Reckon your life has been that weird, wonderful or enchanting, that you have a book in you? Plenty of West Australians do, it seems.
The literary enthusiasts at local publisher Fremantle Press, receive hundreds of manuscripts every year from people keen to share their stories with the world.
“We receive about 600 manuscripts a year, but we can only publish about three per cent,” explains marketing and communications manager Claire Miller.
It’s up to her and her colleagues, a dedicated bunch of literary types, operating from an historic former soap factory in Fremantle, to decide which of these stories will become books.
This tiny outfit, operating on a shoestring budget, publishes just 25 books a year. But they’re clearly making good choices.
When the Starfish dropped in earlier this year, three of this year’s crop had just been nominated for literary awards in the space of two weeks.
Albany fisherwoman Sarah Drummond had been long listed for Salt, her memoir of a life at sea. Tracy Farr’s debut novel, The Life And Loves Of Lena Gaunt had been longlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award. And author Dianne Wolfer and illustrator Brian Simmonds’s Light Horse Boy had been shortlisted for the Children’s Book Council Of Australia’s Book Of The Year Awards.
“It’s a great thrill for us to see our authors recognized this way,” says publisher Georgia Richter.
What’s more, six of the Press’s books have just been nominated for the WA Premier’s Book Awards.
Koombana Days by Annie Boyd, Light Horse Boy by Dianne Wolfer and Brian Simmonds, My Superhero by Chris Owen and Moira Court, Salt Story by Sarah Drummond, The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt by Tracy Farr and Unearthed by Tracy Ryan are shortlisted alongside a national field for a share in the $130,000 prize money.
‘The shortlist is a strong mix of established authors like Dianne Wolfer and Tracy Ryan, who have both made the list in the past, and debut authors Annie Boyd, Chris Owen, Sarah Drummond and Tracy Farr,’ says Fremantle Press CEO Jane Fraser.
‘The WA Premier’s Book Awards is a nice way to cap off a year that has included recognition in the Children’s Book Council of Australia Book Awards, the Miles Franklin Literary Award and many others.”
Fremantle Press, formed 37 years ago, helped propel names like Elizabeth Jolley, Albert “A Fortunate Life” Facey and Sally “My Place” Morgan to literary stardom. Back then the company was called Fremantle Arts Centre Press and operated in a pokey attic at the Fremantle Arts Centre.
“For the first few years, we were only publishing four books a year,” says newly retired sales rights and distributor manager Clive Newman.
“Back in the 70s, I was actually deputy director of the Arts Centre but gradually ended up full time in the attic!
“The book that really took off for us,” he recalls, “was Albert Facey’s 1981 memoir, A Fortunate Life.
“I think somebody wandered in one day and said ‘how much would it cost to get 100 copies of this manuscript published?’ We took one look at the book, and it all went from there!
“And in those days Elizabeth Jolley was working downstairs at the arts centre, running writing courses. We got to know her and ended up publishing her work.”
Since then, dozens of writers have become household names thanks to this tiny company, including Kim Scott, the first Aboriginal Miles Franklin winner, and Craig Silvey, whose hit first novel, Rhubarb, was published by it in 1984.
And what’s currently hot?
“I’m excited about Fremantle author Deb Fitzpatrick, who’s on the up and up. Her kids books sell really well, and now we’re publishing her first adult book, The Break, set in Margaret River, in September,” says Claire.
Georgia, meanwhile, is elated that award-winning Fremantle crime writer Alan Carter’s Kwong detective series has just been sold into the European market.
“I think Fremantle Press has gone from strength to strength and does a really good job at promoting local authors,” enthuses Perth author and seller at Collins Booksellers Cottesloe, Yvette Walker.
“Two of their books currently selling really well in here are Annabel Smith’s novel, Whiskey Charlie Foxtrot, and Tracey Farr’s The Life And Loves of Lena Gaunt,” adds Yvette (whose own debut novel, Letters To The End Of Love has just been shortlisted for the 2014 Glenda Adams Award.)
“They’re both beautifully written, fantastic books.”