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Publisher-Stalker with Catherine Milne!

Nothing like a little publisher-stalking, at the Qantas baggage carousel. After travelling home from the conference on the same flight, Catherine and I bonded over our wayward luggage as I suggested a photo together.

I LOVE this photo of the two of us!

As you already know, my Author Stalking tendencies are rather strong. But did you know that I also dabble in a little Publisher Stalking?? Now this is a rather long post...but trust's well worth the read.

Last October, I was fortunate to attend Fiona McIntosh's inaugural Masterclass Alumni National Conference in Adelaide. Over four fabulous days, not only did we get to mingle with each other, and some fabulous published authors, but we got to rub shoulders with five of the country's top publishers. Their panel discussions were not only informative and insightful, but also SO MUCH FUN!

But if it wasn't daunting enough meeting them at the welcome drinks night on the Thursday, or at break time during the conference, imagine how terrified we all felt when we each had the opportunity to pitch our manuscripts to two publishers first thing on the Sunday morning!!

I can hear all the aspiring authors out there take a collective gasp...probably the published ones too, as pitching your novel in three minutes, to a publisher you admire, is downright scary. Don't get me wrong...they were all so lovely. But trying to eloquently describe your precious book-baby, whilst overcoming nerves, with the stop-watch (aka Fiona) ready to evict you from the chair, is a big hill to climb.

But I was lucky. When I pitched to the uber-chic Catherine on Sunday morning, she already knew all about my WIP. In fact, as we started our chat she said, 'When I got back to my room last night, I kept thinking about your story,' and then proceeded to give me some wonderful feedback and suggestions. You can just imagine the wide-eyed, startled expression on my face that Catherine Milne had been thinking about my WIP!!

You see, at the formal dinner the night before, with glass of wine in hand, I turned around and came face to face with Catherine, who greeted me with a smile. I introduced myself and proceeded to tell her that I would be pitching to her the next day. And her reply? 'Why wait. Pitch it to me now.'

OH MY GOD! I had planned to nail my pitch in front of the mirror later that night but alas, the moment was at hand so I grabbed the opportunity with both hands...and started my pitch. Now being a woman of a certain age, when I get excited, it has the tendency to bring on a hot flash. Yep. Perfect timing. And did I mention said hot flash is exacerbated by the wine I had taken a huge gulp of before starting my pitch??

But the ever-gracious Catherine empathised and suggested we could take a seat at the table outside. So there we were, sipping wine and chatting about MY book. OMG. Talk about a surreal moment.

And it got me thinking. We would all love to know what makes publishers tick. What do they look for when reading a manuscript? What books do they love? How did they end up working in the industry and what does a typical day look like? And who better to come to for a must-read book to add to your tbr pile.

So I reached out to Catherine on Instagram and was thrilled when she said she would love to be stalked.

And to top it off, she offered a free copy of Sorrow & Bliss and The Tolstoy Estate to two lucky readers of The Author Stalker.

To be in the chance to win a copy of one of the books, just like and comment on the post on Facebook or Instagram (if you would like to share it too, that would be lovely). I will draw two winners at random, next Wednesday September 30th, to take home a copy of one of these brilliant novels.

Without further ado, I'll hand you over to the lovely Catherine.xx

Q1: How did you come to work in the publishing industry?

A: It was so accidental, it must have been fate. After doing an arts degree at Melbourne University, I’d been acting around Melbourne in small theatres and student productions for about a year. But I knew, deep down, that acting was just too precarious ... and when my agent sent me for a dishwashing liquid commercial audition, my heart shrivelled up and I thought no, truly, that’s it – if that’s what it takes to get ahead, I don’t have it. So, I went to the Careers Service at university – the first time I’d ever set foot in there – and saw an ad for a National Education Representative at Penguin Books. I had no idea what that entailed, to be honest, I just liked the ‘Penguin Books’ part. But getting to the interview entailed me travelling waaay out of my comfort zone at the time (basically the inner Melbourne suburbs of Fitzroy, North Fitzroy, Carlton), requiring a bus, a train, and then another bus to get to the far-flung wasteland of Ringwood for the interview. After travelling for what felt like hours, I arrived, swearing never to leave Carlton again. But then I stepped into the Penguin offices and it was a like a coup de foudre, I just fell in love with the bookshelves and all the familiar orange, green and black spines ... Ah, I thought, this is home, I’ve found it. I sat on the train on the way back, thinking, ‘I have to get this job...’ And that was it, essentially.

'Because we’ve been working from home since March, here’s a pic of my current ‘working space’ AKA my kitchen table. All that’s missing from the pic is my elderly Schnoodle, Fred, who’s usually dozing under my feet.'

Q2: What does a typical day look like for you?

A: Well, I’m not sure in these pandemic times anything can be called ‘normal’ or ‘typical’, but I start checking email and Twitter with my first cup of tea in bed about 7 am, walk the dog, get to the desk (ie, my kitchen table) at 9 ish, then it’s all emails, emails, emails, zoom meetings, emails, zoom meetings. Not very romantic, is it? We’re a very collegiate business – really, it’s a team of people who together make, market and sell books – so we need to talk to each other all the time. But while I’m doing all this necessary stuff, I also feel incredibly guilty that I’m not reading manuscripts, submissions, doing structural reports ... all of the things I’d much prefer to be doing, honestly. So that all has to be squeezed somewhere in-between all those meetings. There is never enough time...

Q3: What book made you cry?

A: I think that’s my rule of thumb for a great book – a book that makes me cry or gives me some powerful, visceral, emotional response. I must have a big, fat sentimental heart, as I cry all the time – maybe that’s a good thing. Most recently, I just read the revised ms for a novel I have acquired which will be published next year, We Were Not Men by Campbell Mattison, and those first thirty pages – god, I tell you, it’s like someone reached in and ripped out my heart, I was bawling.

'If you want a pic of a special thing, here it is, one of the first books I ever fell in love with. This very battered old copy of The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge is pure magical portal to me – it takes me straight back to being 8 years old and falling into the joy and wonder of reading. It’s accompanied me to boarding school, through college, shared houses, interstate and overseas moves ... I’ve had it forever. So long in fact, that while I used to dream of being Maria Merryweather, in reality now I’m far more Miss Heliotrope, which is a tiny bit mortifying.'

Q4: If you could have published ANY book from ANY era, what would it be?

A: Look, I know this is an obvious choice, but both as publisher and as a reader, I’d have LOVED to have discovered Jane Eyre as a submission in my inbox – oh, the singularity of that voice! Jane’s stubborn prickliness, her individuality, her defiance! And can you imagine my joy as a publisher, when I would have made the trip to Haworth Parsonage to meet Charlotte? ‘Come in, come in,’ she would have said. ‘Don’t mind the mess, get down, dog, oh, that’s Branwell, my brother, asleep ...’ The man slumped in an armchair by the fire. ‘But come into the kitchen and meet my sisters, they all write too...’ Can you imagine?!

(Can you imagine all the Author Stalking I could do at the Brontë's home!! Shelley.xx)

Q5: Do you find time to read many books, besides those that are being pitched to you? What is the next book on your TBR pile?

A: I have SO many books on my TBR pile. I mean, if you don’t read widely, what use are you as a publisher? I’ve just started Summer, by Ali Smith, and I’m raring to get to Mayflies by Andrew O’Hagan. I’m also a voracious crime and thriller reader, plus rom coms... I love a little bit of everything, really.

Q6: Name one thing you couldn’t live without and why?

A: Tea. I drink umpteen cups a day. You cut me and I bleed English Breakfast. It’s deeply comforting and entirely necessary. (I think we may have been separated at birth Catherine...tea, tea and more tea! Shelley.xx)

Q7: What makes you keep reading when you turn the first page of a manuscript?

A: It’s hard to say, because there’s all sorts of things at work, like the hook, the concept, the pitch – they’re all important to prime you, as a reader. But always, always it’s the voice. Hard to say what that really means, but it’s just an ease – when as a reader you fall into the writing and the story so effortlessly, and there’s just a sense of ‘flow’ – like it’s all working right, and we don’t see the writerly effort or craft at work.

Q8: If you had to choose a career besides publisher, what would it be?

A: Um. Maybe a bookseller or librarian? I like matching books to people, what can I say... Though if someone offered me a gig on the television talking about books and interviewing authors ... well, I would not say no.

The uber-chic Catherine Milne - Head of Fiction at Harper Collins

Q9: Name your favourite drink. Coffee, tea, wine, gin…?

A: Red wine.

Q10: What would be your top three tips to aspiring authors seeking to get published? What should they never do?

1. Read as much as possible. Preferably as widely as possible, but absolutely you should be reading in the genre you’re writing in. Let the story rhythms seep into you. Get into the narrative flow. Start to understand why this story works, and this other one doesn’t. Read, read, read.

2. Keep writing, keep refining, keep working at it. Good writing doesn’t come easy. You need to work at it. Develop your style. When you finish that novel, don’t keep tinkering with it endlessly, that’s just death, put it aside, start another one. You’ll only learn by doing.

3. Keep submitting. Those stories of a first-time novelist cracking it big with a debut novel often don’t mention the unglamorous reality of three other manuscripts that came before that never got published, the stories submitted unsuccessfully to magazines, or the terrible first attempt that sits in a junk folder, never to see the light of day...

And can I add a fourth? Try and write for the joy of it. Writing is often as hard as trying to sculpt a plank of wood with a nail file, but it’s got to be done for its own sake. For those moments when you really do get into the flow and find that rhythm and you’re in the zone and it’s just glorious. Don’t write specifically to be published, because that’s a matter – often – of luck, opportunity, trends ... all sorts of other factors. (Love this tip Catherine. Shelley.xx)

Q11: Any impending book releases we should keep an eye out for? Any debut authors that we simply must read?

A: Yes! Two books I published this month are both SO GOOD. Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason is winning hearts and minds everywhere, it will make you laugh and cry, it’s just whip smart and delicious – think Sally Rooney meets Nora Ephron with a dash of Fleabag. And then The Tolstoy Estate by award-winner Steven Conte – a novel of love, war and literature – rich, immersive, thrillingly good.

Q12: Is there a question you have always wanted to be asked but never have been? If so, what is it and what would your answer be?

A: Oh, just get me started...

Why do you always use five words when one will do?

Why are so you fond of adverbs?

What is it with you and the word ‘utterly’?

I could go on and on ...

'A triumph. A brutal, hilarious, compassionate triumph.'

Alison Bell, The Letdown

'This novel is about a woman called Martha. She knows there is something wrong with her but she doesn't know what it is. Her husband Patrick thinks she is fine. He says everyone has something, the thing is just to keep going.

Martha told Patrick before they got married that she didn't want to have children. He said he didn't mind either way because he has loved her since he was fourteen and making her happy is all that matters, although he does not seem able to do it.

By the time Martha finds out what is wrong, it doesn't really matter anymore. It is too late to get the only thing she has ever wanted. Or maybe it will turn out that you can stop loving someone and start again from nothing - if you can find something else to want.'

The book is set in London and Oxford. It is sad and funny.

(I am currently two-thirds of the way through Sorrow & Bliss and I can honestly say I have never read anything quite like it. Martha is such a complex, troubled character, despairing. One moment my heart is breaking for her and the next I find the corners of my lips curling upwards, into a smile. Shelley.xx)

From the winner of the inaugural Prime Minister's Literary Award,

Steven Conte, comes a powerful, densely rich and deeply affecting novel of love, war and literature

'Grave, moving, engaging ... full of the flash and fire of dramatic incident, but also full of real feeling, humour and poignancy, and equipped with plenty of panache ... It deserves the widest possible readership.' The Saturday Paper

'In the first year of the doomed German invasion of Russia in WWII, a German military doctor, Paul Bauer, is assigned to establish a field hospital at Yasnaya Polyana - the former grand estate of Count Leo Tolstoy, the author of the classic War and Peace. There he encounters a hostile aristocratic Russian woman, Katerina Trubetzkaya, a writer who has been left in charge of the estate. But even as a tentative friendship develops between them, Bauer's hostile and arrogant commanding officer, Julius Metz, becomes erratic and unhinged as the war turns against the Germans. Over the course of six weeks, in the terrible winter of 1941, everything starts to unravel...

From the critically acclaimed and award-winning author, Steven Conte, The Tolstoy Estate is ambitious, accomplished and astonishingly good: an engrossing, intense and compelling exploration of the horror and brutality of conflict, and the moral, emotional, physical and intellectual limits that people reach in war time. It is also a poignant, bittersweet love story - and, most movingly, a novel that explores the notion that literature can still be a potent force for good in our world.'

'This is a romance, true, but a real one ... as devastating and sharply witty as Phoebe Waller-Bridge's Fleabag.' Books+Publishing

(This one is coming soon to my tbr sounds like just my cup of tea. Shelley.xx)

Thank you so much Catherine for being my inaugural Pubisher Stalker victim. xx

Sorrow & Bliss and The Tolstoy Estate are available through all leading bookstores and online.

If you would like to find out more about Catherine, you can find her here:



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