Judith Ridge runs the Misrule weblog, which is Australia's best resource for all literary things relating to children's and
young adult fiction.
1. How would you describe your weblog to someone who wasn't at all sure what this blogging business is about?
I guess I'd start the way I initially explained my blog to my parents, who are latecomers to the internet. It's a kind of online journal or diary, but rather than being a personal journal, it's dedicated to documenting children's book news and events and to publishing my thoughts and opinions on what's going on in the world of children's and youth literature.* Misrule is my platform to express my views, to have my say, on those issues, and it's valuable to me precisely because it is my domain. Having said that, I can't just say any damn thing I like about individual books, or the industry, or whatever. I used to use it quite a lot to talk about books I've been reading, but I do less of that since I've been appointed as the Western Sydney Young People's Literature Officer. I know, even though I don't quite get how or why, the things I say in my blog were considered to be influential even before I was appointed to the Western Sydney position, so I have always been a somewhat cautious about what I write. Now I am in this job, it's even trickier to publish, for example, negative comments about books when I may have the opportunity to work with the author some time down the track. Or even if that weren't the case, having an official position brings with it a more formal degree of influence and authority, and so I am even more circumspect about what I say about individual books on the blog these days. And I regret that. I mean, I was always a bit circumspect, because it's a small industry and I know so many of the players, but it's even more incumbent on me now to watch what I say. Which means I blog less, alas, and save my more inflammatory opinions for cryptic comments on my Facebook status (see, I can't even be frank there!). I've toyed with the idea of starting an anonymous blog to circumvent this, but then I think, how would I promote it, and anyway I'm not very big on anonymity, and I am on the record as saying that I don't believe a critic should publish anything if they are not prepared to put their name to it, so as far as that's concerned, I have to put my blogging where my mouth is, so to speak.
I think that's the beauty and danger of blogging -- of all online publishing, actually -- that it's actually incredibly easy to forget that you have a readership. That can be very freeing, but I think for me I am also very conscious of the responsibility (see comments above).
I'd also explain, as I did to Mum and Dad, that a blog is a public journal, so it's meant for others to read and comment on -- but having said that, it took me a long time to really get my head around the fact that people read Misrule, and to realise how many people were reading it. I used to freak out a bit when people I knew -- or worse, didn't know -- would approach me and tell me they read my blog. I'm used to it now -- and in fact, mostly now people approach me to complain that I haven't been keeping the blog up regularly enough (guilty as charged). It's nice to know they miss it when I'm being slack or uninspired.
*(I do also, from time to time, include personal entries, about my family or my very aged cat, or about politics or TV -- not too often, as it is primarily meant to be a children's book blog, but I think the personal posts help readers get a feel for the person behind the blog. And I'm not interesting or vain enough to think that anyone would want to follow a purely personal blog of mine, so Misrule readers just have to put up with the odd parental wedding anniversary or vet's report. They don't seem to mind!)
2. Have there been any major changes in your weblog's direction, theme or subject since you started?
No. The blog began as a place to write about my field of expertise and passion -- children's and youth literature -- and it's stayed true to that. The content has changed a bit, as I indicated in my answer above (less book "reviews"), but the direction, theme and subject has more or less stayed steady.
3. Do you have more books in your house than you can possibly read? If so, why?
Absolutely. Always have, always will. I still have books I bought when I was in high school and can't bear to throw out because I might still get around to reading them one day...
Many years ago, when my now long-time ex-husband and I were moving into our new home, he said, rather ruefully, as he lugged yet another box of books into the house, "I should have married Elle Macpherson" (this was after her infamous Good Weekend interview, in which she said she didn't think one should read a book one hadn't written). I replied, "If you'd married Elle Macpherson, we could afford a house big enough to hold all my books." Well, the marriage is long gone, but the books remain!
But I digress... Why do I have so many books? Lots of reasons.
a. I am bad at throwing things out.
b. I have long been in the fortunate position of getting lots of review copies from publishers, and they tend to accumulate faster than I can read them. We couldn't afford many books in my family (and were therefore great library users), so owning a book is still a very precious thing, and I can't easily just ditch them. And anyway, you never know when I might want to write an article about/teach/add to a reading list/etc that author, that series, that topic, and I might just need those books to refer to!
c. I buy more books than I can read. I love second hand bookshops and have lots of gorgeous old books I bought just because they look good, or have a funky title that I like the look of on my bookshelves (eg. Condemned as a Nihilist; I: In Which a Woman Tells the Truth About Herself; The Minister's Family [my dad is a retired Uniting Church minister]; My Wife's Secret Life and Justice for Judy are among my favourite titles of never-read books that grace the bookshelf in my bedroom).
d. I keep accumulating non-fiction books (primarily historical and literary biographies) that I'll never read, but hang on to, because I might just, one day... I am fascinated by the subjects, but the commitment to reading the whole book is beyond me. I am first and foremost a fiction reader, and have so little time to read all the fiction I want to, so the non-fiction sits on the shelves, looking impressive and suspiciously new...
e. You can never have too many books. You simply have too few bookshelves. Having said all that, I am getting better at culling, and donate the books I can't use to public schools and libraries and charities that can use them -- but books are like coat hangers -- turn your back and they've reproduced seemingly spontaneously, and there's yet another pile gathering dust bunnies as they wait for shelf space.
4. If there were three things you'd like to include in your weblog if you had more time/money, what would they be?
Money is not so much the issue -- although, wouldn't it be nice to be paid for blogging? (Is it just call girls who get paid for their blogs? Seems like it...) Time is the critical issue, and physical and intellectual energy. Regardless of these factors, what I wish I could include more of in the Misrule blog is:
a. Total freedom of expression. I'd like to be braver and franker in my Misrule posts. But I accept that I have had to sacrifice a degree of freedom of online expression to the bigger picture of my role in the "real" world. This is a bit of a dilemma, because I think it's essential to keep a weather eye on standards and so on, and I have all sorts of opinions and ideas about writing and publishing for younger readers that I'd like to express, but I just can't, always. It's a very small town, Children's Book World!
b. More content -- I'd update it more often, and my posts would be more about specific books. I started out as a critic/reviewer of books for children and young adults, and I miss that public intellectual engagement with literature. Writing about books is what I personally find most challenging and most satisfying, but is increasingly what I can't do. So I have to find a way of being a more regular blogger now that I have accepted those limitations on what I can and can't say.
c. I'd love to blog about my teaching. (I teach two courses at the Sydney Writers' Centre: Writing Children's Books and Creative Writing Stage 2.) Unfortunately, I think that blogging about my teaching, which would inevitably mean blogging about my students, is too fraught with ethical issues, so I just don't go there at all. I'm sorry about that, because I do think that blogging about it would afford me the opportunity for reflection on my teaching practices. But I feel a great duty of care towards my students (who place a huge amount of trust in me), so this is an out-of-bounds area. At least, so far. If anyone has any suggestions about how to do this ethically, let me know.
5. How would you eat an elephant?
I'd begin by consulting James Roy's latest novel Hunting Elephants. Once I realised that the book is not a how-to manual (and the title is a metaphor), I'd abandon my Sarah Palinesque culinary ambitions, and settle for takeaway instead. (That's the long answer. The short answer is -- reluctantly and only under extreme duress.)