Craig Munro's Literary Lion Tamers is a fascinating insight into Australian literary history

In 2015, Craig Munro published Under Cover: Adventures in the Art of Editing, covering his time at the University of Queensland Press as inaugural fiction editor (1973-80) and then publishing manager (1983 - 2000).

Now, comes a companion volume, Literary Lion Tamers, which has, as its main focus, the work and life of four Australian literary editors from the 1890s to the 1990s. Munro takes the reader on a fascinating retrospective tour, with personal asides, of Australian literary history and publishing.

Author Craig Munro has written an account of Australian literary history. Picture: Supplied

Author Craig Munro has written an account of Australian literary history. Picture: Supplied

Munro makes good use of the resources of University of Queensland's Fryer Library, which he calls his "literary tardis". "Writers, their friends, enemies, editors, and publishers began to materialise out of the library's archive boxes, and I found myself setting off in search of these elusive, eccentric, and often quarrelsome characters," he writes.

The figure who fully represents that description is P.R. "Inky" Stephensen, the subject of Munro's award-winning book Wild Man of Letters (1984). The other three editors covered in depth are A.G. Stephens, Beatrice Davis and Munro's former UQP colleague Rosanne Fitzgibbon.

Munro analyses the different ways each editor interacted with their respective authors, although more attention and text is devoted to Stephens and Stephensen than the more recent figures, Davis and Fitzgibbon

Stephens' relationship with Joseph Furphy and Arthur Davis is well documented. Munro spins off the Arthur Davis/Steele Rudd stories, to give a personal account of the Dad and Dave movie, shot in Braidwood in 1995.

Stephensen's larger-than-life personality, political persuasions and publishing history are are part of the narrative. In England, there are cameos of D.H. Lawrence, Aleister Crowley and James Joyce, and in Australia, Stephenson's relationship with Xavier Herbert looms large.

Munro writes of Beatrice Davis's decades at Angus and Robertson that she was "a trailblazer for the generations of editors who would follow her, including many younger women. For more than three decades, she helped put Australian literature on the map".

The fourth editor, Rosanne Fitzgibbon, is quoted telling her sister Marion Halligan, "Look Marion, I'm the editor. It's my job to tinker", after Halligan had told her sister not to tinker with the prose of her crime fiction novel.

Munro concludes, "whatever the technology, reading is a window onto the past and can also be a portal to the future". We now need Munro to cover editors and publishing issues in the 21st century.

This story A fascinating insight into Australian literary history first appeared on The Canberra Times.