Following the publication of my review of Michael Wilding’s Wild & Woolley: A Publishing Memoir in Issue 1 of Rochford Street Review I received an email from Pat Woolley correcting a couple of points in my review and disputing some of the observations Wilding made in his book. I invited Pat to respond to Michael’s memoir of Wild and Woolley. The article which follows is a slightly edited version of that response.
Mark Roberts January 2012
Michael Wilding titled his book ‘Wild & Woolley: A Publishing Memoir’ yet it only covers the first five years of a publishing company that lasted for 37 years. It is a matter of record that he and I co-founded W&W in 1974, but he had nothing to do with the company after 1979. After 1979 he cut off all contact with me and W&W, while I continued to manage the company publishing new and exciting authors despite the difficult market for avant garde literature.
Michael always saw himself as the creative one while I had the business acumen. That’s what he said to a National Times journalist who interviewed us early on. He knew little about the finances and didn’t want to take part in any of the day-to-day management of the business. The closest he’d get to this was addressing and stamping media releases.
Michael had a tenured position at Sydney University, and all the perks of travel and sabbaticals that came with it. He had his own office, light glowing through the stained glass windows. In contrast, for the first couple of years after Wild & Woolley began, I made my living typesetting ads, magazines and junk mailers, on nights and at weekends, so that I’d have enough hours in the day to run W&W, visiting bookshops and taking orders, talking to reviewers as well as carrying boxes of books to the post office, and doing the bookkeeping, selling, promoting, typesetting, proof-reading, pasting-up galleys and packing of orders. In 1976 the company was doing well enough for me to hire Shar Adams to help with the office work, and Laurie Duggan to pack orders. They were paid. I wasn’t.
Early in 1978, W&W had outgrown its premises in Chippendale. The floor boards and bearers were dry-rotted and white-anted. Every day, Shar and I moved 15 or 20 boxes of books onto the footpath to give us enough space to run the business. If it rained, we put plastic sheets over them. I found new premises in the city and the lease required signatures from both Michael and me. Michael refused to sign.
I found a lawyer who came up with a resolution: we’d adopt new articles and memoranda for the company that would make me governing director and after that, I could run Wild & Woolley without the Wild. Maybe that was the straw that broke the camel’s back, perhaps yes, probably no. He left behind a stack of manuscripts that he’d committed us to publish, and with very little money, I did my best.
In 1978, Michael received a one year grant from the Literature Board and left Australia for Britain and the US. In the next years, I managed to launch all the books he’d taken on. There were many, including Polemics for a New Cinema by Albie Thoms, a collection of articles from film magazines. I read the book in proof after it was typeset. It appeared that Michael hadn’t read through any of the articles. He just passed over the file of newspaper cuttings and said it was ready to be set. I was left to pick up the pieces.
1980 was W&W’s lowest point. The city premises had a fire,
In 1983, I co-founded ‘Women’s Redress Press’, established ‘Australia In Print Inc’ in 1986 to wholesale Australian books to the United States, and under the Wild & Woolley imprint between 1983 and 1990, I published many books of fiction, poetry, rock and roll, art, and politics. Between 1983 and 1991, I also studied law part time and gained an LLB at UNSW. In 1990, predicting the impacts of technology on publishing, I bought a high-speed photocopier to print short run quantities of books for self-publishing authors. In the next two decades, I produced books for more than 1500 writers, usually under the Fast Books imprint, but occasionally bannered Book House or for the highest quality literature, Wild & Woolley.
Michael Wilding’s book with the misleading title is not a history of Wild & Woolley. It is his narrow view of some exciting times we shared in the seventies. A true and honest Wild & Woolley memoir should be written, but not by Michael. He just wasn’t there.