Ashwood Books’ Beginnings

Over a quarter of a century ago, when desktop publishing was in its infancy, Jonathan was the writer and illustrator of an annual organic gardening calendar. This was a very successful publication and the publisher asked Jonathan to write a book about organic gardening. He did so and the book sold really well, going through at least two print runs of 20,000. Jonathan’s contract specified he was to receive 50% of the net profit, and that approximated to $AU100,000. The publisher offered him $AU10,000 and his solicitor advised him to take the money and run. If he sued the publisher, he’d win, but the publisher would have declared bankruptcy by then and he would receive nothing.


Not very long after that, Jonathan’s friend Lesley Black came to him with a problem. She had written a book about her travels with her husband Geoff through the South Pacific in their yacht Thorendor. Lesley had approached a publisher and she showed Jonathan the book he’d produced. It was a dog’s breakfast, littered with typographic errors, and the illustrations were virtually useless. Lesley showed Jonathan a page where she’d highlighted the text and when he read it he was stunned. It was purple prose of the very worst sort and was the main reason Lesley was upset, for she hadn’t written it. The publisher had gratuitously inserted something he’d written!


And so Jonathan’s publishing career began. Luckily, Jonathan had helped internationally renowned photo-journalist Alan Moult produce Basics magazine devoted to alternative lifestyle and self-sufficiency. As well, he was active in the promotion of organic farming and was publishing a periodical called Organic Update that was also the official organ of the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture, Australia (NASAA).


Lesley’s book Sea Gypsy was a modest success and Lesley went on to write more. Lesley told us that when she was approaching reputable publishers and told them Sea Gypsy had been self-published, their faces would fall. When given a copy to look at they said: “But this was professionally produced!”


Recently, Jonathan has been joined by Dr Susan Young, who has a background in academic research and teaching. She is the author of Private Business in China in the 1980s (M.E.Sharpe) and numerous articles in scholarly journals; and co-editor, with Kjeld-Erik Brødsgaard, of State Capacity in East Asia: Japan, China, Taiwan, and Vietnam (Oxford University Press).

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