Podcasting for writers

I never used to get podcasts. I mean, I understood why they were useful and why people loved them, but I could never focus my brain enough to really listen and get something from them.

The hubby, on the other hand, he loves a podcast. He also hosts one – for those playing at home, check out The All-New Adventures of the Doctor Who Book Club podcast – and so I roped him into speaking at Sutton Writers to introduce members to the wonderful world of podcasting. He was ably assisted by Andy Mallon, who edits the Man Booker Prize podcast.

I created a little cheat sheet for the boys to share with the meeting’s attendees, which I thought may be useful to share. I will add one essential podcast to the list, though: I’ve recently rediscovered the amazing Joanna Penn, and urge any and all writers to check out The Creative Penn podcast, released every Monday. I’ll write a love letter to Ms Penn in good time.

In the meantime, the below are podcasts recommended by hosts and editors to any writer who wants to learn more about the medium and how you can put together a compelling narrative with audio.

We discussed the following podcasts…

Welcome to Night Vale

A twice-monthly podcast in the style of community updates for the small desert town of Night Vale, featuring local weather, news, announcements from the Sheriff’s Secret Police, mysterious lights in the night sky, dark hooded figures with unknowable powers, and cultural events.

www.welcometonightvale.com

Homecoming

A scripted series starring Catherine Keener, Oscar Isaac, David Schwimmer, Amy Sedaris and David Cross. Homecoming centers on a caseworker at an experimental facility, her ambitious supervisor, and a soldier eager to rejoin civilian life, and is presented in an enigmatic collage of telephone calls, therapy sessions, and overheard conversations. The result is an innovative, immersive audio experience; a mystery unfolding across 12 episodes.

www.gimletmedia.com/homecoming

Serial

From the creators of This American Life and hosted by Sarah Koenig, Serial tells one true story over the course of a season. It has won every major award for broadcasting.

https://serialpodcast.org

S-Town

John despises his Alabama town and decides to do something about it. He asks a reporter to investigate the son of a wealthy family who’s allegedly been bragging that he got away with murder. But then someone else ends up dead, sparking a nasty feud, a hunt for hidden treasure, and an unearthing of the mysteries of one man’s life.

https://stownpodcast.org/

Reply All

Reply All is hosted by PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman, and is downloaded around 5 million times per month. “‘A podcast about the internet’ that is actually an unfailingly original exploration of modern life and how to survive it.” – The Guardian

https://www.gimletmedia.com/reply-all

Harry Potter and the Sacred Text

Relive the magic as this podcast explore themes such as ‘commitment, ‘revenge’ and ‘forgiveness’, creating time in your week to think about life’s big questions. Because reading fiction doesn’t help us escape the world, it helps us live in it. It engages in traditional forms of sacred reading to unearth the hidden gifts within even the most mundane sentences.

www.harrypottersacredtext.com/

Simon Mayo’s Books of the Year

Simon Mayo and Matt Williams invite the world’s finest authors in for a chat. Plus the best unpublished work and your reviews.

https://play.acast.com/s/booksoftheyear

Book-Off

“A literary podcast with a difference.”

https://play.acast.com/s/bookoff

Writing Excuses

Writing Excuses is a fast-paced, educational podcast for writers, by writers. The goal is to help listeners become better writers, whether they write for fun or for profit, whether they’re new to the domain or old hands. We love to write, and our listeners do, too.

https://writingexcuses.com/

All-New Adventures of the Doctor Who Book Club

Hosted by Chris Hawton and Matt Savelkoul, and “one of the best Doctor Who podcasts” according to iTunes reviews. Join us as we discuss a different Doctor Who novel each month, book club-style, and explore the written worlds from a variety of Doctor Who book ranges.

https://andwbcp.libsyn.com/

The Man Booker Prize Podcast

This audio series takes as its focus the prize’s tagline, Fiction at its Finest, and guides listeners through the Man Booker Prize. Features well-known literary figures, industry experts, past Man Booker Prize winners and some surprise star guests, all of whom share a love of books.

https://themanbookerprize.com/discover/podcasts

What you’ll need to record a podcast

Audacity

A free, open source audio editor you can use it to make your own recordings, remove noise, cut and combine clips, apply special effects and much more, and achieve truly professional results.

www.audacityteam.org/

Skype

Free telecommunications software from Microsoft.

www.skype.com/en

Call Recorder

Records your call and saves it on your phone or computer. www.telestarint.net/call-recorder

Plus a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones and a microphone to plug into your computer. (Chris uses Sennheiser headphones and an Audio Technica microphone.)

Nothing like being thrown in the deep end

The new year’s resolution for 2019 was the same as most new years of the last decade: write more, make a go of it, get published. Hardly new, hardly surprising.

This time, though, I have the added impetus of a looming milestone: the big 4-0. Most writers have been at it for years by this age. I mean, yes, I know, there are plenty of authors who get a start well into their 40s, 50s, even their 60s, but let’s face it: the 30s are generally where the magic starts to happen. Instead, I’ve had my head buried in the sand for the last 10 years pretending it’s not really happening. I won’t get into all the reasons why this has been a write-off decade; maybe that’s for another post at another time.

Long story short, I decided to kickstart the creative buzz by returning to an old friend, one I’d vowed never to go back to – you guessed it, good ol’ NYC Midnight. I got put off their challenges as they grew in popularity. Not to sound like a snob or go all “I like the old stuff better than the new stuff”, but as that competition grew in numbers, it took the organisers longer to get through submissions, and the quality of feedback began to suffer. I also found that, as someone writing who is not in North America, any non-American references or language was often called out as suspect by the judges. (Case in point: I was asked why a working class Australian household wouldn’t just check its front door camera to see who was posting nasty messages. The answer, for reference, is because that’s not a thing in Australian working class households. That wasn’t as bad as the other half’s story about a court case, where the judge asked who “Regina” was – that answer lies in the fact “The Crown” is known as “Regina”, and that’s who brings cases in courts.)

Anyways, back to that short story, I was all excited and ready to dive straight back into fiction. This was early January and I was ready to start the year right.

Until I got my assignment.

Action/adventure, a secret mission, and a bank manager.

First of all: ugh, action/adventure. But also: ugh, secret missions with bank managers. All I could think of was Bond-style spy thrillers, but that’s a whole separate genre according to NYC Midnight. I spent all week working on some Dan Brown-style Vatican adventure only to decide with 12 hours until submission that I hated it, it wasn’t going to happen, and I should just dump it all and give up.

But that nagging voice kept saying: this is your new year’s resolution and it’s only January. Just bloody well do it.

In the end, I went back to a different idea, the first one I came up with but that I dismissed as not being relevant. The story came out in a few hours. I gave it a quick tidy-up edit and submitted it. Out of sight, out of mind.

The result was a World War 2 romp titled This One’s for the Village, Lads! Who knows if it meets criteria, but at least it got the juices flowing.

Inspiration from old friends

There are some people you meet that just have an air about them, y’know? My old boss was one of them. She just had such a calming effect, a nurturing nature, a drive to succeed and see those around her succeed, too. She was so great to work for, and with.

I haven’t worked there for years, but I caught up with her the other day. She no longer lives in these parts but was visiting for work-related stuff, and so we met in Southwark and dined on Thai noodles almost alone under the railway arches. And we barely chatted about that work-related stuff; instead, we talked for hours about writing.

See, said old boss is a published novelist. She self-published a few years back and has had some success with it; the book sales slowly tick along in the background while she works full time and raises two tween boys and works on the follow-up and moves across the world and back. (I told she she was pretty darn inspiring.) But this was the first time we ever really spoke about our fiction worlds, our passions, our compulsion to write. It was such a lovely evening exploring our ideas, how we want to structure them and work on the details. What we want to happen with them when they’re done. What we would do if we couldn’t create their worlds anymore.

It was the first time I really felt like an author. I mean, I’ve called myself a writer because I do this stuff professionally to make a living, but that’s all marketing, journalism, real-world explorations. My own world is different. Protected. Just for me. One day it will need to be released into the world, but for now I can keep it safe, hidden away under lock and key, while I polish and perfect. A writer, yes, always. But an author? That’s a new feeling.

I chose to go freelance with my work at the end of 2016 so that I could focus on the author dream, but it’s not really worked out that way. I – touch wood – have been much more successful than I imagined, and I find it hard to say no. This year, though, I’ve vowed to tone it down, to pare it back. 2019 is the year I make a concerted effort, working towards that childhood dream of being a published author.

And the old boss? She had such a calming effect, a nurturing nature, a drive to succeed and see those around her succeed, too. Her parting words to me were simple: You are an author. Just go out and do it.

PS: this is the second version of this blog. I wrote a beautifully eloquent first draft, before my internet connection failed and it got gobbled up. I now add to the wisdom: draft offline before you publish online. Dammit.

A new year, a new post, a new website…

…same old shit though, really. God, it’s been embarassing looking over these old posts. It’s made me realise how many false starts and do-overs I’ve had with my writing. And how many times I’ve vowed no more, that this is the time it will stick, that I really, honestly, truly do mean it this time.

And yet, here we are. A new year, a new post promising this is the time. But I actually do mean it this time. Here’s why:

In the years (!) since I last posted, I’ve started working for myself on the understanding that it would give me a better work/life balance and give me time for writing. (Spoiler: it didn’t initially, but I’m established now and able to take more flexible options.)

I’m facing a BIG age milestone this year and I really don’t want to enter another decade full of coulda shoulda.

Fear and shame are fucking huge motivators.

I feel ready.

Let’s do this.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Ring the bells! Send in the dancing girls!

Yeah, so, that first draft thing is finished. And now, the deflation…

I’m not 100% sure about the ending. I want to work on that. I also know I switched narrative voice mid-way through the thing, so I need to sort that out. There is also a heck of a lot more world-building I need to do in the first half, including dropping the hints. Oh, and there’s the measly issue of a character I thought would turn out to be pivotal but then I changed my mind and he’s just kinda… lingering… and then disappears.

So, yeah. Lots to change.

Then there’s the fact that I didn’t actually knuckle down and do a bit every day like you’re meant to. Taking a glance at my tracking sheet, there’s probably just over one month of actual solid writing time and a heck of a lot of days marked with 0 words.

But that doesn’t change the fact that I finished 60,000+ words of a single coherent story that may actually turn out to be a fully-fledged novel. And I’m fucking proud of that.

Here’s the deal: First drafts are meant to suck, right? That’s what everyone is telling me. And so I’m not beating myself up about the weird characters or the switch in narrative or the lack of world building. I’m not beating myself up about the lack of consistency in tenses. I’m not beating myself up about the fact that it might actually be a fairly shit story and no one will ever want to read it. And I’m definitely not beating myself up about the fact I did it in fits and starts, bursts of creativity rather than a solid slog.

The main thing is that I started, stuck to and finished a novel. And before I start editing bootcamp, I’m going to take a week off to savour that fact.

So, yeah. Go me. I’m fucking awesome.