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!


  1. An interesting post. I'm definitely myself when I blog. I'm hopeless at dissemembling, and at least twice have dashed back to the computer to oblilterate a post which was inappropriate (ie a bit too me!).

    As for names, if we write, and want people to buy our books, then real names seem to make sense (although it's tempting to think up something more entertaining and adventurous).

  2. I hide away under two names online as you found out, Olivia. When I first started writing online I made bad spelling mistakes and lacked lots of confidence in my writing because of my dyslexia. The first name I used was one of my ancestor's names which is on facebook. She died when she was very young so I've kind of given her a new life in a world which is very different from her own. She's a kind of time traveler from 1881. Jarmara is a character from my latest scribbling. As I write as these two very different people am I somehow different from my real self? No, I don't think so. To me it would be like using one of my middle names. It's how other people see and know me which maybe different. I know you through your two different styles of writing, but in real life you seem like the same person to me.

  3. Thanks, Frances - and I do agree, using our real names is best for promoting books (or in my case, the name I've most recently written under!). I did find it quite hard 'being' Olivia and keepin my identity secret - not least because Olivia was supposed to be a 'new YOUNG writer'. Hmm ....

    Jarmara, I'm chuffed that I've worked out who you are and put the three names together! I love the fact that your FB identity is the name of an ancestor of yours. That's a lovely idea - I like the thought of her being a time-traveller! I bet she's dead excited at being on Facebook!

  4. I only chose a blog name because most others seemed to be doing it. It comes from a Walt Disney quote - "If you can dream it, you can do it."
    I don't think I'm a different person when I blog but I do think a lot about what I'm going to write. It's difficult to get across if I'm being tongue-in-cheek and I'm wary of offending people.

  5. Oh yes, Keith (if I may!) - I absolutely agree with the anxiety about offending people. It's always hard, not knowing whether readers are going to take things the way you intend them to. E-mail is bad enough in that respect but at least it's usually just going to one recipient! I had an experience early on, commenting on someone's blog, when I was misunderstood and upset someone, and I was mortified. I'd never intentionally say anything hurtful to anyone! So if I ever put my foot in it - tell me, OK? But nicely! :)

  6. Hi Olivia,

    Great post. I'm definitely myself when I blog. Good grief, I can barely keep up with the real me let alone with me as a different bogging persona as well! I'm confuddled enough as it is!

    Sounds a great book by the way - will have to look that on up.

    Julie xx

  7. That made me laugh, Julie - and I agree! I think it was hard work for 'Petite Anglaise', maintaining the persona she'd created. Oh, and I've just discovered that the blog still exists! How exciting - I haven't had a chance to have a good look at it yet but the link is
    http://petiteanglaise.com/about-this-site/ .

  8. hmm, an interesting post Olivia.

    I'm very much myself too and I sometimes wonder (or is it dream? ;) ) of whether that would continue if I were to become a 'proper' writer ie, published.

    At the moment my blogs are very open, often candid and display some of my weakness and insecurities.

    Whilst I appreciate an element of vulnerability can be endearing (even refreshing,) I suppose once a writer becomes a marketeable commodity, the element of being a professional might need to change the style.

    Hopefully it's a dilemma I shall have to face one of these days!

    warm wishes

  9. Interesting point, Bluestocking. I must admit, as a published author, I thought long and hard about whether to write my 'confession' post where I bared my soul about my current difficulties. The main reason I decided to do so was to show others in the same boat that they're not alone - that it's happening to lots of us right now and that it doesn't mean we're no good! Partly, of course, to try to convince myself of that fact, too! So yes, I am completely open and vulnerable now, and I do try to write this blog as if I were writing to friends.
    I really hope you do become a published writer soon. But you're a 'proper' writer anyway!

  10. Hi Olivia,
    I follow your blog, but I haven't read any of your books yet. Hopefully I will soon. At first I thought it was rude to just follow someone's blog without asking, but I only follow Teresa Ashby as I've been reading her stories for years. Patsy Collins as she has a great sense of humour and writes terrific stories which appear everywhere, also I follow Bridgehouse Publishing. I like the way you write on your blog, and hopefully can improve my writing from learning from the experts.

  11. Hi Suzy and welcome - nice to see you here. I certainly don't think it's rude to follow a blog without asking - I imagine most bloggers feel the same as me: the more the merrier! It's a compliment - and it's a compliment to make a comment to a post, too, so thank you!
    I like Teresa's blog too, and her stories.
    Good luck with your writing.