Interview by Helen Stubbs
Sue Wright works with economists during the day and is the Director, Editor and maker of tea at Tiny Owl Workshop at night. She has worked in libraries, youth services, community legal services, too many government departments (Utopia is a documentary) and a range of businesses. Her collection of children’s picture books and Scott Radke art can be seen from Jupiter.
What are you working on at the moment?
After a not too brilliant year last year (personally), I’m catching up on some long overdue projects while working on new ones. So, I’m finishing off editing a lovely collection of short stories called Unfettered (and falling in love with it all over again), I’m working with a couple of fabulous people to get The Lane of Unusual Traders out into the world, and I’m working to finalise two other books – Flight by Angela Slatter and Kathleen Jennings, and Joy by Andy Geppert. There’s also two Noveltinis (novellas) waiting in the production line – They Made Us out of Dead Things by Sophie Overett, and A lantern carried down a dark path by Stephen Wright.
A fabulous creative crew is also working on a new project called Brambles. Creative Producers and keen gamers Samuel Maguire (@skydekkerix on Twitter) and Harry Vening and illustrators Claire Renton, Luke Brook and Levin Porporat are developing the story collaboratively as a role play game.
I guess there’s a lot happening and I feel lucky to be working with such lovely and talented people.
When you look back on yourself starting out as a proto-writer and publisher, are there any tips you would give past-you?
This is such a good question. I think I would say something like:
Hey publisher-in-training Sue. Guess what?
Most small publishers aren’t small at all – they’re imprints of much larger companies and have a lot of resources (relatively speaking) behind them – so don’t compare yourself to them, it’s not a fair comparison.
Don’t compromise on your vision, trust your gut feel for projects and don’t move away from wanting to mix craft, illustration and stories together.
Find better ways to brief designers.
When you lose hope and feel completely lost about who you are and why you’re doing any of this, someone will send you a rough (illustration), or a small email, or offer you a cup to tea and a chat, and these small things will be like magic – and you’ll find your way back.
Also, let people know how things are going, they’re not mind readers.
Can you tell me about a piece of work coming up for publication/production?
Last year, I reached a very low point. I’d been working (in my day job) with the most cruel, bullying person I had ever worked with, and she’d worn me down over an 18 month period. But, while this was happening, I was lucky enough to go to the Melbourne International Film Festival and pitch to producers. Terry went with me and we pitched The Lane of Unusual Traders. It didn’t quite work out, even though people loved the project, but we met the brilliant Jamie Houge and Virginia Kaye from Plot Media who were interested in The Lane and other projects we had. Terry worked with them to develop The Westbury Faery (a story he’d been working on), and the project was funded recently by Screen Australia and the Canada Media Fund. It’s in production at the moment and later this year the project will open for short story submissions. It’s a faery tale that spans three countries and a couple of centuries, and the challenge for writers will be to write a story based on the evidence available. It’s a multimedia project too, so the evidence writers will have access to will involve film, VR and some very gorgeous artwork from Terry. There’s a creative crew called Log Cabin working on the project in Canada too. So, for those who love dark faery tales and magical realism, keep your eye (or two as often as you can spare them) on The Westbury Faery project.
What Australian work have you loved recently?
I recently picked up a copy of Julie Koh’s short story collection Portable Curiosities. It’s wonderful. The stories draw from mythology and reality in utterly irreverent ways, though Koh also manages to capture that quality of brutal honesty children have while still being inquisitive and surprising. One of the aside images in one of the stories is of a Prime Minister laying naked, draped in flags, on a bed of flags in a room of flags – which made me simultaneously laugh and gag.
Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?
Roald Dahl. I recently watched the new BFG film, loved it but was struck by how the producers had removed some of the menace from the giants by downplaying their frequent visits out of giant country to scoff children. I think some adults have a difficult time dealing with the cruelty in some of Dahl’s stories, but I don’t think children do. I think that’s part of the magic of Dahl’s writing, he never talks down to children and often speaks directly to them as readers – even when he knows they are being read to. It would have been lovely to speak to him about his thoughts on adult cruelty and where he thinks that cruelty comes from, and when it starts. I would also have loved to hear his thoughts on working with editors, and what he found most helpful as a writer, then I’d ask him whether we could go and have tea with Quentin Blake.