Today, I’m very excited to welcome the lovely Danielle Binks from Alpha Reader. Danielle is one of my favourite Aussie bloggers. I’ve discovered so many new books through her blog, and always respect her opinion when it comes to reviews. Danielle has also been one of the most prominent bloggers behind the #LoveOzYA movement and has just been announced as the editor of a HarperCollins anthology of Australian YA short stories to be published early 2017.
How did you first start blogging?
I had just finished a communication degree I hated, and was looking at starting up another two more Honours years when I took a chance and applied to RMIT’s Writing and Editing program (thinking I’d never get in!) … so I decided to start blogging at the same time, sure that I’d need a passion project away from the drudgery of Communications study when, lo! I did get into RMIT. Suddenly this blog that I’d started because I’d been a long-time lurker of places like Persnickety SnarkandSmart Bitches, Trashy Books – suddenly it became a perfect complement to this course I was doing all about publishing and the Australian literary scene. And I’ve always come at it as my ‘Solo Book Club’, so I read what I want and I aim to please nobody but myself.
What are you doing when you’re not reading and blogging? How do you juggle life with blogging?
Well I think that always staying true to my ‘Solo Book Club’ catch-cry has helped with my blogging, and avoiding burnout. I always aim to be honest in my reviews, and if I don’t like something I’ll explain why (or, increasingly, just not read it!) – for that reason I’ve never felt beholden to anyone when it comes to blogging, so it’s always been a very freeing and fun exercise for me just to talk about books, books, books!
But it has been made even more fun because the more I’ve blogged and read books – particularly young adult literature with a focus on Aussie YA – the more I’ve pushed myself to think critically and laterally about this readership, and in doing so I’ve found freelancing opportunities. I’ve written about youth literature for Kill Your Darlings, and now I’m writing about where YA intersects with feminism for the Stella Prize Schools blog.
I also write – I’ve been working on a contemporary YA manuscript that I haven’t shown anyone yet but I’m quietly in love with. And I write short stories that I occasionally enter into writing competitions.
Both those writing opportunities – freelance critical/commentary work and my own creative writing – both those very different endeavours also help me juggle the blog life, because it lets me engage with the readership, not just consume it. I think that’s really important – they’ve let me feel like more of a participant, not just a bystander. It’s grown my appreciation for both the readership and its many behind-the-scenes creators (not just the authors, though they’re great – but the fellow enthusiastic bloggers/vloggers, places like the Centre for Youth Literature, phenomenal librarians and children’s book specialists).
And then I do things like walk the dog and binge-watch Jessica Jones and that really helps balance things out too.
You’re also working on writing your own YA book. Has blogging influenced your writing process?
Yes, in so far as it’s taught me not to take any notice of what’s going on out there … I think being a blogger I could fall into the trap of cataloguing “What’s Hot in YA Right Now!” and “The Next YA Bandwagon Trend Bestseller Blockbuster Hit List!” and I could go off and try to write what I see my fellow bloggers/reviewers getting excited about right now. But I know how easily we see through those ‘If you liked Author X and Y, then you’ll love Author Z’s book!’ and what readers ultimately have respect for is good story. Not good trend or good tagline. Good story. Characters that hook us. And there’s no recipe for that, there’s no path to follow … you’ve just got to wade in and see what happens. So if anything; blogging has taught me to pull the blinds down when it comes to my own work, not to focus on what others are doing but to write for myself (the same way I blog for myself!).
You’ve been a champion for #LoveOzYA this year. Why is the movement so important to you?
I wouldn’t be the reader I am today (or – heck! – the person I am today), had it not been for the books I read growing up … the books that genuinely made me think that an author had come along, unscrewed the top of my head for a peek, and then put down what they saw in the pages of a book. Sure, that was a few international YA authors – but overwhelmingly it was the Australian ones.
I felt that spark of connection with Josie Alibrandi; who had a grandma with an accent and stories of where she’d come from and how she settled in Australia, just like my own Omi did. And the first time I went to The Rocks in Sydney after reading Ruth Park’s Playing Beatie Bow and thought “I’m standing right here, right where it all happened for Abigail …” and I knew it was fiction, but it felt like so much more.
The movement is important to me for that spark of connection and recognition – all kids deserve that (all humans do, actually!) it’s the whole reason for stories to exist in the first place, to connect people to a sense of themselves and maybe even of their place in this world. #LoveOzYA did that for me growing up, and I hope it still happens for Aussie teen readers today – and to do that we need to make sure we keep the Australian youth literature scene thriving. We’ve got to look for vibrant new voices in Aussie children’s and YA, not just relying on international buy-ins but cultivating new and emerging local voices, while also paying tribute to the authors who helped shape our readership.
How would you like to see #LoveOzYA grow and expand in 2016 and what can other bloggers (and readers) do to help?
I think bloggers are already such fantastic supporters of #LoveOzYA – international and local bloggers, both! If they can keep doing what they’re doing, being enthusiastic and supportive, reading and reviewing the books – that’s huge. That’s sending a message to the publishing community that we value these Australian voices, and we want to help them succeed and grow.
Maybe something that bloggers and readers could start having conversations about is how they buy books, and where they buy them? “Parallel Importation” is going to be a phrase we in the publishing/literary community will be hearing a lot of in 2016 … because it will affect all of us who love books, who buy books and want to support Australian authors/publishers. I know readers may not want to know about this because it’s tricky and monolith and how can they even make a difference? – but the truth is they can, if they want to.
More than ever before I think bloggers/vloggers/readers should aim to make themselves aware of how they fit into the ecology of Australian publishing – because they are the most important component! They should know that if they buy books from overseas retailers, it has an impact on the Australian market. If they choose to buy the international edition of a book, instead of buying through an Australian retailer (preferably an independent bookstore!) who stocks the Australian-rights version, then that’s money that doesn’t go back into the pocket of an Australian publisher to grow their business by paying staff and investing in new authors and making fantastic book marketing campaigns that lets those authors tour around schools, and regional Australia etc. It all impacts.
And I know it’s hard – because overseas online retailers can have cheaper prices, and for young readers especially without disposable incomes, that’s a huge factor to take into account when you’re making book purchases. But the reality is that talking about this, and being honest about how buying local is actively helping the Australian publishing world – that’s a good place to start.
You’re working on a #LoveOzYA short story anthology, due to be published 2017. What will you be looking for from authors you’re hoping to include?
Part of what #LoveOzYA is – or should be about – is reflecting their own world to Australian teens. They should see themselves in the pages of their national youth literature, and for that reason this anthology needs to represent diverse voices in both authors and the subjects they choose to write about.
Will it include all new work from Aussie authors, or will there be extracts from already published books as well?
Yes, all new work! … I’ve been doing some research into YA anthologies from overseas (just because we don’t do many of them in the smaller Australian YA market, so I’ve had to look outwards) and feedback from readers seems to be that they prefer a certain “exclusivity” to an anthology, not just sneak-peaks of what they could buy in six months’ time (and places like NetGalley offer those sorts of “buzzworthy” titles samplers already, which I’m very conscious of – that they’ve been made to feel more “marketing tool” than a book to get excited about).
What makes a #LoveOzYA story a perfect read for you? What elements need to be there to make it work?
Australian YA is so expansive and wonderful – I don’t know if there’s any one thing to put my finger on, which is maybe what makes it #LoveOzYA and a perfect read for me? I see our youth literature increasingly taking chances – not following trends, but following good story and maybe that’s what makes it uniquely Australian, in a way? I don’t know that I can list elements that would make a #LoveOzYA a perfect read for me – just maybe a total rejection of a need to “tick boxes” in giving the reader what they think they want, and instead catching them off guard and giving them what they didn’t know they were looking for?
Yeah – that! ☺
What are you top five tips for bloggers?
Read for yourself, nobody else
Expect nothing for free
It’s okay to take a break; the books will still be there when/if you choose to come back!
Go to real-life events! Book launches, Writers Festivals, author panels – the books community especially is one that doesn’t have to purely exist in the virtual, that community wants you to interact with them everywhere!
Every once in a while (and you don’t have to document it on your blog) read outside your preferred genre/readership. Reading should sometimes be about keeping you on your toes and pushing out of your comfort zone. It will make you a better reader, in many ways (if only to make sure you’re never dismissive of a books community that’s not your own – the same way YA readers despise YA-bashing articles written by those who don’t read the books they’re criticising!)
How has blogging changed your reading life?
I still can’t quite believe that having enough love and respect for something could land me in this position – about to embark on a passion project that lets me work with Australian YA authors I’ve so long admired, contributing to our national youth literature that’s always been my reading-lodestone.
I can honestly, hand-on-heart say that I wouldn’t be in the position I am today had I not started my blog back in 2009 … who knew that choosing to read and write about the books I’d always loved would land me here?
Do what you love, and take your passion for it seriously enough and things may fall into place.
What’s your favourite aspect of blogging?
When I stepped out of blogging and into the “real world” of the books community – I was amazed at how welcoming and exciting it was. When I started attending book launches and Festivals, author appearances, conventions – all of it! I was welcomed with open arms by this incredibly generous world of fellow book-lovers and that still kind of floors me. I met my best friend through a mutual admiration of each other’s blogs – and we both say we’re the embodiment of “books really do bring people together!”
It’s twee, but true.
Quick fire book quizFavourite book so far this year: The Flywheel by Erin Gough
Most anticipated book for 2016: Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley (oh, and ALLLLLLLLL these #LoveOzYA books!)
Favourite author: Ruth Park
Your top five must-read books:
Gah! This is too hard! I have a ‘Favourite Books’ page on my blog and my Favourite Reads of 2015, maybe check that out? – don’t make me chooooooooose!!!