by Kim Kelly
There’s nothing like the return of an old friend after a long absence, when you find that some connection you thought might have been lost or forgotten was really there all along. It’s even lovelier when a connection you thought was small becomes far deeper than you would ever have imagined.
Some twenty years ago, when I was a baby book editor at Random House, I met another young woman there called Lou Johnson, who worked in the sales and marketing department. Looking back, I remember her energy and passion, and the respect she quietly commanded from all around her. I found her a little intimidating.
I was surprised then, a few years later, when she was making her farewells to go off on some new adventure, that she made a point of saying goodbye to me, telling me she’d enjoyed our working together. I was struck most of all by her sincerity. Corporate culture can rob even the most genuine people of their warmth, but Lou seemed a bright light amid it.
Her parting handshake stayed with me. Over the years I often wondered what she was up to, and followed her career through publishing. Our paths diverged and diverged, as I left the in-house fray and began writing novels, and Lou took up challenge after challenge, taking the helm of Simon & Schuster as managing director and, with the team there, transforming its Australian list – particularly in women’s fiction. I found her even more intimidating then!
And then, the stars somehow aligned. Lou found herself wanting more – wanting to create a new approach to publishing and supporting Australian authors. I found myself wanting more, too – more from my own stories, and more of a relationship with my publisher. A little less corporate culture. A little more warmth. A need to stretch wings.
Lou began masterminding a new company – The Author People. I began writing a new story – Wild Chicory. These things occurred quite separately, until Lou sent me a message out of the blue one day asking if I would be interested in doing some editing for her. ‘Of course!’ I said, and then the conversation flowed like it had been waiting here all this time for us to arrive, in this place, a conversation about books and publishing and what essential soul-food stories are.
When Lou asked if she could read Wild Chicory, nothing had ever felt so right. My skin tingled with the dare of newness and reinvigoration we had both set ourselves.
A few days ago, I found myself on the train going over the Harbour Bridge, past Luna Park and the old building at Milsons Point where Random House used to live – where I first met Lou – but this time, I was on my way to meet with only her. I was on my way to a handshake that has become an embrace, and to an adventure we’re now taking together.