27 March 2013

Onion Origins - ALG

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

So, tell us a little about yourself...

I didn't believe my mother when she threatened to confiscate all my books. I was sixteen years old and, according to her, I wasn't concentrating enough on school work and piano practice (there may have been some truth to that, but that is entirely beside the point). I couldn't understand her position at all. I was reading too much? (A real rebel, huh?)

But I came home from school one day and my bookshelves were empty. All my books were gone, even the picture books!

For two weeks, I scoured the house searching for my abducted friends. And when I found them, well, I decided that was something Mum didn't need to know. My books were my trusted companions; they contained worlds and characters I could visit anytime I needed my spirits lifted. I hadn't understood how important books were to me until they were taken away.

When I was at uni, I realised I wanted my studies to have more to do with fiction, rather than just having to read prescribed books to research the next essay. So I transferred to Homesglen to do their Professional Writing and Editing course. It didn't take long for me to realise that I wasn't going to be a writer, but I still wanted very much to be around books.

I applied for job after job, and finally got my start with the A.M.E.B. as an editorial assistant. From there, I went to Macmillan Education and was a publishing assistant for three and a half years (I discovered that my love for books does not extend to secondary school text books). I was ready for a new job, a new challenge. My friend, who was also job hunting, was scouring the advertisements in the Weekly Book Newsletter and when she saw the ad for Publishing Operations Manager at Allen & Unwin she emailed it my way. I hesitated only long enough to ensure there were no spelling or grammatical errors in my CV. I really wanted this job.

When I got the call from Liz Bray asking me in for an interview with her and Eva Mills, I tried not to sound too keen when I said yes. And then I did a little happy dance.

I practiced for the interview. I'm not kidding. My best friend works in HR (handy) so we did mock interviews. Truly. Mainly to lessen my chances of me freezing up when asked, 'So, tell us a bit about yourself.' (Yes, at a different job interview, I didn't have an answer prepared for that. The silence was a little awkward, but really, how do you answer that question? It's so general. Is it so hard to be specific - what exactly do prospective employers want to know about me?!)

Anyway, this time I was prepared for that particular question... and Liz and Eva didn't ask it (thank goodness!). They both made me feel completely relaxed, and when I left the office, I realised I'd even enjoyed the interview (that was a first). I also knew that I really, really wanted the job.

A week later I was back for another interview, this time with Erica Wagner (she didn't ask me that question either - I was loving this place even more). She was very welcoming, and it confirmed my sense of 'rightness' about the job. And then there was the final hurdle: 'the test' with the then Publishing Operations Manager who was leaving to study law. Could I follow her instructions to create the Editor Workload Report in Excel?

In April, I'll have been with Allen & Unwin for three years (OMG) and the Editor Workload Report is only one of the many duties I do to keep all our systems running smoothly and wrangle the publishers and editors to keep all the books on track. One of the great perks of this position is that I know when the manuscripts will be delivered. So if I can't wait to read the next book in an exciting series and I know the manuscript is in-house, well... let's just say I'm really looking forward to the delivery of the next title in the Elementals series.

The most challenging thing about this job: my office is surrounded by books and every day I have to fight the urge to simply read. NEVER start reading Sea Hearts during your lunch break.

You will spend the rest of your day wanting to know what happens next, and that will torment you until 5.30-6 pm when you can pick up the book again, and then you'll trip over your feet because you'll be so busy reading while walking to the station, that you won't see the slight bump in the footpath, and then you'll stay up all night to finish it... and I think I understand why my mother confiscated my books (I'm not saying she was right).

- Aline Le Guen, Publishing Operations Manager

20 March 2013

Onion Origins - HR

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

A Series of Fortunate Events

In 2006 I enrolled in the Professional Writing and Editing course at RMIT because, after an enjoyable but slightly aimless Arts degree in English and Cinema Studies, supported by a career based in swimming pools and video shops, it had finally clicked that editing would rather suit me.

One of my classes was Non-Fiction Writing - taught by then-A&U adult-publishing legend Andrea McNamara - which I decided to take because I was writing a thesis interpreting Paul Cox's films through a Lacanian lens and I fondly imagined this might become a book relevant to many people if only they knew it.

Andrea soon dampened my illusions of becoming the foremost Coxian academic expert via trade publishing, but she did take me on as a placement student because she observed I was 'picky', which is possibly only ever a compliment in the context of editing.

While I was on placement, Andrea generously loaned me to the children's team whenever an extra pair of hands or eyes were needed. Besides learning the finer points of writing readers notes to accompany the beautiful novels underway at the time, such as The Killer's Tears by Anne-Laure Bondoux , it soon became apparent that this was an office that would enthusiastically consume any kitchen experiment of a sweet nature - so all in all the situation was happily relevant to my interests on a number of fronts.

And then a fortunate series of events occurred: Sheralyn, the Office Manager, went overseas so I was given the responsibility of wrangling the reception desk, and then Julia, the Publishing Assistant, needed a Girl Friday to do all of the things, and then Eva went on maternity leave so a more permanent set of hands and eyes were required and, well, I was already there busily undertaking in-depth discussions with The Tall Designer and the Smaller Publisher about how to best represent poo (or not) on the cover of Barry Jonsberg's The Dog That Dumped on My Doona

So with pickiness and cakes and opinions about poo on covers, I inveigled my way into being part of the furniture at the House of Onion and have since worked on far too many brilliant children's and YA books to ever consider academic monographs again!

Thank you, Andrea - and I think the Onions would agree you were right, as always, about recommending this latest Excellent Cake recipe - Pistachio & Lime Syrup Cake.

- Hilary Reynolds, Editor (aka The Cake-Maker Virtuoso)

13 March 2013

Onion Origins - EM

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

Once upon a bookstore (in Oxford)…

I had finished four years of a science degree majoring in psychology, with no idea of what I would do next, when my sister and I decided to backpack across Europe for six months.

On a cold and rainy day in Oxford, we stumbled across the university bookstore and gratefully pushed our way inside. Browsing the shelves, I found my way to the young adult section and spotted The Changeover by Margaret Mahy. The one with this cover:

I have no idea what attracted me. (Maybe it was the line ‘A Supernatural Romance’, I’ve always been a sucker for a bit of URST!) I’d always been a keen reader, but ‘literature’ was a distraction to a science student, so instead for five years I’d worked my way through various genres – science fiction, fantasy, crime – and had just started to dip my toe back into children’s fiction (which I’d never really left – those Noel Streatfield books at Mum & Dad’s house were very well worn!). But I’d never heard of Margaret Mahy. I had only the vaguest sense of what young adult fiction even was.

I took The Changeover home and stayed up all night under an extremely warm doona in Blackheath. It was exciting and suspenseful, sad and funny, slightly supernatural but painfully real, and very sexy – and all of this in a little over 200 pages. I’d never read anything like it.

Needless to say I was hooked – not just on Margaret Mahy, but on the whole oeuvre of young adult fiction. From that moment on I worked my way solidly through Mahy, Peyton, Voigt, Garfield, Cooper, Marsden, Hartnett and co. How could I not have known these wonderful books existed? My love of young adult fiction was born.

I’m sorry to say I did not immediately wake up to myself and rush out to find a job in children’s publishing. No, I came back to Australia and spent ten years working in social research, reading and dreaming of writing the great Australian YA novel. Eventually I started a course at RMIT in writing and editing, before landing a job with Allen & Unwin, where I found my true calling on the other side of the pen ...

One day I even met Margaret Mahy. She drew me a cat. I was speechless with joy.

Thank you, Margaret Mahy, and thank you, Allen & Unwin, for setting me down the path of a very happy and deeply satisfying career in children’s publishing.

- Eva Mills, Publisher

08 March 2013

Woe! Woe! Woe!

We must interrupt our Onion Origin stories for the saddest (and rarest) of occasions: an Onion Departure.

Bruno Herfst, our beloved Tall Designer, is leaving us. We are heartbroken.

Which is confusing to him. 'Why does everyone keep saying how sad they are? Why isn't everyone pleased and happy for me?' he asks, with what we assume is a furrowed brow, only it's too high up for us to see.

Happy? Happy, Bruno? How can we be happy when you're ripping a tall chunk of the heart, a fair amount of the soul, and, let's be honest, probably ALL of the cool, from The House of Onion.

In his five years here, Bruno has designed and created the most stunning books - from picture books to young adult, from commercial to literary to downright obscure. He has worked cheerfully and calmly with authors, illustrators and frazzled editors. 

But his body of work speaks for itself...

So we will speak for him - for his energy and enthusiasm; his innovation and dedication; his passion for, and sometimes hair-tearingly infuriating dedication to, making everything juusssst right, from which, in the end (the down-to-the-wire end), we all benefit; his extraordinary expertise in type design, coding, printing, book-making best-practice; and his constant desire to push boundaries, to invent, to create, to experiment and to play.

He has devised countless ingenious ways of making our lives easier. And when he bounces into the office he lightens the mood, brightens the outlook and amplifies the energy.

Thank you so much for everything, Bruno.
We will miss you dreadfully. Every day.

And if you'd let us, we - your devoted sisters and aunties - would tie a note around your neck before sending you out into the world...

But, just like Paddington, you will find a wonderful new home, new friends and new challenges. You will flourish and grow.

We are very proud of you.

And very happy for you. 

Really we are.


06 March 2013

Onion Origins - SF

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

The Job Interview 
A two-storey terrace house,
narrow timber stairs,
following the Publisher...
She looks back down at me,
 'You're not who I thought you were.'

Bare floorboards in the large front room,
trestle table for a desk
and large fat folder with all the applications.
I hand over the sample manuscripts,
edited to show my approach to the texts,
and a couple of my favourite picture books,
including The Tomten, (that kindly gnome who goes about the farm at night, talking to the animals in a silent language that animals understand).

We had a second interview at her house,
relaxed and friendly over lunch,
and I heard later that she'd said
interviewing would be easier if she could do it in the applicant's lounge room,
then she'd know a whole lot more.

But she gave me a chance
and handed over books and authors,
trusting me to care for them,
which made it possible for me
to be what I thought I could be.

And I've been here ever since.

- Sue Flockhart, Commissioning Editor

01 March 2013

Happy Anniversary!

2013 is a very special year for Allen & Unwin Books for Children and Teenagers.

This year we are celebrating our twenty-fifth anniversary.
We're so pleased and proud.

Twenty-five years!

That's a silver wedding anniversary.

That's older than several of us were when we started working here.

That's five years longer ago than when Sgt Pepper taught the band to play.

Twenty-five is also apparently a Cullen number.  That seems... important somehow...

For twenty-five years we've been making books, selling books, enthusiastically telling people about our books - and loving books, authors, illustrators and book-creators of all kinds.

So, to celebrate, for the rest of this year we will be sharing origin stories of the people that work here.

How did the Onions become Onions?

Tune in next week for the very first edition of Onion Origins. 

And stay tuned for other things from us and the Mothership all through this anniversary year.

Happy 25, Onions!