Amy Espeseth asks: ‘Has/how has your fiction writing changed since you started LiteraryMinded?’ and John (Musings of a Literary Dilettante) asks: ‘how has reviewing books helped your own creative writing?’
Five years of regular writing—fiction and nonfiction—has made me a better writer. I hope I keep getting better. Five years of reading, close reading and reviewing, has definitely helped. All the books I read make me want to do better. Some books also help me realise my limitations, ie. I’m really no good at simile, unlike Deborah Forster or Ryan O’Neill. I also can’t write something uproariously funny, but I can write something a little absurd. Many authors have helped me pay attention to detail, to fill out characters and their worlds, to make them real. I’ve learnt that there really are no rules, either! And I’ve learnt this not just from reviewing, but from attending festivals. Every writer has a different method. There is no one way you should write a story or a book. I’m still learning about plot, drive and pace. I do think I learn something new with every book I review.
I’m near the end of the third draft of a novel manuscript and I know it’s ten times better than the last one. But will it be ‘the one’? Who knows. Short stories are much harder than they used to be. But I think that’s because I’ve been putting so much energy into the longer work. Or maybe it’s because they really are so damn hard to get right!
Amra Pajalic asks: ‘What was your most controversial post and why?
How has having a blog helped you establish yourself professionally, especially as a reviewer?’
I don’t even want to revisit controversial posts. It may be a giant flaw but I really find it difficult to deal with conflict. I’m diplomatic about it when it happens, but I’d rather avoid it altogether. What a wuss! Most of the controversial stuff happened when I was on Crikey. Some of the commenters could be nasty, but I think they often came via the website expecting something specific (and receiving something else—a personalised blog post). A post about the launch of a certain anthology of Australian literature and another around a certain literary prize were the most controversial.
The blog, combined with my work at Bookseller+Publisher, are the reason I am now reviewing for a wide range of media. The blog is also the reason I get invited to literary events, so yes, it has definitely helped me to establish myself professionally.
Alexandra Neill asks: ‘During the zombie apocalypse you are only allowed to bring one book (you need to carry a lot of canned goods). What book would you take with you to the end of the world?’
(Because dogs make me smile, no matter what.)
Bethanie Blanchard asks: ‘Who has been the most surprising person you’ve interviewed (differing perhaps from your expectations)? What is the best piece of advice about literary blogging and / or reviewing you’ve received?’
I don’t think anyone I’ve interviewed has really surprised me, but there have been a few times when I’ve met someone and realised I’d had expectations about them that were based on nothing at all. For example, when I met critic Geordie Williamson (and I hope he giggles if he sees this) I thought he was going to be an old man. I don’t even know why, his reviews aren’t particularly ‘old’, I think I had a kind of ‘book critic’ stereotype in my head. I first met him at PWF and found that his skin was wrinkle-free, his cheeks rosy and his demeanour affable.
As for advice on reviewing, let’s turn to that young man Geordie Williamson and his excellent Pascall Prize acceptance speech on ‘open-handed criticism’.
Michelle (BooktotheFuture) asks: ‘In honour of your fifth bloggiversary—do you have a memory from when you were five years old (or around that age) that you can share with us?’
Little Robbie. A very small boy with black hair and freckles. He had more Ninja Turtles toys than me and I was jealous. He could do the moonwalk and in class he would whisper: ‘hey Angela, hey Angela’ and I’d look over and he’d have his doodle out.
Susan Wyndham asks: ‘What do you know now that you didn’t know when you started the blog?’
That the Australian literary community is so generous and welcoming. That writing is even harder than I thought. That scholarships and grants exist. That whisky has many different flavours.
Brian Purcell asks: ‘What was the second-best writers festival you’ve appeared at? (The Bellingen Readers and Writers Festival naturally being the best).’
The Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, which I’ve been to twice. Besides the stimulating panels and gorgeous setting, you get to mix with writers from all around the world at some incredible parties. The locals are lovely, the food is delicious and the booze is cheap, too. And Perth Writers Festival is one of my favourite festivals to go to in Australia. The UWA Campus is a great setting and they treat their guests very well.
mareelouise asks: ‘In all this time, is there one book that you could call your favourite?’
Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii-iiiiiiit that’s hard. It depends on my mood! Right now I’m going to say Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita.
Luke Stickels asks: ‘As a hard-eyed veteran, are there any qualities to your blogging that have dropped off from when you were starting out, but that you kind of miss?’
Well, I was a lot less guarded. I was living in Coffs Harbour and didn’t really know anyone personally who read my blog. Sometimes I wish I could write some of those posts about being lonely or feeling afraid or thinking everything is f**ked-up… BUT I think I realised it’s more fruitful (for me) to channel those thoughts into fiction (and even reviews). I also realised that other people were writing about those kinds of things more articulately than I. So I guess I don’t miss it too much. But I think some readers dropped off when I became more ‘serious’ (though still, I hope at times, absurd) but others were gained. The core remains the same, the expression has changed.
Oslo Davis asks (and illustrates): ‘Where do you stand on ebooks? (Literary):
Love your work, Oslo. You know, I’ve read quite a lot of short stories as ebooks (and published some) but not novels. I think that’s mainly because, as a reader, I like to dog-ear and notate. I also read several things at once and sometimes only remember to pick them up because the books are sitting there staring at me. You don’t get that with an ereader. So I don’t mind ebooks, but I seem to still predominantly be a dead-tree media reader.
Mark Welker asks: ‘Single biggest change in your life derived from starting your blog?’
Becoming a professional book reviewer! And I love it.
Mel Campbell asks: ‘Well—ARE you the Keymaster?’
No, I am Zuul, the minion of Gozer. I am the Gatekeeper!
Still enough qs for a part five! See you again soon…