Saturday, October 18, 2008

Blogging, a beacon

Dove grey reader is a book blogger worth reading for her thoughtful reviews, and insights into life in Devon. One recent review was of Susan Hill's new book The Beacon which she recommends highly:

What plays out before your eyes is a very very clever economical sleight of pen, no over-egging of this pudding, good solid story-telling, beautifully written and yet what lies beneath is left to the reader to fathom so I wonder what conclusions others will reach when they turn that final page?

Interestingly, a comment on this post notes the sudden disappearance of Susan Hill's blog which included a creative writing forum (she continues to have a website.) This is followed immediately by another comment, from a Janis Goodman:

I had also been missing her [Susan Hill's] blog and emailed her today - she replied saying that she has given up blogging entirely. It made me think about the strange relationship the reader (and occasional contributor) has with the blogger. I felt a bit as if door had been unexpectedly slammed in my face. Perhaps it would have felt better if she had felt able to blog her decision and leave the blog up in cyberspace as an archive, for a while. I suspect that a lot of us have been revisiting her blog, wondering if all was well and if there was a technical problem with the blog - as seemed at first. Obviously she has every right to give it up - it's simply that her readership has been instantly disenfranchised.
Posted by: Janis Goodman Wednesday, October 15, 2008 at 01:02 PM

Other comments follow expressing the same feeling of regret and loss.

Writers blog for all sorts of reasons, but most of us who do it seem to agree blogging is a stimulating and useful precursor to writing fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Rachael King and Vanda Symon are two NZ writers who have declared this to be so. In some cases, it becomes an end in itself as another form of essay or creative non-fiction or book review. Ex-pat kiwi essayist Martin Edmond apparently talked of the benefits of blogging at his recent Writers Read presentation at Massey University, and he mentions in one post how he feels when he doesn't blog:

It is perhaps not useful to think of a weblog as a site of publication but that's how it always seems to me. Not a notebook or a diary because those forms do not assume an immediate readership of more than one. On the other hand, I also feel a kind of pressure to post regularly here even when there is nothing urgent to say. When a week goes by, as it has, and I post nothing, I start to feel as if some essential activity has lapsed even though that's probably not so.

It's salutary what he manages to pack in when he doesn't blog! Dovegrey reader seems to have started her blog as an ordinary common-and-garden reader and is now on UK publishers' lists as someone to send a book for review. Bookman Beattie seems to have carved a similar space for himself in the NZ review lists.

It is also increasingly recognised that blogging gives a writer a much-needed web presence in this day and age. I began O Audacious Book to put The Blue out into cyberspace when the bookshop sales started to falter a little (pre the Montana Awards) and it's certainly been useful for that, the highlight being when an Israeli publisher wanted to buy the rights for translation and asked me to email him via the blog. But however it started, my blog immediately became more than a publicity tool.

Like the reading journal I wrote while working on The Blue as part of my MA, I find blogging helps my free-floating ideas to settle and my thoughts cohere so I can apply them to my fiction. And like Edmond, I also enjoy this new non-fiction writing form - the journalist in me still looking for a place to settle, I suppose - especially the chance to rant about my passions and pet hates. A writer like Denis Welch enjoys this freedom to the full.

Finally, the blog actively introduces me to interesting writing about writing and books, through visitors to my blog commenting or linking or just visiting. In fact it opens up all sorts of interesting blogs.

I am kept company, entertained and encouraged by my regular blog-visits. I am constantly reminded, for example, that all writers go through moments of exhilaration and serious self-doubt, and that almost all of us work from home alone and need - and don't need - distracting company. As someone said, once, it is like the all-important 'water cooler' chat other people get at work.

So, another reason to write a blog: a sense that I am adding to this cyber-conversation, especially for my 'regulars' (I say that with as much hope as confidence). On the other hand, I know I can spend too much time on it when I should be writing a novel, and sometimes I do wonder if my peregrinations are merely a chat with a water cooler, no human ears in sight.

I mull over what keeps me visiting particular blogs and try and convince myself O Audacious Book might fulfil some of those criteria for some blog readers. Here they are: the quality of the thoughts and the writing I find there, the information offered and the character of the blog itself. The best writer blogs for me have a wide-ranging intelligence, passion, quirkiness, commitment, a sense of fun and aren't afraid of controversy.

Like a good novel, in the end it all comes down to 'voice', surely. Regular posting is important too. The conversation has to be alive. And like any friend, there has to be a similar world view, things in common, and even - if you're lucky - a willingness to step out and be counted as a friend (See the comments on Shroedinger's Tabby's post on the anniversary of her father's death, or comments on Gondal-girl's blog when she threatened to stop blogging - couldn't find the latter but they're in there somewhere).

Which makes me feel for the followers of Susan Hill's blog. To go looking and find an unexplained absence would be very upsetting. Like losing a - well - a friend. This surprises me a little to say it as I wouldn't have thought it was so before I started this lark.

So shame on Susan Hill for deleting her blog without so much as a warning. And a plea to all the bloggers I visit - see the blog roll on the right - not to do the same. If you're even so much as thinking about it, let me know, I can counsel you.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the blog encouragement Mary, I know you feel the struggle to find the balance. All that time looking at blogs/writing one, I think, when I could be working. The more I write, the more I learn, that a lot of the best writing happens when I take my eye of the goal and the page, and just free fall, even if it is through blogs, to come back refreshed...the page only a page and not a mountain

Rachael King said...

Great post Mary - go the blog!

Andrea Eames said...

Thank you for the mention, Mary, it brightened my day on a day when I needed it :)

Vanda Symon said...

It's a strange thing how blogging has expanded my world, that the act of recording my thoughts on the plastic and metal device on my desk and letting it loose upon the internet has brought me closer to real people and nurtured friendships and given me a sense of community - the power of the blog!

In the interests of getting writing done, and not whiling away my time blogging and checking out everyone else's I've had to rearrange my day and now I do my blogging as a treat and reward AFTER I've done the writing on the novel!

I'm too addicted to it to ever give it up. But if ever tempted, I'll contact you first and accept councelling...

Mary McCallum said...

A-hah! Thank you co-bloggers for your comments. You're right, Vanda,cyberspace delivers more than friendships via the wire, it gives something which is often more difficult to establish for solo writers: a community.

There you are in Dunedin, Rachael and Andrea (cat)in Christchurch and Gondal-Girl in Sydney, and others on my blog roll who extend from England to NZ and back, but we 'talk' and share stuff about writing on a daily basis. And when we get together it's like greeting old friends.

I'm glad you're still keeping going with yours, GG, your last post was a gem and I'd really miss them. As I said on your comments, though, you could always take time out while you grapple with the novel, but leave the blog up there and hang a 'gone fishing' sign. Cat of Impossible Colour, glad to think I could cheer you up when your posts often make me smile (it's those yellow shoes! the cat! the housework in high heels!), and Vanda, you're right, blogging should be a reward for writing (ahem - it's 8.19 am and I haven't opened up the novel yet), I will try to introduce that idea into my day (just not today).

Finally, as Rachael says, 'go the blog!'

Mary McCallum said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Paradoxical Cat said...

Thanks for putting the Tabby's link on your roll, Mary, and for the offer of counselling if I should find the illustrious company my whimsical little blog finds itself in, too intimidating!

I would absolutely hate to have my favourite blogsters disappear on me. One that did cease operations, has at least left their archives up, so that is some consolation.

But Susan Hill must have had a good reason to delete her blog and the forum on her website.

Seems she put a foot wrong and attracted some hostility. The internet can be a cruel place and if one becomes a target it is not surprising if people want to put up a wall to protect themselves.

PC x