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Diary of a publisher: You’re never alone with a book

Books & Poetry

Coronavirus concerns have stymied many planned book launches this month, but self-isolation could be an opportunity to rediscover joy in poetry, lose yourself in a novel or indulge in a spot of armchair travel.

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On a warm, soft, velvety night, walking through parklands to the twinkling city, body feeling at ease, at one, it seems impossible, dreamlike, that all this should be unfolding. There’s an invisible worm wriggling in the mind.

“It’s great to have a novel set in the Southern Flinders Ranges,” I said at the launching of Annette Marner’s lovely A New Name for the Colour Blue (winner of the Adelaide Festival’s Unpublished Manuscript Award in 2018). “A place you can still easily go.”

This was not quite two weeks ago. The words fell out of my mouth, but I think I had bushfires in mind more than virus. When a fellow there told me he thought public places and events would be closing soon, I figured he was a panic merchant. I see now, however, that the Laura Fair, where Annette was to present her book to her hometown crowd, has been cancelled. Like so many events: for us, our authors, and everybody.

Armchair travel looks the go for the coming weeks or months. Another charming companion is Terena Armenakis’s A Greek Folk Journey, a cultural, historical and gastronomic tour through the festivals of Greece. We had a big crowd coming to the launch last Friday here in the inner west, after tireless stalwart Helen Vassos spent much time and money whipping up a community event. All called off, an hour or two before opening time. The show must not go on.

Perhaps in our splendid isolation we’ll rediscover joy in poetry, the elemental form of literary art. Scottish-Australian Ali Whitelock’s political video-poem ‘this is coal don’t be afraid’ (the title is satirical) went viral a few weeks back when the fires raged.

Fingers crossed Ali’s brilliant new book, The Lactic Acid in the Calves of Your Despair, takes off, even though this week’s launch, at Better Read than Dead bookshop in Sydney, has been called off, along with her event – and all events – at the Sydney Writers’ Festival (officially cancelled this week).

I sent the bonnie lass a video of “Scotland the Brave” to cheer her up. “Not to worry,” she replied, attaching a photo of the frock and shoes she’d chosen. “I’ll do some video recordings. If I can’t get people to a launch, I’ll bring a sort-of-launch to the people!”

Courageous young Nathan Rogers has taken to staging community food events at magical Littlehampton in association with the now-postponed Tasting Australia. One feature of his Adelaide Hills Kids Farmers Market was to be cooking demos for youngsters by Tori Arbon, author with Lolo Houbein of the grow-and-cook-your-own Magic Little Meals — now there’s a book for our times!

Sorry to be a misery guts, but I could go on and on. There is so much — not least, money — slipping away in the dream, needing recovery. Working away quietly in the office across from mine is Poppy Nwosu, whose new book Taking Down Evelyn Tait was to be launched at Dymocks Adelaide courtesy of its excellent YA Circle, until yesterday’s cancellation.

Poppy’s novel, her second following the much-loved Making Friends with Alice Dyson, is released on April 1 (no fooling) and Dymocks, hint, hint, will have plenty of copies in stock. Meanwhile, follow Poppy’s Instagram or Twitter accounts for a delightful break from the news.

You’re never alone with a book. It’s a cliché, but true — and I see per Google that even Jeanette Winterson used it in an interview, adding wisely: “It’s a dialogue”. We need to keep talking, of course, but dare I say also buying. Your country’s authors, publishers and booksellers depend on you! (And we home-deliver.)

Michael Bollen is director at Adelaide-based independent publishing house Wakefield Press. He writes a regular column for InDaily.

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