The Fellowship was announced in Sydney on Saturday. On Sunday, Susannah left the country. On a lovely long holiday. If she were here, we would definitely be plying her with cake - and perhaps a small glass of sparkling wine (or two).

So for now we must be content to send our congratulations all across the seas, and when she returns - there will be celebrating. Much celebrating!

13 May 2013

And then there was cake...

We have an announcement. A very important announcement.

We have a new cake-maker in the House!

Yes, it's true. A new cake-maker. And she has certainly wowed us with her cake-making.

Herewith an Upside-down Gluten-free Quince Cake with Rose Geranium Leaves, & Pomegranate Garnish accompanied by Quince Cream with Rosewater*

Yes. Wow.

We think that the artistry of this cake, the colour palette and the mixed media employed make it clear that it was made by our lovely new designer, who henceforth shall be known as the clever Creative Type.

The cake was to celebrate MT's birthday. You may recall that we farewelled MT with many fine foods last year. Happily she enjoyed our offerings so much that she has returned to the House.

Welcome, Creative Type! Happy Birthday, Marie!

* My that's a mouthful. Many extremely tasty mouthfuls.

24 April 2013

Onion Origins - CS

In celebration of our 25th anniversary of children's publishing we are delighted to present the seventh edition of Onion Origins - from another Onion in our Sydney office.

Finding my calling...

I left High School clueless as what to do next, after a few tries in various not-quite-rights jobs, I found myself working at The Bookshop Darlinghurst.

It was soon very apparent to me that I had found my calling, being paid to be surrounded by books, talk about books, sell books! But, The Bookshop Darlinghurst did not sell any kids books; I would have to wait seven years before being able to re-ignite my enthusiasm for them.

I grew up in The Bookshop Darlinghurst, and over seven years figured out that what I really wanted to do was be a Sales Rep at Allen & Unwin. A&U had the best books, the best reps, the best authors, the best reputation and I felt that it was the place for me.

However, no one ever leaves A&U, so I had to wait! While I waited for a position to come up, I asked the fabulous Sandy Weir and Michael White what I could do to get a job at A&U. They advised me to get more experience in the more mass market side of book selling, i.e leave my comfortable Indie world and see the other side!

As luck would have it, Borders were opening up their first Sydney store, and somehow I got a job as their Marketing Manager for Macquarie Centre North Ryde (still not sure how that happened)! Going from Darlinghurst to North Ryde was a bit of a culture shock!

While at Borders I rediscovered my love of children's books (beyond Star Wars), I was in charge of the Kids Book Department and making sure it always looked great, no easy task when parents used it as a babysitting service while they shopped! The A&U list was always the best and I resolved even more that I had to get a job there.

I was there when Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban came out. It was so amazing to be part of this huge experience and it was a lot of fun! Later at A&U, I got to see how much hard work Liz Bray and the team did to get Harry out there!

Finally, someone left the A&U sales team, and I did everything I could to get an interview and the job, and I succeeded!

Selling the kids list to these incredible, dedicated booksellers was and remains a huge part of what I love at A&U. I have also been lucky enough to meet some of favourite authors, David Levithan, Neil Gaiman, Margo Lanagan, Garth Nix, and many others.

I consider myself to be an honorary part of the Children's Marketing Team and although I love our adult books, I probably love the kids list just a little bit more.

Ten years later I am still here, no longer a Rep, but still in sales, working in a job I love, for a company that is everything that I thought it would be. I am a lucky man.

- Chris Sims, National Field Sales Manager

16 April 2013

Onion Origins - EW

In celebration of our 25th anniversary of children's publishing we are delighted to present the sixth edition of Onion Origins.

When the time is right...

I almost came to Allen & Unwin four years before I actually did ...

I was working as a commissioning editor at Penguin Books when Rosalind Price called me. I had a wonderful meeting with her - it was so exciting. She had a copy of the groundbreaking picture book FOX on her mantelpiece, and we met at the trestle table that she had made herself in the upstairs room of the Rathdowne Street office. Allen & Unwin felt like a rush of fresh air, where creative, freewheeling, risk-taking publishing (what other kind is there, in fact?) blossomed.

I had started my publishing career as a trainee editor at Penguin in 1988 and it felt like home. I had many dear friends and strong author relationships, but I felt I was losing touch with what I loved the most - the hands on making of books. Rosalind offered me a dream job, but I wasn't ready yet to make the leap.

A couple of years later, the time was right ... I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to start up a new children's list for a small independent publisher, Duffy & Snellgrove. That same year, 1999, I also spent three months in the US on the Beatrice Davis Editorial Fellowship - a terrifying and intoxicating experience! But on my return, after publishing the first 5 books on my fledgling Silverfish list, it became clear that Silverfish wasn't going to work out as planned. Unlike big publishers who have buffers, tiny independents need their books to sell quickly and in large numbers if they are to survive (unless they have an alternate income stream to cover the establishment phase). When it was clear that Silverfish needed another home in order to keep going, I rang Rosalind. In her kind, wise and practical way, she said, 'Do you want to come to us?' That moment was simultaneously a lifeline and a second chance.

So I started at A&U on Valentine's Day in the year 2000. Rosalind and I shared her trestle table for the first few weeks - about two feet of table surface each. I felt saved and also in debt! I wanted so much to prove myself, but really I was starting again (I even changed my name ...). Of course, it takes time to find your feet as a publisher - you have to be daring, experiment, fail and try again. It took a while, but always I felt supported by Rosalind and A&U. The working atmosphere was a revelation to me - there were no politics! We just helped each other as needed and trusted each other to do our jobs well. And there was the singing - a brilliant way of bringing the team together.

I feel blessed by having had the best publishers in the business as my mentors and am eternally grateful to them. Having worked for big, small and medium sized companies, what I value the most is the sense of community we have in the children's publishing world - all the laughing, crying, plotting and planning we do - the creativity of the authors and illustrators, editors, designers and the myriad people who make the books happen and then support them out in the world - that's what really matters, and will be our legacy.

- Erica Wagner, Publisher

05 April 2013

Onion Origins - KR

In celebration of our 25th anniversary of children's publishing we are delighted to present the fifth edition of Onion Origins - this one's from an Onion in our Sydney office.

A very sensible plan...

I left high school with the very sensible plan of making lots of money and retiring early (I was, of course, willing to vary this to 'marrying rich and not working' if the option were to present itself), so I began my career as an auditor at a very large accounting firm. It didn't take me very long to realise that perhaps I wasn't quite as shallow and money hungry as I originally believed myself to be* and I handed in my notice so I could follow my heart and do something I really cared about.

At this point I stalled. It was all very nice to grandly declare that I wanted to do something 'that mattered' but what did that even mean? So with nothing better to do, I continued my business degree, supporting myself with a vast range of jobs (the most unusual being the small stint I had as a turf layer), whilst waiting for that light-bulb moment when my dream career would present itself to me. In a moment of desperation I even tried a self-help book which told me to visualise how I would ideally like to spend my time. I imagined myself sitting in a little room surrounded by books reading all day. Upon reflection perhaps I should have taken the results a little more seriously, but at the time I declared all self-help books to be useless, threw it across the room and curled up with a copy of my favourite comfort book, Pride and Prejudice (and I admit vaguely revisiting my idea of marrying rich - oh Mr Darcy, why don't you exist in the real world?).

In 2001 I was following the path of so many other 20-somethings looking for meaning in life by backpacking through Europe. In Norway I met a family member of a friend who took me to her office. It was at a book publisher called Cappelen Damm. I stepped inside and was overwhelmed with how much I loved it. As I was walking along softly stroking the books and occasionally even sniffing them, it hit me that perhaps this was the future career that I was so desperately seeking.

From then on I determinedly worked at getting into publishing. I enrolled in a Diploma of Publishing and Editing and subscribed to the Weekly Book Newsletter which my research told me was the bible of the Australian Publishing world. I also read that the best way to get into publishing was through reception, so I got a job as a receptionist in an unrelated company to get experience.

Then began the process of applying for any and every job that was in book publishing (there weren't many, but I applied for them all!). My first interview was with Allen & Unwin in the Sydney Office. I didn't get the job. But they were lovely and told me they would hold onto my resume in case something else came up - obviously I thought they just said that to make me feel better. Imagine my surprise when they actually did call me I was interviewed for another job. I also didn't get that one. When I was called in for a third role I began to suspect they were just messing with me. But I went for it anyway, and after two interviews I was employed in the Publicity department, which it turns out is a brilliant place to learn a lot about publishing and be involved with all the other departments.

It didn't take me very long to realise that it was the children's and young adult books that I really loved. So I started unnecessarily attending the children's marketing meetings, reviewing their books and basically doing anything I could to make sure the children's department knew who I was. My plan worked, and when a role came up in the children's marketing department I convinced the children's director Liz Bray that I was the right person for the role and here I am.

*Please note I do not think that accountants are shallow or money hungry. Many of my best friends are wonderful, creative and passionate people and are also accountants, but they also didn't choose the career for the sole purpose of making money, they actually liked it.

**Hard to believe I know, but remember those ads where the accountant gets all excited when they help get you a good tax return, some people really are like that!

- Kristy Rizzo, Children's Product Assistant