Saturday, 12 February 2011

Stats - and worldwide readers!

Thanks to my new blogging friend Frances (on, I've just discovered how to see the stats on my blog - you know, all the stuff about how many hits you get, and when, and where they're coming from. I know, I know - you'd think it was obvious, wouldn't you: there's a big tab there with 'Stats' on it, but needless to say, I'd managed not to see that and had to be directed to it! I did know how to look at the stats for my websites (I've got two: one for Olivia and one in my own name), but I actually think the Blogger stats are more comprehensive. So I've now spent a silly amount of time studying them when I should have been doing other things (you know how it goes!) - and I'm fascinated by what I've seen.

For instance: obviously most of my hits are coming from the UK - cheers, mates! And after that comes the USA - thanks, guys! (waves!). And third in the list is Russia, and then Holland - both countries where I've had translations published so it does give me a nice feeling to think that there might be people in those countries reading my books in their own languages and bothering to look me up. Germany features too, where one of my newest translations has just been published - but also France, Ukraine, and several other countries where I'm not aware of any of my books appearing.

But of course, there are lots of other reasons for people finding, and looking at, a blog or website - and I'm not so vain that I don't realise most of these hits are probably accidental. One of my websites' stats-page gives the phrases people have put into their browsers when they end up on my site - and often they have only a very tenuous connection to me or one of my books. For instance, I've had a lot of hits on the Olivia website from people planning hen weekends, weddings or honeymoons - something to think about when you choose a book title, perhaps! I always imagine them sighing with impatience when they see that they've landed on an author's website instead of what they were searching for, and clicking straight back to their search again!

I've also been told that some of the hits are from marketing companies looking at websites to see if they're worth targeting. And I know, too, that the name Olivia is very popular now (which is why my editor and I chose it, of course!) and people will inevitably be stumbling upon me when they're looking for other, younger, prettier, maybe new-born Olivia Ryans! Sorry about that!

I'm always thrilled when I receive e-mails, or messages via my websites, from genuine fans who are contacting me to say they've enjoyed one of my books or short stories. I think we authors often suffer from insecurity about our work (not surprising, when the odds are stacked so highly against us and we tend to get rejections like other people get hot dinners!) - and personally, even knowing someone is actually out there reading something I've written makes me feel a whole lot better. The thrill of fan mail from overseas can't be overstated - I've had readers contact me from India, for instance, as well as the States, Australia and various European countries. Taking the trouble to contact an author is such a huge compliment - now that I know how it feels, I sometimes do it myself when I've particularly enjoyed a book.

So - as Frances said on her own blog about her hits - I'd love to know who all these mysterious people are, who 'hit' my blog. Of course, we realise that not everyone wants to become a 'follower', or wants to leave comments - but I'd love to know if any of them are actually reading the posts, or whether they're all just accidental hits. In the absence of any proof to the contrary - I'll choose to imagine them all hanging on my every word, even those from South Korea and Slovenia. I know I'm probably fooling myself but ... well, it does my self-esteem a power of good!

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Our blogs and our identities

I've just finished reading a book I heard about quite a while ago - 'Petite Anglaise' by Catherine Sanderson. It's the true story of an English working mum who lived and worked in Paris, and how she started writing a blog in order to alleviate her boredom and her dissatisfaction with her relationship. I won't give away too much of the story in case you want to read it, but if I didn't know that she was among the very earliest bloggers, I'd have been staggered to read how her blog snowballed so that she had thousands of followers - mostly other English ex-pats living in France, but even so!! - and the blog became so popular, even famous, that she eventually got the book deal because of it.

If that sounds like a dream come true for most of us, don't forget that nowadays everyone seems to be writing a blog and I don't think blogging now has the novelty appeal that it once did, nor do individual blogs have such a chance to stand out from the crowd. Nice dream, though!

Catherine Sanderson called herself 'Petite Anglaise' in her blog, and admitted in the book that her alter ego developed a personality of her own, quite different from the 'real' Catherine. When she met people in the flesh, who had followed her blog, she would wonder whether they found her lacking - less confident, less interesting than 'Petite Anglaise'.

Do we all hide behind our blogging identities? Some of you may remember that I first started blogging in the name of 'The Write Woman'. I can't remember now why I wanted to keep my identity secret. I think perhaps it was just because I was a bit nervous of the whole blogging business. Once I got going and got used to it, I decided it'd make a lot more sense to write the blog as myself. But at that time, I had novels being published under the name of Olivia Ryan, so my editor suggested the blog should be in this name. Hence 'Olivia's Oracle'.

Until the third Olivia Ryan book came out, I was asked to keep quiet about the fact that Sheila Norton and Olivia Ryan were one and the same author, so my real name didn't feature on the blog for a while, either.

So am I different in real life from the person addressing you in this blog? Well, I don't think so - but that would be for those of you who know me in person to decide! I've never been very good at pretending to be anyone different from myself - which is why I'm a lousy actress and didn't last very long when I joined an amateur dramatic group!

But I do think - and certainly hope - that I probably come across as more articulate and eloquent when I'm writing, than I am in real life. (It wouldn't be difficult!). I suspect that's true for most of us whose main interest in life is writing! When I was younger, I'd spend hours on end writing letters to people for pleasure, so when we got a computer and I discovered e-mail, I felt like it must have been invented with me in mind! In 'real' conversation, especially now I'm getting on a bit - I find myself forgetting words, repeating myself, droning on and needless to say, like all of us, using bad grammar and syntax that would make me flinch if I read anything like it in print. And of course, as I use a lot of dialogue in my books, that's how my characters often speak too. It wouldn't be natural to have them all chatting away in grammatically perfect English without any hesitations, expletives or colloquialisms.

I'd be interested to know whether other bloggers write as yourselves in your blogs? Or do you feel as though you're acting, presenting a face to the world that isn't really your own? It's a fascinating thought.

Oh, and I did enjoy the book, although I thought the heroine came across as a little bit self-obsessed. But then ... maybe we all do. Maybe that's what blogging (aka writing about yourself) is all about!

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Cats & kittens

I mentioned in my last post that I'd had an article accepted by 'Your Cat'. It's the story of how my two Burmese cats went missing when we moved house 6 years ago, and writing it was quite an emotional task as it brought back memories of that difficult time. It ended 50% happy, by the way: we were reunited by Charlie, but sadly not with his brother Oscar.

Charlie is now over 14 and looking his age. He doesn't want much out of life apart from his meals, and to lie in one of three favourite places: on my lap (preferably while I'm at the computer - he's with me now!), on a blanket on top of the radiator in the kitchen, or under the radiator in the lounge. He does occasionally take to his proper bed, too, as long as it's next to the radiator! In the summer, though, he will still meander outside and find a sunny spot to doze in, and might even be encouraged by his much younger, half-Burmese friend Billy from next-door-but-one, to run around and play a bit!

So it's a pleasure that my youngest daughter and son-in-law now have two cute kittens: Fred and Wilma. Seeing them scampering around, playing with their toys and jumping over each other has brought back memories of Charlie and Oscar at that age. They grow up so quickly!

Fred and Wilma, being brother and sister, were taken to the vet last week for surgery to prevent any unfortunate episodes of incest. Wilma returned home in the obligatory head-collar to stop her pulling out her stitches - and I laughed out loud when my daughter described how she was running around the house trying to knock the collar off, while Fred kept going up to her and licking her head!

I felt quite sad to realise we're unlikely to see Charlie frolicking around like that any more these days ... but the other night he did prove there's life in the old cat yet, and that he can still surprise me. I walked into the bathroom, turned on the light and nearly jumped out of my skin. The toilet lid and seat were up (yes, I live with a man!!) and there was Charlie, perched precariously with all four paws on the rim, head right down, lapping water from the bowl! He's lucky he didn't overbalance and fall in, especially when I shrieked in surprise!

I immediately checked his drinking bowl - full of water. I have no idea why he suddenly decided it'd be a better idea to drink from the toilet, and to my knowledge he's never done it before (or since) - although we did used to have a Springer spaniel who made a habit of it! It's a dog thing!
Perhaps Charlie had a sudden memory (as we all do) of his younger days, watching Sophie-dog do just that, and wanted to give it a try. Or perhaps he's just getting old and silly, like his 'mum and dad'!

He's still good company and it's nice now, too, to see Noah toddling around after him, and then sitting down and very gently patting or stroking him. So good for children to learn, early on, to be kind to animals. I'll let you know when the piece in 'Your Cat' is published.