Getting to Know Julia Marshall

May 7th 2020

Julia Marshall, of award-winning Wellington kids book publisher, Gecko Press, chatted with us online. She shares the winning formula behind her 'curiously good books' for kids, her favourite reads and why her literary heroine, Pippi Longstocking, would ace lockdown life. 

What’s your day job?

Director/publisher of Gecko Press.

Being a book publisher seems like a perfect job for most book lovers, would you agree?

I do - if the book lover in question likes people as well as books, and can turn her hand to many things: financial, practical, editorial, cake.

Tell us a little about Gecko Press' latest publication.

Latest is tricky: I want to talk about The Inkberg Enigma by Jonathan King, due out in May but moved to August to avoid the worst of lockdown. It is a page-turning comic about two kids who uncover a secret that is poisoning a town. It took Jonathan three years to make and is worth every minute.

Tell us a little about your favourite project so far.

Favourite is always the one we are working on now, which is Egg & Spoon by Alexandra Tylee and Giselle Clarkson - it's an illustrated cookbook for children and families. It's fun, practical, experimental, visual, it will have two ribbons and it includes foraging and also cake.

What was your favourite storybook as a child?

The Story about Ping by Marjorie Flack - I loved that Ping had a father and two sisters and three brothers and eleven aunts - and the language, and that there was the Yangtze River. It is a story with character and purpose and drama and plot.

What makes a good children's book?

One with a beginning and a middle and an end. One that combines plot and character development and humour and language and drama - tension and resolution - or that is so simple and perfect that you come back to it fresh, every time. If it has pictures, that they tell a different story than the words. It's a book that children and adults will want to read hundreds of times, and it might be either hugely entertaining, or say something about the human condition - something like that.

What are you reading at the moment?

Dead Lions by Mick Herron. I'm enjoying it - it's a new crime series for me, intelligent and dry and sort of offbeat. It's a series about a group of demoted spies, who are much more interesting than the slick ones up the road. Kaye told me about it at PaperPlus Coastlands! 

I'm [also] translating the new Hattie book called Hattie and Olaf (we think), about how Hattie desperately wants a horse, and her father gives her a donkey. It's hilarious - but I'm up to the bit where Hattie has just heard herself lying about how Olaf is her neighbour with three white horses she can ride whenever she wants, and now I'm worrying about that lie, and its consequences. Olaf is the current name of the donkey, unless we think of a different one.

How do you find a "good book"?

At International book fairs - and other publishers tell Rachel and I about books, and I follow writers and illustrators, overseas ones and New Zealand ones. It is for me a very people-based process, based on relationships built up over many years.

Which literary character do you most identify with?

PIppi Longstocking - I admired her confidence and self-respect, her questioning of norms, her imagination and her storytelling which may or may not have been lying - her energy and boundlessness. She had a horse in the kitchen and skate-cleaned the floor. She was working from home!

Hardback or Paperback?

Hardback.

Best thing about working from home?

The fresh air, and that I can distract only myself.

Black or white coffee? What kind of milk?

Black. Dairy, no question.