Posts in Blogging

Pushing your own cart: marketing, social media and author platforms

Kirsten Krauth, Darrell Pitt + Kate Forsyth, Forest for the Trees seminar, Sydney Writers' Festival
Kirsten Krauth, Darrell Pitt + Kate Forsyth, Forest for the Trees seminar, Sydney Writers’ Festival

The second session I did at the Sydney Writers’ Festival (after Here and Now) was part of the NSW Writers’ Centre’s Forest for the Trees day-long seminar, where I spoke about being a published author with a small press, and how I’ve marketed just_a_girl since its release.

The audience was diverse: from those who had never used Twitter to those creating their own films for YouTube. You can hear the entire session here (and many others from the day including an interview with Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction winner Eimear McBride).

Nicola O’Shea from ebookedit.com.au did a great summary of the session I did with renowned author Kate Forsyth and indie-turned-book-deal star Darrell Pitt.

MARKETING + PROMOTION STRATEGIES FOR INDIE AUTHORS

On 22 May, I attended NSW Writers’ Centre’s The Forest for the Trees event at the Sydney Writers’ Festival. All the sessions were excellent, but the one I found most useful for indie authors was Pushing Your Own Cart, about how authors promote their books and the tools they use.

The panel comprised Kate Forsyth (The Witches of Eileanan series, Bitter Greens, The Wild Girl, Dancing on Knives), representing the established, internationally published author; Kirsten Krauth (just_a_girl), representing the debut novelist published by a small press; and Darrell Pitt (The Firebird Mystery, Diary of a Teenage Superhero, The Doomsday Device) as the self-published author – whose success at selling his own books has led to an 8-book publishing deal with a traditional publisher.

Here are some of the strategies the panellists shared.

ESTABLISH AN ONLINE PRESENCE/AUTHOR PLATFORM 

Although Kate Forsyth, Kirsten Krauth and Darrell Pitt have had quite different publishing experiences, they all agreed on the crucial importance of establishing an online presence: ‘an author platform’ as Kirsten called it, so readers can find out more about the authors whose books they love. An online presence might take the form of an author website or a blog; or authors can connect with readers through social media tools such as Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest or Wattpad.

AUTHOR BLOG

Kirsten started writing her blog a long time before her novel came out and used it to establish and practise her writing voice and to build a community. Even though her original intention wasn’t to promote her book, she found that when the book came out, her blog followers were keen to buy and read it because they already had a connection with her. Kirsten also has a regular post called Friday Night Fictions where she interviews debut Australian novelists (traditionally published and self-published).

Kate uses her blog to ‘connect with kindred spirits’ – people who love reading and stories as much as she does – and tries to give them something through her blog rather than using it only as a promotional tool for her own books. She writes reviews of the books she reads each month, and if she particularly loves a book she’ll contact the author and do an interview with them on her blog.

Darrell has an author website, but he doesn’t have a blog. While he agrees that it’s important for authors to connect with their readers, he believes it’s even more important that authors spend the majority of their time writing books. He gave the example of a reader loving a writer’s work and going online to find more books by the same author; but if that author’s too busy self-promoting instead of writing, there aren’t any more books for the reader to buy. This ties in with the advice from many successful indie authors that volume is important for discoverability. It can be more effective to write several books in a series before you publish the first one, so you can offer readers follow-up titles in a short time frame, rather than whetting their appetite with one book and then keeping them waiting for more.

Kate also uses her blog to survey readers about what they like and dislike about her blog, and asks for suggestions about how to make it a better experience for them. She often makes changes based on her readers’ feedback. Some indie authors push this idea further still, asking blog followers for feedback on extracts from their books in progress and then incorporating that feedback into their work. That kind of to-and-fro communication between author and readers creates a strong sense of community, and has a greater chance of translating into sales once the book is published.

The blog tour is another fairly recent promotional activity, and one that’s used by traditional publishers as well as indie authors. Kate did a month-long blog tour for The Wild Girl, which required her to write 31 posts, which were then published one per day on a range of international blogs all with thousands of followers. It’s a great way of getting global coverage without the expense of a physical tour. If you’re an indie author writing in a particular genre, you’re probably already aware of bloggers who write or review in that genre; ask them if you can write a guest post about something related to the subject of your book, or the writing process, or the self-publishing process – again, it’s about sharing useful information rather than simply self-promoting. It’s hard work creating fresh content for a blog so most bloggers are likely to respond positively to your request, as long as it’s a good fit with their blog and readers.

USING SOCIAL MEDIA 

All three authors agreed that it’s important to find a happy balance between promoting your books and connecting with readers in a more general way: e.g. with writing tips, sharing information about other writers and their books, and even writing about unrelated topics that interest you. The same rule applies to Twitter; as Darrell said, ‘No one wants to be constantly sold to’.

Kirsten loves the immediacy of Twitter, and also the way it notifies you of mentions of your Twitter handle – that allows her to reply personally to anyone who tweets about her book. Kate uses Twitter to engage with her readers directly too, and also to tell them about courses she might be teaching or appearances at schools or in bookstores. She said she aims to get 20 new followers a week, by giving readers something or sharing information with them.

Kirsten Krauth's just_a_girl experiment on Pinterest
Kirsten Krauth’s just_a_girl experiment on Pinterest

Kate is a big fan of Pinterest, and uses it to share covers of her books from different countries. Kirsten set up a Pinterest page for the main character in just_a_girl, and likened using Pinterest to making a scrapbook or journal related to your books, their characters and landscapes.

Darrell talked about his experiences with Wattpad, which is a site where authors can upload their writing and get feedback from other writers and readers. Wattpad is especially good for YA fiction as its reading demographic is mainly teenagers. Darrell put his first two novels up on Wattpad for free and had over 50,000 readers per book, many of whom went on to buy his other books, proving the theory that offering some free material can be a good way to general follow-on sales.

A writer in the audience asked whether the three panellists used YouTube to engage with readers (YouTube is the second-most popular networking site after Facebook), which led to a discussion of book trailers: short video clips to promote the book, like a film trailer but usually much simpler – often using images and music to create atmosphere, and sometimes with a voiceover or a short interview with the author. Kate’s publishers produce trailers for her books and she uses them at schools talks and other events; while Darrell told us he’d made a trailer for his first self-published book, The Steampunk Detective. Kirsten asked the writer in the audience how she uses YouTube to promote her books, and she said she’s experimenting with some short videos of herself giving writing tips, with the aim of encouraging viewers to click through to her website and her books.

GOODREADS

GoodReads is a networking site where people share information and reviews about books they’ve read or want to read, which, as Kirsten said, makes it the perfect place for writers to connect with other people who love reading. Kirsten finds GoodReads useful for getting honest feedback about her book and also connecting with her readers.

PROMOTION IN THE REAL WORLD/OFFLINE PROMOTION

Kate’s publishers send out free advance reading copies of her books to booksellers and reviewers; and Kate often goes on book tours around Australia and also overseas, talking at festivals, other book-related events and schools.

Kirsten had already established contacts in the media through reviewing books for newspapers so was able to draw on those contacts when it came to getting her own book reviewed. Kirsten has also given talks at libraries and festivals, and commented on how important it is to say yes to all opportunities – and also not to prejudge your audience. She gave the example of a recent talk to an audience of older women: she thought they wouldn’t be all that interested in her book as it’s aimed at younger readers, but afterwards most of the women bought a copy, telling her they wanted to understand their granddaughters better and her book would help them do that.

For indie authors who might not have media contacts, it’s a good idea to start local: contact your local newspaper to let them know you’ve published a novel; talk to your library to see if they host author talks; if your book is for children or YA readers, ask around the schools in your area to see if there’s an opportunity to give a talk to their students.

Darrell recommended Toastmasters as a way of improving your public speaking skills before you stand up in front of an audience to talk about your book.

COVER, TITLE + PRICE

Before you start the marketing/promotion process, of course, you need a great product. Authors who are traditionally published often have minimal input into the final cover design but the cover is professionally produced and at no cost to the author. Kate said that she has a lot of input into her Australian covers, but not so much for the editions of her books published internationally and in translation.

I asked Kirsten about her cover experience after the session and she said she found it a wonderful process: ‘I gave the publisher heaps of ideas, and examples of covers I liked, and their designer read the book and sent five examples to choose from. It was a really smooth and fun creative process.’ Kirsten even took printouts of the two ideas she liked most to a bookstore and ‘put them on top of the piles of books to see how they compared with others. This was an interesting exercise as they looked different when part of a large group.’

For indie authors, creating your book’s cover is a more personal process, but one thing all successful authors agree on is the importance of a high-quality cover that suits your book’s genre and market.

The title is equally crucial: it has to be engaging while also giving readers an indication of the book’s content and genre. Again, indie authors have more control over this process than traditionally published authors. When I worked in-house at a large publishing company it was quite common for book titles to change from the author’s original choice, based on how the marketing team planned to promote and sell the book. It’s important to find a title that suits the widest readership possible.

Indie authors definitely have much more control over pricing strategies for their books than traditionally published authors do; and, of course, they usually receive a higher percentage of that price each time they sell a book. Darrell talked about the benefits of volume when it comes to price: e.g. when you release a new book, you can offer previous titles at a lower price so readers are encouraged to buy more than just the new release. Or you might offer your new release at a special discount price for the first month, for example. Being your own publisher means you can be as flexible as you like with pricing strategies.

MORE MARKETING/PROMOTION TIPS

Another session I attended was called To Market, To Market, and these are the tips I picked up there:

The most-shared and retweeted blog posts are Top-Ten-list-style posts: e.g. Top Ten Tips for Self-Promoting Your Book.

Consider writing a monthly or bimonthly newsletter that contains useful information for writers, background history to your books, anything you think readers might find interesting. Add a sign-up option to your author website so readers can provide you with their email address to receive the newsletter.

Run competitions through your website to collect names/email addresses for your mailing list: e.g. give away a copy of your latest book to the first 20 people that sign up to receive your newsletter.

Consider purchasing advertising space in other successful e-newsletters. (Traditional publishers are doing this and finding they get an excellent return from such ads.)

 

WHAT ABOUT YOU? WHAT MAKES YOU PICK UP A BOOK? HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT MARKETING? ANY TIPS TO SHARE?

 

Which writer (living or dead) would you like to be for a day?

Leonard Cohen in Greece
Leonard Cohen in Greece

Western Australia seems to be the hotspot for writers at the moment. I have just finished reading Annabel Smith’s wonderful first two novels (A New Map of the Universe; Whisky Charlie Foxtrot) and Amanda Curtin has recently released Elemental (we share the same publisher in UWAP). Annabel and Amanda are part of a collective of writers — alongside Sara Foster, Emma Chapman, Natasha Lester and Dawn Barker — who, once a month, have a writerly debate via their blogs, answering a question about the writing life.

This month, I’m thrilled to be a guest blogger in their Writers Ask Writers series, with the curly question: Which writer (living or dead) would you like to be for a day?

My writing process is like a bear stumbling into a beehive or a honey cache: I’m stumbling right into it and getting stuck, and it’s delicious and it’s horrible and I’m in it and it’s not very graceful and it’s very awkward and it’s very painful and yet there’s something inevitable about it

It’s 1966.
I live on the Greek island, Hydra.
I am surrounded by beauty, simplicity.
I have learnt to play flamenco guitar.
I have taken lots of drugs.
I have had women falling at my feet.
I sing in a monotone.
I live in a haze.
I’m the king of deadpan.
I write about Canada and the Church and the wiping out of Cultures.
I Write Pages of Words Beginning With Capital Letters.
I write about cocks until my fingers bleed.
I write about women and desire.
I can get into character anywhere.
Darling, I was born in a suit.

It’s 1994.
I’m meditating.
I want to retreat and I’ve surrendered.
I’ll stay here for years.
I have taken lots of drugs.
I can be anywhere I want, man.
I’ll project back and forth in time.
Phil Spector threatens me with a crossbow
‘Hallelujah’ becomes the song of a generation but not mine.
I don’t know whether I know.
That four lines from my song ‘Anthem’.
Are four of the most beautiful in the English language.

It’s 2008.
I’m on a hill in the Hunter Valley.
I’m performing in a vineyard but I’m not drinking.
I’ve taken lots of drugs.
But I can see clearly tonight.
The stars are bright looking out.
But there’s someone about to start grieving.
I can see her in the audience.
She is lying down with her head gentle on the grass.
She is thinking about death and souls.
She is remembering how many words she knows.
So she sings them out loud with me.
To her baby who is at his first gig.
Who refuses to close his eyes.
Even as she dances with him all night in her arms.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

Leonard Cohen has written songs, poetry and novels. Beautiful Losers is a hell of a ride. I think his voice is better now with its gravel edge. When I was a kid, a family member was obsessed with him (you know who you are) and, every chance she got at the dinner table, would affect this weird nasally voice and embark on dreadful lamentations. I always rolled my eyes; it’s so embarrassing when adults think their music is cool.

And then, damn it, Leonard Cohen did get cool.

Let’s check out who my cohorts wanted to be for a day:

PWFC_author_collage

AND WHAT ABOUT YOU? IF YOU COULD TAKE THE CHALLENGE OF BEING A WRITER FOR A DAY, WHO WOULD YOU PICK?

Friday Night Fictions: for debut authors

Taylor Kitsch, Tim Riggins, Friday Night Lights
Taylor Kitsch, Tim Riggins, Friday Night Lights

When you are releasing a first novel, the most unexpected things can happen. One is that you attract guardian angels — fellow readers and writers who decide to champion your work (even complete strangers).  This is especially important for debut novelists. If a writer with a following retweets you, invites you to guest blog or writes a review, it makes an enormous amount of difference to how your work is perceived, and whether it gets any attention. Two champions for me have been the authors and social media experts  Walter Mason and Angela Savage. Both have done everything in their power to help promote my book (without me even asking). I had never met Walter before the Sydney launch, and only recently met Angela for the first time in Melbourne (after conversing via blogs).

It started me thinking. What I am hearing via FB and blogs is that many debut authors are releasing books or stories into the current climate and the reaction is … NOTHING. Can you imagine spending many years on a project (12 years in my case) to get absolutely no reaction in the media? It can be heartbreaking. Especially as the books are often well-reviewed (if they finally do get reviews). On Twitter it can be like millions of writers all with their own little megaphone, and you can’t hear a thing.

So, I thought I’d take a hint from Walter and Angela, and start a new item on my blog called Friday Night Fictions, with the sole purpose of promoting debut authors’ fiction. I’m also keen on digital fiction, short stories, and Flash or micro-fiction. If you can link to it, even better. The idea is to start a club that promotes first-timers, and we can check out and comment on each other’s work too…

I also realise how important bloggers and reviewers have become in promoting first time writers’ work. If you review any of the works featured, or interview any writers, in Friday Night Fictions, I will link your reviews in the following edition so there is a developing dialogue around each writer’s work…Email me and let me know.

The scope of the internet means first-time works don’t have to come and go without a trace. Unlike printed book publishing, there is time online — to reflect, to debate. Works can stay current and relevant for as long as readers want to look at them, with ebooks available…that’s why I encourage writers who have published in 2013 and 2014 to contact me.

The title comes because I’ve become addicted to the TV show Friday Night Lights. I started watching it on Friday nights. I know, I always come to things a bit late. I’d get the kids to bed early, wrap myself in a doona, hold my husband’s hand and settle in for some good drama and great southern American hairstyles. Then it eked out to Thursdays, Saturdays, Sundays. Then series one ended and now I’m wringing my hands each night as I wait for the next series to arrive in the post on DVD. Sometimes it’s good to wait for good things. You know, like we used to. I originally discovered the series when a friend sent me this article written by Lorrie Moore (you now need to subscribe to get it, but it’s worth it).

Back to Friday Night Fictions. If you would like to be included, I have a series of conditions.

1.If you submit work, you need to subscribe to my blog at Wild Colonial Girl (http://www.wildcolonialgirl.com).

2. You promise that when your work is published on the blog, you will help promote Friday Night Fictions on social media and to your mates. You also promise to read at least one OTHER writer’s work featured, and comment on it.

3. All work needs to be fiction and published in 2013 and 2014.

4. All books need to be debut novels (any genre, from anywhere on the planet). E-books and self-published books are fine.

5. Short stories and Flash/micro-fiction OK, as long as you can link to it.

6. You can only enter a particular work once.

7. Please email submissions to info(at)frecklefeatures(com)au with FRIDAY NIGHT FICTIONS in the subject line.

8. Email submissions need to include: Author’s name and title made clear, and up to 150 words on the work (I will not be editing down so if you include more words than this, it won’t go in); a small image, preferably of the cover, where applicable; a link to where readers can buy or access the work; a link to an extract already available online so readers can get a sense of the style, if possible. Please note: emails must come from authors. No publishers or publicists/agents please.

9. Friday Night Fictions will go up on the last Friday night – every three months. The next issue is May 2014…

10. Reviewers can only send links to reviews of works featured in Friday Night Fictions. These will be updated for the following edition, so featured writers can see responses…

11. Each month I will choose a writer/work from the submissions whose work EXCITES me – to feature for the following edition.

Please pass on to anyone who has had a debut novel published this year, or any emerging writers in fiction. I look forward to your comments and hope we can build a global community of first-timers in fiction…

Writing Mothers: Susan Johnson

Susan Johnson
Author Susan Johnson has recently published her novel, My Hundred Lovers.

Susan Johnson is an author of seven novels, and also non-fiction, and has recently released her latest, My Hundred Lovers. She blogs regularly on all aspects of writing and the process of launching her book.

I remember reading an early work of hers, Flying Lessons, and revelling in its fierce characterisation and descriptions of Queensland. She was always a writer who excited and challenged me, and I kept an eye out for her latest works.

Susan describes Flying Lessons here:

The book, set in Australia, has two heroines, modern-day Ria Lubrano and her Edwardian grandmother Emma James. Ria Lubrano, who “came into the world with bones plotting mutiny”, suffering from a literal and metaphorical film over her eyes, is vegetating as a jingle-singer, a voice without an identity or even a complete song, her sense that life is just “a series of disengagements”. She is preoccupied with the loss of her brother Scott, who has drifted out of touch with his family and turned by degree into a missing person. She is also engrossed by the story of Emma, who married a Catholic boy and was renounced by her archetypal disciplinarian father. Read More

Writing Mothers: Allison Tait

Allison Tait, blogger at Life in a Pink Fibro
Allison Tait, blogger at Life in a Pink Fibro

One of the first bloggers I discovered as I was searching for writings on motherhood and rural life was Life in a Pink Fibro (see Top 5 Rural Blogs), Allison Tait’s wonderfully poetic look at family life. I fell in love with the design and her clarity of expression, and her ability to turn everyday moments into memorable prose. I learnt a lot about blogging from reading her carefully managed posts.

Allison also manages to write fiction (at night) with a novel to be published in 2013, and has co-authored the book Career Mums for Penguin. I chatted to her about balancing a busy writing career with raising children.

When did you start blogging? Was it before or after you had children?

I started my blog, Life in a Pink Fibro, in January 2010. My boys were six and three when I started. Read More

Word miner: Adam Ford

Poet and novelist, Adam Ford
Poet and novelist, Adam Ford

As the trees start to shed in Earlwood, we are counting the days until we head to Castlemaine on 12 June. The dogs have gone ahead to Melbourne. The boxes are gradually starting to rise to the ceiling, threatening to kill the baby GG as she teeters on tiptoes swinging around them. Like the inner west of Sydney, negotiating childcare in Castlemaine has been a delicate balancing act, but McCool has two days at the community child care centre, which looks great, and even has vegetarian food at lunchtime. Seeing as his vegies are limited to potato stix, and mushrooms on Lebanese pizza, this should be a challenge. Look I’ve tried and tried and tried. But they say that if kids see other kids enjoying food, they just tuck in.

I always like going to new places. I like the space in the mind as new worlds are conjured up. It’s a gut feeling but I think the place will be good for us. We’ve been harried trying to do creative things while paying the rent in Sydney (that we have never really been able to afford). We’ve found a place to rent. It has four bedrooms (three for us + an office to share between me and WCM — that’s Wild Colonial Man). It has a backyard as big as a cricket pitch with established trees (we can just take the dogs for a walk in the yard), a verandah and a modern kitchen and bathroom. There’s a local farmers’ market that we can head down to each weekend.

Apart from a town for foodies, Castlemaine also has a vibrant arts and writing scene. Castlemaine Word Mine is an organisation supporting local writers in the region, and holds regular poetry nights and workshops. I spoke to poet Adam Ford (coordinator) about writing and local culture.

You grew up in Ballarat? Why did you decide to return to the region to live?

Castlemaine isn’t actually in the Ballarat area. This is an important point for me, because I don’t think that I could return to live in an area in which I grew up. It just feels regressive somehow.

No, Castlemaine is in the BENDIGO region. Bendigo shares an enduring Springfield/Shelbyville relationship with Ballarat due to both their similarities and differences (and we won’t go into who is Shelbyville in this scenario), so in some ways I’ve crossed the floor.

My wife and I moved to the area because of the appeal of Castlemaine as a town to live in: it had a significant artistic life, there was some good food to be had and the landscape was beautiful. Plus houses were really cheap. I grew up outside Melbourne and my wife grew up in far-eastern Melbourne, which honestly speaking was more bush than Ballarat, so both of us were familiar with what the lifestyle would involve. Plus we were thinking to start a family and the appeal of non-metro child rearing was strong. Our move was made easier by having some friends who’d made the same move in the years previous, so they could introduce us to people and show us around as we became acclimatised.

How does the area inspire your own writing?

In the most literal sense, I’ve written a poem about a particular geological curiosity that’s signposted on the main street of Castlemaine. It’s called the Anticlinal Fold — also known as a saddle reef. It’s a geological indicator of the presence of gold, apparently. I was just fascinated by the desire to direct people to something like that: “Post office this way, art gallery that way, anticlinal fold that way.” The poem’s not finished, but I have hopes it will be soon.

In a more oblique way, now that I live in Castlemaine I spend more time travelling (I work in Melbourne three days a week): cycling, walking and catching trains, which does give me more contemplative time to either write or read or edit things in my head.

Are there any books set in the area?

Fiction? Not that I know of, which is unforgiveable of me. There probably are — I’ll have to look into that. I have read a few local histories, and know of some others that are about. I have also read and heard a number of poems about the area, but nothing specifically set up as “poems about Castlemaine”.

What’s Castlemaine Word Mine? Why was it set up?

I came along post-establishment, but the brief version is that it’s a group of writers who’ve set up a non-profit organisation to promote writing and reading in the area. We run a monthly reading series and are starting to offer a few writing workshops as well. We have worked and are developing plans to work more in partnership with other writing and reading organisations in the area, like the local library, local art festivals, local independent journalism websites and the like. We were set up around mid-2011, so it’s early days for us yet. Interested folk can check us out here.

What are some events coming up for local writers?

There’s the monthly CWM readings, on the last Wednesday of every month — check our blog for details. There’s also another regular reading series on Sunday afternoons that’s been running a long time, featuring both local writers and visiting writers. It’s been at a few different venues over the years — currently it’s based at The Comma, in Castlemaine. We have a gig guide on our blog that lists events in the area, including Bendigo-based events, so if people need to know what’s on that’s where they should go.

Is there a writers’ festival in the region?

There are a number of festivals in the area, which feature varying levels of literary events. There’s the Children’s Literature Festival, which is aimed at children and families, and is really excellent. There’s also the Castlemaine State Festival and the accompanying Fringe Festival: both are on every two years and often feature literary events. So yeah, there’s a bit about.

Adam Ford's novel, Man Bites DogYou work in a number of genres. What do you enjoy writing most?

Fantastic writing probably comes to me the easiest — I write about superheroes and robots a lot, and I have a deep from-childhood love of the inherent spectacle and ridiculousness of superhero and B-movie tropes. I like writing realism too, but I think the most fun I have is when I try to combine fantasy and realism. It’s not a novel approach — many have done it before me — but I like exploring the tension between the two.

How do you go about writing a Twitter novel?

140 characters at a time. (Sorry. Couldn’t resist.) Seriously, though, I just kind of barrel through it. I had a rough idea what it’d be about when I started, but the deal was that I wasn’t supposed to overthink it too much, just keep writing regularly and maintain a steady pace. It hasn’t quite worked out that way — I have sometimes gone months without posting anything — but it’s still ticking along and I’m still happy with it. Interested folk can check it out.

How does a freelance writer survive in Castlemaine?

Well, you can freelance from anywhere, but I think you probably have to catch the train down to Melbourne a little bit for meetings and networking and such. This isn’t really a question for me, though — I have a full-time job as a web editor, so my days of freelancing are kind of behind me. My wife works freelance as a reviewer and arts journalist, and based on my own past freelance experience it doesn’t seem like being in Castlemaine is any obstacle to freelance writing.

HAVE YOU COME ACROSS ANY FICTION, POETRY OR MEMOIR THAT FEATURES CASTLEMAINE? OR ARE YOU A WRITER LIVING IN THE REGION? Please leave a comment. Would love to hear from you…

Writing Mothers: Karen Andrews

Karen Andrews blogs at Miscellaneous Mum
Karen Andrews blogs at Miscellaneous Mum

The blog Miscellaneous Mum, created by Karen Andrews, is one of my favourites. It manages to encompass the detailed trials and tribulations of daily life with a family, great reviews of books (including Stasiland by Anna Funder, interviewed here) and news of her life as a writer.

She even started the ‘1001 Books to Read Before You Die’ challenge.

(The weird thing is, I started this in a blog, too, many moons ago — before I saw hers. I got about five books in. It was so long ago I can’t even find my own blog using Google. Ah well). She’s doing better.

She also somehow manages to hold down a desk job (a great one!) as program manager of the Emerging Writers’ Festival that begins in a couple of weeks in Melbourne.

Her blog’s subheading — ‘Trying to find the objective correlative, everyday’ — has kept me thinking for months. It seems exactly the right phrase to describe her type of writing. While many mother-bloggers keep their posts raw and emotional (which I enjoy too), Andrews’ style has an austerity and sophistication that suspends and transfixes you.

In the upcoming edition of Newswrite (June–July), Mandy Sayer writes about this term, the objective correlative, in relation to Hemingway and Chekhov:

Chekhov, also a playwright, was a master at using objective external details, coupled with understatement and irony, to convey complex emotional states. This rendering of the internal through the external, the subjective through the objective, is a technique T.S. Eliot later described as the ‘objective correlative’.

 The method involves writing imagery and actions that are so precise, so resonant, that the narrator doesn’t need to state how a certain character feels: the emotions are already there, embedded in the landscape, the light, the weather, the scents, the sounds, and the silences.

To do this, everyday? I spoke to Karen about the challenges of blogging and balancing the writing with family life.

When did you start blogging? Was it before or after you had children?

KA: I started blogging in August 2006, when my second (and youngest) child was five months’ old.

What set you going on sharing your thoughts with the world?

KA: I primarily just wanted to get my own writerly ‘voice’ back, as well as my own ‘personal’ one. I had been experiencing severe post-partum anxiety attacks and was just trying to sort myself out mentally and emotionally. Perhaps an odd choice of forum, given the public nature of blogging, but I also wanted to seek out others who’d been through the same, or even help others in their journey.

How do you find time to blog around bringing up children? Do you plan it carefully? Or does it happen in bursts of creativity when you get the time?

Karen Andrews has also written a children's book, Surprise!
Karen Andrews has also written a children’s book, Surprise!

KA: It happens both ways. When the kids were younger, I admit it was more in bursts, while they played near me or during nap times. These days it’s more strategic and regimented as I’ve got other commitments (such as work and my offline writing) to attend to as well. I’ve never worked very well at night — either with writing or blogging — so I really have to manage my time during the day as best as I can. I concede this probably makes me a slower writer, but I’m saner too!

Do you think about your writing style much? Your voice? How do you stand out from the crowd?

KA: I have been wondering more and more about my writing style in recent times. In my work (program manager at the Emerging Writers’ Festival) I come across different writers and forms all the time, and I do occasionally think, ‘Where do I fit in among the ‘scene’? I still feel young, too, in a career and chronological sense (I’m 33). There’s a tension within me that I’ve always fought: that being the need to rush and the mentality to absorb and learn from others.

In terms of standing out from the crowd, I think I have etched out for myself a sort of blogging reputation that coincides with an indie-publishing-slash-entrepreneurial-bent that is nice if — at times — undeserved! I do earn money from blogging, more than writing. That is nice, I admit, but I do remain mindful of my deep set loves and values about writing and keeping a sort of…purity of intent.

At what point did you decide to blog about your children? Has there been a topic where you’ve thought, ‘no I can’t go there’? Where do you draw the line on the public/private?

KA: I’ve blogged about kids since the beginning; my first post was about my daughter. It was a blog about them — although I knew it couldn’t be forever — and I’ve been slowly turning it into a blog that’s more about me, and they’re more of a reflection in that sense (although I’d never for a moment presume to say that what has happened in the past is an explicit recount but, rather, more of a subjective interpretation rendered in as nice/expressive way as I can, like other creative nonfiction does).

There are lines I’ve drawn, but that has been at the request of my husband. The kids will do the same all in good time too. I respect that. Other truths can wait for my fiction.

Who is your favourite mother-blogger? What kind of blog writing gets you excited?

KA: I have lots of favourite bloggers who are mothers who happen to blog about parenting: I think Penni Russon (eglantine’s cake) is wonderful, and I am proud to call her a friend of mine. We’ve talked about blogging a lot together. Another friend who is an excellent writer is Tiffany Tregenza (My Three Ring Circus). These are in Australia. In America, possibly my favourite is Amy Storch (Amalah).

How has your blog influenced your other writing, your novels, your nonfiction, your poetry?

KA: It’s made me more open to the value of flash/shorter fiction for starters! It’s made me realise much quicker the greater potential an idea might lend itself to having, ie whether it would be better to make a blog post out of something or turn it into a poem. For example, a day I had at the park years ago could’ve been easy to turn into a post along the lines of ‘We Had A Crap Day At The Park – Let Me Whine About It To You’. But I knew there was more to it than that. So I turned it into a poem — and it went on to win a literary award.

This interview is part of the ‘Writing Mothers’ series. If you enjoyed this post, you might also like to read my interviews with Anna Funder, Fiona McGregor and Bianca Wordley (Big Words blog).

Who’s your favourite blogger on parenting? I’d love to hear your thoughts…

Writing Mothers: Bianca Wordley

Bianca Wordley, Big Words blog
Bianca Wordley, Big Words blog

Seven weeks to go until we move and I haven’t started packing yet. The boxes are sitting there, all flat, teasing me. When I told mum about this blog she said, ‘so you’re blogging about packing rather than actually packing’. Seven weeks may sound like a long time but when you’ve got two children under four, you can’t just throw it all in like you used to. I just added it up and I have moved house at least 18 times in my life. That’s a lot of packing. I’m terrible putting boxes together, taping with masking tape. I’d be hopeless in dispatch. I have poor inter-taping skills. I’m in denial. And I keep getting distracted by books. The removalists sent a marketing type to give a quote today and she looked shocked by the number on my shelves. I really don’t have that many (you should have seen when I was at uni). As I weigh each heavy tome in my hands I start to rationalise: surely, I can get that on kindle.

So, as I’m going to be covered in dust and grasshoppers (that’s what I just found in the shed) for the next few months, I thought I’d continue on a series of interviews with writers about motherhood and writing. Bianca Wordley is an Adelaide-based writer who has been hugely successful with her blog, Big Words, and she also writes regularly for The Hoopla (a site that’s emerging as a wonderfully topical daily critique of all things cultural). In a recent post, The Annoying Kid, she takes a look at parents who are there — but absent. We’ve all encountered these situations. A child who bites others on a jumping castle. Or keeps going up the slide the wrong way, endangering others at the playground. The parent remains hands-off, or lingers in the background, so much so that you feel you should discipline the child yourself. But then what? It turns into The Slap. She also writes entertainingly on the whole concept of the mummy-blogger (and the companies that market to them).

I spoke to Bianca about fitting in blogging around the care of three small children…

When did you start blogging? Was it before or after you had children?

BW: I started blogging seriously after the birth of my third child, so about one and a half years ago.

What set you going on sharing your thoughts with the world?

BW: I am a trained journalist and while I still write freelance articles for a number of different clients I was craving a more creative outlet. At the time I was also living in the Adelaide Hills and felt quite isolated with three kids under five. Blogging connected me to a whole world of other like-minded women.

How do you find time to blog around bringing up children? Do you plan it carefully? Or does it happen in bursts of creativity when you get the time?

BW: I write when I get a burst of creativity. Sometimes I write at night or in the morning when the kids are asleep, but mostly I write when they are running around the place. Their constant distractions are at times difficult, but mostly they can be easily distracted with kids’ television and food.

Do you think about your writing style much? Your voice? How do you stand out from the crowd?

BW: One of the main reasons I started blogging was to break out of the newspaper style I was trained in and find my own creative voice. I use my blog as a sounding board and experiment to discover what style or styles suit me. I am in a constant state of learning, but slowly getting there.

Questioning domestic bliss at Big Words blog
Questioning domestic bliss at Big Words blog

At what point did you decide to blog about your children? Has there been a topic where you’ve thought, ‘no I can’t go there’? Where do you draw the line on the public/private?

BW: I am getting more aware of my kids’ privacy the older they get. My eldest child has just started school and I am still unsure how many mothers I will let know about my blog. I try to blog about my story, not about my children’s personal issues, but as our lives are so entwined that is a tricky subject I am constantly reassessing.

Who is your favourite mother-blogger? What kind of blog writing gets you excited?

BW: I have a number of favourite bloggers — Under the Yardarm, Edenland, Woogsworld, BabyMac are just a few. I like honest and raw bloggers, but I also love bloggers who give me an escape from the drudgery, who make me laugh and not feel so alone in the boredom which often envelopes your life as a mother. I search for brave, inspiring and upbeat writers.

Do you do any other writing? How has your blog influenced your other writing, your novels, your nonfiction, your poetry?

BW: I write for a number of clients in both the corporate and blogging world. I am a regular columnist for websites including The Hoopla, justb and Kleenex Mums. Blogging has opened up many paid writing opportunities. At present, I am also writing my first novel — little-by-little I write it. One day soon, I’ll find the time to focus more on my novel as that is the direction I am heading and most passionate about — telling stories.

The ‘Writing Mothers’ series has also featured Anna Funder. Next week I’ll talk to novelist and performance artist Fiona McGregor about how she goes about creating mother characters in her award-winning novels.

Do you write a blog about parenting? Who is your favourite mother-blogger? I’d love to hear from you…

Top 5 blogs: going rural

As I start getting ready to head down south, frantically spreadsheeting all the things I need to do before we leave (child care, rental property, unpack the computer in time for editorial deadlines), I thought the best way to experience a move to a country town first-hand would be to read blogs by those who’ve been there done that. I needed some tips.

I came across many just like me: writers, usually women, trying to balance family life with work in a new town or rural retreat, and looking for the space to be able to write (or make art and craft) creatively; a day or two a week will do.

Some highlights…

Life in a Pink Fibro blog LIFE IN A PINK FIBRO

A beautifully designed site, Allison Tait effortlessly lures you into her world of whimsy. Her posts range from the handy tip variety (how to develop a rhinoceros hide when you’re a freelancer) to the meditative (the importance of silence when you are overloaded with information). She has interviews (a recent one with Joel Naoum from Momentum is useful for writers swerving into the digital fast lane) and also details the frustrations and joys of trying to juggle a home business with raising children (when your kid is sick and you have to meet a deadline). Light and airy, it’s a blog I read with relish.

 THE ART OF LIVING

Artist Jodie Ferguson-Batte moved from Sydney to Daylesford (a town not far from Castlemaine where we are headed). She details the setting up of her small business (a loose leaf tea), the paintings she does, her burgeoning love and appreciation for local wines, and how to settle into a local community (first stop: the pub).

 FERAL007’S BLOG – COUNTRY LIFE

A single mum talks about her kids, her cat and a vegetarian, farting, dog. Feral’s writing is dynamic, extremely funny and takes a mischievous take on the well-worn idea that a tree-change is going to be easy. She has a great sense of drama and pace; and can make any subject interesting. A terrific read!

 House of Humble blogHOUSE OF HUMBLE

Beautiful photography and winsome words offer an enchanting glimpse into the lives of a young couple in Bendigo. From the beauty of rain to the misery of renovating, the site is like the visual equivalent of Julia and Angus Stone’s music: calm, curious, sweet. Their most popular post is ‘On being a man who knits’.

 THE SIMPLE LIFE: Miffy in the Middle of Nowhere

The blogger moved from Kangaroo Valley to a spot in rural Victoria she describes as the ‘middle of nowhere’. She details the excitement of living in such an isolated place that she has to ferry her girls across rough water by boat to school, sometimes in strong winds, heart in mouth.

Do you write a blog on moving to a regional community? Have you come across one that’s brilliant? Please let me know and I’ll mention it in an upcoming post.