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Julie Gibbs of Lantern / Penguin Books

Studio Visit

1st March, 2013
Lucy Feagins
Friday 1st March 2013

Julie Gibbs, publishing director of Lantern, an imprint of Penguin Books.  Photo - Phu Tang.

Some beautiful recent Lantern titles - 'My Greek Island Home' by Claire Lloyd, 'Things I Love' by Megan Morton and 'How to Decorate' by Shannon Fricke. Background tiles by Bonnie and Neil.  Photo - Lucy Feagins.

Julie Gibbs' office at the Penguin offices in Sydney.  Office details from left - Arne Jacobsen Series 7 chairs in blue, Ron Arad Bookworm bookshelf,  Lantern book sculpture on shelf by Nicholas Jones,  Sofa and floral chair from Edit, Meat dolls by Nathalie Lété from Ganim's Store, Florence Broadhurst cushions, Black Rose framed photograph on right wall by Gary Heery.  Photo - Phu Tang.

Sweet details from Julie Gibbs' office at Penguin HQ in Sydney.  Sofa and floral chair from Edit, Alvar Aalto side table, Floral lamp from Edit, cactus in container from Garden Life, Beci Orpin wooden doll, pink and blue Dinosaur Designs pots from 1994 (vintage!), crocheted blue ‘dish’ found in Penguin, Tasmania.   Photo - Phu Tang.

Whilst in Sydney recently I had the immense privilege of meeting a woman I have admired from afar for a long time - Julie Gibbs, publishing director of Lantern, an imprint of Penguin Books.  If you're not a publishing swot, you mightn't know her name, but by GOLLY I'll be surprised if one of her beautiful books isn't on your bookshelf!

Julie joined Penguin in 1994.  Ten years later she was given the opportunity to create the Lantern imprint, her own sub-brand under the Penguin umbrella, to give a recognisable name to the illustrated books that she had become so well known for.  The titles published under Julie's expert creative direction cover cookery, gardening, interiors, photography, travel and biography.  They are some of Penguin's most high profile and well loved locally authored books, by figures such as Megan Morton, Kylie Kwong, Paul Bangay and Maggie Beer.  The first Lantern title EVER, in fact, was the revised edition of Stephanie Alexander’s The Cook’s Companion - a truly iconic Australian foodie title... after all, it's only sold half a million copies in Australia!

Meeting Julie was brilliant.  I visited her Sydney office with Phu Tang (a lovely Sydney photographer I often work with) and Julie welcomed us so warmly, with a hot pot of tea (complete with tea cosy) and delicious lemon tea cake!  This, I thought, is a woman who does things properly.

It was so inspiring to chat to Julie about her work at Penguin over the past 19 years (!!), and to gain a sense first hand of the incredible passion she has for her job, her authors and her staff.  It was instantly clear just how personally involved Julie is in every title Lantern publishes - she travels weekly, meets all her authors in person regularly, works closely with her amazing in-house design team to ensure each book has it's own unique aesthetic, and develops every Lantern title with an unrivalled sense of energy and optimism.  It's no surprise, then, that Julie is such a well loved figure, both in the office and within the publishing community - a woman as much respected for her integrity and unshakeable work ethic, as she is for her impressive creative output.

Lantern books truly are some of the most beautiful you will see produced in Australia.  They are an endless source of inspiration, and form an impressive archive of the work of so many amazing writers, stylists, photographers, designers and creative people working in Australia today.

Julie has been so generous with her responses to this interview, I do hope you enjoy this  insight into her world!  Also, before you go, make sure you spend a few moments browsing the new Lantern website designed by Frost* Design - it is so content rich, and SUPER beautiful.

Tell us a little about your background – did you always want to work in publishing? What path led you to Penguin originally, and to what you are doing today?

As a young girl I would climb the willow tree in our front garden and sit up there reading Enid Blyton. At school many lunch times were spent in the library. My first part-time job was in a takeaway chicken shop (!), but I quickly managed to get a job in a suburban bookshop in Adelaide. I studied Law/Arts and then took a position as a publisher’s sales rep. They supplied a car, brand new samples every month and I had to visit bookshops…heaven!

Eventually I landed a job as an editorial assistant with my first mentor Susan Haynes who had her own list at Allen & Unwin. I was there for seven years and learnt publishing on the job before landing the role of Viking Publisher at Penguin in 1994.

It must be every publisher’s dream to have their own imprint. Can you outline the guiding principles which inform the creative direction of Lantern?

Running Lantern is such a privilege – essentially these are the books I want in my own life! Books to cook from, be inspired by and dream about…books with personality and style matched with authenticity and credibility…books to come back to over and over again.

The Lantern imprint was created in 2004 to give a recognisable brand to the illustrated books that I have always enjoyed publishing: cookery, gardening, interiors, photography, shopping, travel and biography. The first Lantern title was the revised edition of Stephanie Alexander’s The Cook’s Companionwith the joyous striped Matthew Johnson painting on the cover.

Lantern publishes the most incredible cookbooks!  From top left - the 'bible' in every Australian kitchen, Stephanie Alexander's 'The Cook's Companion', 'What Katie Ate' by Katie Quinn Davies, 'Cumulus Inc.' by Andrew McConnell and a handful Lantern Cookery Classics.  Background tiles by Bonnie and Neil.  Photo - Lucy Feagins.
Through Lantern you have published some of Penguin’s most popular titles, by respected authors including Kylie Kwong, Megan Morton, Stephanie Alexander, Maggie Beer, and Shannon Fricke. How do you select the authors you want to work with? Also, can you briefly describe the publishing process at Lantern from start to finish - what time frames and challenges are involved?

My husband Ian says that everywhere we go a book comes out of it! I am always on the lookout for talented, creative people who have something interesting and lasting to say. One of the things I value greatly is the collaboration with our authors and the publishing of these books is all about the exchange of ideas and being open to taking a journey together. The aim is for the author’s DNA to be imprinted on every page – to capture faithfully their voice, their individual approach to the topic and their design sensibilities.

Books come along in the following ways:
I approach the author.
The author approaches us.
An author recommends one of their talented friends.
A submission from an agent.
One of our existing Lantern family of authors has a new idea.

When we have a well prepared submission I take it to a meeting with sales and marketing colleagues at head office in Melbourne. My job is to sell them the concept and to get them on board for the life of the project. The lead time for these illustrated projects can be anything from 18 months to four years so it is important to choose ideas with staying power.

Once we have a green light the amazing Lantern publishing team of editors and designers come on board and assist the author to make the vision for the book a reality. We work together on the structure, the content and of course the visuals. Photo shoots are a big part of what we do – our inspiring photographers are an essential part of the illustrated book process. Building the right team for each project is the key and we carefully choose the editor, designer, photographer and stylist to ensure that the process will be harmonious and creatively exciting.

There are many challenges: keeping to the schedule and the budget, shaping the book to the right length, making sure we always have the reader in mind and being original without getting too caught up in being clever.

Publishing has changed immensely in the last few years with the advent of online publications, mobile devices and e-books etc. What major changes have you seen in your experience, and how has this impacted the way you work with your authors today?

We are in a constantly-changing market and it is not likely to settle any time soon…However I have great faith in the endurance of books in our lives – it is from books that great stories and ideas can come. Mobile devices and e-books are exciting. For the publisher, they offer new opportunities and adventures and for the reader, provide instant access to information and entertainment. However for me, nothing can substitute the feeling of being in a great bookshop – every time I walk into a shop like The Avenue Bookstore in Melbourne, my heart pounds with excitement for all the possibilities of discovery.

There is not yet, in my opinion, a truly satisfactory digital delivery for Lantern titles but it will surely be invented sometime soon. We have released some cookery apps - Best of George & Gary, Best of Kylie Kwong, Best of Maggie Beer and they have been a worthwhile experience. At this point printed illustrated books are still our core Lantern business.

Social media is essential for book talk and for letting our readers know about Lantern content. And of course buying books online is now another mode of purchase. We now ensure the design of the book covers works in a postage stamp form as that is how some people see them for the first time.

Lantern’s truly inspiring art director Daniel New together with Vince Frost and the team at Frost* Design spent much of last year working on our beautiful new Lantern website. The aim is to give readers a browsing experience so that they can really taste what the books are about.

Penguin book designer Arielle Gamble works on illustrations for a new title.  Photo - Phu Tang.
What do you love most about your job?

That it is a constant learning experience. Every day offers new discoveries from the incredible talent around me and different challenges requiring a wide range of skills. It’s like being the conductor of an orchestra, letting each member play to their best ability, while staying committed to the chosen direction of the work as a whole.

What does a typical day involve for you?

Every day is different and often means catching a plane. Today: A walk with Ian in Rushcutters Bay Park followed by breakfast at Flour and Stone on the way to the Penguin office in Surry Hills; editorial and creative meetings with the Lantern team; lunch at Shortgrain with an author; endless emails and a few quick checks of the Instagram feed; attending a photo shoot; going to a function on the way home; making dinner from a recipe in an unpublished book; watching a bit of TV then a precious 15 minutes of reading in the bath before bed.

Julie chats to designer Arielle Gamble in the Penguin design studio.  Photo - Phu Tang.
Which Australian writers, photographers or creative people are you loving at the moment?

Melbourne photographer and friend Earl Carter is one of my consistent muses. As are florist Saskia Havekes, stylist Megan Morton, designer guru Vince Frost, Louise Olsen from Dinosaur Designs, garden designer Paul Bangay, fellow food lover and traveller Christine Manfield, advisor on all women’s matters Kaz Cooke and photographer Carla Coulson.

Melbourne artist Mirka Mora and Sydney artist Nell make this planet a better place. As does Maggie Beer and I always feel enriched and love being in her orbit. Indira Naidoo is such an effective communicator and constantly working on projects important to the community. A conversation with writer Robert Drewe will reveal a new and often humorous slant on current affairs.

I am never happier than when attending cooking classes at the Sydney Seafood School, Rodney Dunn’s Agrarian Kitchen in Tasmania, or craft classes at Megan Morton’s The School.

Can you list for us 5 specific resources across any media that you turn to when you in need of a bolt of creative inspiration for a new brief or new project?

Nothing beats sitting and listening to my close and clever friends. Then I turn to the utterly beautiful book The Woodblock Painting of Cressida Campbell, The Design Files of course for constantly celebrating the creative process, The New York Times which I read daily on the iPad, the website Goodreads and Instagram, which I have come to lately, and am really enjoying exchanges with like-minded book lovers and people keen on the domestic arts.

What are you looking forward to?

There is always another year of exciting book projects to be working on. The wonderful thing is that this job is never repetitive or static. Travel, always travel: London Book Fair in April then a Penguin conference in Istanbul and a few days in New York (a shot in the arm). Getting out into the world is essential for maintaining creativity. I also have an obsession with the magnetism of the Himalayas (be they in Bhutan, Ladakh or Tibet) which calm the noise in my head and soul.

Penguin book designer Emily O’Neill creates layouts for a new Lantern cookbook.  Photo - Phu Tang.

Sydney Questions

Your favourite Sydney neighbourhood and why?

Postcode 2011 – the Potts Point/Elizabeth Bay area – feel blessed to call it home.

Your favourite book shop in Sydney and why?

Potts Point Bookshop. Anna and her team have a very finely honed selection of titles and are very good at recommending new works of fiction.

What and where was the last great meal you ate in Sydney?

Line ball between two this week: heavenly slow cooked lamb and Greek salad at The Apollo in Potts Point and my dear friend Kylie Kwong’s blissful white cooked Barossa Chook with stir-fried Warrigal greens at Billy Kwong.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

Shopping for the week’s vegetables from the Kurrawong Organics stall at Eveleigh Market then driving to a little cottage in the Blue Mountains where I love to walk, read, stitch and bake.

Sydney’s best kept secret?

Not so much a secret but worthy of celebration is the White Rabbit Gallery dedicated to contemporary Chinese art. It’s such a source of inspiration and is run with rigour and generosity.

Lantern Cookery Classic series from Penguin on Julie's bookshelf.  Photo - Phu Tang.

The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email