When Irma Gold was studying creative writing in the late 1990s, the idea of editing – as a profession, or even as an activity worth elevating – had never crossed her mind. At the University of Canberra, where she was studying, editing wasn't taught as a course. But then she got involved with the editorial committee of First, the university's yearly anthology of creative writing. And, as she recalls it, she was hooked.
"I'd had this idea previously that I just wanted to be a fiction writer, even if it meant living in a garret for the rest of my days," she says.
"But then through First I actually discovered that I also loved editing. It shouldn't really have come as a surprise to a girl who loved to edit her brother's school assignments growing up."
She graduated from university and walked straight into the role of deputy editor at Muse, a former monthly arts magazine based in Canberra, and later became editor before moving into book publishing, as well as an award-winning writer.
She also convenes the editing degree at the University of Canberra, and returned to the origins of her first taste of editing on the First anthology. She's just wrapped up the publication's 21st edition, Pulse, guiding a student editorial committee in producing the volume from start to finish.
"I've kind of come full circle, and it's wonderful to now be able to mentor this new generation of editors," she says.
The anthology, which has evolved steadily, is designed as the first place of publication for the many writers who come through UC's creative writing program, offering "that thrilling first experience of seeing their first words in print".
Made up of short stories, poetry and, this year, a graphic work, it's also an opportunity for student editors and designers to be involved from start to finish in what turns out, each year, to be a major project.
"It's huge! Producing a book, as you know, is always a huge amount of work, but when you're then mentoring writers, editors and designers, obviously, and that's the main purpose of the behind-the-scenes work, it does make it an even bigger project to manage," she says.
The theme for this year's anthology is "pulse" – a multi-faceted concept when it comes to a collection of new works like this.
"The idea is that pulse is a sign of life, and the anthology has got plenty of that, so it kind of reflects the energy that fills the pages, and the writers through small moments and momentous changes, speaking about life and death," she says.
"Also, I think for those of us who are writers, writing something that we feel compelled to do, as long as there's a pulse in our body, so there's that element to it as well."
She says being published – to have your work critiqued and discussed beyond the confines of the classroom – is an important rite of passage for any aspiring writer, "to learn how to work effectively with an editor if they're going to go on to have a successful career. It's an important aspect of First too."
But ultimately, First has been, for generations of aspiring writers, a first step into the world of publishing – a step that's never easy to take, even with all the support in the world.
"I think one of the things about First is that it gives writers a boost of confidence, so an inkling that they can perhaps succeed at this tenuous thing called writing, because it's a tough industry, it requires tenacity and hard work and resilience," she says.
"But I think if you don't have somebody to encourage you in the first instance, it can be really difficult to keep going. What First does is it offers that encouragement, that nod, to say your words are valued, your words are worth something. Because I think even with experienced writers there's always doubt. It never leaves you, as a writer."
Pulse: FIRST 2014, with an introduction by bestselling author and former UC student Brooke Davis, is available at the Co-op Bookshop at the University of Canberra.