LEGEND: Rosanne Fitzgibbon, a gentle but firm editor.ROSANNE ELEANORFITZGIBBON, 1947-2012
ROSANNE Fitzgibbon was a brilliant editor, a good colleague and a loving friend. She was all these things to me, and my sister.
She was born in 1947, in Merewether, at the end of January, just as school went back.
I was six. The teacher called me out to the front of the class and said, “Marion is very lucky, she has a new baby sister. What is she called?”
I said, “Daddy suggested Rosanna, but mummy preferred Rosanne.”
I can still feel myself saying these words, the faint tremor of “suggested”, of “preferred”.
It was in the days when teachers gave you ticks for big words – these days I give myself ticks for small ones. The beautiful baby sister, the words; we had a wonderful life.
We went to our first Adelaide Festival together, in the early ’90s, Rosie representing UQP in those palmy days of Australian publishing. We had great fun, hung together, held hands, laughed, being close as we always were.
At the end of the festival a poet said to me, “Oh, I just found out you two are sisters. I didn’t know you were sisters. I thought you were keen to be published by UQP.”
How we laughed at that curious view of the way publishing works.
Rosie, as we didn’t call her until she was in her 20s, was the third daughter of Arthur James Crothall, a clerk at the State Dockyard, and Mildred Alice Cogan. She was educated at The Junction Demonstration School, Newcastle Girls’ High, in the days when it was one of the great selective schools, and Newcastle University.
Shortly after graduation she moved to Brisbane, which was her home for the rest of her life. She married Athol Fitzgibbons, an economist, and had twin daughters, Abigail and Amanda, and a son Patrick.
She began working at the University of Queensland Press as a freelance editor, and then for sixteen years was in-house fiction editor, publishing a brilliant list of authors, starting with Michael Wilding, that included Thea Astley, Olga Masters, Lily Brett, Peter Carey, Kate Grenville, Beverly Farmer, Janette Turner Hospital, Marion Halligan – these were the big short story collections – then Gillian Mears, Nick Earls, Mandy Sayer, Matthew Condon, Venero Armano, Rosie Scott, Victor Kelleher, Carmel Bird, Liam Davidson, Marian Eldridge, John Clanchy, Barbara Hanrahan, Brian Castro, Nike Bourke, Gerard Windsor, Suzanne Edgar and Gerard Lee.
Rosie and I edited in 1998 The Gift of Story: Three Decades of UQP Short Stories, which gives some idea of the amazing authors who passed through her hands.
In 1992 she was awarded the inaugural Beatrice Davis Editorial Fellowship, to work in New York. Named after the legendary editor, and fitting that its recipient should also become a legend.
In recent years she was a freelance consultant, lecturing on writing, editing and publishing, and conducting seminars, master classes and workshops.
She judged short story awards, and judged and edited all the One Book Many Brisbanes anthologies. She was also a freelance editor, and so I was lucky to have her do my last four books. That’s how I know firsthand how good she was – always gentle and kind, firm and brave. You knew she cared about getting the book right as much as you did.
Very sweet, but steel firm in her standards. But she was always clear, it was your book.
She would tell you what the problems were, but it was up to you to fix them – or not. One of her great charms was that she had no desire to be a writer herself: she never forgot, you were the writer.
When her illness was diagnosed, early in the year, she received an avalanche of letters, from friends and from people she had edited, who had come to love her. These were mostly versions of the same thing: enormous gratitude to Rosie, for having recognised talents that other people hadn’t, for helping not just with the publishing of the book but with getting it to be a book at all.
A great many people credited her with being the first to see their work, and then helping it to happen. She nurtured a book, from first draft to final marketing.
As she nurtured her family, and her friends, over wonderful meals in her pretty house in Bardon, its sloping back garden another verdant room.
She separated in friendly fashion from Athol, loved to travel, walked the Camino, and with her dear friend Barry took pleasure in theatre, cinema, art galleries, books. And spending hours every week talking to her sisters on the phone.
She is survived by her sisters, her children and her grandchildren, Dylan and Violeta.
It is now a year since she died, and I can’t believe I can no longer pick up the phone and talk to her; I keep wanting to do it.
The Newcastle Girls High School ex-students’ union has organised a reunion for Mrs Fitzgibbon at Wests Leagues Club. It will start at noon on September 14.
Marion Halligan AM is an Australian writer and novelist. She was born and educated in Newcastle and worked as a schoolteacher and journalist before publishing her first short stories. Halligan has served as chairperson of the Literature Board of the Australia Council and the Australian National Word Festival. She currently lives in Canberra.