“The job of an editor…is the dullest, hardest, most exciting, exasperating, and rewarding of perhaps any job in the world.”
– Maxwell Perkins quoted by Craig Munro, Under Cover
Craig Munro began his blue-pencil adventures at the University of Queensland Press in 1971. Over the next thirty years, he became friend, counsellor, and occasionally foil to some of the country’s leading authors.
From a champagne-fuelled telegram to Patrick White to a run-in with Xavier Herbert, Craig’s editorial life was punctuated by encounters with remarkable writers. Championing the early works of Peter Carey, right up to the Booker-winning True History of the Kelly Gang, Craig also edited David Malouf’s first novel, Johnno. He was teased by Murray Bail’s tantalising mind games, discovered a passion for Olga Masters’ fiction, and helped create UQP’s acclaimed Indigenous list.
Blending book history with memoir, Under Cover explores the invisible art of editing from an insider’s perspective. Told with warmth and humour, it is a wise, entertaining tour of three audacious, intoxicating, and ultimately inspiring decades of publishing mayhem.
As someone who works in the publishing industry, this book certainly had me interested before I turned the first page. Under Cover by Craig Munro is a lovely blend of Australian publishing history and memoir. Munro worked at the University of Queensland Press (UQP) for many years and his story is a fascinating one. From a young journalism cadet to editor to writer, Munro has had a career spanning many aspects of the industry. Considering he ‘never really divined Chicago’s [Manual of Style] deeper magic’, he has guided some of Australia’s best-known literary names through their writing journey with many, many successes along the way.
After making the change from journalism to publishing in 1971, he was welcomed into the oppressively heated offices of UQP. Two years later in 1973, he came across a young Melbourne writer with plenty to say. What followed was the beginning of a three decade long relationship with Peter Carey, one of Australia’s most prominent literary figures. Munro saw the Whitlam government become an ambassador for Australian publishing and many years later, he would become an ambassador for indigenous writers and editors, raising awareness of their talents and bringing new voices to Australian literature. Publishing is an extremely colourful industry with very big personalities and Munro shows this off through his anecdotes of long author lunches and the memorable writer’s festivals. Every publishing house has its own identity and knowing a small part of the industry now, I can see that things haven’t changed!
Munro also highlights important topics that are as relevant now as they were twenty or thirty years ago. Unfortunately there are many struggles for Australian authors trying to break into our market and further abroad. The only way for these authors to make it in other markets is for them to sell the rights to their stories to international publishing houses. He questions why Australian fiction cannot be published in Australia and marketed to the rest of the world. Helen Garner and Peter Carey both came out in support of Australian publishing saying that they want their “books to come out first in Australia” and “by making sure that an Australian publisher can publish [their] work here and thereby make a profit.” The same conversation comes up over and over again; only recently have we seen a push by Australian young adult authors for their books to be promoted and read. Our local market is flooded with international talent, outnumbering our local titles nine to one. I thoroughly enjoyed Munro’s passion for his local industry and talent and it really makes you want to step up and voice the same.
This book is an invaluable piece of writing for writers, aspiring (or developed) editors, and those hoping to find their way in the publishing industry. There are so many wonderful quotes and pieces of advice; I devoured Munro’s words with a great hunger. It all starts with a 2B pencil and paper; editing sounds so simple and yet there are so many contradictions. Munro navigates them with humour and grace. A good editor “identif[ies] their author’s intention and then helps to realise them more effectively” although at one point he quotes someone who says that editors are “agents of textual corruption”. I laughed! There is so much for them to know; they must learn when to follow the rules and when to break them; when to chop up long sentences and when to definitely leave them alone. An editor must navigate a writer’s voice and style and tidy it up without changing what they have to say! Under Cover reveals the importance of knowledge, patience and understanding and the power and potential between author and editor.
The Tree of Man by Patrick White
They’re A Weird Mob by Nino Culotta
The Fat Man in History by Peter Carey
Bliss by Peter Carey
True Story of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey
Johnno by David Malouf
Contemporary Portraits and Other Stories by Murray Bail
The Home Girls by Olga Masters
The Scent of Eucalyptus by Barbara Hanrahan
Where the Queens all Strayed by Barbara Hanrahan
The Children’s Bach by Helen Garner
Milk and Honey by Elizabeth Jolley
Holocaust Island by Graeme Dixon
Caprice: A Stockman’s Daughter by Doris Pilkington Garimara
Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington Garimara
Under the Wintamara Tree by Doris Pilkington Garimara
Heat and Light by Ellen Van Neerven
AUTHOR: Craig Munro
PUB DATE: 26 August 2015
Thank you to Scribe for sending me a reading copy in exchange for an honest review!