Sorry Harry Potter, you are too dumb to do magic.

Picture of Daniel Radcliff

I am always looking for new books, movies and other media that might give me all the feelings I had when reading the Harry Potter series.

I was twelve when Harry first entered stage left and while my love of the boy wizard might have been heightened by hormones I believed it was true and like every other muggle I wanted to go to Hogwarts more than anything in the whole world. I waited in vain for my letter but I lived through my seven years with Harry, Ron and Hermione, thrilled by every danger and exhilarated by every victory.

In my heart I know those books hold a special place that cannot be recreated because they are unique but there are plenty of other authors doing amazing things in the fantasy genera that also deserve my attention.

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Hermione having all the feelings about Harry Potter being too dumb.

 

While trawling the internet for reading recommendations I discovered a list of books on Bustle that promised to be ‘just as magical as Harry Potter. ‘ Moving faster then a Basilisk I set out to recapture the delight of magical worlds and promptly started reading The Magicians by Lev Grossman.

I read the book veraciously, devouring the intricate world building and magical  storytelling (excuse the pun), however as I moved further and further into the tale something niggled at the back of my mind. Annoying me like a thorn in the paw.

And then it hit me. Why was everyone at Brakebills (Grossman’s version of Hogwarts) genius level smart?

student levitating in the Syfy channel's The Magicians

All of your Craft and Charmed obsessions coming to life in the new Syfy channel’s version of The Magicians.

I mean Ron and Harry were not exactly breaking the bank with their IQ’s (Hermione left them in the dirt on that score multiple times) but their other qualities, bravery, resourcefulness, rule breaking, were always celebrated by their author.

Unfortunately it seems in Grossman’s world only the geniuses are capable of understanding or performing magic. I can only assume this is because learning the craft is complicated, tedious and really hard to do. Or so the author would have us believe. But why should that mean that only the ‘really smart’ kids and not the ‘super determined’ ones make it to magic school?

I’m not saying this is a ‘everyone should get a award for participation’ situation but certainly reading this book it annoyed me that only clever people and not everyone had a chance to learn magic. That is unless you get drafted by the bad guys, but that’s another story.

I like to think I’m not a total idiot but let’s be honest I’m not a spelling bee champion or science fair award winner. Reading this book and realising that everyone at the school is achingly clever, something that we are almost constantly remind of, made it feel almost impossible to believe that I could be one of the Brakebills crew, curbing my enjoyment of the story.

Anyway, I’m curious to know what you think? As an author is it more important to create a world where everyone has a shot of being the hero or is it more important that the world fits the characters and not the wants/desires of the reader?

Top 5 Writing Foods

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Being a writer is a funny business. Like most people we have our quirks, such as certain places we like to work, favorite pens, special pieces of writing music or motivational sayings posted on our walls.

What about when it comes to food?

Me, I’m an avid foodie. It’s more then just fuel, it’s brain food, an opportunity to understand flavors and to develop interesting prose for my books.

Are there foods that you love to have at hand while you write? Tear and share yours with us in the comments below.

So, without further ado, here are my top 5 writing foods.

 

Breakfast for dinner

Breakfast, scrambled eggs, susage

It’s always a winner (see what I did there?). Yep nothing is better than a plate of scrambled eggs, toast and bacon for your evening meal. Talk about turning your day upside down and having a little Mad Hatter style fun while you are at it. Just like your writing sometimes it is great to try new things and mix up your routine. But don’t take my word for it, why not try baked eggs, pancakes or cereal? Yum!

 

Chocolate

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Ahhh my sweet dark mistress. Once I met someone once who didn’t like chocolate. I spent 20 minuets trying to get to the bottom of their strange condition and we ended up in a Dr Phil confession session talking about all the foods we didn’t like. It made me realise that not everyone’s taste buds are geared in the same way and our characters are no different. Help your stand out of the crowd, give them likes and dislike and food quirks. Good characterization is all about what makes them individual and interesting.

 

Chips, pretzels & popcorn

Popcorn and pretzles

Savory or sweet this is a treat you cannot beat. (Geez, I need a snack.) This is perfect snack food for when your writer friends come over. Added bonus, it’s easy to shovel a handful of this delicious combo into your gob and then test how many words you can type per minuet or do a writing race with your friends.

 

Green Juice

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I know what you are thinking. Ewww. But actually green juice is YUMMY! I find that sometimes I get into a writing funk. The words won’t flow, my characters are flat and nothing feels right. Well a quick boost of celery, mint, coriander, ginger, green apple and lime sets me straight again. I’m not sure if it is the boost in vitamins or just taking time to do something good for my body but a green hit is all I need to get back on the writing bandwagon.

 

Sandwiches

4th-Earl-of-SandwichIf you are tired of sandwiches you are tired of life.

Legend says that the Earl of Sandwich liked to play cards. In fact he like playing cards so much that he didn’t want to stop eat so he invented the modern sandwich as a convenient way to multitask. Perfect for the writer on the go and endless combinations at your finger tips, what more could you want?

 

Have you got the perfect writing food? Share it with us below in the comments.

Discovering Character Motivation

How you choose to overcome them is what(1)

Plot – the things that happen to your character.

Motivation – why/how they choose to deal with the roadblocks in front of them.

I wrote a book. One hundred thousand beautiful words made it into my manuscript and I can tell you I was SO PROUD when I finally wrote THE END!!! I started what is essentially a marathon and made it all the way to the finish line.

Ahh those heady days of success. I was so chuffed with my work I packaged it up, wrote a fabulous cover letter and sent it out to a selected group of agents and publishers whom I was sure would fall over themselves to sign me up for a three book deal immediately.

I bet you can guess what happened next.

Yep, I got rejected. Oh let me count the ways I got rejected.

Most of them were one line copy and pasted responses like, “this isn’t what we are currently looking for…”, “thanks but no thanks” and “was that you standing outside my window and going through my garbage?”

It was a pretty low point in my fledgling writing career and of course I reacted badly. I ranted about how the world was unfair and cruel. How could I have poured so much of myself into something and have it rejected? Clearly agents couldn’t see talent even it bit them on the ass.

It went on for a while folks. Not my proudest moment.

And then something interesting happened. I received another rejection but this time the kind agent who had taken the time to point out a few of the reasons why they liked my idea but couldn’t consider taking it on as it was. The major factor being that, in their point of view, the heroine lacked motivation.

At first I was appalled. How dare they suggest that I had left out such an important device from my masterpiece. But then I read it again. And you know what? I had my character roaming around the countryside, meeting interesting people, falling in love and solving problems but nowhere, from beginning to end, did it clearly show her motivation. There was no explanation for why she did the things she did or how those choices ultimately made her grow as a person through my rambling tale.

It was a tough lesson but one well learned.

In many ways motivation seems obvious. Surely it is implied. For example if you are writing a story about a character who is tying their shoe laces then they must be going for a walk right? Maybe. Or maybe not. What if your hero likes to wear shoes at all times because he stepped on snail when he was six and he now lives in constant fear of doing it again.

Just because a character is doing something does’t mean it is obvious to the reader why.

So here are my tips for helping you discover your character’s motivation.

Ask yourself why

This might seem like a strange idea to some people but if you are going to commit to the thousand hours it takes to write a book, not even edit it just write the thing, then why do you want to tell the story of this character? Why should your audience care what happens to them? Who is this person going to become because of their journey?

Create a status quo

Every good character needs to start somewhere. Harry Potter was stuck living in a cupboard, Elizabeth Bennett needed to find a husband and Katniss was born into a world that was unjust. As a reader we need to understand where the hero or heroine comes from before we give them the plot point that drives them to leave or change the world they have always known.

Interview your character

Whether it is over a cup of tea or in a dark room with a bright light shining in their eyes, imagine sitting across from your hero and asking him some questions about himself. Find out why he does things the way he does and what his reactions would be to a given situation.

Use a motivation generator

Springhol.net have this awesome Motivation Generator. It is a really fun way to spend 1o minuets and get some great ideas at the same time.

If you have any great ideas about discovering a characters motivation or anecdotes about your own writing share them in the comments below. 

Do authors need a blog?

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This is the question… Do authors need a blog?

The simple answer is no, of course not!

Phew. Okay, now you can get back to writing your creative masterpiece and ignore all the baloney about building a personal brand and having a community to sell that masterpiece to.

Okay, okay, so while you don’t need a blog it certainly helps when it comes to selling books (or laying down the path for people who like your writing and therefore might want to actually want to buy your books when you finally get them published).

I know that starting a blog can feel daunting but after all of my research and chatting to other budding/established authors I have to say there are some pretty compelling reasons to get on board with blogging.

It’s good practice – Rome wasn’t built in a day and everyone needs to be practice to be really good at their craft, even authors.

Blogs can give you a chance to hone your craft, test your material on readers before committing it to your book, find people who enjoy the same things as you and put your unique voice into the world.

The most important thing is keep it simple. Sign up to a free blogging site like WordPress or Blogger and talk about things you like, know or that happen around you. Explore your experience as a writer and share it with other people who are on the same path.

Give it a go. What’s the worst that can happen?

So what do you think? Tell me about your blog in the comments.

 

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If Content Is King Then Buzzfeed Is Our Overlord

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The Internet. Welcome to the online jungle where every website is fighting for your attention and only the most compelling content will win. Why? Because of money. That’s why.

There are a lot of websites out there that make great content – thousands of bloggers, news sites, commentators and online personalities – but none have the devoted audience or pulling power of Buzzfeed.

If you spend any time on the internet, and are aged between 10 and 35, you’ve probably taken at least one Buzzfeed quiz or glanced at one amusingly entitled article. (Although the word ‘article’ is probably gilding the lilly somewhat.) With over 200 million readers and an impressive YouTube presence, which in the last three years has swelled to 3.3 million subscribers, Buzzfeed is the online content juggernaut that is changing the way content is developed and consumed on the web.

But is this a good thing?

As an average Netizen (Internet Citizen) I rarely consider my viewing habits or what quirky/compelling headlines draw my attention. I’m too busy consuming videos entitled ‘10 Cutest Cat Moments’ or taking quizzes about ‘Which Disney Character are you?’ to notice.

To me, and I am sure most people, these kinds of content are a great way to procrastinate when I should be working on my next column, but little do we realise that every piece of content we consume is actually created, developed and crafted as part of a clever marketing tool.

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Which brings us to Native Advertising. Never heard of it? Me either. (Actually I have, I just didn’t want you to feel left out.) Native Advertising is the latest marketing craze which basically is catch-all term for digital advertorial (when an advertisement looks like an article), search engine advertising (you know those ads on the side of Google) and promoted posts on social networks like Facebook and Twitter (and now Instagram – sigh).

A good example of Native Advertising is this video, ‘People Vaporize Alcohol For The First Time’ – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BSWryl-O2N8, which seems innocuous enough but is clearly a sponsored advertisement for Vapeshot which stands in the foreground of the video looking shiny and fun. As this video has the same look and feel as numerous other Buzzfeed videos you could be forgiven for not recognising it as the sponsored piece of content it clearly is. And these pieces of content are big money for producers, while I have no concrete figures, it is easy to imagine that a website like Buzzfeed could charge upwards of $50,000 to Vapeshot for this one video.

While Native Advertising as been around for a long time, Buzzfeed is one of many sites that have managed to make it merge seamlessly with its other unsponsored content. And while no amount of standing on the sideline pointing this out is going to change anyone’s viewing habits, certainly not mine, it is interesting to be aware of the tactics that are being used to make us buy more stuff.

 

*Article originally posted on my column at www.verandahmagazine.com.au

Newsjacking: riding the coattails of the ‘now

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Newsjacking. Yes it is a real thing and you’ve probably seen it a thousand times without even realising it. Mostly found on social media platforms such as Twitter, and popularised by online marketing strategist David Meerman Scott, newsjacking refers to content specifically created to piggyback off breaking news or events to increase its normal audience.

While it might sounds like something cooked up by an evil PR spin doctor trying to leverage off someone else’s tragedy, newsjacking can actually be a positive experience. Take for example, Duracell’s positive approach after Hurricane Sandy. In the wake of the disaster, which brought down countless power lines, Duracell set up mobile charging stations for people to charge their smartphones so that they could contact family and friends. Of course once most of the recipients had their phones turned back on they were able to take photos and Tweet about the kindness of the battery brand. Not bad for a few days work.

These days brands are trawling for interesting news stories and then creating clever campaigns often using humour or shock to fashion content that is instantly consumable and shareable. Take for example this ad by Lynx, which was released after naked photos of Prince Harry in Vegas were printed.

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Essentially this means that newsjacking can give brands immediate impact on social media putting them out front of new trends or evening making them a significate instigator of one. And let’s face it who doesn’t love being a trend setter? Just ask the Joneses.

However, newbies beware, newsjacking can be a double edged sword and has its risks. Done well a clever social media user can increase followers, grow engagement, build brand awareness and generally make their brand look super cool. Unfortunately as with all things published in the public domain when newsjacking goes wrong it can be a total horror show.

A brand that recently felt the effects of bad newsjacking was DiGirorno Pizza. Usually lorded for their excellent comedic instincts and brilliant handle on real-time tweeting, unfortunately on this occasion DiGirorno failed to follow one of the most basic social media rules, check what a trending hastag is about before you use it.

Back in September in response to a viral video of American football star Ray Rice punching his then fiancée Janay Palmer, women took to twitter to discuss their own experiences of physical and emotional domestic violence by using the hashtag #whyIstayed. With an outpouring of tragic stories and shared experiences the hashtag itself went viral and DiGirorno was quick to respond with a humorous, but contextually offensive, quip “#whyIstayed You had Pizza.”

StayPizza

Needless to say that the backlash was instant, overwhelming and DiGirorno’s social media team had to do a lot of scrambling to do in order to negate a titanic sized brand melt down that they had unwittingly created.

So what is the lesson here? Well, newsjacking in itself is an easy and inexpensive way to increase followers on social media by using a little creativity and humour but as with everything we post online it’s better to eat your pizza than have it thrown in your face.

Happy tweeting!

 

*Article originally published on my column at VerandahMagazine.com

5 Tips for Instant Follows on Instagram

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Need to get more followers on your Instagram account? Try these tips.

Use Hashtags

Hashtags are like little buzzwords that make it easier to find your pictures. Common hastags include things like, #loveit #food #sunset. It is easy to find lists of the most searched for hashtags on Instagram and using a mixture of popular tags and your own creations can bring fresh eyes to your page and help your followers find you.

Just remember there is a fine line between too little and too many hashtags try and keep it to one or two and no more than five if you have too.

Tip: Make sure that your hashtag has no spaces between words or punctuation. It should look like this #hashtag to ensure that think like remains unbroken.

Engage with your audience

While it sometimes might feel like Instagram is just a tool for broadcasting pictures of your cat and summer holidays out into the void, there are actually people on the other end of the filter.

Essentially you are speaking to an audience who enjoys your visual style but why not take it one step further and start a discussion? Ask questions or for feedback, work it into your posts or comment on other people’s work that you like.

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Regular schedule

Audiences love a routine. If they know that you publish posts on a Wednesday, Friday and Sunday they will automatically check back on those days. If you have trouble remembering then try putting a reminder in your smartphone calendar.

Find people who like what you like

A great way to get new followers it to find people who have the same interests as you, follow them and engage with their followers by commenting on their posts. Soon you will find you have a small sub community of people on Instagram all engaging on shared interests.

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Take great photos

And finally, take great photos. Don’t misunderstand, great photos doesn’t mean you need a high end DSLR and professional lighting, but it does mean being creative with your shots, experimenting with lighting, composition and doing something that makes you stand out from the crowd.

Social Media 101 – a guest post for Verandah Magazine

I am very excited to let you all know that this week my first column for Verandah Magazine went live!

The lovely folk over at Verandah asked for my take on Social Media, explain what it is and how it works for people who are not necessarily in the know.

To enjoy the full article head over to their gorgeous website – Verandahmagazine.com.au

Verandah

How to cover a live event with social media

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How to cover a live event with social media – Byron Bay Writers Festival: Gearing up for a Social Media Storm.

I feel like the luckiest girl in the world. Don’t let my bird-nest bad hair or manic over caffeinated lip twitch fool you, last week I had the pleasure of covering  social media for the Byron Bay Writers Festival AND IT WAS AMAZING!

I have been working in marketing and social media for many years but I have only ever covered one other live event. Unlike my normal routine of carefully selected or crafted pieces of content, the three days of the writers festival were bananas. A heady mix of rushing between different tents across the festival site, listening to and distilling lectures into 140 characters and taking so many  pictures. It really  was an incredible experience, one which I hope I get to relive again next year,  and I definitely learnt a lot. So below are a few things I picked up from my own experience that you might find useful for your next live event.

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My advice:

1. Know your goal.

Are you trying to increase followers, create hype or provide timely newsworthy content? Maybe all three.

Speak to your client and get a clear sense of what they want from your efforts. Find out how many different platforms shall you be working across, where do they want you to focus most of you attention and what are their KPIs.

You can spend all the time in the world creating brilliant content but if you are not delivering on the clients specific needs you are wasting everyone’s time.

2. Be prepared.

Lots of little things can get in the way of you providing consistent high quality coverage for your chosen event. Some things you might need to know are: will you have regular internet on site? Somewhere to charge your computer/device? Are you working outside? What is the weather forecast? Are you managing a team or working alone? Can you prepare content ahead of time?

Just by asking a few simple questions I was able to adequately prepare myself for the challenges I was going to face. I also found that by having a clear list of the events I absolutely needed to cover, all of my official accounts set up and logged in on the night before and a map of the event site I could pretty much handle anything. Plus it gave me three less things to worry about on the day!

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3. Take s survival kit.

I’m not much of a survivalist, you only have to watch two seconds of Doomsday Peepers to see that, but a survival kit could save your ass. Depending on your role you could be so busy rushing between different parts of the event that you might not have time to think, let alone eat or drink. Having a small bag on you with a few items can give you the chance to sit through a particularly long session or whole event without having to miss any important details.

My perfect survival kit includes:

Water bottle
Notepad
Pen
Device- computer/smart phone/ tablet (I used an iPad and it was the perfect size and weight for me.)
Apple (fruit not a computer)
Chocolate

4. Finally HAVE FUN!

Yes yes, the quaint reminder to enjoy yourself at the end of the post. Clichéd sure but still true. Regardless of whether you are being paid or volunteering your time this is your chance to kick some butt and show the world what you can do. And if you are volunteering this opportunity could be the boost you need to get a professional gig playing with the social media we all know and love.

Good luck and let’s us know your tips below in the comments.

5 things I learned from not having the internet

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So yesterday I finally had Internet connected to my new house after about six weeks of waiting. To be fair it didn’t take that long for them to actually connect my service, it was more of a cost of moving house /being-bothered-to-find-the-best-deal issue but living without internet has taught me some valuable lessons.

  1. There is nothing good on TV.  Don’t trouble yourself, keep streaming Game of Thrones or House of Cards, I checked and you’re not missing anything.
  2. I spend waaayy too much time using the internet. I had no idea I was an internet junky until they reconnected me. That first few moments of being plugged in was like eating a gigantic piece of German chocolate cake after starving myself for days, knowing all the while it was going straight to my thighs.
  3. I love my local Library. Books Yo! Gawd I read so much while I was ‘off the net’. I caught up on heaps of titles I had been meaning to read and I was so much more productive with the limited ‘online’ time I could beg, borrow and steal from the local council’s (strangely well protected) Wi-Fi.
  4. I want to try taking other things away to see how it changes the way I live. Electricity, water a toilet? I wonder if I would become a better person if I couldn’t see in the dark or wash myself?
  5. While I can live without the internet, I don’t want to. And that is not because I can catch up on my favourite show or sink hundreds of hours into useless browsing, I can, it is because I genially love being able to connect with people online, join in on discussions with peers or just chat to my mates. Yes I probably need to tone down my use a bit but by Budda, I LOVE the Internet.

Now I am off to watch Season 2 of Orange Is the New Black.