Sunday, April 30, 2006

reprise on the comment about isolation down south (hemisphere)

A questions asked of Brett Neveu, a Chicago playwright:

Q. What's great about being a playwright in Chicago?

A. It's the freedom to be able to write any kind of play you want. With television in Los Angeles and Broadway in New York, it all rides on money. Here, the stakes are lower when it comes to trying new things. For playwrights, that both helps and hurts. It's harder to make a living but it's certainly easier to write the plays you like.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Looking Glass Theatre

I like their mission statement:

“Oh my, how curious everything is!” --- Alice

When Alice walked through the looking glass, she walked into a world beyond imagination. She walked into a world more involving and intoxicating than any movie or circus, more thrilling than a high-speed chase, more frightening than a child’s nightmare, and more beautiful than a thunderstorm on a hot summer night. She awoke with a new sense of herself in the world and her own power within it.

Reflected in Lewis Carroll’s achievement is the mission of the Lookingglass Theatre Company. Through theatre, which invites, even demands, interaction with its audience, our goal is to fire the imagination with love, to celebrate the human capacity to taste and smell, weep and laugh, create and destroy, and wake up where we first fell --- changed, charged and empowered.

The Lookingglass Theatre Company combines a physical and improvisational rehearsal process centered on ensemble with training in theatre, dance, music, and the circus arts. We seek to redefine the limits of theatrical experience and to make theatre exhilarating, inspirational, and accessible to all.


I'm in Chicago for the IRA conference - sounds like they're planning the next event in Belfast but the R is actually for reading. And I've taken the opportunity to have a mini-theatre festival of my own.

I've only started going to the theatre regularly this year- and I'm enjoying it. Publishing is a solo activity. Each step is basically done by a person alone at a desk. Sure there's lots of discussion but it's not a group thing and we rarely see the response to the finished work. In a play it's a group thing to perform and there's an audience out there. And each performance, unlike each book in a print run, is unique. And I'm finding theatre a really interestingly different way of telling stories - and informative on our work. (I'm curious about the role of the dramaturg and parallels with the work of a book editor or publisher.)

I've squeezed in two trips to the Steppenwolf Theatre. The second trip this Sunday afternoon was to a preview of Don DeLillo's Love-Lies-Bleeding. Terrific. I knew I wanted to see this before I left Australia. I just didn't know whether I could fit it in, which makes seeing it all the more satisfying and especially as it was so very very good. The level of cultural discussion and the investment in culture here is so deep. The choice of theatre on any given night so rich. It makes Melbourne feel isolated - we struggle being so far away with so few connections. (I'm sure though that gives us opportunities too.) I went to a wine shop last night, nothing special, but the choice of French, Spanish and Italian wines was huge. A small thing maybe but indicative.

bdb statement of intent

Inspired by being absent while travelling I put down some thoughts about where black dog might have got to in five and something years and came up with these ideas. Now mission and vision statements are out of fashion it is time we had one. This is in part a description of who and what we are, and in part what we are, hopefully, becoming:

We’re about communication. The communication of ideas. Of making people think, and hopeful of thinking in new ways, of seeing things a little differently. We’re about shifting people’s perspective a little.
We communicate through words and pictures and the way they are put together on the pages of books
We pursue excellence in everything we do, but especially in the books we produce. Excellence is an end in itself. Excellence is more important than profitabillity but we believe if our books are excellent profit will follow.
Our core skill is editorial. First and foremost we are at the end, all of us, a group of editors. So, editorial excellence.
We are an opportunity for our people to pursue editorial excellence.
A very important part of excellence is innovation. So we experiment. We try new things.
We recognise that books aren’t just words. They are an arrangement of words on pages and of words and images on pages, and an arrangement of pages between covers. Each book is an object in itself and we create books that are beautiful and satisfying in themselves. We want people to love the content and to love the form in which it is presented. Therefore we pursue design and illustration excellence.
We recognize and celebrate the book as a highly sophisticated product of some 1000 of years of evolution. It’s a compact and efficient and unique form of communication that gives readers an enormous amount of pleasure.
We produce books where the form follows function. They’re not just pretty for the sake of being pretty.
We want to reach the maximum number of the readers for every book that we can. The point of making a book is so that it is read. We want our books not just bought but read – and re-read.
We make books that move people and enlarge their understanding of the world.
We want to create books that other people are passionate about.
We are profitable as that is the life blood of the business. Without profit we die. We’re not here for tomorrow. We’re idealistic and pragmatic.
We’re an Australian publisher first and foremost, even when we are bringing books to an international market, and bringing books from other places to the Australian market. Every location has something special to offer and we recognise and explore the opportunities our location offers in terms of producing excellent, innovative books.
We recognize that we bring a different perspective to our books than businesses who are not owned within Australia, and that perspective is an opportunity.
We don’t patronize readers, especially children. We talk to them not down to them.
Our books reflect the quirky irreverence of childhood. In our books we recognize the freshness that exists before people are fully enculturated into the mainstream adult world. We bring this freshness into both the children and adults books we produce. This freshness leads to innovation.
We recognize that our scale is an opportunity. We are independent, flexible and passionate. Decisions can be made quickly and the person making the decision is responsible for it. Each of us is accessible and everybody working at black dog has an influence of the workings of the whole.
We bring passion to what we do. We are passionate about every book we do.
We want to build authors, not just publish single manuscripts. We want to build relationships with authors and illustrators and designers.
We want to be part of a broader community of books, writing and publishing, and we want to build a community around black dog books.
We want to give give opportunities for people whose talents may otherwise have been overlooked. A lot of creativity is about the opportunity.
Last and perhaps most importantly we want to do our best by our authors and illustrators. We want to turn their words and pictures into the best book they can be, a book that will reach the maximum audience for them and touch the heart of their readers.

Comments welcome. PS: I'd love someone to come up with a better word than excellence.

Friday, April 28, 2006

book covers

American covers are gorgeous but a little like American food - too much all the same. An evenness of flavor.


I'm in LAX and enjoying filling this blog in on the run. In the US reading a British bookselling magazine - room for some lateral thinking. Reading that publishing is becoming more conservative. Meaning invest in more sales of fewer titles or, meaning, stick with the authors u know. Except British publishing seems to be a hive of new authors and independent publishers. It's just most of the biggies that are "conservative", looking for those big runs and not always willing to wait for the break-through seventh book from a once-new author. It was a reminder to us at black dog to have patience. Interesting to see how long Dan Brown was around before the trajectory took off. As a publisher it pays to be nimble. As an independent publisher we're sensitive to poaching, to people using us a springboard to what they imagine are the riches of big publishing. Often I don't think it lives up to the hype. And as an independent publisher you don't want your authors to leave - to quote another "it's like a punch in the gut". Which leaves us pondering how we can do things better so authors don't contemplate another (inferior) publisher.

Chatting to Denise is always interesting - she was on the same flight out of Melbourne. She confirmed that her sense of the market was that educational publishing is struggling while trade seems to be on an upward trajectory. I was following Jeremy Fisher's ASA comments. The conversation was also a reminder that the guts of what we do at black dog is editorial, and that quality is editorial. It's tough to contemplating holding a book back and missing that pub date to give the book that final editorial polish.

Off to Chicago shortly.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

addendum to last post

I liked the description of our publishing industry as a "colourful acquarium" - implying a simplifed ecology?

ASA article - Jeremy Fisher

I enjoy reading the Australian Author and am enjoying the latest magazine. Jeremy Fisher's column (next to a useful guide to blogging, which made the whole spread satisfying) was interesting reading. We'd also heard to that authors had been concerned about the long wait for royalty cheques, and it's always a worry when another independent seems to be struggling. Of more interest though was the Michael Heyward and Text's solution of entering an economic alliance with Canongate as part of a strategy to ensure Text remains viable as an independent - "Basically, Text needs an international partner to help it gain authors from overseas as well as acting as an outlet for Australian authors in Europe." That was food for thought. Are we viable now? Well all the indicators are positive. But what's required to be viable in the long run? Certainly growth and a bigger list and we're doing that. Is there a similar strategic alliance in children's books? That's is really food for thought. And it's interesting how Text feels it's essential to bring in authors from overseas. That doesn't seem to have the same imperative in children's books but why shouldn't it - certainly food for thought as well. Text does such an impressive job they're well worth watching.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


I'm just back from New Zealand. I'm always in awe of the New Zealand publishing industry. The sheer number and variety of books they put out on a population base of 4 million is extraordinary. The books, especially the non-fiction, is often innovative and the publishers seem more ready to experiment than the Australian publishers, and there's a stronger national thread running through the publishing. There are superb New Zealand natural history books, for example, on a remarkably wide variety of subjects. They can sell an extraordinary number of books - 100,000 for one particular picture book - but the runs are often quite small 2000-3000 which must make it tough to make the figures work and have an adequate budget for production and editorial. I think the scale of both the Australian and New Zealand markets leaves us sometimes compromised on the editorial front, and even on the writing. It's something that we are conscious of at black dog - of being aware of the risk of compromising and working hard to avoiding that pitfall.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The True Adventures of John Nicol

I'm on a bit of a history jag at the moment. I've just finished Sian Rees The Floating Brothel (about the Second Fleet) and I've started on Escape from Botany Bay. All because of Julian Bruere's magnificent The True Adventures of John Nicol. A unique book, a new sort of a book, a black and white picture book in chapters and something of a graphic novel at the same time. The words are John Nicol's real words from before the mast in the late 18th and early 19th century. This is the voice of the past in its own words. And the illustrations are truly gorgeous. This book has been four years in the making and it has been a long and sometime torturous road but Julian deserves the credit for staying the course and producing something so sumptuous. It's due out in July - watch out for it. A simple read for readers of all ages. I'll put one of Julian amazing illustrations up on this blog as soon as I figure out how.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Turning - completed

I've just finished Tim Winton's The Turning. A pleasure I'd been putting off to enjoy it the more. It was a Good Friday gift to myself. And it was better than expected.
Just of a few of the lines that appealed to me over the length of the book:
"The valley was thick with wandoo and marri and beneath the trees the scrub sprouted tiny darting birds and a blur of insects. The bush smelt tart, peppery. everything looked blue in the late afternoon night."
"For him, the building code was a branch of Calvinism perfected by the omission of divine mercy. His life was a quest to reveal flaws, disguised conventions, greed and human failure.
"They came into the jarrah forest, a wall of grey on either side of the road, and the air was cool and sharp with the smell of eucalyptus."
Before finishing I started Brokeback Mountain - I'm enjoying but not in the same way or to the same depth and The Turning. Maybe if I was from Wyoming.

Tuck Everlasting

I picked Tuck Everlasting off the bargain table at the local DVD store. A lovely film, and an even more lovely book. An elegaic rural sort of story that the Americans do so well. (Dr Zachary Smith as the bad guy offers a nice frisson.) For me, almost always, the book is better than a film, though. A book leaves more room for my imagination, more room for me to make it my story. An exception was Whale Rider. Reputedly the book was written in three weeks in New York hotel room, and the film smoothed out the rough spots in the plot. James and the Giant Peach is apparently another exception to my rule but though I've seen and enjoyed the film many times I've never read the book. Roald Dahl's plots are odd though - to the adult taste, as the books work so well for children.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Bad Faith interview

The Susan Johnson interview with Carmen Callil in The Age on Saturday was terrific. To pluck a quote: "Melbourne lies at Callil's very centre. Melbourne made her: she is a very specific product of a very specific time and place, in the sense that the city produced both Germaine Greer and Barry Humphries during the same period it produced Carmen Callil. Seekers, mavericks all, each shares a sharp nose for mendacity and cant and all three, in their different ways, have made their careers on it. " I'm looking forward to reading Bad Faith (great title).

And I also liked this quote from Callil: "When I first went into publishing it was inefficient, like an old orange cart on wheels, and now it's like of a sort of streamlined, worldwide thing. I think it's fabulous."

Red Haze

There was a fabulous review of Red Haze in The Age on Saturday by Dianne Dempsey. Leon has now been shortlisted in both the CBCA Awards and in the NZ Post Awards for his previous book Scarecrow Army - so it has been a sweet week. Congratulations Leon. And Dianne nailed what black dog has been aiming to do: "interpret history for children … without ever being patronizing".

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

CBCA awards

Warmesr congratulations to Leon Davidson for Scarecrow Army being shortlisted in the CBCA Eve Pownall awards and to to Paula Hunt and Pamela Freeman for Shirtfront and Black Dress being Notable Books in the CBCA awards.

And it was great to see UQP having such a strong running this year, congratulations Leonie. And Rod Hare's Little Hare was doing nicely with two books in the shortlisting - congratulations to everybody in the burrow on the top floor.

It's good to see the heartland of Australian publishing - the independents - doing so well in our own awards.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

more flaws please

I'm sure somebody else has put this more elegantly than I am - but a little stretching of the willing suspension of disbelief can add zing to book. The author, on the equivalent of a literary highwire, stumbles and then regains their balance just in time, to gasps of pleasure from readers as they let go a momentary unwillingness to maintain the suspension. Sometimes its the "flaws" that give the book that something extra. Especially in kids books. Maybe we've started demanding too much logic as readers and editors.

Granny Gangbuster

Granny is going gangbusters. We've really hit a mark with this series. A rush of excellent reviews. A spec ed teacher said that one of her students who'd never tried to read anything but a comic book wanted to take it home immediately, excited that he could read a real book. Jan's knowledge of reading and her zany voice and Heath's contemporary illustrations are guaranteed to appeal to the age group and more.