Jules Horne lives in the Scottish Borders and is an Associate Lecturer at Open University. She writes plays for stage and radio, and fiction with a Scottish gothic flavour. She’s inspired by Angela Carter and Mervyn Peake (of Gormenghast fame). Today, we chat about the tension between creativity and risk, the role of Indie publishers as influencers, and learning from our mistakes. Throw in offshoots on deadlines, daily goals and the Pomodoro Technique and things start to get interesting. Jules is a true creative and lives what she believes. The Scottish Borders may be isolated geographically, but academically, Jules is at the forefront. These are exciting times and even a brief chat with Jules has me excited for the possibilities for new ways of learning. You can find out more about Jules and her writing here and here.
Melinda: It's welcome to another episode of Writer on the Road. I am traveling around the world again today and I'm really, really excited to be in the Scottish boarders, now how beautiful and exotic does that sound? So I'm here with a beautiful lady by the name of Jules Horne and Jules welcome to Writer on the Road.
Jules Horne: Hello Melinda, thanks for me having me on the show.
Melinda: Not a problem at all. Jules put a wonderful little picture on her Facebook profile there earlier tonight and it's of this little hedgerow road that I remember from my days in Ireland, it's so romantic over there. I know you probably don't think it's exotic but to us over here in sunny Queensland it is certainly romantic and coming into winter where you get all your snug fires and red wine. But let's go back and talk writing.
Jules Horne: I have to say also I've been looking with great envy of your shots of just wonderful sunshine and you wearing your hat and looking like you're having glorious sun. So the romance has its limits and I do envy you your sun as well.
Melinda: For all our listeners I did a Facebook live cross yesterday from Circus Paradise on the Gold Coast here on the east coast of Australia and I did this lovely pan of what I thought was the beach, but all it was the sky. So I'm going to practice my panning everybody so I actually get into the shots what I thought I was, there was no beach there at, it looked really silly. But I'll keep practicing and I'll keep trying. Now over to Jules, would you like to introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about the writing that you do?
Jules Horne: I'm a hybrid writer, I do lots of different kinds of writing. I started off as fiction and then I kind of made migrated into drama. So I'm actually mainly a playwright these days and I've written for stage and radio and I also have a background in journalism. I used to work in radio. So I have a bit of a mixed background, so I pull in lots of different kinds of writing techniques from different angles.
But the main thing I suppose is working with drama which means working with actors and directors so it's collaborative and that's a really different prospect from the fiction and the really kind of tight inner focus of fiction. So it's a more, perhaps more people oriented, more collaborative kind of writing.
Melinda: Jules and I were a little bit of a conversation just briefly before we started and as happens with a lot of my guests I had to stay stop, stop, stop, we'll have our interview over before we even press the record button. But Jules has linked up with another guest who we've had on our Writer on the Road and she was very, very popular and you'll all remember Sherrie and Sherrie was very exuberant and very, very popular too I might add.
I had people from all over the world, Sherrie was our beautiful motorbike rider and jumped on a motorbike after a week and wrote all these books about it. Now she's writing, just about to release I believe or very close to releasing her first fiction novel. Jules is her writing buddy and one of the things I want to talk to Jules tonight about is what it's like having someone in your corner encouraging you every step of the way.
Jules Horne: I love that analogy of there's somebody fighting your corner and being in your corner because I think that's absolutely, it's about, Sherrie is amazing. I don't know if Sherrie realizes quite how amazing she is, what she juggles because she's got two young kids as well and just the fact that she goes out on motorbike trips and then boat trips, she's very sort of intrepid like that. So really in the spirit of Writer on the Road. I feel like quite a sort of tame Writer on the Road with my little bicycle or walking or that sort of thing. Sherrie's kind of really dynamic.
So what's been amazing, and we met by the way on the Joanna Penn Creative Freedom forum and realized that we both wanted a certain kind of accountability, that's really what it's all about. We're both working, as a lot of writers do in relative isolation and you spend long hours working on your project. I found because of my journalism background actually deadlines are really good and there's nothing I love more than a deadline and a clock ticking down to the top of the hour. Just really focuses the mind. So some kind of version of that thought would be really helpful.
Sherrie and I decided that we'd work well together because we both wanted quite a hard core version of accountability not just maybe once a week that sounds a bit scary but actually in practice it's not been quite as hair raising as that, but we wanted it to be pretty consistent. So what we've done is essentially it boils down to daily check-ins in the morning. We're both in similar time zone so Sherrie's in Berlin and I'm in, well she's from Canada but she lives in Berlin and I'm in Scotland. So we check in most morning and say what have you been up to, how did yesterday go, what did you achieve in terms of what you were wanting to finish that day.
We usually have two or three small goals and want to finish this edit, do so many pages. We're great, think we used pomodoros or not a lot so then that's if something that your listeners familiar with, these 25 minute time blocks called pomodoros which I think they're a great way to focus your commitment even if you can only do one a day you've got that slot where you're doing nothing else and it really focuses the mind. So sometimes that's what our goals look like. Other times it's get this project uploaded and done. So although we don't always achieve quite what we set out to do it's always forward progress and slight and continuing.
So I think over the past long while it's getting on for a year now actually, we've actually put out quite a lot. I mean I've put out two collections of short stories, got my draft done for my copywriting book which is coming out and that's from a standing start not knowing anything about book publishing, about self-publishing. So the combination of Joanna's forum and Sherrie as a writing buddy has just been amazing.
Don't forget Sherrie, we have this metaphor of monkeys so we're kind of doing an experiment of identifying different forms of monkeys that tend to peter your creative process. So there's, the ones that are quite antsy and jump up and down and kind of defocus you and there's others that are kind of saying you can't do this, you're useless. We've sort of got this, I suppose a typology of monkeys so that might become a book, let's look into this because this is the year of the monkey as well. So that's part of the thinking.
Melinda: As Jules is speaking she reminds me very much of Sherrie, very vibrant waving her arms around, Sherrie Macarthy for anyone who doesn't know who we're talking about because she's, I think we had her on about ten podcasts ago, five podcast ago I can't remember. But I was very interested when Jules came onto night and said that there may be a book coming out on collaboration and writing buddies because I think especially in the indie publishing world we do work in isolation a lot as Jules said and having someone to bounce ideas off, now I use the Freedom Journal by John Lee Dumas and I'm really slack at that as you know I write in one day every ten days or twenty days. Whatever it is I'm up to page eight I think because I did two days in a row. Having someone every day to say to you what are your three little goals today and having someone to check up on you at the end of the day is I'm guessing a very powerful too.
Jules Horne: It is very powerful and it's evolved over time because we're both kind of experimenting with how it works. One of the books we looked at was The Twelve Week Year. I don't know, I can't remember the author of that but I can let you know that after. His ideas that years are quite a long time to be goal setting, we do this beginning of, at the New Year we think what are we going to do this year, it's too long a period to be actually be manageable and sustainable. So if you instead break it down into twelve week slots, or sort of ninety day slots it gives it more of a compact focus and you can sort of go for that time and so we've been experimenting with that.
We've just finished a twelve week year, so we had our New Year's celebration just last week and sort of worked out well what have we all done and then we're just about to start, we're in January now, so until this Sunday we're in January of this new twelve week year. So we'll be reporting back on these experiments and what's worked and what people can try for themselves.
Melinda: Have you got any tips to share, any ideas? What do you find works for you guys?
Jules Horne: I think it's really individual for different writers so it's very hard to generalize. I think that you have to experiment and try what works for yourself and depends on the kind of writer you are, so there's that kind of caveat. But what I've found is that who's, I'm quite distractible and I need headphones to work, I need to really kind of kind of close everything down to be able to get in that space. So what works very well for me, first of all headphones, you should probably see these. These for focus, I mean I'm not without these ever, they're just brilliant. They're about ten pounds and they are just ear defenders, the kind you would use if you were digging a hole in the road or if you were air traffic control or something like that. That's what you'd use. They're brilliant. So that might not work for everyone, but it works brilliantly for me.
Leading on from that, I find really granular goal setting works very well. So you have a bigger picture one which is edit that 75k book by the end of the month, but you really break it down so that for a day you're going to do five pages and you can just see the slow progress rather than trying to have a really massive goal that just looks, it doesn't have a real shape and definition whereas if it's really small and granular on a day to day basis I just find that easier to handle. So it's a personal thing, but that really works for me, this sort of granular goal setting.
Melinda: We do it with the kids at school and their homework diaries all the time. As part of this Creative Freedom course we're doing with Joanna Penn and it's where I meet some of these beautiful ladies who are so very, very talented and I think we've Cassandra Gaisford on, we've had Sherrie Macarthy and we've got Jules, I've got a couple of others coming up as well. They're a group of dynamic women who are determined to succeed in their writing businesses which is of course what our podcast's all about and Jules has got a dog, I can hear him barking in the background.
Jules Horne: Somebody else's dog through the wall.
Melinda: I took the liberty in our group and Jules has just copied down her achievements for her twelve weeks and it was labeled "The Twelve Week Year" and I didn't know what that was, so now I know what that is. What Jules has achieved and I'll just very quickly read them out because it is amazing. It's 3/4 of the edits of How to Launch a Freelance Copywriting Business: A Creative-- oh gosh, it's time for my bed-- Creative Writing for a Living. We're going to talk about that book in a moment so we'll touch on that soon. I'll put the cover of that book up on our website because it is amazing and I'll find off you when it's going to be launched.
Number two was method writing site, get a draft up. I thought well that was interesting I have to find out what method writing is. Number three was launch two fiction books, print run with Ingram but no launch yet. But the two books I'm assuming are the ones that I'm looking on, yes on Jules' website. Jules is holding up one of the books now and we're going to talk about those.
Jules Horne: Yes, and the other one.
Melinda: Beautiful covers that they are. As an aside, and they were the main thing she achieved. Now, we're talking twelve weeks here so I'm just blow away. Just on the side she put out a poetry pamphlet, a two sided melt down and, what's a two sided melt, oh you got to tell me about that and a Facebook live. Oh two site melt down. So you're sites must have crashed.
Jules Horne: Oh right, oh yes.
Melinda: And Facebook live. So in twelve weeks, I mean that's just, that's just a term at school for me where I just mark and you guys have achieved all this stuff. Tell us your sense of achievement at being able to tick those things off and write those things down.
Jules Horne: That's tremendous, it's not that I've done that from a standing start to twelve weeks, it's been kind of a yearlong process but there were certain bits we did a bit in the last twelve weeks. I think we're always, we're a bit of sort of class half empty as well, we kind of go oh well I didn't get that done and I didn't get that done. So we kind of beat ourselves up as well, so there's a sense of achievement but also I meant to do all this and it didn't happen. So we have to kind of be aware to celebrate achievement and not just kind of look at what we didn't manage to finish.
But I think one of the really great things which I've loved about last year is that the learning about self-publishing. I think there's such a feeling of empowerment and just, it just feels really wonderful to have created a book. I think publishing for me has always been something that seemed very off and something that it's very sort of mediated and there are gatekeepers to let you getting a book published, it's such a long process, publishing is something that is up there, really kind of inaccessible and to have the means now. I think this is just so exciting to have the means now to actually pull together a book, design it, commission your own cover, work with a designer, get ISBNs and get it up there as an artifact that you've made yourself. I just think that's such a game changer for writers.
I think, because I've been more in the, I suppose traditional publishing world, most of my writer friends are in the traditional publishing world, they're not yet like indie authors tuned into those possibilities I think. I think that's coming, I think they're looking at my books and thinking wow you can do this, I didn't realize. I said yeah, it's out there, it's just there for trying out. It's a kind of Wild West really, it's let's get on with it and look at these possibilities. That for me from a year ago not being able to do that to having two books in my hands which have been designed and they've got professional production values, professional editorial values. They're indistinguishable from a book that's been made by a small independent publisher. So where do you go with that? I just think that's really, really excited. That's for me felt like a massive achievement and it's just where can you go with those skills now, that's really exciting.
Melinda: I'm going to go back and I'll introduce Jules properly. I'm guessing if you're listening and you're hearing what Jules has got to say you can guess immediately that she's very learned. We've decidedly to call this podcast, very briefly we decided to call it Indie Publishers as Influencers and there's a reason for that, it's because indie publishing or self-publishing is the cutting edge as Jules says.
Jules is an associate lecture at the Open University, she's worked for the BBC, she's published with her plays and things, she's got degrees in German and French and she has a love of language and learning and she was I think influenced by one of our favorite authors who I tried to speak about last podcast but I got the name wrong, it's Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake.
Jules Horne: Okay, yeah.
Melinda: Angelina Carter was another one. So we're talking about a woman who's stepped in education, who is working as a tutor, she mentioned very briefly and we were just talking before about how Facebook live is a game changer for tutors and educators, how we can reach our students so very easily nowadays and how we're only on, I guess, the cusp of opening up the opportunities in that sphere.
Jules Horne: I think that's right and I think one of the reason's I'm so excited education and being a teacher is because of the horizons it's opened up for me when I was learning and discovering, coming from a border town, very quiet. Then the world of books opens up and then the world of education opens up and it's mind expanding. That's phenomenally exciting. So that's why I want to share with people when I, I think teach writing's not the right word because I think it's hard to teach but then you can facilitate people learning about it. So that's where I try to approach it because I think voice and all these things are very individual, process is very individual.
But I think what you're saying about the cusp of changes in teaching, I think that's so true and I think it's really not fully appreciated within the Open University which is a distance learning program, it's very old, one of the earliest, I think it may be the earliest distance learning universities in the world, we have quite lot of international students on that and as part of that I teach creative writing. So there's a new MA course as well which is just starting which very exciting, there's not a been a degree course with the Open University in creative writing before so that's being launched as we speak and one of the things there is they are at the cutting edge of technology for distance learning.
They use lots of things like we work on forums with students and we have face to face but I've been interested in using video too and perhaps I think what it lacks is the face-to-face element for students. So video is great and now that we can do it at home we don't have to have massive production crew creating a studio and standing there in your corduroy and pointing at a board or something. You can actually do it a much more intimate and friendly way and I think that's really nice for the students.
Facebook Live is another thing entirely. I mean I've been really impressed, actually I've gone and tried based it on your experiments, I thought wow this is possible and seen one or two online training sessions that have been done in that way that are live, not time displaced like a lot of forums are, it's just amazing. The Open University isn't going to that quite yet, it's sort of a leap but we do have live sort of screen shots type programs. We have live forums that work but not with this video element.
They've asked me to do some training in this so that tutors can be aware of the possibilities because I do think Facebook live is such a game changer for teachers, the idea that you can interact with students live with video and it's a very simple technology as well because it's in their existing groups. A lot of people are on Facebook already so it's just building on what's already familiar. So yeah, this is huge I think.
Melinda: I was excited when Jules spoke to me about that earlier because when I found the Facebook live I was jumping around and I was so, so very excited. I went to school and I told everybody I said it's the answer that I've been looking for my, as you know I'm about to launch my online teenage novel writing course and it was just that one element that gives my course the intimacy that was lacking, so every night I've been with my beta group, I've been doing the Facebook live sessions and these kids are just powering through because they have me every week and they can't wait to tell me about their stories and they are progressing rather than—
Joanna Penn is fantastic and she jumps into our Facebook group all the time with the course that we're doing and she's doing Facebook live question and answer sessions as well. Just having access to that tutor in such an immediate fashion is an amazing thing to do and especially for what I would say is not very much money. I think we'll see this really, really expand. The teachers at school looked at me like I was a nutter. But a classroom with 28 kids you cannot tap into everyone's needs in any way, shape or form. With Facebook live you're getting the questions, it's on topic and I think as an online forum especially with adults as well we're going to see a lot more of it.
Jules Horne: I think it's interesting what you're saying being an early adopter can be quite a problem some times because you can be incredibly excited about something that's happening, like I have been about the book publishing, you just kind of meet blank looks and why is that exciting. I remember when blogging started and I thought this is pretty amazing and people just, at that stage people were saying oh it's narcissistic and it's all that. People were saying why put your diary online. They haven't understood the way that new medium can be used and I think that's what's interesting, it's the creative possibilities of all these new media that's there.
I mean this is pioneer territory and I just think you're an early adopter now, the kids get it, the kids will get it and actually it'll be completely a no brainer for them. It's the generation that there may be older and not very techy minded that they're not really tuning into the creative possibilities of these new media. But you'll look back in five years and everybody will be doing and saying well yeah, you sort of spotted it early on.
Melinda: I think with as indie authors or self-publishers whatever we like to call ourselves, it opens up a world of possibilities and I'm only thinking this through as I'm talking to you now. But I've been able to reach an amazing number of people very, very quickly with my podcast, with, I guess with my Facebook live little crosses and people don't have to tune in immediately, I noticed that the numbers go up exponentially during the day and the next couple of days as people have a little peak later on.
I thought that stuff is there for people to look at whenever they're ready, whenever they feel like and it's just one more tool I guess to add to the interest level of us reaching out to our readers, reaching out to our fellow authors, certainly I've used it to great success to get people to come onto the show and I can reach people and I guess the influencers like yourself and like some of the other guests that I've had on who know so much more than me and who can share it very easily.
Jules Horne: I don't think that's not true, but knowing so much because I think you're very much, I mean I only started using Facebook live because I saw what you'd been doing on the forum, I think the fact that, I think we have on the forum a lot of people who are quite technically minded but also creative and to think that combination's what's really interesting about our time, that there are creative possibilities in being technically interested which maybe wasn't the case so much before. So I just think that's where, that interplay between tech and creativity is a really interesting thing. That's partly what method writing's about, this idea that we can think of ways of creativity and technology working together.
Melinda: I think as again I keep going back to this indie publishing I guess because that's what I'm so passionate about, we can experiment, we can play like you talked about blogging earlier and I remember I tried blogging but it was damned hard work and you had to write then I started reading things about the only way you got your blogs noticed if you wrote really, really long. Then they came back and said oh no you get noticed if you write really, really short and then if you put certain things in your headlines and then if you guests. I'm thinking go away it's all too hard.
With podcasting it's all very immediate, I get to talk about interesting topics with people that I adore, I get to talk literature, I was talking renaissance literature with Cassandra Gaisford, today I get to talk to you about Gormenghast, now very few people would have heard of Gormenghast and yet we have it by our bedside table and you love it. You just, who would have thought I could talk to someone in the Scottish borders about a book that I have sitting on my bedside table, it's just beyond exciting. I'm guessing you would be strict that with, I guess your pupils as well as your relationships develop through your courses.
But I'd like to know a little more about the book that's nearly ready to go, How to Launch a Freelance Copywriting Business and Creative Writing for a Living because we are creative, we do want to make a living out of it and we're not mucking around in saying that. You're saying it's not only possible, you're telling us how to do it in a way. What's in that book that I want to know?
Jules Horne: I think it's hard to get, all my mistakes are that book because I think that's really valuable information. I think because I live in quite a rural area and there are not many jobs that would work for my skill set and I think most people in rural areas wear multiple hats, they have lots, they have a sort of portfolio of different things that they do because that's how you make a living, you have to be very flexible at that.
One of the things I found was that writing's quite isolating and although I passionately wanted to write at the same time you can come to a point where you're slightly running on empty creatively because if you're very much involved in the writing side of things you're not out and about like you are having this sort of two way traffic and I think you need that very much, that sort of creative input and it's like your well and filling your well creatively. So at the same time you need to earn a living.
All these questions are hovering and I went to a workshop about copywriting up in Edinburgh and I thought this sounds really good but it also sounded a little bit beyond what I could achieve because it was about writing for corporates and that kind of thing and I don't have that kind of background, that kind of knowledge and I probably be really uncomfortable in that kind of world anyway. But I thought I wonder how it can work with local businesses and with copywriting for what we call SMEs- small and medium enterprises, which are basically pretty well ninety percent of the businesses that are out there in your local area.
This book describes the business side, if you're a creative writer you can write already well and you can wrangle characters and a view point and vocabulary and all these things, you really know how to write, maybe you have a journalism background or you've done some creative writing workshops, but you don't know the business side of how to get some money from your writings, your copy writing.
This book tells you what's it like working for businesses, what's the vocab the you need to engage with people, what kind of rates can you get, what kind of, what's the sweet spot of the size of business that it's good to look for because there is a kind of sweet spot, certain businesses aren't in the market for your services, they may not appreciate your services or want to pay for them but there's others who kind of recognize that it's useful to have copywriting skills for your web presence for example, for their brochures. So what kind of businesses to look out for. Then your collaborators, your who are your creatives collaborators, well it's great because you'll work with graphic designers, web designers, other creative people, photographers, film makers and finding a sort of team that you know that you can work together with.
To me that's been really transformative to have first of all there's a nosy side to ever writer, that's not, let's be truthful about that, getting to talk to people in business is great because you get to go behind the scenes at factories, you get to get, find out how they work, really fascinating lines of business here like somebody's got a dive company, they do sort of book diving holidays and somebody's a wedding planner. For storyteller that's fantastic because you're getting to find out about unexpected lines of work, so that's great. But at the same time it's connecting you with people in your local community and crucial thing you're earning a good living from it, from your writing.
I think a lot of writers have maybe gone the sort of literary route or the MA creative writing, they've not quite cottoned onto that as an option, maybe they're slightly, they think it's big business or they think it's somehow, I don't know, they don't like it being associated with money or that kind of thing. I think you have to be really straight forward about the fact that you do need to earn a living and you can do it in lots of different ways and copy writing for me is such a natural way that fulfills a lot of needs I think, the money side, the connection side I think is huge, I think for writers.
The fascination of getting behind the scenes and talking to people in walks of life, because we can be in bubbles as writers as well, in walks of life you'd never normally encounter. So to me it's just such great thing. So the book tells you how to do it, cuts you to the chase, helps you avoid doing the silly things that I did early on when I was discovering all this. So it'll save you about ten years.
Melinda: I need all the saving I can get because I'm already 54 going on 55 and I thought yeah I need saving so thank you Jules. Look, I do agree, my book that I've put out The Miner's Wife, it is a literary fiction, tried to disguise it as a romance but it is a romance, it's a literary romance. But it's not, I guess it's not something where you write a series and you use turn out a dozen novels in a year and have something for readers to go back to again and again and again. I make a bit of my money through freelance writing which is articles and things which is a way to go. I've looked at the copywriting but it's time consuming in itself, you have to be free to go to the places I'm guessing to be able to visit, to be able to write their stories and that would take I guess a little way to set up do you think?
Jules Horne: Not necessarily, I mean some of it can be done remotely, sometimes as you get discovered people phone you up and say oh I'm running this, I'm opening this guest house, I need some services. You can, a lot of it can be done on the phone or you might have an initial meeting and then the rest of it's done on the phone. So I think it can be managed in different ways, I don't think, it doesn't need much set up, it just needs an understanding of the right place to work for the work I think.
Then maybe some systems that you put in place so that you're not, so that's, your initial sort of what they call client onboarding, it's when you're getting to know the client, there are ways to make that, to ask the person questions and go through an effective, an efficient process shall we say because you've got to be careful that it's not just expanding to fill the available time, it's actually quite a, yeah, you get into a routine and then I think that's part of what's in the book too, sort of how to make sure the work, you don't get project creep which is when they expand horribly, it's just keeping it really tight. So I think it could work for you, let's talk.
Melinda: We'll have to work out how to do that, I wouldn't even know where to go to say excuse me give me some money I can write some stuff for you, I think it sounds like a really great idea because I'm sick of going to school.
Jules Horne: Okay.
Melinda: We'll talk further. I might join in on this daily work habit. Now Jules knows what she's talking about. I'm going to move onto two projects that I think Jules should be very, very proud of, they look absolutely beautiful and they're her own work. One of them is called Nano Novels. Tell us about Nano Novels, just the title alone is pretty exciting.
Jules Horne: Nano Novels is an interesting one because it was a kind of experiment in the, I wasn't writers, I didn't have writers block but I had writer's, what I call writers' lock which is not actually doing any writing, which is a very different thing, it's essentially a thing of not actually making time and not prioritizing and not, so I had kind of writers' lock. I thought oh come on, you've just got to make time and set it aside, what's the smallest amount of time that you can really set aside and make sure you just commit to that and do it every day.
I started this experiment, so I've got quite a sort of experimental mindset, so Nano Novels are stories written in five minutes. So it's literally a case of set the timer, write the story. So you think well where did you get the inspiration? So what I did was, it was a kind of process of go to bookshelf, pick book, open book with your eyes shut, so look away, find a phrase and what I found here is "olden one" "olden one" that's my phrase. So type that into Google and you will come up with some page or other and olden one is the title of your story and the Google page is what inspires the story. So you're kind, and you've got five minutes and it's got to be a complete story.
Over the course of about 150 days I kind of got, a thing happened after 150 days and it all went horribly wrong so that was the end of my experiment. But I have 150 days of stories doing this exact process and so I've kept screen grabs of all the pages that this refers to and I've got the stories, so it looks a bit like this and I've got the screen gabs and make me find out a books that were on my bookshelf that I'd forgotten which was nice, oh right I forgot about this, oh my god I can't write about that. Then you go to a Google page that's the most horrendous Google page ever like Latin verbs or something but you're going to write a story, you've got to write the story in five minutes.
They're micro fictions and they've all come from an interaction between a book and the web in that sort of fuddled brain if you and what was really interesting about it was in the course of the year this was the year that Kindle first came out, so it was a time when people started to look at, read differently, very fundamental change in the way people started to read.
As the year went on the sites got more and more corporate, so you could put in the phrase which is quite an usual phrase just taken randomly from a book and you'd get some really strange, you'd end up some really strange places on the web and that would be quite inspiring, quite intriguing, mad things going on. Then as the year went on it got more and more my god this is like a massive company, and it became more and more difficult to write the stories because you were just thinking there's nothing in here, there's just bland stuff.
It's an interesting document of what was going on in the web with web searches at the same time but primarily it was a kind of experiment in creativity and not being defeated by the demons of you can't write and you won't write, just making that time. So I would encourage anybody who's a listener who's not making time you can write a complete story in five minutes. So it just blows any excuses out of the water, I think that's what's important about it.
Melinda: I'm sitting here and I'm just going wow what an exciting brain. I did my, I guess I came through my PhD when post- modernism was all the rage and that's where we kicked into multiplicities and went off and it didn't matter where our stories ended, there were no endings. It was a bit after that hyperlinks came in where you could take your stories wherever you wanted using hyperlinks all over the place.
I'm guessing these, your Nano Novels were written in a similar vein, how exciting would it be to get my students to try that and see where they end up in the classroom. I mean the mind boggles at the fun that we could have and if anyone said there was no learning was happening I would defy them to say that because even listening to you now I'm going I want to try it and I'm looking at my own bookshelves, I can see for all of you out there I can see Jules bookshelf in the background and that's one of the benefits of being a podcaster because I get to see everybody's I guess living rooms and their bookshelves and I feel like scanning to see what's on bookshelves, I always tell how interesting is by their bookshelves. I thought I could my books off shelves that I haven't seen in years as well and try and kick off a story. I find Google one of the most tedious things ever invented and I click on site after site and I'm thinking oh spare me, but to be able to use it in such a creative way is really exciting.
I picked up on as you were talking Jules about, I guess your experimental nature and your truly creative nature and that would I guess tip over into your playwriting, into your theater, into your I guess making things happen as you're standing there. I would be killed and slayed alive if I didn't mention my daughter Samantha, as we all know won all her theater playwriting awards, it's all very excited. She makes me do the most amazing stuff to get me out of my boring rut and start speaking I guess more interestingly and make my writing more interesting. You live and breathe that I guess, what do you call it, cutting edge stuff where you're pushing the boundaries every step of the way.
Jules Horne: It's interesting about your daughter, I think tied into Nano Novels as well, there's this brilliant book which she probably knows or if not will certainly like which is by Keith Johnstone and it's called Impro and it's about improvisation and theatrical improvisation and it's fantastic. One of the things he does, do you know that exercise, you probably get this in classroom as well where you do that *claps* and you've got to say a word and on beat four, do you know that exercise and you go around and somebody says something random and starts it off and the next one has to follow on.
What goes on in your head in that moment, it's really interesting because it's all your censorship and it's hard to be spontaneous and I've noticed what spontaneity and what censorship. What I find is that when I'm doing that I'm going I can't say that, that's too obvious or that's too, oh my god that's really disturbing, [00:39:43] (unclear) say that. Keith Johnstone talks about this thing of not self-censoring and letting some of these things rise to the surface and just see what happens.
I think with Nano Novels what I realized was that my impulse is to go and it's a sort of critical learned thing that you get in school, you learn just sort of backed down ideas or yes, self-censored/self-criticized and it's actually a massive learning thing to unravel that and actually listen to what's initiatively going on there. So Nano Novels is very good for that, but that makes you realize that moment when you go oh can't say that. I think all writers should tune into that and try and listen to it and notice it because that kind of helps to free you up for when you're actually writing so that you've got to get kind of beyond that when you're writing, you can't have the editorial head and the writing head going at the same time, that's just disastrous.
So your daughter's I think if she's forcing you to kind of do unexpected and random things it's just like getting yourself out of the groove of what you would do and I think what happens then is your neurons fire in different ways and make new connections and that's just intrinsic. I don't think it's, it's not special, it's just how creativity works and it's just you're working with those tools. So I'd be interested in doing what she's doing with you actually, can you tell us a bit more about that?
Melinda: I actually did tell Sam that she should be running this interview and not me today. I knew right from when I read your bio that this was right up her ally. We're running a Facebook live session for the kids on Sunday and the title is called "Un-limiting our Thoughts" and she's got all the theory behind it and she's really exciting, I'm saying well what do I put in the advertisement, what do you I write? She said just write "Un-limiting Thoughts," I'll explain it. I'm going oh gosh give me a break. Here you are you're exposing exactly those same thoughts.
I think creativity is a word that has become I guess a bit blasé and through around the classrooms in a way that we mark it and we assess it and we grade it and we pass and fail people and that's because I don't know where you are but here in Australia we've got a lot of politicians taking over our Australian curriculum and I'm guessing creativity is closing down and becoming very narrow and very defined.
What people like you and Sam are doing and I've heard it in your voice from the minute we've started our conversation tonight is we're opening up those, I guess those opportunities to use creativity in the way it was meant to be used. Do you think that's from your theater or have you always engaged like that with your writing?
Jules Horne: I think it's a really interesting point because as creativity's become, they are lots of creative writing courses and it's become more professionalized and then it's seen as there's a kind of route to learning stuff which then you're going at your ME type novel and people are saying well that gives a certain kind of flavor to things. Yeah I think that sort of slight modification of creativities is a problem and I'm not unaware of the ironies of also teaching, being a tutor in creative writing it's how do you strike that balance.
The whole thing about marking is, I agree, really problematic. How do you place a value on someone's, we're calling it creative output and I found this all the time being aware of this awful speak that sort of creeps in when you're in that world and I think the best thing to do is kind of completely step away from it and actually tune into what's out there physically, to actually tune into the world. I think when I'm seeing you going around in your van and actually being in these beautiful locations and actually being out there, physical presence in the world and really tuning and noticing, I think that's how to get back in touch with those things.
I noticed, I was thinking also, I was on the photography workshop the other day and I found that fantastic for asking you to focus on what's really there, things that you would normally walk past and just not notice, it makes you really look in a different way at light and things that's really small or perhaps a bit invisible.
Let's come back to your daughter and her theater background. I think for writers one really valuable learning, some really valuable learning can come from interacting with actors and what we did for, I did a play called Allotment which was set outdoors and I love this fact that it's not a theater building, it's outside in the world and rains happens, it was doing the Edinburgh festival and the audience were there with umbrellas up and it was raining and the actors got drenched and felt very guilty but it was phenomenal what they did.
But we devised this together with the actors and what I realized was that their process was very similar to how writers work. So they, we were there on a sort of January, Allotment which is very dark and muddy and so on, we thought how on earth can this become a play, we had no idea what the play was going to be we just had this place and some objects that happened to be lying around, there were spades and there were aprons and that kind of thing.
So the actors were invited to improvise which is a bit like our free writing, it's just see what happens, you've got these things, let's see what happens. Being actors they were very inventive with what they did physically, so they were clambering onto roofs, they were digging stuff up, they were making things happen with sheds. So that became my material, so I was observing and taking notes and finding out different things that could be done with the objects.
I just found it really interesting that their creative process was one of acceptance, it was one of risk and let's see and let's not be embarrassed about anything that happens or let's not self-censor, let's just try something and see. Then you've got this massive potential material. Then you kind of go away and it distills for a bit and things rise to the surface which seem more interesting and then you take them and make a play from them.
I think that's similar to free-writing where you write loads and loads and loads which is absolute horribly, you know about shitty first drafts and the lot, then which is just genius I think, shitty first drafts. My drafts are the shittiest drafts in the entire world, extremely embarrassing but you have to do that to get to the interesting stuff and to me writing's in editing, the actual writing is in the editing. So I'm quite happy to let loads of [00:47:01] (unclear) come onto the page and then take a good look at it with this sort of editing bit of brain which goes oh that's interesting let's do something with that. I don't know if that's answered your question at all, it's going off in one bit.
Melinda: Yeah and I think, I guess our chat tonight has become certainly one of what is creativity, how do we define it and how do we express that creativity. When you were talking I was listening without [00:47:27] (?) a fascination and I will certainly replay this immediately for my daughter and as she's the one that edit's it I'm guessing she'll hear it anyway. But to listening to it from where to go because she's just completed a course, a theater, she won something with the Queensland Theater Company and she was forced to go through I guess the steps that a playwright goes as opposed to the steps that a writer goes through.
Now as a writer we draft it out and as you said we do our shitty first drafts and all the rest of it. As a playwright she had to go through steps of not writing, she had to go through the steps that you've just described of places, of exploring and seeing what happened. She was very uncomfortable with that process at first and then it all came together at the other end and she persevered, she said I'm just going to keep going Mummy because it's a new way of pulling something together that I haven't experienced yet. She said she didn't like it and didn't sit well with her but she said it was one of the best learning curves for her as a writer because it opened her up to new ways of doing things and new possibilities.
I think this is a lot where this un-limiting thoughts are coming from with her at the moment. She's being doing this course for two years, she's got another year to go, she's only 16, she's winning all these awards but she's testing those boundaries in the very way that you're speaking about that I guess the true meaning of creativity that we lose in the classroom, that we lose in school, that experimental mindset that we've talked about.
I've written down here on a piece of a paper as I'm listening to you talk, I've written down the commodification of art. I think that's what happened in the classroom and I think it's what's happened on the bookshelves. We've decided that art is a product and we've worked out how best to sell it. Nothing in our conversation tonight has been about that commodification, I guess you're the true epitome of an artist. Am I close?
Jules Horne: I don't, I think it's interesting because in Rose Morrissey’s blog recently there was some discussion of what is, what we are. Sometimes I find words quite pernicious actually because words are just time stamps put onto the whole massive experience and it happens to be that we have words like hobby and hobbyist and artist and it's a vocation and all these things. I think, oh my battery's running low. Let me just, it's not my battery, it's the computer's battery.
Melinda: We're just going to watch Jules up again. Just if everybody, now everybody's been listening here close on 50 minutes, I was going to cut down to 30 minutes and 40 minutes, it never, ever happens and especially in this conversation. So if you all want to turn off you can but I'm not going to.
Jules: The idea of artists, I must admit I don't describe myself as an artist, I have a lot of friends who are artists and I think it would be disrespectful to them and their particularly visual arts and that kind of thing because that's how they identify and I just, I'm a writer and I see that as something different.
But I think words can be quite pernicious and I think we should just do what we do and not sort of be disturbed by that, just kind of do what we do. I think what I do is writing and it's, it's my practice, it's my way, my living. I don't think that makes me an artist, but I don't know quite what the definition is. Does that help?
Melinda: I'm going to disagree, I've crossed my arms, I'm going there is writing is just a big of art form as any of the other arts that Jules just spoke about. I'm going to read you a little quote now and it's the normal thing that I would do when I'm introducing I guess a guest and now we're here, we're at 52 minutes and I'm going to say it. It's "Jules is as dazzling story teller, her touch is light but her handling deft, able to shift a mood from good natured to something darker in a handful of words." I'm going to suggest that Jules actually is an artist and she just hasn't come to terms with it yet.
The other book that I want to talk to you, Jules, about is Wrapped Town. Now, the cover alone is just gorgeous, it is bright, it is beautiful. Jules has another business called something or another, called Text House, the art of words. So I'm guessing art and creativity just ooze from you woman, I don't know what you're talking about. Tell us about Wrapped Town.
Jules Horne: Wrapped Town is a collection of story stories and they date back quite a few years now and Wrapped Town, the title story is about do you know the artist Christo? There's this artist who wraps things up, he wraps up islands and he wrapped up the Reichstag building in Berlin. I was also very inspired to see that he could do this very unlikely thing and I did actually visit the wrapped Reichstag in Berlin, it was just amazing, I just think it's absolutely wonderful and how it transformed this building.
I thought it would be brilliant if he could wrap my town because it's in a valley and it's quite long valley and you could very easily put a big sort of wrapping crossing the top of the valley. Of course, that's never going to happen. But I thought you can do it in a story. So I've essentially I've written a story where Christo wraps my hometown which is a town of secrets and things going on and how the experience of becoming part of a big art work in this small Scottish town transforms everybody's lives and when it comes to actually taking the wrapping off they don't want it go, they want to keep it, so what happens.
That's the title story, I think it's maybe quite a good example because the stories are quite, a lot of them are set in Scotland in the sort of small town environment that I come from, they also got this quite dark and quite sort of strange, strange things go on in these towns. I mean, this is a place where you have all these traditional horse pageants and things, there's just horses in every corner in my part of the world and lots of strange border rituals because this is the place where the meeting of the border between England and Scotland so it's quite an interesting place. It's very quiet nowadays but of course people have become more interested in borders recently, so particularly this one.
I think people's place, often you don't appreciate your place enough, you grew up with it and become a teenager and all you want to leave it and get the hell out and then I think really tuning into the place because it makes you who you are. I think it's really important for writers to really notice and appreciate the strange things that maybe they've just taken for granted and them kind of just really appreciate where you're from and make the best of it because we don't know about it, I mean your place is exotic for me and I'm fascinated to know about what goes on where you are and I think we need to recognize that about our own places that maybe interesting for other people.
Melinda: That's something that's really important for all of us as writers, exotic means something different for everybody and the everyday for one of us can mean something really wonderful for someone else and I think I spoke to someone, I was on their podcast and they spoke about my life and living in a caravan with two teenagers, two dogs and a cat, and I've now got two cats.
He kept saying yeah but how, how can you write, how can you miss out and do this. I'm thinking what are you talking about, living in a house sounds like an absolute nightmare and now that I am living in a house I'm absolutely correct it is a nightmare, it gets dirty, I have to open the curtains every day, I have to clean up every day and I'm thinking why do people want to do this stuff, there's stuff everywhere and it's damned hard work.
As you said it's everybody has a story to tell no matter where they are, no matter what they're doing and there is no one way of telling it. If there's one thing that came out of my chat with you tonight is that allow yourself to tell the story that you want to tell in the way that you want to tell it and don't be frightened to I guess push the barriers.
Jules Horne: Embrace what's distinctive about what you are and what you have around you because it will be, if you really embrace it it'll be interesting to someone else who's not had that experience. I just think really tuning into your surroundings and going for it is the way to go.
Melinda: That's from a creative writing teacher from Open University literate in creative writing. Is there one, and I'm guessing I was going to say is there one last thing that you would like to tell people, but I'm guessing you just did.
Jules Horne: I think that's it. It's do what you do, I think Rilke the poet says something about if you're doing something that annoys people or they kind of criticize you for it do it even more because that's a thing that's somehow evoking an emotional response and getting people interested. So really embrace that thing and really go for it and don't let people's own ideas of what's right and wrong put you off, put you off your path.
Melinda: That's what's getting me the sack from all my teaching jobs is that I keep pushing this boundary of creativity and I keep saying no let's give the kids their freedom, let's give the kids their heads, let's allow them to choose their learning. I just think we're on, as I said earlier I think we're on the cusp of that kind of future, where standing a middle aged woman in front of 28 indifferent students is long gone because they've all got their devices, they're all looking at the things they want to look at. They're all learning the things they want to learn in a way that appeals to them. We can be facilitators, we can open their minds to new opportunities, but teaching them content is just insane and testing them on it is even more insane. I keep getting shot for saying that.
Jules Horne: There's a sweet spot there, I think that's a really interesting thing that you've brought up there because what your daughter was saying about her, this is just a quick thing to finish off, sorry to go on. But what she was saying about being forced to do something she didn't enjoy and going through that difficulty in order to come out the other side with new learning, I think that's really important and one of the things that can happen if people are entirely left up to their own devices can mean that they go along the grove that's the path of least resistance.
We need to find a kind of, I think there's a sweet spot between following your passion and following your dream and all those things which and what said your syncretic and distinctive about you but also being asked or invited or forcing yourself to do something that's not what you normally do because that it's the tension between those two things I think where learning happens. So it's a bit of pushing of the boundaries and a bit of following your inclinations and it's finding that sweet spot I think that's really important. So not diving in where you don't feel comfortable is just as important as following what you're really drawn to.
Melinda: For every one of us who's listening out there and every one of us who is on the indie publishing journey and probably to a smaller extent the traditional publishing journey but that where learning happens, it's that juncture of the known and the unknown and that's where indie publishing is so very, very exciting and we talked about the idea of indie publishers as influencers.
This is exactly where we started and exactly where we're finishing up tonight is it's where learning happens, it's where indie publishers are situated right now. We are pushing boundaries in a way that is really, really exciting whether it be my podcast, whether it be our books, whether it be finding new audiences and new ways of telling our stories, it's got to be a wonderful way to end our conversation which has not been going for an hour, and not my fault! Jules fault everybody!
Jules Horne: I'm sorry!
Melinda: Nah, happens every week. Can I finish and if I don't finish like this I'm going to get in huge trouble, Gormenghast can you finish with your impressions of that rather amazing book or books because I know it's more than one. That is, it was a BBC series I believe in the very early days 1934 or something like that. Tell me what you think.
Jules Horne: Oh Gormenghast, Gormenghast is my influence, actually when I read it I started writing a bit like that afterwards because it's so influential. I'd like to talk, I can just mention Mr. Pye by Mervyn Peake because there's, if you've not read Mervyn Peake before the place to start is Mr. Pye which is about a guy on the island of Sark who starts growing wings. There's just wonderful characters in there, Miss Busby with her hat on and the wonderful illustrations from Mervyn Peake as well, so start with that one. I
have wonderful memories as a teenage of reading Mr. Pye by the sight of loch, my family were all having a picnic and I was, even then I was sort of child that wanted to go off and read books so I was reading Mr. Pye at the far side of a loch, really strong memories of that book and that lead me onto the Gormenghast, but if you haven't read Mervyn Peake he's got wonderful larger than life characters Steerpike and Fuschia and I actually met a girl, a women, a colleague who's called Fuschia after a character in Gormenghast. So yeah, wonderful books.
Melinda: Every writer should look at least once and if you get sucked in you're sucked in for life. Do it, do it, do it because your creative endeavours will never be the same again. Jules you've been absolutely wonderful, you've put up with all my transgressions as all my, I guess, all my guests have to do. You've been beautiful, intelligent, articulate, creative. You've pushed my boundaries even talking to you tonight. You've given me permission to go on and be who I am and continue to walk the path that I want to do. You're obviously a wonderful teacher, thank you very much.
Jules Horne: Thank you, see you soon!
Melinda: Okay, and we'll talk again and all those notes will be up there for our readers and I'll make sure that if you need to contact Jules and ask her more that you will be able to do and her books and everything and anything else that I've forgotten we'll just stick up there and it's all there for the asking. Goodnight from me.
Jules Horne: Thanks for having me.
Melinda: Bye Jules.