Bookmarks: The secret life of the Penguin cult leader

<p>Justin Ractliffe had quite a few gigs in publishing before becoming publishing director at Penguin Random House a few months ago. After a spell in the Co-op bookshop at UTS, he began with Walker Books as a sales rep and spent a year on the road before shifting to the publicity department. When he joined Random House, his first author tour had him looking after Terry Pratchett – no easy or small job that – at the time of the first Discworld convention in Australia. He eventually became head of children&#x27;s marketing and then digital marketing before shifting to Hachette where he finished as managing director. He has even written a children&#x27;s book, <em>Dads, a Field Guide</em>, with Cathie Glassby.</p>
<p>But before all this, there was another Justin Ractliffe. Justin Ractliffe the actor. After switching from studying law to English and critical theory at the University of Queensland, Ractliffe auditioned for, and got into, the Victorian College of the Arts. His year also included Marta Dusseldorp and Justine Clarke (her children&#x27;s books are published by … Random House).</p>
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<p><span>Justin Ractliffe, right, and Mike McLeish as they appeared in the Melbourne fringe play Huge in 2000.</span><cite class="ojLwA"><span>Credit:</span>James Penlidis</cite></p>
<p>A subsequent acting career included small-screen performances in <em>Blue Heelers, Wildside, Murder Call</em> and <em>Bloodmoon</em>. It was on the <em>Blue Heelers</em> set that he earned the nickname &quot;cult leader&quot; from William McInnes after his role in a 1996 episode. It&#x27;s not clear if McInnes still called him that when their paths crossed again at Hachette, publisher of the actor&#x27;s many books, but perhaps it&#x27;s one that will be more widely taken up at the PRH cult.</p>
<p>Ractliffe also trod the boards, appearing at Sydney&#x27;s Belvoir St Theatre in <em>Mojo</em>, an early play by Jez Butterworth, directed by Benedict Andrews, and in <em>Huge </em>at the Melbourne Fringe Festival. <em>The Age</em> review in October, 2000 said Ractliffe &quot;throws himself around the stage like a demented stick-puppet&quot;.</p>
<p>It was a life that, in the end, Ractliffe found too hard. &quot;There were great people but you need to be a particular sort of person to continue acting.&quot; Anyway, he had always fancied publishing and jumped at the first opportunity he got. A different sort of cult leader now.</p>
<h3><strong>Undaunted by B&amp;N</strong></h3>
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<p><span> </span><cite class="ojLwA"><span>Credit:</span>Andrew Dyson</cite></p>
<p>James Daunt, who has the substantial task of running both the Waterstones bookshop chain in Britain and the 629 Barnes &amp; Noble shops in the US, was clear about how B&amp;N should revive its beleaguered bricks and mortar shops: &quot;They&#x27;re going to have to rip out the boring.&quot;</p>
<p>Daunt, who also has his own smaller chain of Daunt bookshops in Britain, was speaking at this week&#x27;s FutureBook conference in London. &quot;If you walk into any of the Barnes &amp; Noble bookstores, they are the most crucifyingly boring stores. Which is odd, because they know what people want, they have all this data and yet they can&#x27;t interpret it and they&#x27;ve been unable to manipulate that knowledge to in any way deliver decent bookstores to people.&quot; He added: &quot;In the age of Amazon, you can&#x27;t afford to be boring.&quot; According to Daunt, as reported in <em>Publishing Perspectives</em> there are three ingredients in successful bookselling: personality; stock that is curated and adjusted by each shop for their customers; and capable, knowledgable and enthusiastic staff.</p>
<p>Barnes &amp; Noble is facing other problems, though. Former chief executive Demos Parneros is suing the company for breach of contract and defamation after he was sacked in July last year. B&amp;N responded by detailing his &quot;violation of company policies&quot;, saying he sabotaged a potential sale of the company, bullied fellow executives, and sexually harassed multiple women at the company. The case is ongoing. As is the case brought by Barbara Tavres who alleges the chain is discriminating against older workers – those over 40 – sacking them and replacing them with younger people.</p>
<h3><strong>A bountiful award</strong></h3>
<p>Writers James Bradley and Stephen Orr and visual artist Danielle Freakley have been awarded fellowships by the Copyright Agency worth $80,000 each.</p>
<p>Adelaide-based Orr received the fellowship to work on a new novel, <em>The Journey</em>, about the German pastor, anthropologist and linguist, Carl Strehlow, who lived and studied Indigenous languages for 28 years at Hermannsburg, and his son Ted, later the anthropologist T.G. Strehlow who wrote the classic <em>Songs of Central Australia</em>.</p>
<p>Bradley, whose most recent novel is <em>Clade</em>, is writing a series of interconnected essays, <em>Deep Water</em>, about the disastrous state of the world&#x27;s oceans. He says the fellowship will actually allow him to do the work rather than continually scrabble to make a living from what he does.</p>
<p>&quot;The whole area is moving so fast that you can&#x27;t spend five years working on it. The speed with which climate change, and pollution, is impinging on the oceans is rapid. I think it&#x27;s a really important project.&quot; He said <em>Deep Water</em> was building on essays he had been writing in the area over the past few years and also on the work he did when editing <em>The Penguin Book of the Ocean</em>. Meanwhile, Bradley&#x27;s new novel, <em>Ghost Species</em>, will be published in May. &quot;It&#x27;s not a million miles from <em>Clade</em>, in the climate change, anthropocene space.&quot;</p>
<h3><strong>Trivia time</strong></h3>
<p>If you&#x27;re in Melbourne next week, you could test your general knowledge at a trivia night to raise funds for the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, the charity supported by the book industry that gives thousands of books to Indigenous communities and raises money. Hosted by Brian Nankervis, it will be held at Fitzroy Town hall on December 4 at 6pm. Bookings:</p>
<h3><strong>Big cheese Walliams</strong></h3>
<p>Last week was a big one for David Walliams. Not only did he host an in-conversation with Elton John at London&#x27;s Hammersmith Apollo to discuss the singer&#x27;s autobiography, <em>Me</em>, but his children&#x27;s books ticked over the £100 million ($190 million) mark in sales, according to Nielsen BookScan, which means at least £10 million goes into his pockets. According to Britain&#x27;s <em>Bookseller</em> magazine, Walliams encouraged the singer to finish their chat by singing <em>Happy Birthday</em> to his husband, David Furnish. John obliged but not before telling Walliams: &quot;That&#x27;s incredibly cheesy, but then you do <em>Britain&#x27;s Got Talent</em> so I would expect nothing less.&quot;</p>
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