7. Turning the thesis into a book: Part 2

I will pick up where I left off in blog #6.

In mid 2017 I set an ambitious target for myself: the national book launch would take place at the annual Desert Mob Show in Alice Springs in September 2018.

Around mid 2017 I finally accepted that I would need to self-publish the book. This meant the ultimate responsibility for the book’s quality would inescapably rest with me – not an easy decision. The plan was to get a final edit done on the manuscript; finalise all the images and the associated permissions and pay all necessary fees; appoint a professional book designer; prepare the book for publication; and, go to press. To launch in September 2018 in Alice Springs meant having the books in my hands by August at the absolute latest.

Loose ends, travel and pleasant surprises

Proofreading and cross-checking

In 2017 I still felt underwhelmed by my limited knowledge of Pintupi language. I thought a bit more familiarity could improve the book. I attended a two-week summer school course in the Pitjantjatjara language in Adelaide in January, conducted by the University of South Australia. Critically, we were tutored by Anangu elders from APY Lands. I learned hundreds of new words and improved my pronunciation, and had fun. A few months later I did a four-day Pintupi language introductory course in Alice Springs. My vocabulary grew to several hundred words.

On the January visit to Adelaide I followed up some of Namarari’s art. Alice Beale, at the SA Museum, showed me the small selection of his works in their Collection, one of which had a striking similarity to another 1972 work in the Araluen Arts Centre Collection. I also met with Nici Cumpston at AGSA to have a close look at their Namarari works, two of which were included in the book (The master from Marnpi, pages 164 & 179). Among numerous informative conversations I chatted about art with Hannah Koethe, the Arts Manager from Ernabella, who used to work at Papunya Tula. And I visited the Tandanya Gallery, where John Kean mounted his 1990 exhibition, East to West: Land in Papunya Tula Painting, which Namarari and Turkey Tolson attended (The master from Marnpi, pp. 124-5).

The March/April trip to Alice Springs included numerous research tasks, and timely discoveries. In a discussion with Luke Scholes about MAGNT’s forthcoming Tjungunutja exhibition he informed me of two sources I was unfamiliar with: Lew Parlette and Mary White. I followed up each and obtained excellent photographs from the early 1970s at Papunya, showing Namarari as a ceremonial participant and as an artist (The master from Marnpi, pp. 79 & 82).

In Sydney I met with Kitty Hauser to discuss our projects – hers is a biography of Geoffrey Bardon (which I’m very much looking forward to, having interviewed Geoff and his brother James myself). I read the new Brett Whitely biography and saw the ‘Whitely’ documentary, attended art auctions and exhibitions, and received the sad news from Sarah Brown (Purple House) that Hilary Tjapaltjarri had passed away. On a short trip to Perth I met with Terri-Ann White at UWA Publishing and Shino Konishi and Darren Jorgensen at UWA. I introduced myself to Carly Lane, curator at AGWA, as one of its Namarari works is in the book (The master from Marnpi, p. 199). By mid-year I was working on version 11 of my manuscript.

On May 26 a new Namarari show, The mysteries that remain, opened at the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection at the University of Virginia, USA. I had been invited to write the catalogue essay, which I felt honoured to do. Through that task I came to know Henry Skerritt (curator), having already met the Collection’s manager, Margo Smith. The essay was a perfect opportunity to write about Namarari in a succinct way, and talk about his art. Several of Kluge-Ruhe’s Namarari works are in the book (The master from Marnpi, pp. 162, 166, 167, 182).

Preparing a sites map

In my diary on 24 June I drew a simple diagram to list the key elements of my ‘Namarari Project’:

thesis, biography, catalogue raisonnè, exhibition, documentary, Pintupi school reader, blog. The only one missing was ‘website’ and the only one completed was ‘thesis’, though ‘catalogue raisonnè’ was well advanced.

In late June I travelled to Darwin to see the long-awaited display of MAGNT’s early Papunya boards in the Tjungunutja: from having come together exhibition. Elizabeth Marks Nakamarra flew up from Alice Springs and we shared in a panel discussion for an eager audience after the official opening on 2 July and catalogue launch. I also gave a public presentation at the NT Archives Service on 29 June titled ‘Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri, Papunya Tula artist: biography, oral history, art’. A particular pleasure was meeting Fred Friis for the first time – he was Papunya’s school principal when Geoff Bardon was there.

In the second half of 2017 and into 2018 I contacted numerous individuals and institutions to add to my research or seek image usage approvals, including: Karen Coote, Jennifer Isaacs, Jeremy Long, Tim Klingender, Nigel Roberts, Fred Myers (on a visit to Sydney), AGNSW, AIATSIS and MAAS. (You will find a list of acronyms in the book on p. 7.)

Finalising the manuscript

Manuscript versions

My key objective in the second half of 2017 was to get a final edit completed of my manuscript so it would be ready for a designer by December. This involved some re-writing and lots of proofreading on my part. It was incredibly time-consuming. Concurrently I was chasing image approvals, which also influenced the writing process. For example, when I located archival images for Haasts Bluff in the 1950s they had to be written into the story. The best sources were the National Archives of Australia, the SA Museum and the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, and Jeremy Long was a great help in interpreting them. I kept searching for images because some of the early chapters were text heavy.

Designing to impress

Thinking about Painting Stories layout

In November 2017 I prepared a Book Design Brief and emailed it to three designers, whose work I knew by referral, informing them I wished to appoint a designer in December. Each replied with a strong proposal. I based my selection of a designer on these main factors: quality of the product, pricing and timing of delivery. I chose Kristin Thomas and established our work contract, and got the process underway.

I knew some of what I wanted by way of design without properly understanding the concepts and technicalities of book design. I wanted: hardcover, preferably with dustjacket; approx. 300 x 250 mm size; no bleed-through of images; strong binding (I hate books that fall apart); double-column text (to fit more on a page); and, it had to look wonderful. A master book for a master artist.

Working with a dedicated professional designer for six months was a rewarding and challenging experience. Starting from scratch there were so many decisions to be made, each necessitating Kristin’s explanation of the options available. From font style and size, page layout and chapter openings to image sizes, paper weight and stock. Seeing the manuscript in Word files transformed into the first iteration (‘pages1’) of the book was a thrill. Working through so many more iterations was more tedious than thrilling, with lots of late nights and weekends required. High resolution versions of all 200+ images were required. There were so many versions of the maps (The master from Marnpi, pp. 8-9) and the front and back covers I lost count. Endpapers too. Ultimately, the trained eye of the designer knows what works best.

Cover options

Tables to supplement Namarari’s life story and art career were prepared. A simple but telling summary of his annual output, the sites and place names of his paintings, the tjukurrpa and stories he presented and his exhibition history were included as easy references for readers (The master from Marnpi, pp. 207-211). These four tables were based on my catalogue raisonnè research. I also wanted comprehensive endnotes (an aid for researchers), a full list of figures with authorised citations, and an informative bibliography (The master from Marnpi, pp. 212-235).

Preparing the Big Cave diagram

It wasn’t only about the book’s contents. I wanted a comprehensive index (which was prepared by Libraries Alive) and I secured an ISBN and a barcode (through Thorpe-Bowker). I gathered logos for the Australia Council for the Arts, Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd, The National Library of Australia, and the Aboriginal Artists Agency Ltd (The master from Marnpi, p. 244). And all along the way proofreading continued unabated, finally with the keen eye of my daughter Anna examining every minute detail and picking up errors others had missed.

Going to press

I was referred to Paul Murphy at the Australian Book Connection by MAGNT’s designer of their Tjungunutja exhibition catalogue. In numerous telephone discussions Paul explained printing schedules, stock options, numbers of books and costs. Although I took quotes from other printers, I went with Paul, as the Australian Book Connection had produced numerous art catalogues for Australia’s main galleries. Reputation counts.

After falling behind the design schedule by a month, the book was ready to go to press. The day arrived when Kristin could ‘sign off’ as designer and send the files to the printer. On 22 May I placed an order for 800 units of The master from Marnpi. There was nothing more I could do… except wait. All my ‘to do’ lists were as complete as they could be. Aside from deciding on a design for the complimentary bookmarks I wished to include and confirming the inclusion of a ribbon (I like to know where I’m up to when reading), that was it.

I saw an advance copy of the book with Paul Murphy in Melbourne on 13 August. It looked fabulous! It was the greatest of joys (and relief!) when the 90 cartons of books arrived in Sydney on 31 August, just seven days before the scheduled launch in Alice Springs.

Now, there was the small matter of the national book launch to finalise…

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