NEWS: Tales from the Backlist

Next year Fremantle Press turns 35 and, to celebrate, we’re starting a new column. ‘Tales from the backlist’ will delve into the memories of Press ‘lifers’ Clive Newman and Wendy Jenkins.

Expect a behind-the-scenes look at some of our most notorious releases over the years. Stay tuned for more information about our 35-year anniversary celebrations in January’s e-newsletter but, in the meantime, here’s what Clive Newman had to say about Elizabeth Jolley:

Elizabeth Jolley was a wonderful contributor to the promotion of her books and her witty public performances flagged the emergence of a much-loved figure in Australian literature.

Jolley had been teaching literature appreciation and creative writing classes at Fremantle Arts Centre for several years before the foundation of the Press, and had developed a strong following amongst local booklovers.

Her poems and short stories were included in the first two Press publications (Soundings: a selection of Western Australian poetry and New Country: a selection of Western Australian short fiction) but no-one was really prepared for the excitement generated by the release of her first collection.

A launch in the grounds of the Arts Centre was held one evening in the middle of a Perth heatwave. The heatwave didn’t stop five hundred guests turning out to celebrate and Elizabeth’s speech was a hit!

She added a bizarre twist to the evening when she moved amongst the crowd giving out ‘little treats’ – I remember one woman was presented with a can of beetroot!

Bizarre happenings were to become part of the Jolley public performance in ensuing years. Guests responded by buying books in large quantities and our ambitious first print run of 750 copies (!) sold out within the month.

We sent copies of the book to the books editors at major newspapers – the book received wide coverage and strong reviews: ‘Hail Elizabeth Jolley! That is the least I can say about the little volume of stories …’ (The Age).

The review in the Sydney Morning Herald sent a customer scurrying in to Gleebooks, then and now one of the finest independent booksellers in the country. Good old Dave Gaunt (who was then good young Dave Gaunt), co-proprietor, mailed us an order for one copy.

We obliged of course, with an invoice for $1.77 – rrp $2.95 less the booksellers’ discount. Dave sent us a cheque for $1.77 and remains one of our favourite people in the book trade.

Five Acre Virgin (affectionately nicknamed Five Aching Virgins by ex-Publisher Ray Coffey) has since been published in a number of different editions, both in Australia and overseas, and the stories remain as fresh and enchanting today as they did when they first appeared in 1976.

Elizabeth published five more books with the Press as part of an acclaimed international career.

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