Penguin Books NZ Ltd was established in 1973 as a book distributor operation in Wairau Road, Auckland. Penguin is now a major publishing force in New Zealand working from purpose-built offices in Rosedale on the North Shore of Auckland. Penguin originally operated in the New Zealand book market solely as a distribution channel for Penguin Group books published around the world. A huge percentage of the imports came from Britain – more than 95% – with a few books coming from Australia.
'YOU, START PUBLISHING!’
Graham Beattie was appointed Managing Director in 1978. Soon after, he received a Sunday afternoon phone call from the new Penguin Group Chief Executive Peter Mayer in New York instructing him to begin publishing New Zealand Penguins written for local readers by New Zealand authors. ‘Start publishing!’ Mayer ordered his New Zealand manager. So he did. Until then the only significant New Zealand literature published by Penguin had been The Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse in 1960 (with its famous introduction by the late Allen Curnow), published in London.
So it was time to publish. But how? John Barnett, then Senior Editor at Longman Paul, became Penguin’s first New Zealand Editor. He initially worked in a part-time capacity to launch the new publishing programme.
'IT’S A RUNAWAY!’
At that time Hodder and Stoughton had enjoyed huge success with a hardback book by David Yallop called Beyond Reasonable Doubt, a hard-hitting book about the Arthur Allan Thomas murder case. Penguin Books NZ made a modest offer for paperback rights to the book and was accepted. The Penguin Books NZ paperback edition of Beyond Reasonable Doubt, published in February 1980 (only days after Thomas was pardoned) was the first New Zealand-grown Penguin title, and it was a runaway success. By December of that year five printings and 41,000 copies had been sold. Penguin Books NZ’s first foray into local publishing was an undeniable success.
HEY, WE CAN FLY!
Other successful titles published by Penguin Books NZ in the early days included:
- The Kuia and the Spider (1982) by Patricia Grace and Robyn Kahukiwa, a children’s classic and the first Picture Puffin to appear in both English and Maori, first published by Longman Paul.
- Penguin paperback editions of early fiction from Patricia Grace – Waiariki (1986) and Mutuwhenua (1986) – and Albert Wendt, Sons For the Return Home (1987), also all first published by Longman Paul.
- The controversial Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse (1985) edited by Miriama Evans, Harvey McQueen and Ian Wedde, which caused much comment for its inclusion of poems printed first in Maori with the English translation alongside.
- Michael King’s Death of the Rainbow Warrior (1986) became an international bestseller.
FOOT TO THE FLOOR
Geoff Walker joined Penguin Books NZ as Publishing Director in 1985 and the following years saw a period of rapid expansion of the list. During this time Penguin Books NZ became notable for its award-winning fiction and non-fiction. A feature of the list was work by Maori writers, including Patricia Grace, Apirana Taylor, Robyn Kahukiwa, Bruce Stewart and Ranginui Walker.
Graham Beattie left Penguin Books NZ in 1988 and was replaced by Tony Harkins, who had joined the company back in 1974 and had been responsible for finance and distribution.
Highlights of Penguin Books NZ’s publishing in this period included: Potiki (1986) by Patricia Grace, now with over 26,000 copies in print; A Man’s Country (1987) by Jock Phillips, a trail-blazing examination of New Zealand’s male culture; Oracles and Miracles (1987), Stevan Eldred-Grigg’s bestselling story of two working class sisters in Christchurch during the forties and fifties and Moriori: A People Rediscovered (1989) by Michael King, the book that sparked the Moriori revival.
TIME TO EXPAND
In 1988 Penguin Books NZ bought the long-established publishing programme of Whitcoulls. As Whitcombe and Tombs this company had been publishing for over a hundred years. The Penguin Books NZ list began to broaden into general non-fiction including natural history, gardening, cookery, Kiwiana, travel and leisure. The children’s list continued to expand. This diversification continues to this day. Penguin Books NZ produces a wide-ranging list which covers a large range of subjects and genres.
BOOKS FOR KIDS
With the famous Puffin imprint Penguin is a significant children’s publisher. Books for children include picture books by some of New Zealand’s best-loved authors and illustrators, including Margaret Mahy, Bob Darroch and Peter Gossage, as well as junior fiction novels by writers such as Joy Cowley, Maurice Gee and David Hill. In 2009 Penguin Books NZ acquired Mallinson Rendel Publishers Ltd and began publishing Dame Lynley Dodd’s beloved Hairy Maclary stories.
Under the Viking hardback imprint Penguin Books NZ has published such major titles as Anne Salmond’s Two Worlds (1991), Between Worlds (1997), The Trial of the Cannibal Dog (2004) and Aphrodite's Island (2009); Sandra Coney’s Standing in the Sunshine (1993); Michael King’s major biographies of Frank Sargeson (1995) and Janet Frame (2000), and The Penguin History of New Zealand (2003); James Belich’s fine New Zealand histories Making Peoples (1997) and Paradise Reforged (2001); The Natural World of New Zealand (1998) by Gerard Hutching and the award-winning Central (2003) by Arno Gasteiger and Philip Temple.
A feature of Penguin Books NZ's publishing in recent years has been the number of bestselling biographies of well-known New Zealanders. These have included Sir Edmund Hillary: An Extraordinary Life (2005) by Alexa Johnston, Sir Peter Blake: An Amazing Life (2004) by Alan Sefton, David Lange: My Life (2005) and Willie Apiata VC: The Reluctant Hero (2008) by Paul Little.
THE PAST TODAY
In addition to the works of James Belich, Michael King and Anne Salmond, Penguin Books NZ’s list features a number of popular works of New Zealand history by prolific writers such as Paul Moon, Matthew Wright and Ron Crosby.
Penguin Books NZ continues to be a major New Zealand fiction publisher, combining work by exciting new writers with novels from well-established authors. Award-winning novels include Going West (1992) by Maurice Gee, Let the River Stand (1993) by Vincent O’Sullivan, Bulibasha (1994) by Witi Ihimaera, Zoology (1995) by Sheridan Keith, Live Bodies (1998) by Maurice Gee, The Book of Fame (2001) by Lloyd Jones, Tu (2005) by Patricia Grace, Blindsight (2006) by Maurice Gee, Mister Pip (2007) by Lloyd Jones, As the Earth Turns Silver (2010) by Alison Wong, The Hut Builder (2011) by Laurence Fearnley and Rangatira (2012) by Paula Morris.
Other noted and exciting fiction writers include Joy Cowley, Janet Frame, Linda Olsson, Charlotte Randall, Maxine Alterio, Hamish Clayton, Duncan Sarkies, Paul Cleave and Greg McGee. A number of New Zealand classics have also been kept in print over the years, including The God Boy by Ian Cross, Man Alone by Alan Mulgan, Came A Hot Friday by Ronald Hugh Morrieson, and Plumb by Maurice Gee.
WIDER AND WIDER AND WIDER
A feature of the widening Penguin Books NZ list in recent years has been a very high-quality range of illustrated books, including books by bestselling cooking authors Allyson Gofton, Julie le Clerc, Dean Brettschneider, Alexa Johnston and Ruth Pretty. A range of superb natural history books cater for the general reader, including Andrew Crowe’s bestselling Which Native Tree? (first published 1992). Other illustrated titles cater for readers interested in gardening, the outdoors, art and popular culture.
A key feature of the publishing programme is close links with Penguin publishing companies overseas. Substantial quantities of New Zealand-produced titles are regularly bought by overseas Penguin companies. Penguin Books NZ is also represented at the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany, and regularly sells foreign rights to overseas publishers outside of the Penguin Group.