Today, I am beyond thrilled to be bringing you an epic interview with Veronica Strachan and Darren Kasenkow. These two dynamic and creative souls are the founders of ‘Australian Book Lovers’.
This wonderful platform promotes Aussie authors and their work to the world. Authors can upload their books and where to find them, helping to showcase our talented writers. The podcast is fabulous and I always look forward to the next episode dropping. It keeps me entertained on my long commute to the day job. The podcast includes author cameos promoting their books, writing news, author interviews, book reviews, and so much more.
Veronica and Darren are two of the friendliest and supportive members of the writing community, and I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by Veronica for the podcast. So, let’s get to it and find out a lot more about their work, and the inspiration for starting ‘Australian Book Lovers’.
How long have you both been writing?
VS: I wrote stories as a child, but life got in the way 😊 Despite wanting to write, I was channeled into sciences. I lasted at uni a whole 2 terms, then after a brief stint working, I spent the next 42 year in the health sector. So, I didn’t get back to creative writing until about 6 years ago when I was 55.
DK: I loved writing stories as a little kid and starting toying with the idea of writing a novel in my teenage years, though thinking back to what I actually put together makes me wince even today! I've always been a hardcore book lover – I can't think of a moment in time when I wasn't reading something, and have always been writing in one form or another, but it was around 2005 that I felt ready to dive into the deep end and begin to chase the dream of establishing myself as a bona fide author :) The chase is still on and I'm not sure where the finish line is, but the journey itself is a treasure that never stops bringing astonishment.
How long have you both known each other? The banter between you two is great!
VS: Believe it or not, we met on Twitter about three years ago. I was tweeting about my fantasy series ‘The Opal Dreaming Chronicles’ and Darren mentioned that he worked with opals (and other gems). He offered to send me one to have as inspiration. I thought this was so generous and tried to refuse. He insisted and then the banter back and forth inspired thoughts about co-authoring if the opal went awry in the post, due to some supernatural conspiracy – and so our supernatural action adventure ‘Beneath a Burning Heart’ was born!!!
Of course, DK may remember things differently. But, I reckon the banter comes from a place of being Aussie, loving writing, being insatiably curious, having opinions, and mutual respect. We try not to take ourselves too seriously.
DK: I think Veronica's memory is pretty accurate! Technically we've only met once in real life, but thanks to all of the communication and challenges we've set each other since agreeing to write a book together, I feel like Veronica has been a part of my life for far longer than three years :) Writing a book together has been a spectacular experience (something I would recommend to any author), with probably hundreds of hours spend sharing streams of imagination, discussions around the plot, the critiquing of each other's work and motivating each other to strive for magic!
What inspired you to create Australian Book Lovers?
VS: It was a combination of things. We were conversing regularly over Zoom as we wrote our book together, and often the ideas would just explode from a single spark. At the time, I was contributing to the Australian Women’s Writers Challenge (Reading more works by Australian women writers), and I was an early adopter of the #AusWrites hashtag started by Rebecca Langham (and now assisted by Kevin Klehr) so I was getting to know lots more Aussie writers, and both DK and I were slogging through marketing our books. It was 2020, (Covid-19) and we were bemoaning the difficulties in being found in the crowded market – and wanting to support other Aussie authors, and wouldn’t it be good if all the Australian authors were in one place… I’m pretty sure it was DK who said, we should start a website and he came up with the name Australian Book Lovers.
DK: Veronica and I spent so much time trying to sharpen our marketing skills and we were always looking for something “outside of the box” to give our books a fighting chance in the ever changing digital landscape. We began to chat about how cool it would be to have an Australian website so us Aussie writers could put together an amazing library and take on the world, and “Australian Book Lovers” jumped into my mind and simply wasn't going to go away. The next thing I know, it felt as if a giant tornado spinning with hope, inspiration and the drive to attempt the impossible ripped through the Covid fog and in what seemed like a blink of an eye the domain was registered, the partnership was signed, and the first digital heartbeats of the website began! Of course, so too did the hard work and steep learning curves...!
What are your favorite genres to read?
VS: Absolutely love speculative fiction, mostly fantasy (high, epic, dark, magical realism – and pretty much anything with dragons), scifi, dystopian, space opera, alternate history, near future, steampunk (pretty much anything with a smidge of hopepunk), and a little horror. But I’m also enjoying a whole range of Aus women’s writing in the contemporary, thriller and memoir areas. I also read non-fiction to learn more about writing and as part of my other work in leadership coaching and facilitation, and women writing on women.
DK: Over the last couple of years I've been a rabid reader of non fiction – I absolutely love coming back from the library or loading the Kindle with stacks of books covering subjects such as true crime, the origins of the universe, psychology and the mind, spirituality and the search for meaning by our species, as well as biographies by individuals of all walks of life that have pushed through barriers and broken free to be the person they wanted to be. Eventually all of this mashes together in my inner imagination washing machine, and when the ideas for what I'm writing are hung out to dry I'm confident of moving forward with a new expansion of understanding.
Who are your favourite authors?
VS: These authors shaped either my childhood and love of spec fic or both: Ursula Le Guin, A.A Milne, CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, Robert Jordan, Traci Harding, Julian May, Sara Douglass, Jasper Fforde, Steven Erikson, Kate Elliot, Stephen Donaldson, Margaret Atwood, Marion Zimmer Bradley And more recently, Lindsay Buroker, Kate Forsyth, Jay Kristoff, Claire G Coleman, Melissa Lucashenko and then of course women like Gloria Steinem, Marianne Williamson, and Maureen Murdock. I need to stop now, or I’ll begin naming every author I’ve ever read.
DK: Gosh, there have been so many books that have had great and profound effects on me by authors names I've forgotten, but the lessons learned and insights gained have definitely helped to shape who I am. When it comes to fiction I've always enjoyed Stephen King (of course!), Brian Lumley and his Necroscope series (if you're a vampire fan this is an absolute must!), Clive Barker for the way he can bring dark surrealism to the page, Peter F. Hamiltion for a mind bending journey across the universe in the Night's Dawn Trilogy, and beyond fiction there's Carl Jung, whose work cemented a respect for dreams, the underlying symbols we share in our societies, and the theory that ancient knowledge might be hidden deep within us all...
What challenges did you face, starting up the website / podcast?
VS: Though we were used to working virtually together over ‘Beneath a Burning Heart’, it was a disadvantage at times. It’s so much easier and more energizing to plan a business when you’re in the same room! For me, I need to see things in writing and so putting the business plan together with our big ‘why’ (why the hell were we doing this) was the first challenge. It’s great to have ideas, but you need planned action if you’re going to make something work long term (serial small business operator and project manager speaking here 😊) I already manage three websites and the thought of one more was initially overwhelming. But, Darren does an amazing job on the platform which leaves me free to look up authors and organisations, do the artwork, and keep the lists and files in order. And we get such lovely feedback from readers and authors appreciative of the platform, that I feel inspired to go on. Another side of the idea coin is that every time we do chat, we have SO MANY MORE IDEAS – and not enough time and money to do them all.
The podcast wasn’t so much of a challenge for me (Darren does all the editing). I’ve done plenty of public speaking and facilitating as well as community radio, so it’s been fun to go back to researching topics and chatting to people about their life and work. And as a coach, I’m innately curious about people and their motivations, so I’m never short of a question.
DK: In one respect it felt a little like walking through a dark, empty cathedral with only a small candle for direction, but every day the flame grew stronger, and more and more possibilities were revealed. The construction of the website was definitely a formidable learning curve, and continues to be so, but I've always approached things (some might say crazily) by deciding what I'd like and then doing whatever it takes to make it happen! There's been a lot of mistakes made and lessons learned, with many more to come, but I wouldn't have it any other way. Scaling the website for higher volumes and efficient management took some time, and we've got some great new features on the way which means a whole lot more learning and planning, but it's also been a whole lot of fun coming up with the logo ideas and seeing the website grow a little more everyday.
With regards to the podcast, the biggest challenge was the fact I'd never recorded one before! As a musician I've recorded a lot of music, but hosting a show and then hearing my own voice while editing and producing was definitely a strange experience – and still is! But I'm having absolutely amazing fun interviewing so many awesome Aussie authors, each of which never fail to inspire and motivate, and I love the idea of listeners getting to know such great writers and hopefully feel they are a part of our growing, passionate Australian Book Lovers community.
What has been the funniest moment while recording the podcast?
VS: We probably need a blooper reel. Lots of stumbles and stutters when we first began (and still now), so we end up laughing and having to edit things out. One we did capture was when I said something about ‘layers’ and Darren as a horror writer heard ‘slayers’. My diction needs improvement!
DK: Ah yes, the Slayer's!!!! As for one of my funniest moments, I think it has to be during the Romancing Australia Panel edition when I became a little too animated mid conversation and, swinging my head back in laughter, nearly ripped the headphones off 😊.
My favorite segments on the podcast are the author interviews and book reviews. What other exciting segments can listeners expect?
VS: We try and persuade authors to read a little of their work, some are a bit shy and some are short of time, but I love hearing authors read their own work. We’re starting to chat with industry organisations now, so people can expect to hear a bit more about tools and resources soon. And we’ve recorded out first genre panel – Romancing Australia. We’re planning more panels, not just other genres, but looking at specific themes and drawing together authors from a variety of areas. And we’re keen for other people to send in audio book reviews so it’s not just my voice that you’re hearing.
DK: Hmmm... the delicate art of hinting without revealing secrets! The podcast is still young, and the overall format is still being tweaked here and there, but as far as new features that might be coming? Well, I guess I can say I've invested in some additional studio equipment that I'm hoping will bring short stories to life in cinematic ways....
As an Aussie author myself, I’d like to thank you on behalf of us all, for helping to promote the brilliant work of Australian authors. Lastly, what do you hope to achieve in the near future?
VS: Thank you, that is so lovely to hear, and we’re very happy to have your books. Near future? I’d love us to get 1,000 books and 500 authors on the site and for the podcast to hit 50 episodes. That’s the practical and rational project manager in me, but for the inspirational I’d really love to have more Indigenous authors, more industry connections, and have the website be a place that all Aussie authors know they have to put their books, and readers know to go to ABL first to find great Aussie authors.
Thank you so much for all your support of ABL, Hayley, and for a chance to be on the other end of the questions for a change 😊
DK: In the near future, I'm really hoping some new additions that are in the works will transform the website into a far more interactive place to visit. I can't believe the support that we've been graced with, and every day I am just in awe of the truly spectacular titles that arrive in our inbox! I think something very special is growing, and if the momentum of the magic continues I really hope that in the next six months or so both the website and the podcast will become a premier location for Australian authors to promote and sell their works globally.
Drilling down a little, we're planning to produce audio book trailers to allow authors to fortify their marketing tool kit, are in the early stages of putting together our first writing competition, and are slowly putting plans together to hopefully bring authors and amateur recording artists together to build an indie audio book production platform... (but shhhh, that's a bit of a secret!) Saying all that, most importantly of all we'd love to hear suggestions from readers and writers out there, so if you have something you'd like to see on the website or hear on the podcast, we'd love to hear from you!!!
Thank you so much Hayley for the questions and the opportunity to share my thoughts with yourself and your wonderful readers – no dream is possible without the support of inspiring individuals and a warm and welcoming community that shares the same artistic passions, and you are definitely a shining example of both 😊. It's been an absolute pleasure, and I have no doubt there's further adventures to come!
Take care everyone, dream a little more every day, and read more Aussie books!
Wow, thank you so much to Veronica and Darren for sharing their inspiration with us. If you are an Aussie author, or a reader looking for a great Australian book, hop onto the website, and don't forget to listen to the podcast. Here are the links.