Literary Lion Tamers

Craig Munro

Literary Lion Tamers
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Literary Lion Tamers

Craig Munro

In this unique and entertaining blend of memoir, biography, and literary detective work, highly respected former fiction editor Craig Munro recreates the lives and careers of Australia’s most renowned literary editors and authors, spanning a century from the 1890s to the 1990s.   

Famous figures featured in this book include A.G. Stephens, who helped turn foundry worker Joseph Furphy’s thousand-page handwritten manuscript into the enduring classic Such Is Life; P.R. Stephensen, who tangled with the irascible Xavier Herbert, working closely with the novelist to revise his unwieldy masterpiece Capricornia; Beatrice Davis, who cut Herbert’s later novel Soldiers' Women in half, and whose lively literary soirees were the talk of Sydney; and award-winning fiction editor Rosanne Fitzgibbon, who was known as a friend and champion to her authors, including the prodigiously talented young novelist Gillian Mears.   

Throughout it all, in beguiling and elegant style, Craig Munro weaves his own reminiscences of a life in publishing while tracking down some of Australian literature’s most fascinating and little-known stories. Literary Lion Tamers is a delight for anyone interested in the wild outer edges of the book world.

Review

Everyone who knows me knows I’m obsessed with publishing, and I frequently read books about books, so I was thrilled to see Literary Lion Tamers published. Craig Munro has had an impressive career – over 30 years in the publishing industry, primarily at University of Queensland Press. This is far from his first book on publishing, too, as he has published his 2016 memoir of working in the industry Under Cover, among others.

Literary Lion Tamers is an impressive historical record, making use of the University of Queensland’s expansive Fryer library records to construct a history of book in editing in Australia. Editors are too often – by nature of their work – invisible. Importantly, Munro follows the lives of prominent editors from the late 1800s through to the 1990s. Despite being well-read in colonial Australian literature and its publishing history, I learned a tremendous amount from Munro.

Prominent throughout the book are A.G. Stephens, Xavier Herbert, Joseph Furphy and P.R. (Inky) Stephensen, along with mentions of many celebrated Australian writers. At times I grew a little tired of this heavily masculine narrative, which draws on the various screw-ups of Inky Stephensen, so I was pleased that the later chapters focused on the strong influence of Beatrice Davis and Rosanne Fitzgibbon on the contemporary industry. Both were esteemed for their nurturing approach to editing – building lifelong relationships with authors in order to understand how they thought and how they wrote. Although the industry is facing more economic stress than ever before, this is the approach that I still see reflected in my peers and mentors.

This is definitely a book that suits writing and publishing students and professionals. Members of the general public similarly curious about the ins-and-outs of the book world will find topics of interest here too, particularly those readers who have enjoyed recent literary biographies such as Brenda Niall’s Friends and Rivals and Jacqueline Kent’s A Certain Style.


Clare Millar is from Readings online.

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