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Inside the Australian book industry

Women lead Australian book-to-film adaptations

On International Women’s Day it is heartening to share the news that Australia’s key film funding body, Screen Australia, has announced that its most recent round of funding, which includes a number of book-to-film adaptations, shows a growing representation of women in projects submitted. ‘[T]he majority of projects have strong female representation—and indeed nine of the 23 [projects funded] even have both all-female teams and a female protagonist—which is exciting and shows that changes in the industry are having a noticeable impact on the types of applications we are receiving,’ said Screen Australia senior development manager Nerida Moore.

Films based on books by Hannah Kent, Alice Pung, Peter Goldsworthy and Tara Winkler are among the latest projects to receive funding from Screen Australia.

Author Hannah Kent will write the screenplay for the adaptation of her historical novel The Good People (Picador Australia), which will be produced by Polly Staniford and Angie Fielder. The production company that bought rights to Kent’s novel, Aquarius Films, has completed an initial treatment for the film and will use the funding to develop a first draft of the screenplay. Alice Pung’s coming-of-age story Laurinda (Black Inc.) will be adapted into a film directed by Samantha Lang, with playwright Michelle Law to write the screenplay.

A film adaptation of Peter Goldsworthy’s 1995 novel Wish (Text Publishing) has also received development funding, and Tara Winkler’s memoir about her well-intentioned but misguided attempt to start an orphanage in Cambodia, How (Not) To Start An Orphanage (Allen & Unwin), is also a recipient of development funding.

Meanwhile, Australian arts funding body Creative Victoria, which covers the south-eastern state of Victoria, of which Melbourne is the capital, has announced a new funding program to ‘address barriers to participation by under-represented groups in Victoria’s creative industries’. The new Diversity and Inclusion Program will offer grants of up to A$100,000 through the ‘Talent Matters’ category to support the design of professional development programs for creative practitioners and administrators from marginalised or under-represented backgrounds. For more information, see the Creative Victoria website.

We look forward to reporting on the book-to-film adaptations that might flow from this initiative in the years to come.

Matthia Dempsey
Think Australian

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Text sells North American rights to ‘The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted’

Text Publishing has sold North American rights to Robert Hillman’s novel The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted to Putnam and Penguin Canada ‘for a significant sum’. Hillman’s book, which follows the lives of a sheep farmer and a Hungarian Holocaust survivor in a small Victorian town in the 1960s, has also sold to A W Bruna in the Netherlands, Suma Internacional in Spain and Tchelet in Israel. Text rights and export coordinator Khadija Caffoor said the book, which was one of the publisher’s lead titles at last year’s Frankfurt Book Fair, ‘sits in that sweet spot where literary and mainstream readers find common ground’. The book will be released in Australia and New Zealand in April, and in North America in the US Spring of 2019.

The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart (HarperCollins), by debut author Holly Ringland (pictured), has sold into 19 territories. Ringland’s coming-of-age story about a young girl, Alice, who has a deep connection to the Australian landscape and the language of native Australian flowers has sold to House of Anansi in Canada, Luitingh-Sijthoff in the Netherlands, Garzanti in Italy, Editions Fayard in France, Salamandra in Spain and Latin America, Porto Editora in Portugal and Marginesy in Poland. Rights have also sold into Catalonia, Israel, Turkey, Japan, Serbia, Russia, Slovakia, Hungary and Croatia. HarperCollins Australia acquired Australian and New Zealand rights to the book—then titled ‘The Centre is Red’in December 2016 in a five-way auction negotiated by Benython Oldfield at Zeitgeist Media Group. Oldfield told Think Australian that the Zeitgeist Brussels office acted quickly after the five-way auction to ensure that early manuscripts were sent to ‘trusted European editors’, resulting in a six-figure offer from Random House Germany’s Limes imprint, with UK rights following in a pre-empt to Pan Macmillan Mantle in January 2017. Oldfield credited the international sales to the ‘multilingual Zeitgeist Brussels office’ and its director, Sharon Galant, who sells direct in France and the UK and ‘manages an army of sub-agents’. The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart will be published in Australia and New Zealand on 19 March.

Scribe Publications has acquired North American and ANZ rights in Why I Am a Hindu by Shashi Tharoor. The book has become an instant bestseller upon its recent publication in India, and Scribe will rush-release it in June in Australia and in the first half of 2019 in North America. ‘We acquired North American rights from the author’s agents, and ANZ rights from the author’s UK publisher,’ said Scribe publisher Henry Rosenbloom. ‘We were able to do this because we’d acquired the same rights in the author’s previous book, Inglorious Empire (which we’re publishing in North America in May). Rosenbloom said Tharoor is ‘extremely well known in his own country, is a prominent politician and author, and is a very good writer, and the subject he’s dealing with is important and fascinating’. Since its expansion into the North American market in 2017, Scribe now publishes or distributes around 40 titles per year in the market, including Australian titles such as Dark Emu by award-winning author Bruce Pascoe (Magabala Books, see award winners, below) and Talking to My Country by Stan Grant (HarperCollins Australia), neither of which were published by Scribe in Australia. Rosenbloom said he expected to ‘do more of this as time goes by’.

Australian genre publisher Twelfth Planet Press has acquired Stephanie Gunn’s novella Icefall, with which it will launch a novella series. Icefall is a ‘gripping story of extreme sports in outer space’, which Twelfth Planet Press acquired via a previous open submission period. Publisher Alisa Krasnostein told Think Australian she will decide how many novellas to release in the series per year based on what’s submitted. ‘At this stage I’m very open and am really looking for work that hits my brief. We’re interested in hearing from marginalised writers more generally,’ said Krasnostein. ‘We are also looking for fun, light crime novellas that fit within our Deadlines imprint.’ Gunn’s Icefall will be released later in 2018.

Australian author Kirsty Manning’s historical-fiction novel, The Jade Lily (Allen & Unwin), has sold in the US at auction to William Morrow in a two-book deal. The deal was negotiated by by Stacy Testa at Writers House, on behalf of Clare Forster at Curtis Brown Australia. Manning’s book is set in Shanghai during World War II, when the city opened its doors to thousands of Jewish refugees trying to escape Europe, and in the present day, when a young Australian woman travels to China to unravel her family’s history. Translation rights have sold to Droemer Knaurin Germany, and De Fontein in the Netherlands. William Morrow also acquired North American rights to Manning’s The Cheapside Jewels, which is based on the true story of one of the world’s most significant collections of jewellery. Allen & Unwin will publish both books in Australia and New Zealand, with The Jade Lily to be released in May.

Other recent rights sales and acquisitions of adult titles include:


  • Penguin Random House Australia has licensed French-language rights to All Day at the Movies (Fiona Kidman); German-language and Czech rights to The Chocolate Tin (Fiona McIntosh); and German-language rights to True Blue and Drifter’s Song (both Sasha Wasley).
  • Text Publishing has acquired world English-language rights to Polish thriller Fog (Kaja Malanowska) via the Barbara J Zitwer agency.
  • Fremantle Press has sold Italian rights to The Hope Fault (Tracy Farr) to Parallelo45 Edizioni.
  • Lyn Tranter at Australian Literary Management has sold world rights to Hare’s Fur (Trevor Shearston) to Scribe Publications.
  • Altair Australia has acquired rights to Coals and Ash (Lyn McConchie) to be published mid to late 2018.


Film rights


Photo credit: Giulia Zonza.


Indigenous author Bruce Pascoe receives Lifetime Achievement in Literature award

Bunurong writer Bruce Pascoe has won the Australia Council Award for Lifetime Achievement in Literature. The award ‘acknowledges the achievements of eminent literary writers over the age of 60 who have made an outstanding and lifelong contribution to Australian literature’. Pascoe has published more than 20 adult and children’s titles, including Ocean (Seaglass Books); Convincing Ground: Learning to Fall in Love with Your Country (Aboriginal Studies Press); Fog a Dox (Magabala); and Dark Emu: Black Seeds: Agriculture Or Accident? (Magabala). Pascoe won Book of the Year in the 2016 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards for Dark Emu, which was also shortlisted for the Queensland Literary Awards and the Victorian Premier’s Award for Indigenous Writing.

The Australia Council Awards annually recognise outstanding and sustained contributions by Australian artists in music, literature, community arts and cultural development (CACD), emerging and experimental arts, visual arts, theatre and dance.

The winners of the 2018 Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature were announced at a ceremony on 3 March.

Among the winners in the adult categories were: Premier’s Award, The Last Garden (Eva Hornung, Text); Fiction, The Last Garden (Eva Hornung, Text); Nonfiction, The Boy Behind the Curtain (Tim Winton, Penguin); John Bray Poetry Award, Missing Up (Pam Brown, Vagabond Press); and Arts South Australia Wakefield Press Unpublished Manuscript Award, ‘A New Name for the Colour Blue’ (Annette Marner). The Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature are presented biennially by the South Australian government.


Introducing Brow Books

Sam Cooney is publisher at literary magazine The Lifted Brow and its recently established books imprint, Brow Books, as well as being a writer, literary critic, teacher, host, prize judge and publisher-in-residence at RMIT University. Brow Books aims to publish ‘the kind of books that no one else is publishing’, with a keen focus on ‘working with authors from the margins: people who live and write from demographic margins, and/or writers whose work sits in the literary margins’. Cooney spoke to Think Australian about the new imprint.

What makes Brow Books unique?

Right now, Brow Books is unique because it’s tapped into, and working with, a whole bunch of writers and artists that the rest of Australian trade book publishing simply isn’t—and we are going to continue publishing books from these writers, because readers want these books. Yes, obviously Brow Books knows these writers and artists through our quarterly print magazine, The Lifted Brow, and also our dynamic website—both of which focus on the constant discovery of new talent (who bring new ideas and experiences and perspectives and approaches) and which also focus on maintaining ongoing relationships with these talented folks. However, what is most important to note here is that this discovery process—and the subsequent relationships that form between us and them—are full and healthy and honest. This is largely because our team aren’t outsiders looking into these various communities, wanting their stories so we can sell books. Instead, due to the genuine passion and interest of the large and diverse team we have across our whole organisation, our people are actively involved in various communities as community members first—and then if pieces for our magazine or website or books stem organically from these communities, the whole modern methodology of publishing (which sees people in publishing houses ‘reaching out’, ugh, to communities to try and secure the rights to stories to sell to readers) is kind of flipped on its head.

Into the future, I think we’ll be unique because we will be—as far as I know, though I’d be unsurprised if I’m wrong—the only not-for-profit trade press in Australia (one that isn’t deliberately sitting within a certain niche). Also: I’m adamant right now that we don’t follow the well-trodden path of expanding (titles published, people employed, etc) year-on-year and all of a sudden we’re not a small and interesting nimble outfit, but rather one that has to know it’s going to generate $___,____ per year from book sales before it can even begin to think about doing exactly what it wants to do. Is this outrageous chutzpah? Maybe—though if this is considered an outrageous attitude then our industry really is dull.

How many books does Brow Books publish—and what kinds of books?

We published one book in 2016 (a novel), three in 2017 (a novel, a nonfiction sex advice book from a mother and son, and an anthology), and we will publish eight in 2018 (three novels including two international works we’ve bought the rights to, one collection of translated short stories, one work of narrative nonfiction, two nonfiction multi-authored collections, and one book of visual art by an Australian legend).

So the answers are: we don’t know yet how many books per year is the right amount, but we will set a limit so we don’t grow and so we don’t look at growth as our measure of success. And we publish all kinds of books (though we don’t do children’s or YA because that’s not our specialty or passion, and we don’t do poetry as there are some Australian presses doing such a bang-up job with poetry books right now, and because we stand proudly in the literary camp we don’t do genre fiction or history books or self-help books or effing cookbooks. And we definitely won’t add to the world’s woes by publishing any more politician’s biographies).

Have you sold international rights to any Brow Books books?

Yes! Last year we published The Town by Shaun Prescott—a quiet, weird, disparaging, beautiful Australian novel—and we sold world English (except ANZ) rights to Faber & Faber right before Frankfurt as they were so keen to show everyone. And they sold it on to major publishing houses in the US, Germany, France, Spain, and a couple of other countries too.

We’re also in talks right now with agents—and through them, international publishing houses—about a couple of our 2018 titles.

Which titles have been most successful overseas?

None yet—but The Town will be a remarkable success story. I’m no walking textbook on the history of modern Australian publishing, but I really cannot think of a similar triumph for an Australian author. Shaun’s novel is so unassuming and dark and strange, and then almost overnight it’s the talk of the world’s largest trade book fair, when it hasn’t even sold half its modest first printing. Unbelievable.

Which title or author on your list do you believe deserves bigger recognition overseas?

Briohny Doyle’s The Island Will Sink. Here’s an extraordinary lit fic/spec fic crossover novel that was written on-and-off over the course of almost 10 years, a novel which so deeply tells us who we are in our current age and which was rejected by several large and small Australian publishing houses (and rejected more than once by one press) because some of them didn’t understand it and so they hated it, and others did understand it but couldn’t get it over the line inside the press as it didn’t fit the mould of what had come before. And it took us at Brow Books to begin publishing books, before this singular novel was given its chance, and it proceeded to receive absolutely rave reviews in every single publication in this country that publishes reviews. Readers all over social media were going bananas about this novel for months and months, and we’re now into a fourth printing of the book. And yet we’ve been having the same issue with publishing houses in the US and UK—that they don’t understand the book, or they like it but can’t make it work. It’s frustrating! If someone takes a punt on this book, it’ll pay off for them.

Have you acquired the rights to publish any international titles in Australia? What have been the most successful?

We’re just this year entering into this space. In March we published Apple and Knife, a collection of short stories by Intan Paramaditha, translated from the Indonesian by Stephen J Epstein. That book’s been doing really well—and by that I mean the critical reception has been uniformly incredibly positive, and so has the reception from readers. This year, we’re also going to publish a sublime small novel we bought from a tiny queer press in Montreal, and also a madcap novel by the Korean author Han Yujoo.

What will you publish next (that may appeal to international publishers)?

If I was an international publishing house, I’d be scrambling over all rivals to be the one to publish Jamie Marina Lau in my country/territory—I’d want to publish her novel Pink Mountain on Locust Island (that Brow Books is publishing in June), but I’d also want to publish whatever she does next.

And: if I was an international publishing house and I was already digging what Brow Books has been doing up until this point, I’d be keeping a real close eye on the nonfiction books we’re planning to publish over the next year or two or three, especially books from younger and incredibly talented writers.


Historical fiction debut tops the chart

The Tattooist of Auschwitz tops the fiction list for February. The novel is based on the true story of Lale Sokolov—the tattooist of the title—and his future wife, Gita Fuhrmannova, whom he met at the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau when both were imprisoned there. The book is based on the author Helen Morris’ interviews with Lale in Australia, where Lale and Gita settled after the war and lived for nearly 60 years. It was only after Gita’s death in 2003 that Lale met Morris and shared his story. Lale and Gita were ‘two ordinary people, living in an extraordinary time, deprived not only of their freedom but their dignity, their names and their identities’ writes Morris. Another debut, Kali Napier’s The Secrets at Ocean Edge (Hachette) in third. Napier’s historical fiction novel is set in 1932, and follows an Australian family that moves out West to make a new start during the Great Depression. Meanwhile, The Barefoot Investor (Scott Pape, John Wiley) continues to rule the nonfiction charts.

Australian fiction bestsellers: February

  1. The Tattooist of Auschwitz (Heather Morris, Echo Publishing)
  2. The Dry (Jane Harper, Pan Macmillan)
  3. The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge (Kali Napier, Hachette)
  4. Force of Nature (Jane Harper, Macmillan)
  5. Truly Madly Guilty (Liane Moriarty, Pan Macmillan)
  6. The Red Dirt Road (Alissa Callen, HQ)
  7. Big Little Lies (Liane Moriarty, Pan Macmillan)
  8. The Husband’s Secret (Liane Moriarty, Pan Macmillan)
  9. White Gum Creek (Nicole Hurley-Moore, Allen & Unwin)
  10. Sanctuary (Judy Nunn, William Heinemann)

Australian nonfiction bestsellers: February

  1. The Barefoot Investor (Scott Pape, John Wiley)
  2. Lunch Box (Pete Evans, Pan Macmillan)
  3. The Australian Healthy Hormone Diet (Michele Chevalley Hedge & Jennifer Fleming, Pan Macmillan)
  4. Unbreakable (Jelena Dokic, Ebury)
  5. Working Class Man (Jimmy Barnes, HarperCollins)
  6. Basics to Brilliance Kids (Donna Hay, HarperCollins)
  7. 30 Days 30 Ways to Overcome Anxiety (Bev Aisbett, HarperCollins)
  8. Maggie’s Recipe for Life (Maggie Beer & Ralph Martins, Simon & Schuster)
  9. The Trauma Cleaner (Sarah Krasnostein, Text Publishing)
  10. The Suitcase Baby (Tanya Bretherton, Hachette)     

© Nielsen BookScan 2018
Period covered: 28 January 2018 to 24 February 2018.
Data supplied by Nielsen BookScan’s book sales monitoring system from 1000 retailers nationwide




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