The man behind Meet the Author

COLIN STEELE takes a look back at nearly three decades of the enduringly popular Meet the Author events, which began in the 1980s.

The aim was to provide Canberra audiences with the chance to hear and see leading authors talk about their new books.

Hosted at University House and other venues around Canberra, we partnered with The Canberra Times to bring some of the world's most popular authors, including Peter Carey, Joanna Trollope, Melvyn Bragg, Garfield Sobers and Ian Rankin, to the national capital.

Embassy functions were particularly successful until some security issues intervened.

Stephanie Alexander and Maggie Beer's delightful Tuscan Cookbook was launched at the Italian Ambassador's residence with matching food, while the Irish Ambassador hosted the lively launch of Thomas Keneally's book on the Irish famine.

One notable event was a book signing by Barrie Humphries at the Drill Hall Gallery.

Because of extremely short notice for the event, only around 30 people turned up.

The Co-op Bookshop, who have been with us since the inception, had to recycle their staff around the back of the Drill Hall, pretending to be members of the public.

I remember Humphries saying at one point, "Haven't I seen you before?" as one bookshop staff member passed through for a second or third time.

The only person to ever miss a scheduled talk, was Douglas Adams of Hitchhiker fame.

Adams was notorious for not finishing his manuscripts on time.

His London editor refused to let him board the plane for Australia until he finished the last pages of his manuscript leading to the cancellation of his speeches in Perth and Canberra.

Bryce Courtenay was always a crowd pleaser.

At one Courtenay event, the then Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ian Chubb, persuaded Bryce to write on the title page of the book being launched, "to the best Vice-Chancellor in Australia".

The list of authors reads like a veritable who's who of writers.

Leading novelists have included Elizabeth Jolley, Tim Winton, Annie Proulx, Alison Lurie and Anna Funder. Crime writers included Elmore Leonard, Michael Dibdin, Michael Connolly, Ruth Rendell, Camilla Lackberg and ANU alumnus Peter Corris.