Featured Members Archive

Featured Member: Harriet Allan, Fiction Publisher, Random House (NZ) Ltd

By July 17, 2010 April 11th, 2014 No Comments

I arrived in New Zealand from the UK in 1986, having recently graduated with an MA in English. I had little idea of a career, except that as I loved books, particularly fiction, publishing might be worth exploring. The only vaguely relevant experience I’d had was compiling a street directory of parishes on one of the earliest models of Apple computer (which at the time was as miraculous as making fire in the Stone Age by rubbing sticks together, and every command took as long, too).

As there were no publishing courses in those days (this being not long after the aforementioned Stone Age), I wrote off to various publishing companies asking for freelance proofreading. I had little clue what this actually entailed, so the few jobs I worked on are best forgotten, but I also did some temporary clerical work for Oxford University Press, which gave me useful in-house experience and contacts.

The first permanent job I could find, though, was at the Auckland University Library, which was akin to the punishment of Tantalus – so close to books yet still out of reach (working with them only closed up). I was relieved when I was offered a job at the medical publisher Adis Press and Fiction publishing in such a small market as New Zealand is often precarious, with never enough money or time, but who can complain when our writers are as talented as anywhere in the world?received some decent editorial training from patient colleagues. Medical publishing, though (with its interminable drug names and every other work being about myocardial infarctions), was still a long way from fiction, so I leapt at the chance when OUP offered me their new post of assistant editor. I spent nearly two years there, learning on the job (in other words learning by mistakes) before moving to Century Hutchinson as an editor.

Rather than changing workplaces, I then found that it is just as easy to stay in one place and let the workplace change around me. Since I joined (more than twenty years ago now), Century Hutchinson became Random Century then Random House, I’ve been in four different buildings, nearly ten different offices, survived two mergers and a number of contractions and expansions (at one time the publishing department consisted of only me and my baby daughter, at the largest there have been as many as sixteen of us).

When the department was small, I had to be a jack of all trades, covering most editorial tasks and working on a wide range of fi ction and non-fiction titles, though officially I’ve been editor, managing editor and currently publisher, now focusing primarily on fi ction and literary non-fiction. I’ve been lucky enough to have been working on the literary Vintage list since it started in New Zealand, building it up to a sizeable stable of many of this country’s finest writers. In more recent years I’ve broadened our fiction range by publishing under Black Swan and Arrow as well.

Fiction publishing in such a small market as New Zealand is often precarious, with never enough money or time, but who can complain when our writers are as talented as anywhere in the world?