Craig Munro: Adventures in the Art of Editing
Towards the end of 1971, Craig Munro was faced with a difficult decision. After taking a year’s leave from his cadetship in journalism at Brisbane’s Courier-Mail to study full time at the University of Queensland, he was offered a job by Frank Thompson, the publisher at UQ’s burgeoning literary Press. Craig took the job despite his earlier promise to the Mail’s “unpleasant” editor-in-chief that he would return to the newspaper that had trained him for three years. But, only a few weeks into his new role, Craig began to have serious doubts about his fresh career path. As explained in his new book Under Cover: Adventures in the art of Editing, “my first task as editorial assistant was to photocopy endless sets of page proofs in an unventilated, claustrophobic room. Day after day, as I fed a monster-sized copier that filled the air with nauseating fumes, I became more despondent about having left the lively and familiar world of journalism behind.”
One afternoon Craig decided he’d had enough, and called the Courier-Mail’s editor-in-chief to ask for his old job back. ‘You’ve made your bed,’ the editor grunted, ‘and now you’ll just have to lie in it.’
Over the next decades, Craig went on to become involved in an invigoration of Australian publishing. After spotting Peter Carey’s work in an indie magazine, Munro edited Carey’s debut, The Fat Man in History. He went on to publish several of Carey’s award-winning novels, edited David Malouf’s classic work, Johnno, and helped to bring about UQP’s Indigenous publishing list. Munro championed Olga Masters and Barbara Hanrahan, edited a young Murray Bail, and became firm friends with Top of the Lake scriptwriters Gerard Lee and Jane Campion.
In Under Cover, Munro recounts all of this and more with humour, insight, and warmth, shedding a welcome light on arguably the most daring, innovative, and well-funded period that Australian publishing has ever witnessed.
What was your favourite book as a child?
CRAIG MUNRO: Little Toot Was Just a Tug – given to me by my Canadian grandfather who once took me out on his fishing boat. Best of all, the book came with a pink 78” record. I can still sing that catchy song, sixty years later.
If I asked a good friend of yours what you were good at, what would they say?
CM: Impersonating a resolute and windswept Scot.
What stays the same in your life, no matter how much other things change?
CM: Porridge for breakfast.
Which member of your family influenced you the most?
CM: My mother, who always took me with her on our regular visits to the local library.
Do you have a favourite family story?
CM: My first dog was a black and white terrier who lived up to his name Patches by lying in wait for me under our front stairs in Cairns and biting the backside out of my pyjama pants.
What does freedom mean to you?
CM: Having sufficient time to enjoy thoroughly completing every task – from re-painting my old timber boat to researching and writing a new book.
Do you think things happen for a reason?
CM: Things tend to turn out well if the timing is right, and just thinking the time is right can be very empowering.
Do you believe in the supernatural?
CM: My favourite film-maker Werner Herzog describes the belief system of the people of the Amazon who distrust waking life and believe reality can only be discerned in dreams. In that sense, the imagination itself is a powerful supernatural force.
Is any religious text important to you?
CM: As a writer and editor, I believe all texts are important because words and images cast such a magic spell.
Have you ever come close to dying?
CM: When I crashed a car off a mountain in the middle of the night after a party in 1969.
What do you like the best about your body?
CM: That it feels weightless in my winter wetsuit swimming in Sydney Harbour.
What do you think would be the best thing about being the opposite gender?
CM: Being socially at ease and effortlessly articulate.
Who is the best teacher you have ever had?
CM: I’m tempted to say talkback czar Alan Jones who was my inspirational grade seven teacher at Ironside State School in Brisbane, but the prize goes to my Jaguar-driving grade eight teacher Mrs Kerr who left a whirlwind of learning in her wake.
Have you ever been lost?
CM: Never, because I’m obsessed with maps, and memorise my route in advance of any foray into unfamiliar territory. Everyone else uses Google maps but there’s no substitute for spreading a good-quality paper map out on a table in anticipation of the journey.
Craig Munro is an award-winning biographer and the founding chair of the Queensland Writers Centre. As UQP’s inaugural fiction editor, he worked with many emerging writers who have since become celebrated authors, and in 1985 he won the Barbara Ramsden Award for Editing. His other books include Wild Man of Letters and Paper Empires (co-edited with Robyn Sheahan-Bright). Since 2012 he has been a judge of the Miles Franklin Literary Award. His latest book is Under Cover: Adventures in the Art of Editing (Scribe, 256pp, ISBN: 9781925106756, AU$29.99) – scribepublications.com.au
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