Introducing Inkerman & Blunt: A new Melbourne publisher

Most of the news we hear about publishing these days is pretty grim, to say the least … it’s all about bookshops closing, sales plummeting and jobs being lost. So, it’s especially nice to hear the good news of a new Australian publisher setting up shop.

Publisher Donna Ward

Publisher Donna Ward

Donna Ward is the brains behind Inkerman & Blunt, a new Melbourne publisher that will publish its first book this year, and is already planning more. Donna was the founder and editor and publisher of Indigo, a renowned West Australian journal of creative writing. She moved back to Melbourne from Western Australia in 2011, following the closure of Indigo in March 2010, after six volumes. Since then, she’s been busy organising the Poetry for the Soul events series and editing Sotto Magazine, the online magazine of Australian Poetry Limited, among other activities.

‘I’ve had a publishing company in the back of my mind for a little while,’ she told the Wheeler Centre. ‘I’ve been getting it together over the past couple of months.’

Donna has gathered a great local team to help her, including award-winning designer Sandy Cull, who will provide graphic design and writer and blogger Angela Meyer, who will publicise Inkerman & Blunt’s first book, Australian Love Poems 2013 (edited by Mark Treddinick). The company’s second book will be a chapbook of flash fiction, written by Angela and currently scheduled for 2014.

We spoke to Donna about her plans and inspiration for Inkerman & Blunt - and why she believes that Australians secretly love poetry.

What drives you—what made you decide to start a publishing company?

There’s nothing quite like the moment when a book comes together. I don’t mean when the printer drops it off at your door, I mean that moment when the manuscript begins to take shape. When all the chaos of words and images, design features, the details for the imprint page, the title itself, when all these things stop swirling around in the space just behind my shoulder and put themselves in the right order in a Word document, that’s the moment when a book comes together. The exhilaration is simply galvanising.

All the news these days is about how publishing is in decline. You’re going against the tide somewhat by starting a new enterprise. What are your thoughts on this?

Well if I’m going against the tide, that’s a good thing. I believe that going against the tide is one of the greatest things we can do in life. Going against the tide is following your own heart, your own desire and my desire is to be in the presence of something new. There are two things I love in life: making a beautiful book and discovering a new idea expressed in an exquisitely turned sentence. Publishing gives me the opportunity to do both and share these two things with the world.

But honestly, I don’t think publishing is in decline; it’s in the heat and angst of a paradigm change. We all still read, and with the onset of the digital age we probably read more than we ever did, and we write more than we ever did in the everyday course of our lives. It’s the way we read and write that’s changed.

Before computers, a lot of my writing was done by hand and given to a secretary to turn into a beautiful document. Now I make the documents myself. Before email, most of my work was done in conversations over the phone. Now I send people (often people I hardly know) a little note in an email. Before the internet, e-books and online magazines, I read reports, maps, self-help books, instruction manuals and airplane novels in hardcopy; now I read those standing in line at the supermarket, from a backlit screen. I don’t even look up the telephone book anymore. It’s almost out of existence, but the publishing of it hasn’t disappeared, it’s just transformed into websites like True Local and White Pages.

Publishing, these days is about making books we curl up and read on the couch then put them on our bookshelves, and it’s about making e-books that people can download onto their phones, tablets and computers to read (and, maybe, delete). The books we love will be the ones we keep. I imagine these will be books of poetry, or extraordinary fiction, or confronting non-fiction, or a book on the history of tennis. I could be wrong, someone may want to buy a hardcopy of the White Pages and keep it on their bookshelves to show their grandchildren how things used to be.

To me, the making of books is transforming and I’m as excited about making e-books as I am the real thing. But, it’s the way we read and buy books that’s changing, so it’s not publishing that’s in decline, but the sales and distribution part of the publishing industry that’s changing. Bookshops and distributors are the ones experiencing the raw end of change.

Your first two books will be a collection of love poems, edited by Mark Treddinick, and a chapbook of flash fiction by Angela Meyer. How did these projects come about?

I’d love to tell you about Angela’s new book but that’s a tale for the next time we meet. Suffice to say it’s coming out in March next year and it’s going to be fantastic. I do want to tell you all about Australian Love Poems 2013, though. It’s a project that has been growing in me for years now.

I’m completely intrigued by the fact that we Australians are awkward when it comes to both love and poetry. We seem to think it is gauche to express love with little more than a hearty slap on the back accompanied by an utterance that includes the word ‘mate’. When it comes to poetry we spend more time denying any association with it than admitting we secretly read it, or go to poetry readings, or have a favorite poem. Did you know there are at least twelve Australian publishers completely dedicated to publishing poetry? And, it’s my estimation that on any night in Australia over 200 people will be sitting in a pub or a cafe or standing in a bookshop listening to a reading of poetry. And while bookshops say poetry doesn’t sell, what they don’t seem to be aware of is the significant underground market for poetry that accompanies these readings which no one admits attending. And, did you know that here in Melbourne, in this poetry eschewing country, we have the biggest poetry bookshop in the Southern hemisphere – Collected Works?

When it comes to both poetry and love, the great Australian cultural cringe takes over. But this cringe of ours is a bit of a myth. In my journey through publishing I’ve discovered that, like bird watching, the appreciation, writing and performance of poetry is one of the great leisure occupations of Australians.

With Australian Love Poems 2013, I want to bring Australians out of the closet on love, and on their love of poetry. What better way to do this than create a book of love poetry? This book is not going to be a history of love poetry written by Australians; they will be poems by poets writing about love right now – this year, or last year, or the year before. They will never have been published before. So Australian Love Poems 2013 will reveal our own Australian language of love.’

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