For those unfamiliar with your role, what does it involve?
Finding new authors and manuscripts to publish and seeing them through (with lots of other people involved) all stages of editorial, production, publication and promotion.
What do you look for or love to find in a manuscript submitted to you?
I publish mostly fiction and some non fiction. It is generally the voice of the manuscript that captures my attention first and then writing skills and story. It is very exciting to find a writer who can tell a story – be it fiction or non fiction – in a distinctive and convincing voice.
What is the key to a great first chapter for a novel, or what is a first chapter you like and what makes it work so well for you?
Readers, not just publishers, want to be placed immediately in the story that is being told. You want to feel like a co-conspirator with the writer who is sharing their story just with you.
What is the key to a great progression of chapters throughout a novel?
Feeding the elements of the plot and/or characters at the right pace. Showing the story and not telling it.
What is often lacking or weakest in manuscripts submitted to you, and how could a writer avoid or fix it?
Write some more drafts. Many manuscripts are sent in before they are ready.
Could you share a novel or two that you have personally been involved with and give an overview of what you think made that novel work well?
I am proud of pretty much every book I have ever published, but a standout for me is The Book of Emmett by Deborah Forster. This is a first novel that went into the world quietly and has not always been understood but it is slowly receiving the recognition I believe it deserves and was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award this year – quite an achievement for a first novel. Deb Forster has a standout voice, vivid, confident, distinctly Australian and in no way gauche and she worked very hard to find exactly the story she wanted to share.
Who are a few of your favourite up-and-coming novelists (with 1-3 novels published) and what makes them stand out for you?
Rosalie Ham has published two novels The Dressmaker and Summer at Mount Hope. She is an original she knows how to work the balance between black humour, compassion and poignancy. Her new novel There Should be More Dancing (2011) is a knockout.
Carol Lefevre is not a fashionable novelist in any way. She takes on individual lives and with serious intent, burrows deep into their failings, fears and yearnings. Her novels Nights in the Asylum and If You Were Mine stay with you long after you finish reading.
Glenda Guest has only published one novel, Siddon Rock. It is the story of a small town and the private lives of generations of inhabitants. The equilibrium of the town is upset when Macha Connor returns from the War and is no longer affected by the discretions and constraints of small-town life. Quirky, sad and warm it has a message for us all as was recognised by the judges of the Commonwealth Writers Prize who awarded it Best First Book this year.
What is the most important piece of advice you would like to give for people writing their first novel-length manuscript for National Novel Writing Month in November?
Write, write, write and re-write some more. Set your work aside, read it, and then write some more.
Meredith Curnow is a publisher for Vintage and Knopf; imprints of Random House.
The Australian Literature Review