Welcome to the blog, Robert. I am thrilled to share you with my blogging friends.
We met via the writing site, Triond, many moons ago. A site that has gone through many changes, and in my mind, has lost its sparkle, and the colourful writer, Louie Jerome (RIP). Having said that, I am grateful for the boost it gave me in the writing world, and for our ongoing, online friendship. How do you see your journey via Triond?
When I discovered Triond it was a revelation. I do not know why but I had never really considered online writing/journalism before. I think perhaps it was because I thought I would probably have to set up my own site and that was something of an intimidating thought. Triond allowed me to experiment, in the early days, both with the sort of content that I wanted to write and the sort of content that would appeal to a wide audience.
I really enjoyed my time at Triond, most of it at least. By far the best aspect of the site was the camaraderie and support between writers – although the forums were not always that friendly! Once my posts were published then I soon discovered that was only half the job – the next thing to do was to find an audience. I relied at first on my ever-patient friends (I remember announcing to one with glee that something I had written had had 8 hits in a day!) and then I began to discover that there were sites out there that actively sought good, new and interesting content. I was away…
Yet eventually Triond did, as you put it so well, lose some of its sparkle. I also felt that with my writing popping up on this, that and the other Triond site that my online ‘voice’ was developing but not with any great consistency and then only as a writer by the name of RJ Evans – not as the person. I felt more and more that I wanted to personalise my online presence and so made the decision (after much deliberation, experimentation and procrastination!) to start up my own site. I haven’t really looked back.
You run several blogs and websites. Tell the readers what they are, and where they can be found in Cyberspace?
The two I would like to mention here are Kuriositas.com and ArkInSpace.com. Kuriositas was not the first blog I created but it was the one that I launched after playing around with another for a year or so. By the time Kuriositas featured its first post – on 13 March 2010 I felt I was ready to inflict myself on the internet!
As a by the by – I chose the name Kuriositas from curiositas, my original choice and the Latin for curiosity (close to modern Spanish too). However, although the dot com name was available for purchase it was priced at several thousand dollars! So, I replaced the ‘c’ with a ‘k’ and bought it for a tenner instead.
Kuriositas was followed soon after by Ark in Space. Where the former reflects my twin passions of art and science, the latter focuses on the wonderful wildlife on Earth and how we should cherish the whole planet as a marvellous blue ‘ark in space’ (ta da).
Where do you find the topics for your intriguing posts?
I have to admit I often resort to search engines and type in something inane like ‘amazing Spain’ and see what pictures come up. Yes, pictures! Both sites are very, very visually oriented and so that’s how I start off. If I see something engaging, then I start to do a little research which often turns in to a lot.
The vagaries of the internet are, of course, that something you spend days writing will receive approximately twenty hits – and most of those are your friends and family! Then, something you put together in what seemed like nanoseconds in comparison does the viral boogie through cyberspace. I can honestly say I still do not know for sure whether a feature I write is going to ‘click’ with people.
Here’s an example. I recently wrote something about a particularly cool tree on the shore of Lake Superior. Just a tree. Two hours later it had already crossed over the 20k hits mark. As our American cousins would say – go figure!
I am grateful, too, that as Kuriositas has developed it has become one of the ‘go to’ places for independent animators and filmmakers and I feature a lot of their work – which is something approaching bliss for me as I love the moving image just as much as the still one (you have probably got it by now that I like pictures!). As well as being able to showcase some exhilarating work I often get to be the first person to do it.
Share your most favourite post with us, and why is it your favourite?
I guess it has to be the one I wrote about Lofoten. Once I had seen pictures of this remarkable place I knew I had to write about it. In a nutshell, it is a place in Norway which is north of the Arctic Circle but due to the largest positive temperature anomaly in the world relative to latitude, it has a considerably milder climate than you would think possible. You can see the post here:
I know writing is not your full-time job, and you are around young students in your work. Do you draw inspiration from them for your projects?
I teach at a Further Education College in South East London and run the Level 2 IT Diploma provision for 16-18s. They haven’t done very well at school for any number of reasons (not always ‘bad’ ones either, my job is not as some of my friends have joked, a re-run of “Dangerous Minds”). My role is to enable them to get the equivalent of 4 to 6 GCSEs in a single academic year so they can move on to their A’ Levels. It’s an amalgam of promoting learning, building confidence, helping the kids to prepare for the future (and pushing them right in to its path) and nurturing academic development.
A number of my students take an active interest in my outside endeavours and often suggest subject matter for me. As I work in one of the most ethnically diverse areas in the UK, they often demand that I write about their special places in the ‘old country’. It’s also an inspiration for me when they take what I have taught and then proceed to run circles around me. One student from a few years ago is now my web designer and manages to twist code to do what he wants in ways that often leave me scratching my head.
My students also have to study a unit called ‘Communicating in the IT Industry’ which they very quickly call ‘the blogging unit’ even though it is much more than that. Part of it gives them two months to develop a fully functioning blog that generates income (which they get, I promise!) through advertising. This is their ‘online magazine’ from this year – http://www.2wenty4se7en.com. They did everything you can see there. I was quite to very proud of them.
What my ‘minions’ (as I called them this year in homage to Despicable Me) don’t realise when they sign up is the course is just as much about improving their English skills as their ones in IT. I remember, about April this year, approaching four of the lads who were gathered around a computer in (what I thought) a somewhat furtive manner. When I discovered that they were highly engaged in proof-reading an article that one of them was about to post I almost cried. But I didn’t – that wouldn’t have impressed them at all!
I had a particularly energetic cohort this year and by Friday afternoons I was cross-eyed and fit for nothing other than a ‘nanna nap’ on the couch. It is a hard job and they do sometimes get in to trouble. Something they reminded me of a number of times this year was when I exasperatedly said to them ‘You lot should make me feel like Mr Chips but I always seem to end up feeling like Fagin!’
However, I do love the job. September will see my twentieth year at the same institution. So, yes, you could say they inspire me on occasion!
If you were told you had to sit somewhere in the UK, without Internet, or human contact, for a week, where would you choose? And why?
On the banks of the gorgeous Machno. It’s a river in Snowdonia in north-west Wales. My father (a local boy) knew all the secret places which no tourists could ever find (mostly on private land!) and used to take the family trout fishing there. It has some places which can only be described as Arthurian in the aspect of their wild and mystical beauty. I could just sit there and watch the trout swim around forever.
Do you cook? What is your speciality dish?
I’m not a very adventurous cook but do have a few signature dishes. I think that I would have to say my speciality is the full British Sunday Roast; beef, yorkshires, gravy and all the trimmings. It can be a difficult one (honestly!) as everything has to be ready at the same time but I have honed it to a fine (ish) art over the years.
Musical stars, who is your favourite of all time?
Just one? If I had to choose it would have to be The Smiths, a band I fell in love with in the 1980s. Their music defines a particular era for me (my university days) and there are a number of their songs I cannot hear without experiencing a particular frisson of musical hiraeth (look it up, it doesn’t translate in to English very well!).
Favourite book? Favourite film/movie?
Books – way too many to mention. I can still relish the likes of Dickens (my specialist subject at university) and Austen but also admire modern authors, Faulks, Barker, Mantel and Carey particularly. My favourite book is probably The Chrysalids by John Wyndham which I first read when I was 12 and have just read again. It’s a powerful tale of prejudice and telepathy! The author I most respect (and would like, in my dreams, to emulate) is William Golding. He was a 43 year old teacher when his first novel, The Lord of the Flies, was published in 1954. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1983.
I honestly could not give you a favourite film. There would be about twenty in joint first place and then hundreds in the top ten!
Marketing ourselves, and our work is hard. Where do you market yourself/blogs?
I am not as active now as I was in terms of marketing my writing. Part of it is that I have found an audience, albeit not as large as I would like! What I have seen happen is that focusing my work on just a few blogs has had a cumulative effect and I am ‘discovered’ as much by search engines now as social media.
Having said that, I do have pages on Facebook for the two sites I have mentioned here, although one of my marketing ‘minions’ recently overenthusiastically reduced the Kuriositas page from 7,000 to zero in a single day for breaking their rules… He didn’t do it maliciously and thought he was helping so his death was merciful.
I enjoy Reddit but don’t promote my own work there (bloggers who do this are frowned upon) but when some nice person does link to one of my posts and people upvote it, it can mean 100,000 hits in a day. StumbleUpon used to be great but changed a year or two ago which reduced my hits from it massively.
I am helped, too, by sites like Presurfer, Neatorama and Dark Roasted Blend – part of the network of blogging friends I have built up slowly over the years. It is sometimes a surprise where the links come from. The Daily Mail, the BBC and Wikipedia among others have shocked me in the past by linking to my sites. The Polish equivalent of Reddit, Wkyo, is a great source of hits as is a similar Spanish upvoting site, Meneame. However, Google search is now the biggest source of hits for Kuriositas which usually gets around half a million visitors a month, more if I am lucky.
Any plans for the future?
I am currently developing, with the help of an ex-student, a new site which will be about music with the content hopefully being generated by the users. We are still working on the look and feel of the site (as well as the vagaries of HTML code!). It is out there but not open to visitors just yet! We are hoping to unleash it in the autumn, fingers crossed.
Thanks for a fascinating interview, Robert, and I wish you well for the future.