Wellington Scoop

After an ‘astonishing phenomenon’, back to business as usual for VUP

VUP Publisher Fergus Barrowman, left, at the launch of Moments of Truth: The New Zealand General Election of 2014, with editors Stephen Levine and Jon Johansson.

Report from Publishers Association of NZ
The carnival that was Eleanor Catton’s international success for The Luminaries is over for Wellington’s Victoria University Press. They are back to business as a thriving small press with a defined place in the Kiwi publishing world, says Fergus Barrowman.

Two years from its Man Booker Prize win, The Luminaries is now ‘a strong backlist title’ for VUP.

“It was an astonishing phenomenon to be part of,” Fergus says. “VUP has known previous extraordinary success with The Vintner’s Luck, but the furnace fuelled quickly after the The Luminaries Booker Prize win, and it seems that big is bigger these days.”

Eleanor is writing, but also representing her novel around the world at writers’ festivals and other engagements, and contributing to an adaptation of The Luminaries for international television distribution, so it is too soon to speculate about a next book.

It would seem that Fergus and his VUP colleagues Craig Gamble, Ashleigh Young, Kirsten McDougall and Kyleigh Hodgson – ‘3.7 fulltime equivalents’ in university speak – are back in regular work, publishing the kinds of titles that fit their vision.

Poetry is important for VUP with recent releases including Vincent O’Sullivan’s Being Here: Selected Poems (in hard cover), Half Dark from Harry Ricketts, Wonky Optics, Geoff Cochrane’s fifteenth collection, and Failed Love Poems from Joan Fleming. Dinah Hawken’s Ocean and Stone, illustrated by John Edgar and beautifully produced, was released in September. “Dinah takes her time with a new book, and when you get a new manuscript you know that it has been deeply considered,” Fergus observes.

There are ten poetry titles in VUP’s 2015 catalogue. So how is it that the Press can add to its coffers with poetry, which attracts a niche audience at best? Most poetry titles are printed locally, in runs of three to five hundred, with reprints of as few as 50 to 100 to ensure stock is always available. But VUP believes poetry is important to our culture. Fergus says this links them with other University and smaller NZ presses that publish New Zealand books, even if for small sector audiences, because of their vital contribution to our literary life.

VUP also has the guts and vision to go big on major works, as they did for the August release James K Baxter: The Complete Prose edited by John Weir. Four bound volumes with cloth spines are presented as a boxed set, with the bonus of original Nigel Brown paintings for the box. The retail price of $200.00 for the sophisticated presentation has not been a deterrent to bookseller and libraries, and the not-to-be-repeated print run of 1000 is going well. Meanwhile a second hardback run of Maurice Gee: Life & Work by Rachel Barrowman is underway.

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