Mark’s Say, November 2020
Well, Readings and most other Victorian bookshops are open again and it has been wonderful to see real people discovering books in our shops. Sadly, our shop in the State Library is yet to open and may not reopen before Christmas as the library has to be very cautious in managing the risk of COVID.
However, in good news, the winner of The Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction this year is the remarkable collection of short stories Smart Ovens for Lonely People by Elizabeth Tan. The prize is judged by a small group of Readings staff and this year they were joined by last year’s winner, Alice Robinson, as guest judge to help decide the winner from among the shortlisted titles. I am so grateful to all our judges for their assiduous efforts. They chose from an amazing field of new Australian writing.
Early this year, in a move that took the publishing world by surprise, James Kellow stepped down from his role as CEO of HarperCollins Australia. James is very highly regarded in the industry and, despite his English background, is passionate about discovering new Australian writers. Trent Dalton’s extraordinarily successful Boy Swallows Universe was one of the highlights of Kellow’s time at HarperCollins. Now, Kellow has teamed up with Melbourne’s Hardie Grant to form Ultimo Press, based in the Sydney suburb of Ultimo. In this new team’s words, they ‘want to excite readers of general and literary fiction (especially the sweet spot in-between), and discover non- fiction that inspires and ignites’. They’ve been hiring like mad and have appointed ex-Hachette publisher Robert Watkins as publishing director, and former Picador Australia publisher Alex Craig as publisher. We’ll be looking on with great interest to see what they can add to our literary culture.
Kellow is also a former board member of the Indigenous Literacy Foundation (ILF) and this year he has been acquiring permission for the ILF to reprint classic children’s books in First Nations languages. This will be a wonderful project broadening the offering of the almost 100,000 books the ILF gives to remote communities annually.
I’m terribly pleased that Readings has retained all our people in spite of the huge impact of COVID, and each person has helped, in one way or another, to keep us all going during the difficult times. As a thank you, I sent everyone a hamper of nice things. It got me wondering why the hampers on offer aren’t a little more cultural.
So, we have teamed up with a small Mornington Peninsula vineyard, Scorpo Wines, and olive grower Hart’s Farm, to create two of our own hampers: our Victorian Hamper (Victorian writers, Victorian produce, $150 including delivery) and our Classic Hamper ($120 including delivery). These hampers are available online only and orders must be placed by 30 November for delivery in early to mid-December. For details about the wonderful contents of these hampers, see here. We hope they will make a great and unique gift; we have no idea how many to make, so order early!