It’s Monday! What are you reading?

I am in awe of what book bloggers manage to read in one week. I’m lucky to read two or three books in a good week. Sometimes, like this week gone past, I manage only one.

At the beginning of the week I was busy trying to get my work-in-progress finished – only to receive feedback that my hero is fine but my heroine could have a little more depth. Back to brainstorming, adding complexity, layering and redrafting. Then on Wednesday I received the final edits for my romance novel, Snowy Mountain Man, which is due out with Escape on February 1st, 2015. Snowy Mountain Man is my debut novel and I was pleasantly surprised the edits weren’t too daunting. The process, back and forth with the editor, took a couple of days of intensive work and it was done. Now I’m waiting to see the cover.

While I’m busy writing, I tend to read short things – blog posts, online articles – or I listen to radio podcasts. The podcasts are especially good when I wake in the small hours and don’t want to switch on the light. I’m a big fan of ABC’s Radio National, including Late Night Live, Law Report, Conversations with Richard Fidler, All in the Mind, Philosopher’s Zone, Religion and Ethics Report and more. I also love the BBC’s In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg. This week it featured a discussion of Hatshepsut, the female pharaoh who ruled Egypt in the 15th century BCE. Hatshepsut was one of the most successful and influential of the pharaohs but after her death her name was erased from records. (Good job there are tenacious scholars out there eager to reclaim her history.)

Yesterday I went up to Katoomba library (which, incidentally, must have one of the world’s best views for a library). Having returned one book, I found another by an author who has been on my radar for ages, Louise Doughty, whose Apple Tree Yard has been highly recommended by friends in my fans of Nicci French Facebook group. Apple Tree Yarimagewas out, so I borrowed Whatever You Love instead. So far, it hasn’t disappointed.

Whatever You Love begins with an event that is every parent’s worst nightmare and gets progressively worse. It flips back and forward in time, revealing the context for an event that threatens to destroy the first-person narrator, Laura, an ordinary single mum from a working class coastal town in the UK who is trying to cope with extraordinary and deeply painful circumstances. Doughty is masterful at depicting the minutiae of ordinary life while at the same time building an atmosphere of suspense and menace. It isn’t often that suspense novels make me cry, but this book did (and I haven’t even got to the end). It certainly won’t be the last of Doughty’s I’ll be reading.

~

“It’s Monday! What are you reading?” is a meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. Several Aussie book bloggers are participating, incluing Shelleyrae at Book’d Out, Debbish and Literary Explorations.

It’s Monday! What are you reading?

It's Monday - What are you reading?It’s Monday! What are you reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Book Journey.

Most of my reading this year has been of books for the Australian Women Writers Challenge, some of which I’ve reviewed on my book blog, Devoted Eclectic.

In the past week, I’ve taken time out to read a couple books not written by Australians, ones recommended to me by members of a Facebook group I started a couple of years ago for fans of the UK thriller writing team, Nicci French.

The first of these was The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes. The second was Defending Jacob by William Landey. Of the two, Defending Jacob was by far my favourite.

The Shining Girls is ambitious. It combines thriller (and depictions of gut-churning violence) with time travel in an interesting, innovative way. What didn’t happen for me while I was reading was a strong identification with the woman-in-jeopardy point of view character, Kirby. I was puzzled and curious (and, at times, horrified), but I didn’t care about her fate as much as I should have.

The same can’t be said of Defending Jacob. Right from the start I cared about the first-person narrator, Andy Barber. Andy is a prosecutor whose fourteen-year-old son Jacob is accused of murdering a fellow student. Andy is convinced of his son’s innocence and prepared to go to any lengths to prove it and protect his son. It’s a tense, compelling read that raises questions about children’s behaviour, parents’ love and the justice system. It’s also a taut thriller with twists and turns that kept me guessing until the end. Highly recommended for thriller fans and fans of courtroom drama.

Over to you. What are you reading?

 

Do images drive traffic to your blog?

It’s late autumn here, my favourite time of year. Blue skies, warm in the sun, cool in the shade. The last of the leaves are falling and–

Wait…

Katoomba Autumn Leaves copyright RW

Autumn leaves by Rodney Weidland (used with permission)

Is that better?

Last Saturday, I put into practice tips I’d heard at Random House Australia’s National Book Bloggers Forum. (You can read about it here.) I learned a few things from my experiment. Some titles work. Some don’t. Mine, “Jonquils, pancakes and books”, sucks. Use titles relevant to the content of your post, we were told. Why didn’t I remember that?

Another tip was to use images. But what kind of images? Commenting on my post, author Annabel Smith wrote that she find posts that use stock photos “impersonal and offputting”. I agree.

Yet photos do work. In my case, a simple photo of jonquils outperformed many of my other posts, both on my personal Facebook page and the Australian Women Writers page. Someone even shared it. Engagement was even higher when I added a question: “Name your favourite story that features flowers?”

Things were a little different on Twitter. That’s how I knew my title sucked. Not until I tweeted the link with “5 tips for book bloggers” did I get a result. That attracted far more “retweets” and clicks to the blog. (Well, some.)

The trouble is, I hate titles like that. Almost as much as I hate stock photos.

One of the things we hear lots about is the need to identify your “voice” as a writer. The same goes for bloggers. But how are we going to do that if we all start to sound like some third-rate marketing guru? The authors I admire on social media are the ones who aren’t afraid to be themselves, who reveal their creativity, originality, ingenuity and occasional vulnerability in their tweets and posts.

Yet there’s a catch.

It doesn’t matter how creative, original and ingenious authors are, somehow they have to come to people’s attention in the first place. They have to be “discoverable”. The same applies to book bloggers. Reviewing for Australian Women Writers Challenge can help – but even the challenge, in some ways, has become a victim of its own success. There are so many talented Australian authors and bloggers out there, most of whom, it seems, are women.

I’m not kidding.

Last year there were 500+ female Australian authors reviewed for the challenge and many of their books only attracted one review. Of those, I read around 50. How many authors’ names could I rattle off now without thinking? A few more than that, if I’m lucky. (That would be a good test.) But 500? No way. And these are, for the most part, traditionally published authors. Women with a team behind them who have created great stories in their chosen genres. And book bloggers? Of 274 people signed up to read and review for the challenge this year, I’d be lucky to remember… I’d hate to say.

You see the problem.

This brings me back to images, and what to do with them.

Well, here’s the thing. This week, I’m trying something different. As an experiment, I’ve adapted the autumn leaves photo above to include text. The experiment will be to post the photo to Facebook and Twitter and see how many “clicks” or “shares” it gets, compared to my non-visual posts. I’ve also added the URL of this website at the bottom.

Here it is.

 

Katoomba Autumn Leaves note and LCWill it catch on? Maybe with the Granny set. Perhaps I should have tried different wording? What do you think?

Jonquils, pancakes and books – an experiment in discoverability

jonquils May 2014I’m conducting an experiment.

On Tuesday at the National Book Bloggers Forum, one of Random House’s tech gurus talked about ways book bloggers could boost interest in their blogs and Facebook pages, especially now that Facebook has been cutting down traffic for people who have “liked” your page – unless you pay.

In a fascinating talk that all made sense at the time, this guru (Eva Bui) talked about Google Analytics and trends. She discussed the importance of adding visual elements to your posts. And lists. And catchy headings. Like, maybe:

5 things all book bloggers should do

  • add a graphic
  • create a list
  • use imperatives (“Share this!”)
  • ask questions which engage your audience
  • talk about food

Food? Yeah, right. On a blog about books and reading?

In the break, I asked Eva how posting recipes was going to help a book blogger. She said the benefit would be indirect. Food, chocolate, cats – we all know the posts – are so popular, using pictures of them might drive traffic to your page. More hits on your page means more people start to see your posts in their Timelines. They might even see links to your blog posts and come visit. While they’re visiting, they might read your discussions about books. Extra blog traffic could even mean Google will take notice, and maybe your posts will appear higher on search results.

Ok-ay… It’s worth a try.

So I’m experimenting. Earlier today I posted this picture of jonquils on the Australian Women Writers Facebook page. It’s not a great photo, just one I took in the garden this morning. I put no commentary. Nothing about the unseasonably warm weather we’re having for May, let alone any suggestion of global warming. Just the photo with a question: “What’s your favourite story that features flowers?” (Could have been snappier.)

Guess what? Comments! Not many. Yet. But more than I’ve been getting with my Twitter feed to the page. Someone even shared the photo!

These Random House tech gurus are on to something. The AWW page is (slightly) more “discoverable”. Now I’m going to go away and find a good pancake recipe…

What about you? Share your favourite book blogging tips here.

Blue Fringe Arts Literary Awards

Eden Riley accepts award for Most Inspirational fiction

Eden Riley accepts award for Most Inspirational fiction

It’s autumn in the mountains and the Blue Fringe Arts Literary Awards have been announced.

On Wednesday night I attended the awards ceremony, held in the beautiful ballroom of the Carrington Hotel in Katoomba. The awards celebrate “the creativity of people living with or having experienced mental illness”.

Blue Mountains resident Eden Riley (pictured right) won the category of Most Inspirational fiction  for her story, “The Stone”.  It begins:

The day I was born, the Universe slipped a stone into my pocket. It wasn’t a particularly big stone. I barely noticed it at all.

And later:

My stone grew jagged edges. It was so heavy and I just couldn’t put it anywhere. It belonged to me for life. I hurt myself a lot. On purpose. Wrong jobs and wrong men and wrong situations.

Eden’s story, like many of the poems and short fiction published in the awards anthology, Celebrating Life: through verse and story, conveys an aspect of what it’s like to live with and recover from mental illness.

I was lucky enough to have been asked to judge the poetry category. The poem I chose as the most outstanding is one called “How to Bury Your Mother” by Dawni Sky. It begins:

Start with the feet, push down
handfuls of earth over stubbed toes
and childhood injuries

(remember the time she pulled your hair,
called you a bitch and said your father
could never have wanted you).

And later:

Walk away and in a half year’s time
return to her grave site, and dig a hole…

…bury the bitterness alongside a seed
(preferably her favourite flower).

Even though I was familiar with the poem, when I heard it read in full on the night, my hairs stood on end. In a few lines, the poet had taken me on a journey, showing me an emotional truth that resonated through my whole body. That’s how I knew it was poetry.

For me, it doesn’t matter if a poem – or a story or a novel – makes perfect sense. “Great” writing, for me, resonates in the body, picks me up, throws me into the air and doesn’t care where I fall. On Wednesday night, I heard some work that rhymed, that charmed, that made me laugh. But the prize-winners all had a dangerous edge.

Discussing the editor-author relationship recently, Charlotte Wood said: “The more I go on, the more I am convinced that a great book is one which leads its readers away from the worn path of what they already know, to a wild and unfamiliar place where new logics and understandings can take hold.” Those are the places where writers like Eden Riley and Dawni Sky take me. Away from safety, into the wild.

Congratulations, Eden. Congratulations, Dawni. And all the other prize winners and entrants of the Blue Fringe Arts Literary Awards. May I show just a little of your courage as I continue to write.

A new blog and a new story

I’m thrilled to announce that one of my novels, Her Man From Snowy River Country, has been accepted for publication by Kate Cuthbert at Escape Publishing (the digital Australian arm of Harlequin). It’s a contemporary romance with suspense elements, and it was a finalist in the Clendon Award some years ago. It’ll probably be out later this year – I’ll keep you posted.

For the past few years, as well as writing and reading, I’ve been involved in the Australian Women Writers Challenge as founder and editor. I’ve also posted reviews of books by Australian women on my other blog. On this blog I hope to post news, reviews and author interviews, concentrating on our fantastic authors from Australia and New Zealand.

If you’re a friend, family, reader of romance and suspense, or participate in the Australian Women Writer’s challenge, please follow this blog (there’s a button on the right), like my Facebook page and/or follow me on Twitter @Lizzy_Chandler.

Meanwhile, here’s a photo of the area that inspired Her Man From Snowy River Country - a cabin by a lake in the Australian alpine district where we stay from time to time.

Cabin in the Australian Alpine country (photo by Rodney Weidland, used with permission)

Cabin by Lake Eucumbene (photo by Rodney Weidland, used with permission)

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 282 other followers