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.

Shifting deadlines, and ALLi in Oz

 

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Sometimes real life intrudes in unexpected ways, and the best laid plans…well, they just don’t happen. That was the second half of 2015 for me!

A house move, job change and hosting the annual family Christmas gathering pretty much cruelled all of my creative ambitions. I couldn’t see my way straight to settle down and meet my own writing deadlines when there were rooms to paint, boxes to unpack, and a menu to organise.

Blink.

And now it’s 2016, and the year is already well and truly advanced – it’s March already, Summer in the southern hemisphere is leaving us in a fiery, defiant blast with a string of days of 30C+ temps, while the shops try and sell us new Winter coats before we’ve even put away our swimmers.

One thing I have managed to do this year is settle in for a chat with the wonderful Sophie Masson (pictured), who approached me to talk about The Alliance of Independent Authors and my role as a regional representative.

I never quite worked up the nerve to actually tell Sophie I’m a big fan of her writing (I read Clementine and The Green Prince many, many years ago and loved them dearly). Since then she has published quite a few books spanning various genres, and been pretty busy behind the scenes as well participating in various publishing groups.

And here’s something I didn’t know about one of my favourite authors – she has been dipping her toe into the waters of digital publishing with an exciting new venture, Sixteen Press, her own e-publishing platform.

Anyway, to hear more about ALLi in Australia, and author-publishing in general, hop on over to Sophie’s excellent and charmingly named blog Feathers of the Firebird.

 

A nod to a contemporary ghost story

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It’s a long time between drinks here on the blog – I think I should rename this little corner of the Internet ‘The Inconstant Blogger’; a faithful online diarist I am not.

Anyhoo, just thought I’d break the drought and post a quick nod to one of my long-time favourite authors Phil Rickman.

I’ve been a fan for more than 20 years (yikes!) and I’m pleased to have watched the growing popularity of such a talented and exceptional writer who has gathered about him a passionate and very active fan base of readers.

His latest book, Night After Night, is classic contemporary ghost story fare by someone who knows his terror from his horror, and when to play up each element to full effect.

I’ve just posted my review over at Amazon.com. But for the lazy, here it is:

A tightly written, suspenseful ghost story with a twist, Night After Night leaves the reader questioning what’s real, and what’s unreal.

We’re quickly drawn into the cut-throat world of reality television, which serves as the platform for a ‘Big Brother’ style program that places participants – fading celebrities, skeptics and believers alike – into a so-called haunted house for several weeks in the pursuit of ‘great telly’.

Drawn into this circus are old-school spiritual warriors Grayle Underhill (journalist) and Cindy Mars Lewis (a cross-dressing shaman), two faces already well-known in the Rickmanverse as stalwarts of his ‘Will Kingdom’ novels, Cold Calling and Mean Spirit. By the by, if ever two characters deserved more than a couple of books, it’s the colourful Grayle and Cindy (and their associates).


Rickman skillfully weaves the many strands of this well-plotted story, which features, as always, the landscape as a character – in this instance the brooding Belas Knap, a nearby neolithic burial mound.


Nobody explores the foggy, grey boundaries of crime and the supernatural better than Rickman.

Bring on the next one!

Be warned, once you read one of Phil’s books you’ll be hooked, but it’s okay because Rickman has quite the backlist so you’ll be entertained for some time to come.

If you’re all up to speed on your Rickmans then head on over to your reviewing platform of choice and share the love. Reviews help sell books, and nothing’s sweeter than word-of-mouth endorsements.

And if you’re still hankering for a fix and want to keep your head in the spooky, dark Rickmanverse, I highly recommend joining and participating in the Phil Rickman Appreciation Society (aka PRAS, a Facebook-based fan group that PR himself visits from time to time). A friendlier bunch of book lovers with discerning musical and fashion taste you will not meet…

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Working holidays, writing myths, and patrons

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Has it really been more than a month since I posted on this dear old blog? What the hell have I been up to? Well, dear reader, I’ve been enjoying a bit of a working holiday.

I spent a good three weeks undertaking some firsthand research for a long-term non-fic book project, which entailed camping out in the wilderness of Tasmania.

And I’ve been busy pulling together some anthology projects, the first of which is an M.R. James inspired collection of creepy tales authored by some very exciting (several of which are very well known) authors.

It’s going to be a cracking collection, and I’m sure old Montague, if he were about, would certainly approve!

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I’ve also engaged in a bit of crime – watching it on the box, that is – enjoying Murdoch Mysteries (S1 – there’s another 7 to watch, apparently!), and some tense, nail-biting drama in the form of Broadchurch (S2), and Fortitude. All highly recommended.

The latter two series do a good trade in red herrings – more potential suspects than you can poke a stick at, but at least the plots keep you coming back for more.

Of course there have been other casualties during this fallow writing period – most tellingly the garden and the housework. It’s hard to get your work ethic back after several weeks of communing with nature, but one does have to pay the bills.

Speaking of the bills (of which there are many, I think they were breeding under the fridge!) I stumbled across a series of interesting posts about how writers *really* financially support themselves. There is a prevailing belief that most writers just write all day, miraculously making ends meet while churning out moderate to excellent prose.

Well, some do. While others can, largely thanks to inheritances or wealthy patrons (read: spouses or family trusts), plod along and write whenever they please. But most of us work other jobs. I’d urge you to read the many comments and links, and enjoy the honest revelations.

Here’s the post that kicked it all off, Ann Bauer’s “Sponsored” by my husband: Why it’s a problem that writers never talk about where their money comes from. It’s refreshing, and it’s raw. And we’re all green with envy, Ann! Your bloke sounds like he needs cloning 🙂

Today, I am essentially “sponsored” by this very loving man who shows up at the end of the day, asks me how the writing went, pours me a glass of wine, then takes me out to eat. He accompanies me when I travel 500 miles to do a 75-minute reading, manages my finances, and never complains that my dark, heady little books have resulted in low advances and rather modest sales.

As for me – yes I do work full-time as a writer, but not for myself. My own writing is largely done on the train each day early in the morning or evening, or on Sunday afternoons. Sometimes it’s churned out during fits of insomnia. But it’s rarely if ever penned between the hours of 9-5. That time, friends, belongs to The Day Job, without which I would not be able to fund much of what I do, including living and eating.

At the moment my independently-published books break even and pay for themselves production-wise with a bit more besides, and I have a trade-published book that presents me with a nice combined ELR-PLR payment each June, equating to slightly less than a week’s pay. Icing on the passive income that is the book royalty.

I write for pleasure, and for interest.

I don’t write for profit – yet – but I’m getting there.

Why I love my library

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John Lubbock really knew what he was on about. Isn’t this a great quote? I love it. I want it tattooed on the wall of my next house, in the room that will be my very own private library.

I was a wee little thing when I visited my first library. I remember it well. It was in the hallowed halls of St Joseph’s primary school in O’Connor in Canberra, Australia. It was the late 1970s, so the children’s reading corner was very traditional – lots of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven, Herge’s Tin Tin, Goscinny and Uderzo’s Asterix, Jeff Brown’s Flat Stanley – and featured an enormous tube cushion in the shape of a giant snake. I loved that library, and I remember the competition was fierce for the good books, particularly the ones featuring Julian, Dick, Anne and George (and Timmy the dog!). The boys in particular were quick to swoop on any Tin-Tin and Asterix books. For my money, mysteries were  the way to go. I was green with envy over my friend Jo’s collection of original hardcover Famous Five books, which she had inherited from her mother. It was hard going trying to find all of the books and read them in order through the library, and yet the library offered me something I’d never had before: reading choices.

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My next most memorable library was on the other side of the world at Hunters Woods Elementary School in Reston, Virginia, USA. You wouldn’t get a more different collection of children’s books, which isn’t surprising given how culturally different the two countries were in the 1980s, a time when you couldn’t even watch American ads on Australian TV. It was here I discovered the likes of Joan Aitken’s Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth, and Louise Fitzhugh’s charming Harriet the Spy (which inspired me to carry around a similar notebook of frank and fearless observations for a while – to my detriment).

I also discovered Judy Blume, a then (and probably still) controversial author. She was your go-to girl for all the gory details about periods, first bras and kissing boys. Reading ‘Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret’ was a rite of passage.

When I wasn’t at school, I begged my father to take me to the Reston Regional Library, where I would walk out with armfuls of books. The school holidays were heavenly. A keen reader, I’d churn through most of them in a week and insist on another trip. It was cheap entertainment, considering a few years earlier I’d been badgering my father to buy me endless copies of Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys and Trixie Belden books at around $6 a pop (big money then, and when you read them as quickly as I did).

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There have been other libraries since then. Other books. Many other books. But those three libraries and their contents shine in my memory as havens for the young me, a bookish child, and opened up a world of joy, adventure and knowledge.

These days I tend to buy my books instead of borrow them. Some books I read straight away, others I shelf for a rainy day. I buy new, I buy old. I buy mass market books, and I hunt down rare and unusual tomes. I buy locally, interstate and internationally. I buy in shops and I buy online.

I almost never give away books and, after a few bad experiences, I absolutely never lend them. My collection gives me great joy. I still have books that I owned as a child – adventure stories, fairytales and compendiums of myths and legends – precious touchstones that still evoke feelings of delight and wonder. Books have proven to be constant friends to me, and even in my darkest hours (and I’m fortunate in that I’ve never had too many of those) they have been my crutch, my confidante. To live without books in my life would be akin to giving up food or water.

My fondest wish as a child was to have my own library. My very own shelfed sanctuary heaving with every kind of topic or genre that has ever grabbed my fancy, well kept and respected tomes, gently loved and, post-read, occasionally caressed. The air thick with the scent of ageing pages. I have that now – a few thousand books that line the walls of my old 1940s cottage, roughly ordered by subject, spines rebelling against anyone’s attempts to colour coordinate to any interior decor whim. This isn’t a show-pony library, it’s a reader’s library.

Books taught me about the importance of storytelling. It’s a love affair that has defined my career choices and hobbies – first as reader, then as journalist, book reviewer, editor, and writer – so it’s little wonder that I share my house with so many stories. I’m not a hoarder, and I’m not a collector. I’m merely in tune with my true nature (and yours), the primal need we all have for sharing and finding meaning in the human experience.

For telling stories.

Reynolds Price said: “A need to tell and hear stories is essential to the species Homo sapiens – second in necessity apparently after nourishment and before love and shelter.”

‘Hey lady!’ I hear you say, ‘haven’t you heard of ebooks?’

Well yes, yes I have. But if someone pulls the plug on the Internet tomorrow or Amazon.com crashes, or your e-reader runs out of juice, your ebooks will be floating in the ether. My books will be on the shelf, ready to read.

In my library.

A new age in publishing…

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ALLI member David Mattichak has posted a great summary of the state of play in publishing and where independent publishing fits in over at his popular blog www.dgmattichakjr.com.

“Whether we like it or not, we have entered into a brave new world of writing and publishing across a range of media and books is only one of them. The fact is that there will always be bad books and there will always be good books, and the difference between them will be decided by the people that read them, not the people that publish them.”

Well said David!