We sat down with Fergus Barrowman, publisher at Wellington’s Victoria University Press.
Q: Did you do the course?
A: The course didn’t exist when I started publishing. I learnt what I knew about editing and production from working on [the Victoria University student newspaper] Salient, as well as other student newspapers and student politics, which I did really intensively. I also had a part-time job doing typesetting and design while I was studying, and what I learnt about reading and judgement I learnt in English [classes], particularly in an English course I took with Bill Manhire. So I learnt on the job from mentors; I learnt from being dropped in at the deep end. I was part-time for a year as the assistant, but the editor tragically died suddenly. I kept working for six months whilst the university organised itself and I found myself having to do everything, which is actually the best way to learn.
Things worked a little differently back then because the old technology meant that as a publisher and as an editor inside a publishing house, you worked more with specialists (typesetters, designers, layout artists, indexers and printers), whereas nowadays I think people who are working as publishers need to know much more of that sort of thing themselves. So I would have been more lost now, than I was then. The great thing about the Whitireia course is that while it doesn’t provide a huge amount of in-house training or experience, it provides a really good introduction into things. Since the course started I have been involved on the directors committee and I have been visiting the course frequently. I was quite closely involved for about ten years. [Since then] we’ve employed quite a few people who have come off the course over the years and the real advantage they’ve had is that their breadth of introductory knowledge covers a whole lot of stuff.
Q: Would you recommend the course to those interested in publishing?
A: Yes I would, and do quite often. We get enquiries from people who have been working in journalism or who have just finished their degree and are interested in publishing. It’s definitely the best course in this country.
Q: Have you considered publishing through the course’s project-based programme?
A: We did that a couple of years ago and it was a little bit complicated because of the number of books we do and the speed in which we do them; there’s an inevitability that there’s a bit of double handling, but it would certainly be an option if the right project came up.
Q: Were there any past books published through the Whitireia course that were notable to you?
A: That’s really hard because it’s not actually clear sometimes when the book comes out through various publishers. On the whole, the books that I’m aware of have been thoroughly professional.