Inside the Australian and New Zealand book industry

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Vale Deb Brash

Book designer Deborah Brash has died.

Brash worked with publishers including ABC Books, Allen & Unwin, Art Gallery of NSW, Murdoch Books and Simon & Schuster, and was art director of Penguin Australia from 2003 to 2011.

Tony Palmer, PRH executive designer, Young Readers, writes:

‘It was with great sadness that I received the news of Deb Brash’s death. Working with her for ten years at Penguin Books Australia, I remember her as a professional colleague who always had time and patience to deal with anyone’s issues with care and detail. I have watched her instruct a new designer on line turns for paragraph shaping and then without missing a beat suggest a possible avenue for exploring a book cover’s core message. She had the knack of all great art directors—playing the main game while never losing sight of its surrounding detail.

‘Deb came to Penguin during a time of growth at [the company]. She was quickly placed at the heart of our lifestyle publishing list, which was expanding massively, as well as maintaining Penguin’s mass market, nonfiction and Young Readers lists. Very little seemed to shake her from the path she intuitively knew was right for the company. And, as her assistant, we often argued about the correct emphasis or best direction for Penguin. But despite our differences I always knew that when she declared that her approach was better than mine (because it was better for the business), she meant it and she would back it. It’s easy to be cynical about large multinational brands but in some ways they are like people. They stand or fall on their authenticity. Deb was authentic, and everything she touched at Penguin drew from that same well.

‘I also know Deb will be remembered by many as a friend who was willing to stand by them when things turned dark. Her loyalty, clear-sightedness, her compassion and her toughness were a unique testament to her humanity and, no doubt, her upbringing. But for me it will be impossible to forget drinking whisky in her office on a Friday after work and witnessing her capacity to laugh with joy at everything life, work and family were bringing to her. She knew a lot about how to live a good life. But at a deeper level she discovered a way to live that good life.’

Book designer Sandy Cull writes:

‘Deb was a champion. She was a fabulous designer, prolific and versatile with a tireless work ethic. A great manager who gave credit when it was due, could see talent from a mile away, and wasn’t afraid to have difficult conversations. She was feisty and fun, and totally authentic, intolerant of pretension. Deb leaves behind an amazing legacy, having ushered and mentored so many in the industry. I will be forever grateful for having known her. Thanks for everything wonderful Deb. Rest in peace.’

Publisher Richard Smart writes:

‘Those of us who work in the Australian book publishing industry are well aware of its close-knit nature, how it is renowned for its collegiate and caring attitude. The news of the passing of one of its members, our colleagues, always strikes deep.

‘And so the loss of Deborah (Deb-to-all) Brash last weekend will be widely and profoundly felt.

‘How best to describe this remarkable woman? Designer extraordinaire, vivacious, with a warm, engaging smile and a laugh to lift a room; singer with a sultry and strong Cleo Laine/Ella Fitzgerald style; warm, generous and loyal, a mentor to so many; once met, friendship with Deb was lifelong, and an absolute privilege. As Shakespeare observed, and as many would attest: “I count myself in nothing else so happy as in rememb’ring a good friend.”

‘Deb’s designs adorned books at Collins, Macmillan, Penguin, Murdoch Books and many other houses. She wrote a chapter on design for the Australian Publishers Association’s book An Introduction to Australian Book Publishing, opening with these words: “The creative role of designing books can be an exhilarating, confronting, passionate and intense journey as the designer rarely travels alone.”

‘She was well aware of the collaborative journey a book takes on its way to publication, although she also firmly stated, “At all costs avoid design-by-committee (jacket/cover) decisions.” She lectured widely, generously sharing her many years’ experience, won numerous design awards, was the recipient of the Joyce Thorpe Nicholson Design Hall of Fame and the APA’s George Robertson awards for her contribution to the book industry.

‘Deb was, quite simply, one of nature’s outstanding people. There’s a line or two (adapted) from “Cavatina” sung by Cleo Laine (and possibly by Deb) that says it all:

Deb was beautiful, beautiful to our eyes.
From the moment we met her sun filled our skies.
It was oh so beautiful knowing just how she cared
We’ll always remember the times that we shared.
Now it’s all over the memories will linger on;
Our thoughts will keep returning now that she’s gone.’


Category: Obituaries