Years back, soon after I signed up with Penguin Ireland with The Catalpa Tree, my editor and publicist asked if I had a website. No, I said, I did not, and I wasn’t planning on getting one. They were surprised – every author, by then, had a website, because websites made it easier for readers to find you, gave you an online presence and helped to sell books. But that was exactly why I didn’t want one – because everyone was doing it. I can be a tad contrary …
We moved around a bit when I was growing up, so I was usually a bit of an unknown quantity in my various schools – an outlier. An outlier, perhaps, but never lonely, because I’ve always been blessed with great friends, some from amongst the popular crowd and others on the fringes like me. To be fair, I could be a bit weird, though not frantically so – there is a deep conformist within, since conforming comes with a degree of invisibility, so my statements of individuality were largely quiet ones. However, they came to the fore in secondary school in Australia, where I was confronted by the casual dress code of the time. Most of my peers wore round-necked jumpers, with shirt collar sticking out, tucked into straight-legged corduroy jeans and a suede lace-up shoe-boot type of footwear. It baffled me. I was strictly in the bell-bottom camp, and my jeans weren’t simply flared, but as wide as I could find in the State and my platforms competed with skyscrapers. For a while I wore different coloured eye-shadow on each eyelid, black lipstick and multi-coloured nail varnish – unheard of in those days, and while schoolmates were declaring lifelong love for the Osmonds, I fell for a passing sixties fad known as the Beatles. But I suspect it was the jumpers tucked into corduroys that sparked a lifelong wariness of trends. Tell me it’s all the rage/popular/fashionable/in demand and I run for the door – to the consternation of many a shop assistant. And yes, I was the last of my friends to get a mobile phone.
However, being contrary isn’t always the right call. In spite of the obvious advantages of having a website, I remained happily without for years … until.
In 2016, my story, Wallpaper, won a flash fiction award with an extraordinary prize: a two-week residency in Ernest Hemingway’s studio in Key West. The competition was devised and run by Carol Shaughnessy, of Florida Keys and Key West Tourism, who called to give me the news a day short of my birthday, which, it turned out, was also her birthday. We hit if off immediately and when I touched down in Key West’s tiny airport, meeting Carol was like catching up with an old friend. However, as soon as I climbed into the back of their car, she exclaimed, ‘Denyse – why don’t you have a website?! We couldn’t find you! Or your agent!’ Humbled, jetlagged and still struggling to grasp that I was about to become the first author since Ernest to write in his studio – and already in awe of this remarkable woman – I immediately conceded that the time had come. A few days later, in my little cottage, Carol showed me how easy it was to set up a website. I promised to do it. She was, after all, a highly successful publicist and I was the idiot.
A few months later, under the patient direction of a couple of Dutch students who lived with us – art students, web-savvy and lovely – I began the head-wrecking process of creating a website. Though frustrating at times, I learnt a lot, and the finished product, although rather busy, wasn’t a bad effort.
It aged with the years. Now websites need to work on multiple devices, so I hired a professional designer whose work I admired – and here you have it – a brand new website, out in the world should anyone be looking for me. Carol will be proud.
I have even decided, under considerable pressure, to include an occasional letter, which I have also resisted, but since as I have long-since championed the old-fashioned art of writing letters, it will be no hardship to indulge in the writing activity that I have practised the longest, and love the most.
And the first rule of writing a good letter? Don’t go on about yourself. So, uhm, how are you?
All best, Denyse