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I love to learn from pro-writers who have been deep in the industry and Kate Pullinger is a master of literary fiction as well as transmedia, so she spans technology and beautiful writing, which we discuss in today's interview.
Kate Pullinger is the award-winning author of 7 novels as well as short story collections. Her novel The Mistress of Nothing won the Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction in 2009. She's also created prize-winning digital projects including networked novels, games and software.
- How Kate's writing career has progressed. Kate's first book came out more than 20 years ago and she has been writing ever since. In 2001, she started to teach creative writing online and through that process she discovered an affinity with the online world in terms of teaching but also expression. This led to a Fellowship at Nottingham Trent University and Trace, the intersection of creative writing and technology. New ways of telling stories using new technologies. Since then, Kate has continued to write novels and short stories but also collaborations with digital media, images, games, animation, videos and more.
- Her award winning novel, The Mistress of Nothing is a historical novel. It was Kate's first purely historical fiction piece but it's also a literary novel. It was published as a literary novel in Canada and UK, but as historical fiction in the US. It took Kate 12 years to write and she wrote 2 other books in that period as well as other digital fiction projects. Part of this was research. Egypt in the 1860s needed a lot of research, she even took Arabic lessons. Then not all of the research needs to go into the book. Assimilating research without overdosing on it.
- On the difference between literary and historical as genres. It's frustrating and baffling in terms of perception between commercial and literary. Historical particularly can be both. But in the US, they targeted the historical fiction readers so the marketing was ‘easier' than literary fiction. Because the novel was a prize-winner it's hard to tell whether the labeling of the genre affected sales.
- On the time it takes to write books. During the 12 years Kate was doing lots of other things and kept returning to the book. Time in writing differs between writers but speed is not a virtue and things generally do improve if you put them to one side and then return to them. You have more objectivity over time. But it is possible to write too slowly.
- On transmedia projects. There are vast opportunities for writers in this space and it's puzzling why more established writers aren't moving into it. New technologies give us new ways to connect with readers, new ways to tell stories and find audiences. What happens when you add media to text on a screen? What is lost and what is gained? It doesn't have to be either-or. There's room in the world for different kinds of stories. Kate also enjoys collaboration as well as the solitude of her own fiction.
- In transmedia, the technology is definitely a barrier for some people. Kate can do the technical stuff but she isn't interested in it so she collaborates on the hardcore technical side of this. Writers are used to working by themselves so this can be difficult. Think about collaboration if you're interested in this space. It's not just about apps either which seems to be the focus of traditional publishing so far. The most interesting projects are coming out of web design, gaming and individual creative projects. It's not coming from traditional publishing.
- The traditional publishing challenges in 2012. Publishers have looked at social media so may move into interactive fiction. It will be interesting to observe whether this happens. It's an overheated world and the whole business around Amazon and who owns what space will continue to play out. The US is obviously a bigger market and is slightly ahead of the UK in terms of digital. What's happening with libraries is an interesting one, specifically in the digital world. What is a library in the 21st century?
- Tips on getting into traditional publishing. It's all more difficult these days. If you are indie, one of your primary concerns has to be professionalism of your product. It has to be well edited and formatted. If you haven't got that right, you're doing your work a dis-service. The most important thing is for your writing to be as good as possible and interesting to readers. That is impossible to predict, which is why publishing is so hard. It's about taking a risk on books that may or may not sell. Clearly people are still making money in publishing though. They aren't going away anytime soon.
- Do you need an MFA to be a proper literary writer? It's definitely not a requirement but the advantage of a good one is that you spend 1-2 years being serious about your writing. They will also have industry links so you can meet and talk to people. However, it all comes down to whether the writing is good enough and appeals to people. The best way to improve your writing is by writing, trying new things and putting the time in. Reading is critical especially in genre writing. Know what is currently interesting readers. Find a source of constructive criticism to improve your work. A mentor or a freelance editor or a good writer's group who are serious about good writing.
- On being a professional writer. It's not really a career as each new book has a new set of problems. Writing doesn't get easier. You learn more about your own strengths and weaknesses and each book is different. Dedication and putting in the hours is critical to becoming professional. It's very easy to not write. You can want to write and think about writing but doing it isn't easy. It requires fortitude. All writers have setbacks and books that go wrong, that don't sell or are sold in the wrong way. There are bad times as well as good times. You have to be so self-motivated
You can find Kate at her website KatePullinger.com and on twitter @katepullinger
Thanks! That was a really interesting interview. And now I definitely want to read The Mistress of Nothing. (Love the name.)
Joanna Penn says
If you enjoy historical fiction, I know you’ll love it!
S.A. Archer says
The non-traditional, transmedia stuff is really interesting to me. Sounds very creative and groundbreaking. You’ve got my wheels turning!
I know some authors podcast their stories, and others do book trailers. So some of us are starting to reach for that multimedia approach. I wonder how hard it is to educate the audience about transmedia and draw them into it. And how difficult is it to set it up as something that could actually make money. Or should it be just the loss leader to draw the audience into the world?
Joanna Penn says
Hi SA, I don’t know about the financial side of Kate’s transmedia projects but for me, video and podcasting are more marketing activities i.e. they bring people to my site, and then it helps them get to know me, and then at some point, they might be interested in buying something. It’s about getting attention from different sources. The money link is somewhat intangible! Luckily it’s fun and I enjoy the interviews I do, and I learn a lot so it’s worth it for me. For someone like Scott Sigler who podcasts his fiction every week, he builds a fanbase that way and then releases his books to an already keen audience. Here’s an interview with him – although he is probably the most opposite type of author to Kate imaginable being genre/thriller/horror writer 🙂
Annabel Smith says
This is so timely for me as I’m in the process of prepearing a novel for release as an e-book, linked to an interactive website, so i’m fascinated to read about who’s exploting new media for writing, and how. Thanks.
Joanna Penn says
Definitely check out Kate’s transmedia projects Annabel. I know you’ll find them interesting.
The key to transmedia is to create engaging characters that are developed enough to have lives outside the novel. Using our transmedia storytelling platform – that requires no programming for writers who like to work alone 😉 – your characters can communicate with readers on social media.
Quite how you have the characters interact with your readers depends on your ambition. If it’s only to build attention ahead of the book release, that’s one approach, if it’s to deepen the reader’s affection for the characters while reading the book then that’s another approach. And of course these are mutually exclusive.
The issue I have with book trailers is they often to a poor job of actually promoting the book – especially when many have low production values. I would advocate that writers showcase their writing skills – by making their characters “live” on social media – and I think you’ll see better results, it’ll be cheaper and more creatively rewarding. Plus it’ll give you experience at writing these types of stories which is becoming increasingly in more demand.
Kate Pullinger says
Thanks for this lovely piece, Joanna, and for your interest in my work.
Yes, my interest in transmedia is really about the potential for digital fiction – new forms of fiction that utilise the new technologies – as works in and of themselves, and I’m less interested – both as a reader and as a writer – in transmedia as a marketing tool for books. But, as with everything these days, it is not an either/or thing – there’s room for everyone to try things out, and innovate. Exciting times.
Jake Richert says
Great interview! I agree entirely with finding a source (or sources!) of constructive criticism (and being one yourself) to improve your work, whether it’s a mentor, editor, other writer friends, or just really detailed, savvy beta readers.
I’ve been jumping around the podcasts and have been hoping someone in the podcasts had brought up writing programs/classes/workshops. I found those that I took as electives so invaluable (like these podcasts), especially the workshop aspect of trading stories, critiquing and being critiqued. I hope that those especially going straight to self-publishing are eagerly seeking as much constructive criticism as possible with the same energy as they are seeking out a tribe for their online platforms.
Again, great interview, Joanna. 🙂
Joanna Penn says
Hi Jake, I have discussed Masters in Creative Writing with Iain Broome in this podcast http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2011/02/08/copywriting-patience-traditional-publishing-iain-broome/
The book Iain wrote on his Masters has now been published.
Personally, I am a massive fan of education but I don’t believe it has to be a degree course. For example, I have done a weekend course on writing fiction with the Guardian and have another weekend on screenwriting and dialogue. I have also paid several $thousand for editors to work with me on my books. So although I haven’t got a Masters in Creative Writing, I absolutely believe in investing to become a better writer. Enjoy the podcasts!
Jake Richert says
Yeah! I appreciate your direct link. Thank you, thank you. And, oh, yeah, I agree with you about degree courses. I was fortunate to be able to take writing classes as electives but a friend found a little group of writers meeting monthly at a local bookshop that I’ve found just as helpful and motivating. She found them on MeetUp.com (which I’m not sure if y’all have in the UK). I’m lucky to have found them as well as your blog and others who discuss marketing, building a platform, and publishing (among many other valuable things) because those are topics neither mentioned nor discussed in this group or the undergrad degree courses I took.