Australian LitBlog Snapshot #13 - Kerryn Goldsworthy

Kerryn Goldsworthy currently runs the "Still Life with Cat" weblog, which as she explains below, is a updated version of her previous weblog, "Pavlov's Cat", which... No, it all gets a little complicated. She explains it best.

1. How would you describe your weblog to someone who wasn't at all sure what this blogging business is about?

I have indeed had to do that on numerous occasions. Many of the interlocutors are
hostile/scornful/condescending from the outset, and they are invariably the electronically challenged technophobes -- subtext: 'If I don't understand it then it can't possibly be important' -- or because they can't get past the paradigm of the reader as consumer and writing as product, so are scornful of what they see on blogs because they are misreading it as something they should be judging for its virtues as writing. Many regard it as a narcissistic pursuit (I think it's the opposite: most bloggers want readers, not a mirror. It's an act of communication, not of self-worship). If I see or sense initial hostility, I simply back away from the technophobe and/or amateur critic. There is no point in engaging. What they really want is to tell you what a fool you are and how
silly it all is. Over and over and over.

For the genuinely interested, I would explain to them what 'blog' is short for -- that is, it's an online diary -- and describe a few very different ones to give an example of how this all works. I talk about how photos and other graphics can be used -- one of my posts from last year is a photo-essay taken in the Adelaide CBD on the morning the last Harry Potter book went on sale. I explain the difference between a team blog and a one-person blog, explain about comments threads, etc. Or just give them half a dozen selected URLs and tell them to go and have a look.

There is no short answer to this question.

2. Have there been any major changes in your weblog's direction, theme or subject since you started?

Oh yes. I've started up a total of four blogs, only one of which is officially defunct. I began blogging in October 2005 at my original all-purpose blog Pavlov's Cat. It quickly became clear to me that there was a major difference between special-interest blogs and general blogs with everything in them that the blogger feels like writing about from day to day, so although Pavlov's Cat was heavily weighted towards discussion of books, writing, reading and language from the outset, I set up the blog that's now called Australian Literature Diary but used to be called A Fugitive Phenomenon, a phrase of Nick Jose's referring to Australian Lit.

Australian lit is the thing I know most about, yet that blog has always been problematic for me, because the most interesting things I have to say about Aust Lit are the things I know as an insider (reviewing, prize judging, have been mates for decades with a lot of the writers and editors, etc etc), and they are by definition the things I need or want to keep my mouth shut about. I found that talking about one's area of expertise is conducive to sounding like some kind of instructor and that is incredibly dull and highly counter-productive. Both positioning oneself as an expert and mentioning that one personally knows the famous (writers or whoever) are deeply frowned upon in online ethos as I understand it, with its central plank of 'All bloggers are equal', so that left me no effective way to do it. I can never find a good voice for it, and all the most interesting topics are off the table.

Then in May 2007 I set up Ask The Bronte Sisters, which was a sort of literary agony aunt blog about 'creative' and other writing, inviting questions from readers that would be answered personally by Emily, Anne and Charlotte, as channelled by me (which beautifully solved the problem of the dull instructing voice described above, and allowed me to be funny at the same time). That went brilliantly well for a while, with lots of visitors and links and genuine readers' questions, but it was just too much work to keep up. I started that blog in a fit of rage about the way the Howard Government was turning education into a buyable commodity, which they obviously thought it was, and the point was to set up a free education service in protest. I've taught Creative Writing at universities in various forms on and off since 1982, and felt I had something substantial to offer.

The design and content of Pavlov's Cat were starting to feel a bit stale to me and the platform I was using didn't allow for much re-design without hours of work, so in September of this year I set up a new blog, Still Life With Cat, which is really just Pavlov's Cat 2.0 and has entries about all sorts of things -- politics, the garden, the news, food, and of course still language and literature and reading and writing. I still don't moderate the comments, but the comments policy there is much more ruthless.

I blog a lot about books and writing a lot at Still Life With Cat, as I did at Pavlov's Cat, because books and writing are of a piece with the rest of my life. I live a very integrated life, working at home and doing what I love best for a living -- reading and writing and thinking about literature -- and the blog reflects that continuity.

3. Do you have more books in your house than you can possibly read? If so, why?

Yes. Partly because I get seduced into buying them; partly because I taught literature at Melbourne University for 17 years, which is the kind of work that means you end up with six copies of Wuthering Height and all that that implies. For those 17 years I had a large bookshelf-lined office at work as well as several big bookshelves at home, too, so I seldom bothered to cull them. My books fall into three main categories: the ones I bought because I wanted them, the ones I bought for teaching, and the ones I was sent because of the amount of prize-judging and reviewing I've done over the years: bags and boxes of books are constantly being delivered to my house by puzzled Australia Post employees. At the moment I get sent huge numbers of books to review for the Sydney Morning Herald, for which I write short reviews of four novels every
week, so there's a path worn between my house and the nearest Red Cross charity

4. If there were three things you'd like to include in your weblog if you had more time/money, what would they be?

I'm not super interested in the fancy technological side of it; I'm happy to use a simple, free platform because it wouldn't be worth paying for bells and whistles I'd never use. My interest is, as it has always been, in content over appearance. So money doesn't really
come into it. If I had more time I would blog more, is all. I would probably spend more time sourcing visuals and taking photos, and actively looking for things, particularly literary things, to write about.

5. How would you eat an elephant?

I would only eat an elephant if it were drawn in icing on a birthday cake or cut out of cookie dough.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on December 18, 2008 10:58 AM.

Best Books of the Year 2008 #11 - Various Again was the previous entry in this blog.

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