Truly, it was a moment to celebrate.
After years of watching Australian books really struggle against the big international names, the nation’s biggest book retailer, Dymocks, last October found themselves with nine — yes, nine! — Australian books in the top ten.
It was something nobody could ever remember happening before. Australian books were just flying off the shelves, and who do we have to thank?
Well, first up, the readers, for being willing to go past some of the big international names, and give an Australian writer a go.
And second, passionate Australian booksellers, who have for years encouraged their customers to at least try an Australian book, and see how they liked it.
Dymocks fiction buyer, Kate Mayor, says “there’s no doubt that Australian books are having a moment.” She remembers the moment when Aussies started storming the top 10 list. Her boss at Dymocks, Steve Cox, tweeted the news, saying: “Nine of the top 10 books at Dymocks this week are Australian! Love that! #readaustralian.”
“It such a positive thing,” says Mayor. “We really wanted to celebrate it.”
The huge numbers of Australian writers in the top 10 was partly because so many of the heavy-hitters — Matthew Reilly, Marcus Zusak, Jane Harper, Liane Moriarty — all had a book out last year, “and people were devouring them. They had waited a decade for the Marcus Zusak book, for example, and couldn’t wait to read it,” says Mayor.
“But there’s also a feeling out there that it’s great to read an Australian book, it’s great to support our own industry.”
Mayor says some Australian writers — Liane Moriarty, especially — have had “huge international success, and that’s made everyone think, she’s ours, we should be promoting and celebrating her. The miniseries on her earlier book, Big Little Lies (starring Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon) really put her on the map, and people were keen to get her new book, Nine Perfect Strangers, as soon as it came out.
“But I also think Australian readers have fallen a bit in love with the Australian landscape. It’s harsh, vast, mysterious, and it lends itself very well to crime thrillers, and we’re selling a lot of those. But we’ve had books set in the suburbs, in Brisbane, like Trent Dalton’s Boy Swallows Universe.
“It’s an Australian story, with familiar scenes, and our readers loved it.”
Helen Baxter, of the Blues Point Bookshop, says the rise of Australian books has helped the whole industry.
“When we started here, 23 years ago, we really got slammed. We had the recession, e-books, online, sales, Amazon. And we’re still here.
“We’ve always had a dedicated Australian section, and I’m amazed it’s taken so long for other people to follow me in doing that. Actually I’ve just doubled it, because I have regular customers, they head straight for the Australian section, and many of them come back again and again.
“The old cringe factor, where somebody only wants to read what won whatever big name is out from overseas, that doesn’t exist anymore.”
Managing director at Readings, Mark Rubbo, who speaks also as a past president of the
Australian Booksellers Association and as founding chair of the Melbourne Writers Festival, says Australian books “have always been huge for us, basically because it’s been a personal passion of mine to promote Australian books. We have prizes for them, we promote them, and we try to encourage people to read them.
“It’s my mission, really, to put Australian books into people’s hands, and that’s because when I started, the whole industry, everything was about the UK, and I remember thinking: why? Why can’t we promote Australian writers? And I always contrasted that with the Australian film industry. People were always happy to see Australian films so why not Australian books? And now everyone can see it: readers love Australian books.”
Jo Coffey from Novella Books, Wahroonga, says she’s “definitely, definitely” noticed the trend toward Australian fiction, “with Jane Harper just a phenomenon, and a local author, Belinda Alexander, doing really well, and Liane! As soon as she hit the shelves, people that day, knew about it, they were ready to buy it, knew they’d love it.”
Coffey has been around books “all my life, it’s all through my family, my mother, my husband, my in-laws, and I remember, the Booker Prize winner would come in, and people would straight away say they wanted it, and they are still buying it, but they also want to read more about the world in which they live, books like Scrublands (by Chris Hammer) and Holly Throsby, she’s getting a real fan base, and when people find a book they like, we can help them find something similar next time.”
Besides librarians, there is probably nobody who reads as much as somebody who either owns, or chooses to work in a bookshop, and “and when you have staff who are reading all the time, and recommending all the time, you pretty quickly learn what people like,” says Coffey, “and right now, it’s all about Australian stories, and the Australian landscape, and Australian crime, and isn’t that fantastic?”