Interview with ‘An Awfully Big Blog Adventure’ Editorial Team (John Dougherty and Penny Dolan)

2013-11-06_113552An Awfully Big Blog Adventure‘ is a website run by authors, featuring regular blogs about anything and everything to do with writing. The blogs – written by authors – could range from examining the latest trends in YA publishing to the pitfalls of getting your book published, as well as more lighthearted posts, including the joys of taking your dog on school visits.

We spoke to authors John Dougherty and Penny Dolan, who are responsible for the editorial content of the ABBA site to find out more about the aims of the site, its contributors and their plans for the future.

Could you please tell us about why and when the ABBA (An Awfully Big Blog Adventure) website was created?
 Penny: Awfully Big Blog Adventure was the good idea of Anne Cassidy, one of the founders of the Scattered Authors Society.  She felt that the “SAS” needed a place to spread the word about what mattered to us as authors, including books we were working on, or books that had been published.  (Anne is the author of the Carnegie-shortlisted “Looking for JJ”, the Murder Notebooks and the forthcoming Finding Jennifer Jones.)

Many of the children’s & Y/A authors in the “SAS” felt that publisher’s publicity and newspaper articles about children’s books were more and more about top selling authors, celebrity writers and tv tie-ins. ABBA was a co-operative way of sharing news about ourselves, our work and books and the things that mattered to us with a wider world. The ABBA blog has also inspired SAS members to start genre-specific, co-operative blogs, such as Picture Book Den, Girls Heart Books, The History Girls and even the early Authors Electric blog.

John: I think part of Anne’s thinking in setting up the blog was also that publishers and editors were starting to tell writers, “You must have a blog! You must keep it fresh! You must blog every day!” and while there’s wisdom johnin this it does rather eat into our actual work. A co-operative blog means there’s less individual pressure to think of something interesting to say every day.

The blog was set up in July 2008, so we’ve now celebrated five birthdays.

How many authors contribute to the site?
Penny: Awfully Big Blog Adventure has thirty author contributors, including Sue Purkiss as administrator and Emma Barnes as technical support and John and myself as the editorial team.  We are all authors, too!

John: I don’t know how many contributors in total we’ve had, though – sometimes people take a break, or opt out completely in order to focus on a new book or set up a complementary project like the blogs Penny mentioned. And yet we always seem to have a waiting list!

Is there a rota for blog writers or do they contribute on a more ad-hoc basis?
Penny:  ABBA has a month’s worth of blog writers, and everybody has a set day for their post. This makes it easier for people to plan the writing of their posts and also helps admin manage the inevitable glitches. (Some bloggers are definitely “early” writers and schedulers, while others are “last-minuters” though whether this correlates to “plotters” and “pantser” writing styles, it’s hard to say.)

John: I suspect there’s quite a strong correlation!

Do you find it useful having this forum to engage with other writers?
Penny: Writing can be solitary work, so blogs like An Awfully Big Blog are a great way of keeping in touch with a variety of interest groups. People use the blog for sharing thoughts about the process of writing, as well as current projects, new titles and the writing life. Sometimes ABBA is used as a place to comment on current aspects of education, library provision and important wider issues.

John: And sometimes posts can be quite whimsical, or provocatively funny, at just the right moment to give you a lift and make you remember that you have some terrific colleagues.

How do authors get involved in the site and are you currently looking for any new members?
Penny: All the bloggers are members of the Scattered Authors Society. Bloggers do come and go. There is a waiting list of would-be bloggers but we also send out invitations through the SAS newsletter and email group.

John: We’d recommend any & all professionally published children’s authors to join the SAS, whether or not you’re interested in blogging with us. The website is at www.scatteredauthors.org.

I understand that the ABBA site also reviews books. Are these books chosen by the individual authors or are they suggested by publishers?
Penny: Awfully Big Reviews (ABR) focuses on books we want to recommend to others, not highly critical reviews. Books are usually chosen independently and may have been bought personally by the reviewer. Although some reviewers are already on publishers lists for advance copies, a free copy does not mean that title will be selected.  There is a one-book one-review policy, which gives room for a wide range of titles, not several reviews of one popular title.

We aim to offer reviews of books not frequently reviewed in the press, such as series titles for 6-8 or 7-9 year olds, or the many mid-list titles, as well as drawing on a wide pool of authors, illustrators and work. ABR reviews range from picture books through to Y/A and Adult novels, but occasionally includes books about education, creative writing or books appearing in other media.

John: The review section came about because of our feeling that not only are children’s books horribly under-reviewed, but it’s often the same few that get what little attention there is out there! That’s not to say that we’ll bar anyone from reviewing a well-known book, but our aim is to broaden our readers’ awareness of what’s out there.

Who would you say are the regular visitors to the site; writers and aspiring writers, keen readers, teachers, librarians or all of the above?
Penny.  All of the above! ABBA is a good place for any one interested in children’s books, whether in the UK or abroad. Besides, as few writers make a living from writing alone, our bloggers and readers often fit into more than one of the groups you suggest. We attract librarian-writers and teacher-writers and parents who are writers, as well as people such as students, booksellers and members of book organisations.

John: And I’m pretty sure that over the last five years some of our readers have moved from ‘aspiring writer’ to ‘published writer’ and – in at least one case I can think of – ‘critically acclaimed writer’!

Do you have any plans or ambitions for the ABBA site in the future?
Penny. We are always looking for ways to improve ABBA, and review it every so often. ABBA is run by volunteers, so personal writing time is also a priority too which is why we are so pleased to link to Book Events For Children as part of an Awfully Big Blog Adventure. Thank you!

John: I’ll echo that. And if anyone has any suggestions for improvements, we’re always open to them!

John Dougherty’s series of books include Zeus,  Jack Slater and Bansi O’Hara, as well as Finn MacCool and Niteracy Hour. 
Books by Penny Dolan include A Boy Called M.O.U.S.E, The Third Elephant, Mr Pod & Mr Piccalilli and The Rickety Hall Stories.

Image (c) Hannah Shaw.

If you’re an author and you’d like details of your public events (not school visits) listed on the Book Events for Children website, please click here.

 

 

 

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