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

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