Natalie Muller, Publisher at Black Cockie Press

Headshot Natalie Muller
Natalie Muller

Ever wondered what it takes to become a publisher? Natalie Muller has done just that. An experienced teacher, she became increasingly drawn to the world of books. After completing a Master of Arts in writing, she published her own novel, Poisoning the Nest. Today, she runs Black Cockie Press and The Wild Goose literary e-magazine.

Tell us a bit about your life before publishing.

I started my career as a teacher, not a writer. I taught full time for two years, then switched to casual for the next 15 years, something I am still doing today. This means that I have taught some children from kindergarten to year 12.

How did you get into writing?

I wrote as a young child, but the judgment of writing in high school killed my enjoyment of it and I lost confidence. I didn’t start again until my first year of Uni, after I received positive feedback on a journal piece.

It took me five years to write my first novel, which I paid to have published, because I was naïve about the whole process.

Over the next ten years, I wrote three more novels before I decided to take writing seriously and enroll in Swinburne’s Master of Arts in writing. Their online program is excellent. It was like finding the elevator after plodding up the stairs. I loved my two years working on my Masters.

Poisoning the NestTell me about Poisoning the Nest.

When Jack Kelly signed up, the war was meant to be over by Christmas. It was supposed to be an adventure, a chance to escape his life for a little, something to tell the grandkids about.

The war didn’t stay ‘over there’, it slipped its bonds in Europe and travelled all the way to his Australian town, Katoomba. It wasn’t meant to set neighbour against neighbour, friend against friend. Yet it had. The war tested the cohesion of the young nation. It made heroes of some and enemies of others.

Poisoning the Nest examines the damage done by Australia’s involvement in the First World War to individuals, families and society. It tells the forgotten story of the home front, from the perspective of both supporters and opponents of the war. It is a meditation on the nature of heroes and myths. Myths which simplify difficult and painful histories.

What inspired you to write this book?

I wanted to give voices to forgotten perspectives of WWI – the women, the peace activists, the wounded men and their families – people who for one reason or another found themselves running against the dominant narrative.

My family have a long history in Katoomba and further west in Mudgee. Migrants from Germany were the fourth largest migrant group in Australia at this time and the biggest migrant group from a non-English speaking background. Being of German descent, we instantly became suspect during WWI. Many families changed their names during this period. People were interred, harassed out of jobs and barred from stores. When my great grandmother was in labour having my grandfather, she nearly died, but her husband was forced out of the hospital at gunpoint because he was of German descent. It was an incredibly shameful period for Australia.

I was also interested in the experiences of soldiers who returned from the war suffering the effects of serious injury and PTSD, which was poorly understood. Families were often left to cope alone with badly traumatized men. The expectation was that returned soldiers would just ‘get on with it’, as if their war experiences were nothing special. These men are still forgotten in much of our mythologizing of WWI. Heroism in this mold requires death or glory; disability, physical or mental, is swept under the rug.

Why did you make the leap into publishing?

During my time at Swinburne, I became interested in e-books and the potential for digital technology to change publishing. I was inspired by Virginia and Leonard Woolf who started the Hogarth press in 1917, one hundred years before I started Black Cockie Press. Their press allowed Virginia to be a great experimental writer, because she had control over what she published. I wanted this sort of freedom for myself and my writers.

I published my own work first to learn the ropes without screwing up another writer’s book.

What can you tell us about Black Cockie Press?

BCP focuses on new authors. By the end of 2019 it will have published five books ranging from poetry to comedy sci-fi. BCP started out e-book only, but this year has moved into print.

My literary magazine The Wild Goose, offers unpublished writers a first publishing credit and takes essays, poetry, short fiction and memoir.

What are the challenges of running a publishing company?

Running a micro press, means becoming a jack of all trades, so I’ve learnt typesetting, cover design, marketing, everything. It’s not for the faint hearted. It also means that I have complete control over selection, which an editor at a larger company wouldn’t have. I publish what I want.

What other services do you offer?

On top of traditional publishing, I offer mentoring services, editing and reader’s reports to give critical feedback on manuscripts before they are submitted to agents or publishers. I also teach creative writing and am the BMCC Library’s Editor-in-residence, a program I developed to help people find resources to develop their writing.

 What advice do you have for new authors?

Don’t tie your self-worth to your creative output. Your writerly self and your ego are not good playmates. Put your ego aside.

Critical feedback is vital to developing your work, so seek out mentors, workshops, or classes to develop your skills. Get feedback on your work before you send it out. It’s better to know that your manuscript has a serious flaw, than to wonder why you’ve been rejected for the fortieth time. Editors are not there to destroy your vision; they help you express yourself in the best way possible.

Even with a big name publisher, writers are expected to do a lot of their own marketing if they want their work to sell.

And most importantly READ. Read widely and read often.

Where to from here?

Running Black Cockie Press is a full time job and I’d like to devote all my energies to it. I aim to be putting out about three books a year. At the moment that seems most sustainable.

You can follow Natalie on:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/blackcockiepress/?ref=bookmarks
Website: www.blackcockiepress.com.au
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com.au/feejeemerma0035/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/blackcockiepress/

Next time: have a chuckle about My Top Three Editing Disasters
Next interview: Greg Romanes on Tree Change, Foster Care and Mansfield’s Next Gold Rush

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