A chat with Coast FM Arts
Here you can read the full transcript of my recent interview with Meredith Gilmore for radio station Coast FM, which covers copywriting, poetry and an overview of my writing in general.
If you’d like to hear my velvet tones, then pop over to the Coastarts.com.au website to listen to the audio file.
This is Coast Arts with Meredith Gilmore, and today I’m in Woy Woy talking to Kate Toon, who’s a writer based in Umina on the Woy Woy peninsula. Thanks Kate for giving us your time today.
Thanks for inviting me.
Now, we’re sitting in a beautiful park down here next to Brisbane Water with the ducks and the birds, and it’s a beautiful day – actually, finally, we’ve got a beautiful day.
And Kate, one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you, as we talked about before the interview, is you’re earning a living as a writer based on the Central Coast, which I think we’ve already had people’s ears prick up hearing that. How have you done that? What sort of writing do you do?
Well, my background is in advertising, so I’ve paid my dues and spent about 15 years slogging my guts out in ad agencies, both here and in the UK – you can probably tell from the accent I’m originally from England. And then, when I had my son, which was about three years ago, I realised that I couldn’t maintain that kind of hard advertising lifestyle, so I decided to go out on my own. And I set up my own website and started marketing myself as a copywriter, initially for small businesses, but I’ve kind of built up a reputation now, and I do a lot of work for large agencies in Sydney who don’t have a permanent copywriter. And, obviously, the reason why I was able to come and live up here is that with the digital age I’m able to do 99% of my work from here, and I very rarely meet my clients. Occasionally, I’ll do a call on Skype so that they can see that I’m a person and I might pop into Sydney maybe once a week, once a fortnight for a big kick-off meeting, but after that, it’s all via email. So it’s ideal, really.
Now, it might sound like an obvious question, but I’m sure some people would be interested to hear the answer: can you explain what copywriting is?
Yes, it’s a question I get asked a lot. So it’s nothing to do with legal copyright: making something legally your own. Copy refers to any kind of literature, which is sales or marketing related, so it could be a brochure, a flyer that you get through your letterbox, but mainly for me it’s websites and emails and all kind of digital communications. So, you visit the Kmart website or whatever, the copy that’s on that website has been written by somebody like me.
Now the other thing that people might be interested to find out about is, often we see now SEO copywriting, now can you explain that as well?
Well, SEO stands for Search Engine Optimised, so what that means is with Google the natural search, not the paid ads that you see on there, but with the natural search, Google looks at websites and examines them on a number of different criteria. One of them is the copy and it’s an important one – so if you’re a website selling cheese, for example, it looks at the page and says, “Well, look, how often does this page actually use the word ‘cheese’? How often does it use the word ‘Edam’?” etc. and then it ranks you based on that. So, SEO copywriting is writing copy in such a way that you’re telling and persuading Google that your site is the best site about that subject matter. So, for example – mine – if you type in ‘Sydney copywriter’, I want my site to come up in the top three, because then it shows that I really am the best Sydney copywriter. So, that’s essentially what it is, it’s just writing it in a way that pleases Google.
But also that makes it a good website for, you know, when people come to it they actually, for the person who set up that website it achieves their aims as well?
Yes, I mean that’s it, you’re not just trying to trick Google; you’re also trying to write good content that people want to read. And I mean, Google’s not trying to be difficult, what it’s trying to do is serve you the best possible results. So copy’s one factor, but there’s a zillion other factors. It’s trying to deliver you the best result. Sometimes, it can seem like Google’s trying to put up lots of barriers to prevent you from getting up to the top, and it can seem very hard, but essentially it’s trying to do it for the benefit for the user, so that they get the best result possible.
I’m talking to Kate Toon, a writer who earns a living based on the Central Coast and lives in Umina. Now, moving to creative writing, and I guess in some ways when you moved to the Central Coast in 2010 with your young family, creative writing was probably quite high on your mind was it, that you wanted to spend more time doing that? What are you doing now?
One of the main reasons we moved up to the Coast is obviously financial. You have to earn a certain amount of money to survive in Sydney, and if you ever want to buy a house, you have to sell your internal organs, pretty much, to get one. So moving up here took that financial pressure away a little bit and meant that I could maybe have more time for my creative writing. I’ve been writing – I’ve been writing since I was a young pup, but seriously kind of pursuing creative stuff since about 2005. I’ve written lots and lots of short plays, 10 minute plays, half hour plays, and they’ve been performed all over the world now, which is great, and I sell quite a lot of them online as well.
And more recently, I’ve been exploring poetry, so I joined the Australian Poetry Society; I guess you’d call it. Yes, that’s what I’m focusing on at the moment, writing a lot of poems, and obviously I’ve also written a children’s book which I was lucky enough to get signed with an agent, Curtis Brown. So that’s currently being sent off to publishers.
I got a lovely rejection letter from Penguin the other day, which was a very nice personal letter, so it was a rejection but it was a nice one. So that’s kind of happening but the thing I’m focusing on at the moment is trying to publish a volume of my own poems, my first book, and I’m going to self-publish it.
Now there’s a really interesting story there too because this is a continuing battle isn’t it, getting something published in Australia? Even a lot of the independent publishers on their websites, they’re very apologetic but they’re closed, they can’t take any more manuscripts. So how have you done it, Kate?
Well with my book that’s with Curtis Brown, I mean, they’ve been quite honest with me and said in this economic market and also with e-books and self-publishing, it’s very hard to get a real book published. So, that’s why I wanted to try the self-publishing route – sometimes referred to as vanity publishing, because you may end up publishing a book that really only sits on your book shelf and the bookshelves of your friends, but I don’t care about that. It would just be glorious to have a book. I think good books, hopefully, will shine through regardless, so with my book obviously no one is going to be interested in a volume of short poems by an unheard of poet who lives on the Central Coast. They’re not going to be clamouring at Penguin to sign me. So, it is a vanity project for me. It’s something that I want to do – have a book I can give to my mum and dad and have on my bookshelf.
And tell us how you’ve achieved the funding for that, because it’s a great story.
Well it’s quite a whim. I could have obviously saved up the money over a year or so, but there’s lots of expenses when you’ve got a two year old in a house. So, I found a website called Pozzible – which is with a Z. It’s a crowd-funding website which is kind of quite a new phenomenon; it’s only been going for about a couple of years. It started off in Europe and then spread to America and there’s a big site in America called Kickstarter. And the idea is that it’s funding for creative projects – it’s not for charities or for businesses – but if you’re a musician or an artist or an actor or a writer and you have a project you’d love to do, but you just can’t afford to do it, you put the project up on Pozzible and you just put the word out and say, “Look, help me record my album, help me put on this theatre show, I want to raise this much money,” and then you don’t ask for donations as such, people give you money and in return they get a reward. So, with my project I put a goal of $1,000 and the rewards are like $10, $20, $100. So, for $20 you get a signed copy of the book sent to you. For $100 – for $50, sorry, you get a poem in the book dedicated to you.
For $150 I will write a bespoke poem for you about someone that you want to have it written about, and it will be published in the book as well. So, I put it up on Pozzible and I wasn’t very hopeful – again, who cares about me and my silly poetry book? But within a day I’d hit my target of $1,000 and I’ve just gone past $2,000. And it’s not my friends and family who are sponsoring me, I mean my mum sponsored me a massive $20 – thanks mum. It’s random people, people I’ve never met or never heard of.
Is it people from different parts of the world?
I’ve had a guy from Queensland who sponsored $50 for a poem, Melbourne, all over really, and even like someone in France just donated. So, they don’t know me, they just read my project and thought it was worth a pop.
I’m talking to Kate Toon, a writer who earns a living based on the Central Coast and lives in Umina, and right now we’re sitting in the park in Woy Woy with all the ducks and the seagulls, looking out over the water and it’s actually blue sky – and look, here comes the ferry as well.
Oh, perfect timing.
So it’s a perfect Woy Woy day. Now Kate, let’s hear one of your poems.
Okay, this is one, there’s another one I wouldn’t mind reading later, but I’ll start with this one. It’s called Fat Duck Snoozing.
You’ve also had some short films made; can you tell us a little bit about that?
I’ve written several short plays. One of them was called Bomb Disposal and it won through to the Gala Finals at the Sydney Short & Sweet Festival; it’s been on in Melbourne and several other places. And someone saw it and just asked if they could turn it into a short film, so I rewrote the script for that and it became a film called The Postcard, which was entered into Trop Fest – didn’t get anywhere, but still, it’s there, I have a DVD of it at home. It’s on YouTube should you wish to go and Google it.
Recently a play I wrote called Sock, a group of filmmakers in Sydney have made that into a short film, which is yet to be finalised. And from time to time people see my plays and call me up. And the guy who made The Wog Boy emailed me a couple of months ago about my play Sushiwushiwoo and asked if he could option that to turn it into a script. So, I don’t have much experience of writing film scripts because obviously I like words and in short films it’s minimal words; you have to tell the story through pictures, which is very different to plays and novels, obviously. So, it’s an area that I’m still exploring, I’d love to write my own film scripts from scratch. There’s just a lot of things you want to do, isn’t there? You know, it’s finding the time.
Yes, I know. Actually I was going to say, how do you have time? What’s a typical day like for you, Kate?
Well, I work – as I said – as a copywriter, so I’m working Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Friday, and then obviously in between that, looking after my son, doing the shopping, doing the garden – all that kind of thing. The great thing about poems is that when the inspiration hits you can just quickly write them down. I know there’s the Stephen King mentality of sitting at your desk from nine to five, and you write. For me that just – I wouldn’t have the time to do that, so I’m very much: if the inspiration hits me I get it down quickly, and then I go back and I fiddle and I fiddle and I fiddle.
But generally if it’s a good idea, especially with poetry, if it’s a good poem, it comes out good first time or it doesn’t come out at all, otherwise you end up sort of over-engineering it and fiddling with it until you ruin the gist. I am prolific and I do work hard. We didn’t have a television until very recently which gave me a lot of extra time, and I just, I really want to do it so I find the time, and if that means – at the moment it means not doing much exercise. I ran the marathon last year, which really compromised my writing. You can’t be fit and healthy – it’s the title of one of my poems – you can’t be fit and healthy and creative at the same time. So, at the moment I’m not exercising very much but I’m writing more.
Don’t give people an excuse.
I know. But something’s got to give, so maybe my husband is slightly less loved than he ought to be and I don’t do much home cooking unfortunately – although I did make a soup and a quiche the other day. But, yes, something has to give, and you just have to maybe not watch so much telly and –
So you write every day?
I try to write something. I mean, I’m writing every day with my copywriting so –
But you are writing something every day?
Yes. So I write every day and, I mean, someone once said to me that we all have a certain amount of creative juice in us every day and you use that up, and be careful not to use it up on things like, even a telephone conversation or writing an email – writing an email is writing. So ideally, in a perfect world, we would all try to get up a bit early, and the first hour of the day we would spend writing for ourselves before we use up that creative juice. Because, believe me, when I’ve done eight hours of copywriting for some corporate, it is very hard to then sit down and be inspired, I don’t have anything left in me. But equally, I think watching other people’s creativity, so sitting and watching television and watching a lot of films, while it’s great for inspiration, it also sucks up your own creative energy. So, I’m going to go away for a week or so to the Blue Mountains and have a television, DVD, computer free – well, not computer free, but internet free – week where I just write and I don’t have any other external influences. It sounds a bit OTT but I think there’s a lot of media –
It sucks your attention and energy.
It sucks it, it does, and it makes your brain feel all foggy and full of other thoughts and you want your brain full of your own thoughts otherwise.
Do you always just write straight into a computer?
I’m a fairly fast typer. I actually find it physically quite difficult to write with my hand now. So, yes, I write into the computer, and obviously I love, with Word, the fact that you can edit so easily. I think sometimes my initial idea I’ll scribble down on a piece of paper, but if I want to start developing it, I go straight to the computer.
And with your process, do you just write it first and then go back, is that what you do?
Yes, generally, even with short plays I try and just write as much as possible and then go back and form that and put in the names.
So, not edit as you go?
No. For me that’s the best way because you’re writing uninhibited. And sometimes the idea might be, for example, with the play Sushiwushiwoo, which is probably my most successful, I think it’s been done about 30 times now, and it’s been done on the radio and all sorts that just came from the phrase ‘Sushiwushiwoo’. Where that phrase came from, it just popped into my brain and then the play came out of that. And I thought about it and didn’t write anything for a good year. I kept on having ideas of how it would work and would it be this, would it be that, would it be three women, would it be two women? And then, one day, it just came out, and maybe I edited it seven times before it went, it’s in its final form. And then I saw it performed, and I edited again, because seeing something performed really changes your perspective. But, yes, generally a good idea pops into your head, I find it’s best to get it down as quickly as possible and then go back and look at it. But also don’t go back and look at it too much. I think with my poetry book now, it’s like I could fiddle with these poems forever, they’ll never be perfect, and also what you think of them will be very different to what someone else thinks of them. Some people hate them, whatever, but I just need to draw a line in the sand and finish the damn thing and get it out there.
So, don’t overwork it?
Yes, I think so, and don’t be –
You lose that freshness don’t you?
You do, and also put it out there quickly. Like, I have a blog, I have a Facebook Page, I have Twitter. I write a poem – it may not be great – but I put it out there and very rarely are people going to come back and say, “That’s terrible”. You know, generally people go, “I love this bit, I love that bit”. You feel the confidence, you get some affirmation, and it encourages you to keep going. We all have egos and we all need those egos massaged, and if you just sit in your room writing and never showing it to anybody, it’s too hard. So share it with people, and share it with people who aren’t your family because my mum will always say my work is great whereas my friends can be a bit more brutal.
I think it’s time for another poem, Kate.
I’m talking to Kate Toon, who’s a writer based on the Central Coast and lives in Umina and is a professional copywriter as well as creative writing through plays, poetry, and also a children’s book, and currently writing a novel. Now, back to some poems, let’s hear another poem, Kate.
Yes, this is the headline poem for my new book called Gone Dotty, and this one’s called Dreams of Evolution:
Very nice. You like rhyme?
Most of my poems rhyme, I just, I find that very pleasing.
I do try and write freeform ones as well, but I think there’s a real art. I did poetry for my degree a very long time ago and got to grips with the whole “iambic pentameter Shakespearean thing”. Anyone can just list a heap of words on a page, but there’s something about crafting them into a rhyme. It’s harder, I think.
So what is your degree?
I did a degree in English Literature and History way back when.
Way back when.
Yes. It was totally useless at the time. I always wanted to be a teacher or something like that and obviously went into advertising unfortunately, not something I ever particularly wanted to do. But it’s served me well, because I think one thing that I’ve maybe got over other writers is that discipline. As a copywriter, you can’t wait to be inspired you have eight hours to write that copy and you have to have finished it at the end of that eight hours, so you have that discipline of writing, even when you don’t want to, and just getting it down and then editing it. And I think that’s why I can be as prolific as I am, because I’ve got that discipline.
How are you finding living on the Central Coast?
Well, I mean, I think it’s absolutely beautiful. As an English person, this is what you think living in Australia is. I used to live in Leichardt and, although it’s great, it could have been any metropolitan city in the world. This is, I think, quintessentially Australia, the landscape. I think the people are lovely, very friendly, a lot more down to earth. I don’t want to burn any bridges, but people in Sydney can be a little bit up themselves, whereas I think here people call a spade a spade, and I like that. And I think although I had some relative success in Sydney, it’s hard, it’s very cliquey, it’s a hard area to get into, the Sydney Theatre Company and Seymour Theatre. The average person getting a play on there, they haven’t got a cat in hell’s chance. Here it feels a bit more open. I’ve joined the Woy Woy poetry group that is at the Clearing, which is great. I’ve been along to Woy Woy Little Theatre and tried to get involved there. There seems to be a lot of people up here pursuing creative pursuits! There are a lot of artists and writers and musicians and actors and everyone’s a bit more forgiving.
So, and as I said, maybe the financial pressure isn’t so much, it’s a bit more laidback. So there is more time to write I think. And that beautiful beach at Umina –walk along that in the morning and I defy you to not be inspired to do something . . . Every day, I mean, I cruelly put photos up of it on Facebook so my friends in England can see where I live now. Where I lived in London, some people just wouldn’t believe that you can actually live like this, do you know what I mean? It’s beautiful, beautiful.
Now let’s talk about how people can find you online.
Yes, well my website is very imaginatively titled www.katetoon.com – that’s T-O-O-N, I’ve been cursed with a rather foolish surname but it’s paying off now because people remember it. So, yes, that’s where my blog is, a link off to my Twitter page, my Facebook page, and every other social network that seems to exist these days. That, at the moment, is my business; it’s mainly my business site. I’m actually in the process of splitting it out and trying to have a business site and a more creative site for my poetry and stuff. But, at the moment, yes, that’s where you can find it, and on there you’ll see a link to my Pozzible page where I’m still trying to raise funds for my poetry book, so if you’d like to pre-order your copy of ‘Gone Dotty’, then go for it!
Fantastic. I’ve been talking to Kate Toon this morning, who’s a writer based on the Central Coast and lives in Umina. And I’d like to thank you very much Kate, I think what you’ve told us today is, I know for me personally and I’m sure for a lot of people, it’s very inspiring and I think one of the key messages for me is it’s about that discipline, that it doesn’t happen – if you’re going to be a writer you have to write, having some kind of process where you make yourself do it, even I you don’t feel like it, seems to be the key.
Yes, I mean, I think inspiration hits you and yes, maybe it doesn’t hit you at quite the right, convenient time. You’re in the middle of washing the dishes or mowing the lawn, so try and scurry in and write it down. But then do, sort of, try and give yourself an hour to take that little bit of inspiration and turn it into something. And just do it, just do it, put it out there – you’d be amazed how quickly you’ll get people following you and saying great things, and then that just spurs you on.
Fantastic. Alright, thank you so much for your time today. I look forward to talking to you again.
Thank you very much.
You’re on Coast Arts with Meredith Gilmore, Coast FM 963.
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This transcript was created by: Bridies
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