Writers Talk – Robyn Bargh & Huia Publishers

Posted on Oct 2, 2013 | Comments Off on Writers Talk – Robyn Bargh & Huia Publishers

Robyn5I first met Robyn when I was seeking a publisher for my novel, The Skeleton Woman and I loved the way Huia worked.  I wanted to include publishers in Writers Talk and she was the obvious choice.  I admire Huia Publishers and think Robyn is a hero — she had a dream and with the help of her husband, Brian, her whanau and a host of good people, she realised that dream.  It is a real privilege for WednesdayBusk to publish this interview.  Here’s Robyn…   

Your first idea about Huia — where did the idea come from?

I have always been a keen reader and the thought of working with books every day seemed like a fantastical dream. In 1980 we went to live in Papua New Guinea and I was thrilled to get my first job in publishing as a researcher/editor at the University of Papua New Guinea. When we came back to New Zealand I worked in government departments in Wellington editing and producing all kinds of publications. By 1990 I was forming the idea of starting a business that focused on publishing works by Māori writers. I was increasingly aware that New Zealand literature didn’t represent the Māori world that I lived in. The people I knew and the range of Māori and cross- cultural settings that my family and friends inhabit could only rarely be found in our literature.

So, in 1991 I set up Huia Publishers with the support of my husband Brian and the rest of my whānau. My mother Hepora Young wrote several works in Māori, my Dad was our first receptionist and muffin supplier and the whole whānau was required to help with everything from cleaning the office to acting as ‘rent a crowd’ for book launches.

Why did you call it Huia? (Great name)

A number of reasons. My own name is Rangihuia so it seemed to fit. The use of Huia made it easier to develop a logo. And with more thought it became clearer that our task is to enable the Huia that is Māori literature to fly again as a legacy of our tūpuna.

How did you go about it?

Naivety is a wonderful thing! I got an office, a computer and phone and called myself a business. It was a bit tricky persuading the first authors that this was a credible business and I pay tribute to the first two authors who trusted me with their work — Apirana Taylor and James Ritchie. By this time I had over ten years’ experience editing and producing all kinds of publications but I had to learn fast about the commercial book trade. And the key maxim of a business – you have to earn more than you spend.

How did you get the right people?  

Businesses evolve and the trick is to have the right people for the time. I have been fortunate that in most cases the right people seem to arrive at the right time. These days we recruit mostly on attitude — we have about 20 staff and we look for people who are positive and solution-focused. There are a lot of challenges in publishing and we need people who can embrace change, work with the rest of the team to resolve any issues and celebrate our successes.

How did you find the writers?

In 1995 we started the Huia Short Story Awards for Māori writers, this has now become the biennial Pikihuia Awards. We wanted to find out how many Māori writers there were and find ways to support them in their writing development. We now have a core group of Māori writers — some have become published writers and a number have demonstrated that they are writing at a fairly high level as they are being judged finalists or winners each year, even though the judges may be different.

We also have an increasing number of Māori academics with diverse perspectives on all manner of topics — history, politics, health, education, science and art. So, the range of views we are now publishing provide a window into the fast-changing, complex Māori world of today.

When did you start the educational resources arm?  

From the time we first started the business we were under pressure from kura kaupapa Māori to produce resources in Māori language. At that time all Ministry of Education contracts went to Learning Media. But we slowly found funding from other sources, eg, TePuni Kōkiri, and began producing educational materials. Then in 1995 we won a contract from the Ministry of Education Since then we have produced hundreds of teaching and learning materials, mostly in Māori. These materials focus on providing Māori perspectives and, for the students, validate Māori knowledge. The education team is now the biggest part of our business.

What have been the challenges – have they changed?

The challenges of running a business are basically the same three:

  • you have to earn more than you spend;
  • you have to be able to adapt to change; and
  • you have to take your team with you – they have to understand where you are going, agree with the destination and know how they can help the company to get there.

Publishing is changing — technology is forcing it to — what are your thoughts on e-books and the future of them?

Technology has been a major area of change in the last twenty years in publishing. The way we produce books, the way we market and distribute them and the way we read them have all changed immensely. I love reading e-books — I can load up my e-reader and take books with me wherever I go. But they will never replace books. With changes in technology we have to constantly keep everything up to date and replace our computers, phones, tablets, e-readers, and CD players.

However, despite all this change — a book is a book is a book. I ensure I have a hard copy of every book that I want to keep, whether I just want to look at it every now and then for inspiration or check on some facts, or I want to read it over and over again.

What do you see as Huia’s future?

I hope that HUIA will continue into the future. We have put in place a company of positive, innovative people with a common vision and a passion for publishing. I am sure that HUIA will have an enduring future.