I was totally thrilled to hear that Richard Flanagan had won the Man Booker Prize last week, for him (obviously); for Australian literature; for the stage it gave Flanagan to despair vocally about the state of Australia in 2014 (‘Ashamed to be Australian‘); for his winning novel’s (The Narrow Road to the Deep North) story about the Second World War and the Burmese Railway (although I’ve yet to read it, I think this is such important subject matter); and for his brilliant acceptance speech.
And in his brilliant acceptance speech, what warmed my heart more than I can say was this: ‘And I particularly want to thank two remarkable women sitting at my table.’ One was his partner Majda. The other, and this is when my heart blazed, was his publisher. He said:
‘The other is Nikki Christer, my publisher at Random House Australia, dear friend, and an editor of rare genius who has been my collaborator of nearly 20 years. She is the Motown publisher, who cracked me and so many other Australian writers out of the literary ghetto and took us to a mass audience. Making books, including The Narrow Road, with someone of Nikki’s gifts, has been one of the great creative joys of my life.’
I have not been at it – the writing-publishing life – nearly as long as Flanagan has, but I’ve now written four published books (as of yesterday, when Six Capitals was officially published) and for a long time I’ve been wanting to praise more publicly than at a book launch or in an email or over drinks my EXTRAORDINARY publisher Jane Palfreyman and my extraordinary editor Clara Finlay. (Jane gets the capitals because she is EXTRA extraordinary – sui generis as Christos Tsiolkas calls her – has been with me from the beginning, and wholeheartedly backs and takes all the risk for my ideas.)
Of course Flanagan has found the coolest metaphor with which to describe Nikki Christer’s alchemical powers: the Motown publisher who cracks writers out of the ghetto and takes them to a mass audience. I haven’t yet worked up one for Jane Palfreyman, but it would definitely involve one-time Melbourne boy Nick Cave. Her passionate publishing and editing of Melbourne boy Christos Tsiolkas – from the first appearance of his manuscript Loaded in the Random House ‘slush pile’ (as the massive piles of unsolicited manuscripts were known in the days of paper) to his storming of the world stage with The Slap – says it all.
Nikki Christer is also Flanagan’s editor. My editor, if I could be said to have one (because it’s up for grabs with every new book), is Clara Finlay – and I know from the depths of my being that there is no way my last two books could exist without her. She is the most intelligent, most probing, most courageous (I’ve been an editor and I know the daring it takes to ask what you fear might be silly queries but in fact are absolutely critical questions), most patient, most painstaking, apparently tireless, creative and imaginative editor I could wish for.
Books cannot exist without these extraordinary people. So today I give thanks to all the publishers and the editors out there, as well as to my own extraordinary two. They work mostly for love and it can be hellish, fraught work against unspeakable deadlines. THANK YOU.