Thanks for talking to Boomerang Books, Jane Pearson. You’re a senior editor at Text and you’re going to share your Christmas picks with us. But first let’s find out about you and some books you’ve been working on.
Text Publishing (based in Melbourne) is known for its adult list, as well as its YA/children’s books. Which do you work on?
I work right across the Text list: on YA and adult fiction and non-fiction. I love having that range. It keeps me on my toes.
I work with writers from the initial acquisition (in many but not all cases) right through the editorial process to arranging printing and delivery of the stock. Along the way there’s blurb writing, and working with the designer on the cover and with the publicity and marketing team who will get those copies out into the world. And did I mention reading? There’s lots of reading—I’m always in search of the next great author.
How did you get this job?
I’ve been at Text for seven years. I applied for an advertised position—I must have been lucky, or perhaps it was the shoes!
It’s hard to narrow it down but here goes. There’s the winner of the 2013 Text Prize, Diana Sweeney’s The Minnow, a gorgeous tale of a girl who has lost all her family in a flood and is putting her life back together in a very quirky and magical way. This book will always be among my favourites. And there’s the amazingly huge (it’s the size of a newspaper) A–Z of Convicts in Van Diemen’s Land by Simon Barnard. It took him about twelve years to research and illustrate the most fascinating details of this gruesome part of Tasmania’s history, and it includes stacks of stuff that’s never been published before. The highlight of my year was working with Helen Garner on her latest book This House of Grief. It’s the saddest most harrowing story, and it’s told with such raw honesty and respect. And I just have to squeeze in one more: In the Memorial Room by Janet Frame, which she held back for posthumous publication because of all the people she knew it would offend. It’s brilliant Janet Frame and most deliciously scathing, and when the Frame estate decided it was time for publication, it landed on my desk. How lucky was that!
I work on the Young Adult classics. It’s been great rereading some of the books I loved as a kid, like Ash Road by Ivan Southall, and discovering wonderful new old authors, like James Aldridge who wrote The True Story of Spit MacPhee. Choosing which books to include is just one stage in the process—there is often some curly detective work in tracking down the rights holder for books long out of print, and the search for an introducer. Chong Weng Ho’s covers for the YA Classics are inspired by illustrations used for the original covers or interiors. The True Story of Spit MacPhee is my favourite at the moment. Ask me next week and it may well be something else: Joan Phipson’s The Watcher in the Garden or Nadia Wheatley’s The House that Was Eureka.
What is different/special about Text?
What are some awards Text has won that have particular significance for you?
Alyssa Brugman’s novel Alex as Well won the WA Premier’s YA Book of the Year this year. It’s a confronting transgender story about sexual identity and acceptance, with one of the most stop-you-in-your-tracks opening chapters I’ve ever read. It’s not one for the faint hearted, but it’s real and gutsy and super clever. Alex as Well is Alyssa’s first book with Text and her first book to win an award. So I’m extra proud of that.
Change is part of life and it’s certainly part of the book industry. But I think there’s a constant that will remain at the heart of the industry whatever twists and turns lie ahead, and that is that good books matter. We’ll always want to read good stories, whether they’re fiction or non-fiction, digital or print, literary works of art or trashy guilty pleasures.
And what are your must-reads over Christmas?
My picks for Christmas reading are Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend. This is the first of four novels about the friendship between two women in 20th Century Naples. I guarantee you won’t be able to stop at one. Mary Costello’s Academy Street—I’ve been recommending this one to everyone since I read it earlier this year. It’s one to read slowly and savour—Mary Costello writes perfect sentences. And Well May We Say… The Speeches that Made Australia, edited by Sally Warhaft. I’ve been dipping in and out of this one since the advance copies arrived in the office and can’t wait to spend a few uninterrupted hours getting lost in it.