The Story of a Book
Everyone should edit a book at some point in their lives.
This is doubly true if you’re a writer, and if the publisher is small, trying, as best they can to run on a smattering of coins and the love and passion of a few great writers and interns.
Margaret River Press publisher, Caroline Wood, approached me in August 2015 to ask if I would edit the 2016 Margaret River Short Story Competition Collection, having judged the competition a year earlier. We would combine judging and editing, in my case, for a lower pay rate, but the honour of having my name on the front of the book.
I took it on because I had the feeling that this could be a breakout year for the competition. It turns out that I was right, but in ways that I couldn’t have imagined. Once the final shortlist was selected, I found 23 of the 24 stories were written by women, with Phil Sparrow, the winner of the Southwest Prize, the sole male contributor. I discovered that, despite the longlisting having been done by three people, the stories that remained were a kaleidoscope of me, and, I imagine, many people.
‘The regional voice is the universal voice,’ writes Joyce Carol Oates. Reading these stories, these raw, regional voices, I felt my universe expand. At times, I’d stop reading. Many, although not all, were just so excruciatingly sad.
When a friend died in my youth, I said ‘It’s not fair’ to my father. ‘Whoever said that life is fair?’ he replied.
It certainly wasn’t fair for many of the characters in the selected stories. But in each, there’s this unspoken resilience, a willingness to face, rather than retreat, that drew me into their world:
The woman torn between two continents in ‘Shibboleth’; The wife in ‘It used to be a Boyd’, and Rose, balancing ever so delicately in ‘Slacklining’. A reviewer recently described the collection as dark, but there’s also faith in spades. In this respect, I found light in Cassie Hamer’s delightful ‘Le Farfalle’, and in Kate_Glenister’s liberatingly honest depiction of loss in ‘A House.’ And then, there’s ‘Theo’ by Phil Sparrow; a story so intricately made up of moments that it’s hard, having just read it, not to take stock of one’s life and choices.
I brought the book together as best as I could, in the only way that I could. As readers, our selections say much about ourselves. A need to escape, or in some, the need to better understand. Perhaps we’re lonely, and we want to connect, albeit through the pages of a book.
Maybe someone asks us to do something they know will stretch us, be that writing a story or editing a collection. Perhaps, in doing this, they group us all together. Readers, writers, and editors, across Australia and New Zealand, sharing lives, thoughts and feelings.
The story of this book is not so much my own as it is the combination of many others, mine included. It’s a chance to understand the people we know, and love, as seen from a distance.
Many people helped this book come to life, many of whom I’m incredibly fond. Not least of these is Caroline Wood, who publishes books as though it were the taking in of oxygen. A thing to be done to survive.
Logan Griffiths, Alfindy Agyputri, Justine Spencer, Ashley Valli and Rebecca Harris came on as interns for Margaret River Press during the publication and promotion of Shibboleth. Without exception, I found them to be just wonderful souls. The glow from a row of lamplights, the delicate dancing of dust motes in the air. And finally, there were the 24 contributors I selected this time around. Some I already knew. Others I met for the first time. I devoured their stories quickly and hungrily, underlining sentences with a blunt HB, to return to at a later date.
It takes many people to bring a book to publication. It feels, with this particular book, as though each page is filled with their thoughts, feelings, and fingerprints.