The quiet atmosphere in the light-filled, softly carpeted offices of Daphne Brasell Associates in the romantic Wellington suburb of Thorndon belies the frantic pace of a business which has produced at least 40 books from its press, hundreds of government publications, as well as training a number of potential editors.
The firm grew from a long-term ambition of Daphne Brasell to run her own publishing business and she set up in partnership with Maureen Marshall in 1987. There are four associates who keep an eye on the business and they are ‘always firm and directive’. Daphne’s elder sister Linda Brasell manages the financial side and northern distribution from the Auckland branch (established 1990) and there is a bulk warehouse on Daphne’s family farm at Port Waikato. The Christchurch branch is managed by Coral Broadbent who handles most of the promotions, South Island distribution and commissioning.
Opening a branch in Christchurch in 1991 was, a deliberate move to focus regionally’, says Maureen. Her own profession, is midwifery. She has observed that ‘the one thing this business does have in common with midwifery is that people’s desire to get published is as intense as people’s desire to overcome infertility and get pregnant’.
Daphne, however, has spent a large part of her working life in the field of publishing. After beginnings on a suburban newspaper, a period with the magazine Designscape, a year of school teaching and some editorial and marketing experience overseas, she joined the Government Printing Office Publications unit in 1980. In 1985 Daphne decided to set up independently.
With this in mind she spent a couple of years running her own riding school – Thorndon Stables, in Horokiwi, to build up stamina while planning Daphne Brasell Associates. It may seem a strange way to prepare for a business which ostensibly depends on brain power but Daphne is adamant that running a business is 50% sheer grit, 50% talent. ‘You have to be fit to be in publishing, pushing yourself to work that extra bit harder, or to deal with a crisis.’
The firm rented a room above the Thorndon Butchery (now Pasta Pasta) and began work. They were able to keep afloat for the first eighteen months providing publishing services for the government and its agencies. The partnership always envisaged developing their business in four ways: providing a publishing service to others, establishing a publishing press, distributing books to the trade, and offering training. In 1989 they put the second part of their plan into action with the establishment of Daphne Brasell Associates Press and the publishing of two autobiographies. By this time their Thorndon office had expanded to two storeys with a staff of four and a network of contract workers.
In 1990 they set up their own distribution from a Thorndon warehouse, later expanded by the Auckland and Christchurch branches. This year they have achieved their fourth goal with the setting up of a publishing training course in partnership with Whitireia Community Polytechnic, Porirua.
The mainstay of the firm in its initial years has been publishing services. Daphne and Maureen knew that in order to be able to take risks when publishing their own titles, they would need to generate income from a reliable source. They also knew there was valuable material in the government sector which could be developed for a wider reading public. The partnership allowed five years to set up a reasonable backlist but are proud of their publications so far – including Tivaevae – winner in the 1993 production section of the New Zealand Book Awards. A colourful work in which Cook Island tivaevae (quilt) makers tell their own stories, this book is described by Maureen as ‘a good woman’s book, in the correct sense. It is ordinary people talking and making items of useful purpose.’
In publishing they aim to be commercial but wide ranging, producing, for example, humour (Tom Scott, Rosaleen McCarroll and Raybon Kan); fiction (Beryl Fletcher, Cathie Dunsford, Jean Watson, Miria Simpson); social comment (Spiral, James Ritchie, Peggy Koopman-Boyden); art (Doreen Blumhardt, Wellington City Art Gallery, Haeata); language (Hepora Young, Yasutaka Shichida); government co-publications (Statistics, Historical Branch, Waitangi Tribunal); educational (Judith Del Panny, Allan Levett); history (Anne Else, Shirley Tunnicliffe). Daphne Brasell Associates Press consider themselves ‘international’ and are having success in selling overseas rights and co-editions for many of their titles. However their own local editions are entirely New Zealand. Training is now an important aspect. ‘People aiming to get into publishing are unsure where to target themselves because they do not know much about the industry. Professional training helps people put themselves in context. Publishing roles in independent firms in New Zealand require an extraordinary versatility.’
Prior to establishing the Publishing Training course with Whitireia Polytechnic, Daphne was running short training courses from her office. The year-long Whitireia course is divided into three terms covering an overview of publishing and production, a more detailed look at editing, design and writing and a term on trading.
Despite Maureen’s claims that she was ‘dragged into publishing’, she has a strong commitment to it. ‘Publishing is altruistic and is largely done for reasons other than money. There is a group of committed people in New Zealand who publish against all odds. At the moment, with the static domestic market, publishing is like a mental food bank.’
A major philosophy is to ‘make the process of publishing the books, the people who are part of our everyday lives (authors, trade, clients, related services) and the environment as important as the end result, A bonus is the publication of work which has a personal connection, such as Racing Women of New Zealand by Mary Mountier, a former boss from Designscape; a book by former English teacher Judith Del Panny’s I Have What I Gave: the Fiction of Janet Frame; and Boats and Blokes written by her second cousin George Brasell. Increasingly, and in suffrage year in particular, the firm is publishing many titles written by acquaintances.
Daphne enjoys publishing, but if she had a choice, ‘I’d take a year off and read books. Every publisher must feel the same, a regret for the loss of reading time for pleasure’.
Helen Forlong is a Wellington editor.