Storyology 2017

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I revisited my journalism roots recently by attending Storyology 2017, an annual talkfest put on by Australia’s Walkley Foundation.

I won’t give a blow-by-blow account (that’s what Twitter is for), but there were some very strong themes around building/reclaiming trust in journalism, combatting Fake News, battling troll armies, Big Data and how to best work with the tech giants that are reimagining the media landscape (Google and Facebook, which also sent emissaries in the form of Aine Kerr and Irene Jay Liu).DIb0n_WVAAAItyE

In the 10 years since I left full-time journalism, the industry is still trying to make up ground when it comes to landing a workable funding model, a conversation I didn’t think we’d still be having in 2017.

Some media companies are building subscriber walls, others are relying entirely on funding and wealthy benefactors, and some are now directly appealing to readers through donation models to support their journalism. Who’s right? Who knows? Everyone’s playing the long game.

One speaker worthy of mention is Filipino journalist and editor Maria Ressa’s amazing contribution to the Storyology 2017 program, both as a standalone presenter and panellist. Her editorial vision for Rappler.com epitomises the kind of reinvention and engagement media companies are aspiring to in a Web 3.0 world. Ressa’s Rappler.com is a reason to get excited about the future of journalism.

While the focus of the conference was very much on working journalism (and making journalism work), there were some great takeaways for creatives and freelancers looking to learn and leverage the knowledge of the experts in the room.

  • Don’t stop learning. There is an enviable suite of clever and free tools online – it’s time to get acquainted. For citizen journalists in particular, Google and Facebook now offer unrivalled free training and resources. Podcasting, coding, data mining – get in there!
  • Be organised. Flex your schedule muscles, establish and maintain contacts, and stay on top of your admin paperwork with a good accountant.
  • Innovate or die. Be like Inkl. Innovation is more than just a buzz word, it’s the fresh approach/method/idea/product behind ‘the news’. Reinvent or stagnate.
  • Swim against the tide. Sometimes the best ‘aha!’ moments (like this award-winning story by Dan Box) come from the outliers. Never follow the herd.
  • Machines can’t replace humans (yet). Machine-learning can’t compete when it comes to creativity (but machines are very helpful when it comes to crunching vast amounts of data and weeding out fake accounts). You/me/we are the human experience.

You can enjoy more of the Storyology 2017 program over at The Walkley Magazine’s Medium.com pages.

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Top 5 takeaways from Copycon 2017

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I recently attended the inaugural Copycon conference in Sydney run by and for copywriters and creatives. I’ve always walked between the worlds, so to speak – that would be the commercial and creative worlds – but found it difficult to be wholly focused on the business (read: invoicing/accounts) side of writing.

I earn my living working in corporate communications but spend my down time living the creative life, so I was curious about how people are blending the two, and earning a living.

There was a great line-up of speakers starting with the effervescent Kate Toon, event founder and chief cat wrangler (she said many wise things, so she’s getting her own post…Kate’s also got a new book out here – compulsory reading for copywriters). I particularly loved the sessions on Facebook Ads and SEO, so I may talk about them elsewhere.

My takeaways from the day (quite a few of which I tweeted here) were many, but I’ve decided to focus on five (because it’s much easier to remember five than 10, and actually commit to doing *or in the case of #5, thinking* them!). In no particular order…

1. Embrace the constraints on your time. Seriously. You know that old saying, give a busy person something to do and it will get done? Even though I’ve always found this to be true – after all, I’m never more productive than when I’m already busy – I often use busyness as an excuse not to do other things I need and want to do. Writer, editor, graphic designer, triathlete (?!?) Kelly Exeter believes (and knows) we all have spare slots in our diaries…so make that limited time work for you! If Kelly can fit in daily triathlon training, I’m sure I can write a novel chapter a week! (Oh, and sorry for stepping on your foot Kelly!)

2. Collaborate! The brains behind the Awards Agency, Melinda Leyshon, urged us to team up and work with big agencies (and each other), and to share in client success. Melinda has an amazing personal story of her transition into freelancing on the back of winning several business awards for her husband’s mechanics business. From there she has successfully carved out a niche helping companies write winning award entries.

3. Keep a tax savings account. And a log book. Think about GST. Sort your Super out. Karen Goad of Goad Accountants is a very sensible woman. While this advice may seem a bit ‘Freelancing 101’, it’s so obvious (and rarely practiced)! I certainly never kept a tax savings account when I was freelancing, it might have saved a few unnecessary heart palpitations around tax time every year. Oh, and don’t forget to pay yourself Superannuation. I know, so much adulting – why can’t we just create, create, create? I guess having a roof overhead and a crust of bread to gnaw on is important.

4. Find your niche – know what you want to write about (and what you don’t want to write about, the infamous ‘anti-niche’). True North Content’s Matt Fenwick advised us to combine personal likes and interests with your client base. Love property? Focus on real estate. Live for the latest lotions, potions or pots of age-defying remedies? Then health and beauty might be a good fit for you. Loathe finance? Avoid it like the plague. Etc. You get the idea…

5. No matter what you do…it will still be better than your client’s effort. That’s why they come to you. Sage words, those, echoed by Kate Toon AND Divine Write’s Glenn Murray. People will pay for expertise and experience. Professional writers experience the jitters too – this was quite validating to hear.

I’m pleased to say Copycon was such a rip-roaring success it’s going to be held again in 2018, so keep tabs on when and where over at Kate Toon’s website.

 

 

Revenge of the brain fag

 

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Brain fag gets a mention in the Clements Tonic-sponsored cookery book circa 1917, which I stumbled upon while visiting an antique shop in the Blue Mountains. Clements Tonic, good for what ails ye!

 

Brain fag is, or was, a thing way back when…a term used to describe brain fatigue or what we might describe today as anxiety or possibly even the onset of depression. Possibly it’s an extreme form of procrastination!

Clinically, it was named and the cognitive disruption traced back to excessive external pressure to be successful placed upon the young. Oh, this sounds familiar…like every looming school exam, work report or anthology deadline with which I have ever wrestled!

And my point (there is one) is that the brain fag has descended upon me at the tail-end of my holidays. I’m talking about the cognitive sort, the mental road block set up by the procrastination police to stop me from motoring on with various projects.

The hitherto ridiculously productive writing period I was expecting to enjoy was instead eaten up with the banalities of the end of year break: eating, drinking, socialising and lazing about while being ‘fed’ various forms of entertainment (this year’s poisons have included the excellent Dark Mirror, the somewhat dated Aussie indie flick Crackerjack, the not-so-great Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them *sorry JK, the characters and CGI creatures didn’t hold a candle to Harry Potter and the gang*, re-runs of Murder, She Wrote, and endless funny episodes of the UK Come Dine With Me program). God, I feel like I’ve just spent time in a confessional.

Reading, in case you were wondering, doesn’t count in the litany of sins. OK people, you know everything now…I have been slack!

Short of a Clements Tonic, I am setting in place some measures (maybe even a word count widget) to get me back on track.

From Monday, work life resumes and a new discipline will (hopefully) emerge.

Here’s to those three 2017 resolutions.

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How many books can you read in a year?

 

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A recent haul of murder mysteries from one of my local op shops.

 

I know a lot of people committing themselves to reading challenges during 2017, undertaking to read X number of books in 12 months. It seems to be a trend fuelled by sites such Goodreads, which thrive on reviews.

However, it’s something I personally just can’t do.

The very idea of tying myself to reading a specific number of books over a 12-month period seems slightly crazy and, if I’m honest, repellant – like I might be cheating some of those books the focus and contemplation they deserve. I tend to read crime books and thrillers quickly, but like to take my time with biographies, memoirs and other non-fiction titles.

We (you, me, the reading public) seem to set ourselves up with enough pressure through self-imposed work and home deadlines without forcing our leisure activities to submit to the same fierce timetables we insist upon in other areas of our lives. Reading isn’t a competition (unless it’s the MS Readathon and you were eight and you nailed it by reading loads of books in the local library and fundraising even more, not that I’m boasting).

I understand reading challenges are terrific activities for those who should be reading more to improve their literacy and (more importantly for authors) cultivate a passion for literature in the young. After all, those young readers will one day be older book buyers. Reading challenges certainly have their place.

So no, I’m not committing to reading X number of books during 2017. But I will be reading quite a lot.

In case you were wondering, based on my own reading habits I know I read around 60 or more tomes spread across the year. I don’t review everything I read because A) time restraints, and B) some books are just diabolically bad and should never be mentioned in polite company again.

Whatever you’re reading – and I’d love to hear your recommendations – enjoy!

 

 

 

December: Initiations, curses, resolutions and a heatwave

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December was ridiculously busy. It felt like there was a Christmas morning tea or lunch on every other day. There were events to attend, catch-ups to be carried out, cards to write and send, and trees to decorate – and I still didn’t get around to honouring every social engagement. While it was in parts the Christmas season was very enjoyable it was also very rushed – I seemed to be always looking ahead to what needed doing instead of being a bit more present and enjoying the moment.

Of a weekend there were markets, meet-ups with friends and family, and an ever-growing list of mundane home-related tasks that required my attention away from work and the trusty laptop. So many, in fact, I wondered if there was time for sleep during the heady four weeks of December.

And then there was the heat – the unrelenting 30C-40C+ string of days that left us (pet friends included) wilting like old lettuce. Just this very evening – New Year’s Eve in fact – a thick mist has rolled in and cotton-balled our house, finally driving the temperature down a few degrees. We’re still sweating it out, but looking forward to ringing in 2017. If you’ve read this far – Happy New Year! May the next 12 months be all that you hope for (in my case that is, among other things, a lot cooler!).

As for New Year’s resolutions, I’m working on a few. Remember, if rats can learn basketball, then you and I can too!

Writing

I’ve been exploring the nature of curses (important research) and, as I have all year, the relationship we have with our ‘Good Neighbours’ aka faeries. My passion project has been penning a series of interlinked stories for a dark little novella that combines folklore and fantasy. Hopefully it works – my reader guinea pigs report back that they love it.

I’ve also been working on developing an outline for a cosy mystery, something that has been boiling away on the rear hotplate of the stovetop that is my brain.

I’ll be honest, I’m a very confident writer in the realm of non-fiction but when it comes to fiction I have always felt out of my depth. I have a major case of the ‘not good enoughs’. I think they call it imposter syndrome? Anyway, I don’t want to sound too whingey, I’ll slay my own dragons. I’ve never been a big believer in Writer’s Block, I think it should be renamed ‘Writer’s Apathy’, which is spot on the money. You can write your way through anything. Writer’s Anxiety, though, that’s another thing altogether!

Reading

Not so much of this went on as I would have liked, but I did need to fit in some sleep this month along with everything else. Here’s what I did read and enjoy…

Initiation by Ly de Angeles (Createspace) – A ripping read. You can peruse my standalone review here.

I came across a few more Rebecca Tope books, which I have now passed on to my mother. It turns out quite a few of my friends are also fans of her writing. So do yourself a favour! These two books form part of Tope’s ‘West Country Mysteries’ series and don’t feature Thea Osborne but one of them does take us back to Drew Slocombe’s earlier days:

A Death to Record (A West Country Mystery) by Rebecca Tope – Talk about your twisted love triangles! I really enjoyed this mystery, which followed Detective Sergeant Den Cooper’s investigation of a murder on the farm of a man who is now dating his ex-fiance. Awkward. All of Tope’s skills and experience come to bear in this book, which leverages her insights as a former undertaker and farmer (she really should have had a stab at policing as well, but she also explores that POV quite well regardless). A riveting read.

Dark Undertakings (A West Country Mystery) by Rebecca Tope – Working as a freshly minted undertaker must be challenging enough but what do you do when you suspect a death that has been judged a heart attack by a respectable doctor may, in fact, have been a poisoning? Tope loves to put her characters in difficult and often dire straits, and this novel is no different. Drew Slocombe follows his gut instinct and while investigating lays bare a string of family secrets in a small village.

The holiday reading pile beckons!

My Summer Reading Pile…

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I hate being without a book to read. I hate it so much that when I’m commuting to work I usually have two or three stashed in my bag ‘just in case’.

So when the Christmas break approaches – however short it may be – I usually have a ready pile of reading matter stacked neatly next to my bed or stowed in my travelling case.

This Summer in no particular order I’ll be reading:

The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaaronovitch (Finally! Been waiting for ages…)
Dark Matter by Michelle Paver
Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye
The Good People by Hannah Kent
A Most Magical Girl by Karen Foxlee (The hardcover edition is seriously pretty!)
A Very British Murder by Lucy Worsley
Fashion On The Ration by Julie Summers (You can read my thoughts on Jambusters here.)

So you can see, a nice broad cross-section of fiction and non-fiction covering everything from ghost stories, crime, and war to fantasy, superstition and folklore.

What about you? If you have any good book recommendations I’d love to hear them.

Happy reading!