For insight on expat life mixed with a generous dose of British wit, few bloggers can match Jack Scott, the author whose blog, Perking the Pansies, led to a publishing contract and a busy writing career. His book, Perking the Pansies: Jack and Liam Move to Turkey, was published by Summertime in 2011, and he has since also produced two ebooks, Turkey: The Raw Guide, and Turkey: Surviving the Expats, containing highlights from his blog.
We recently chatted with Jack about blogging, publishing, and the thrills and challenges of being an author in the multi-platform era.
How did your blog come into being?
It all happened quite by accident. When my civil partner Liam and I jumped the good ship Blighty and waded ashore to Turkey, we fully intended to put our feet up and watch the pansies grow. We quickly discovered that the real challenge facing able-bodied ‘emigreys’ (as I call wrinkly expats) is finding a meaningful occupation to fill the long, samey days. It doesn’t matter what it is — a hobby, charity work, launching a Kate Bush tribute act, whatever: anything to avoid early onset boredom. Believe me, it can be terminal.
To keep myself on the straight and narrow, I decided to reveal the plot of our emigrey soap opera and chronicle the exploits of the mad, the sad, the bad, and the glad. Initially, it was in the form of an email commentary to the folks back home — I called my dispatches ‘witterings.’ As they gathered pace, Liam suggested I start a blog, and so Perking the Pansies was propelled at an unsuspecting world. To start with, I knew absolutely nothing about this blogging lark, how it worked, or what might follow.
Who did you imagine your audience would be when you started out?
I honestly thought I would be talking to myself. Miraculously, my ramblings struck a chord from the outset, particularly with expats internationally. Perking the Pansies clocked up over 120,000 hits in the first year; not bad for an obscure blog reporting from a minor peninsula on the Aegean coast of Turkey.
Have your assumptions and expectations changed over time?
You could have knocked me over with a feather boa when a publisher asked me to write a book about our lives as reckless lotus-eaters. I set to the task with considerable vigor and Perking the Pansies: Jack and Liam move to Turkey was released at the end of 2011.
How have these exciting developments changed your writing trajectory?
This entirely unforeseen success has opened up a whole new career for me as an author. Partly because of this, Liam and I decided to paddle back to Britain on the evening tide and we eventually washed up in Norwich, a little gem in eastern England. Inevitably, this new direction resulted in a radical change of focus for the blog.
Any thoughts about the homecoming thus far?
To be honest, I was expecting plummeting ratings, a kick to the graveyard slot, and cancellation of the show mid-series. In fact, I’m relieved to report that I have more subscribers than ever. I’m incredibly grateful to everyone who pops by to show their support. It’s all been quite a journey.
Has the overarching purpose of the blog changed over the course of its existence?
The blog had always been a labour of love for me, a way to express random (and not so random) thoughts about my life and observations about the world around me. I write in a typically British tongue-in-cheek, sardonic style and I don’t take myself too seriously. Occasionally, I do write longer pieces about things that matter to me, particularly when I’ve got a bee in my bonnet. Otherwise, my posts tend to be short, humorous, and none-too-serious.
By now you’ve published a hard-copy book, two ebooks, and have continued to work on your blog. How do you see these different platforms interact with one another?
The blog is an essential tool when it comes to promoting my writing projects. These days, few authors can just sit back and expect someone else do all the marketing. There’s a lot of hard graft involved and a dynamic online presence is vital. A blog or author website is a must, as is cross-fertilization across social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter. Of course, the trick is to publicize with a light touch. By now, I reckon most of my regulars have either bought the book or would rather read the back of an envelope — so it doesn’t do to bang on too much about it.
It sounds like the multi-tasking can get quite intense.
Sometimes, it can all feel like a bit of a treadmill. Fortunately, WordPress.com takes the sting out of the tail with their auto-posting feature, an absolute godsend. I’ve also developed my own personal service to help authors get the message out there. If anyone’s interested, pop across to author2author.
What role has the WordPress.com community played in your journey as an author? Are there any features to this platform you’ve found particularly useful?
Blogging is a great auditioning process for writing, and the best way to experiment and grow your fan base. Fundamentally, it provided me with a ready-made audience for my book. Blogging is also an important and democratizing force, giving a real voice to those who might otherwise not have one.
WordPress.com, in particular, is an easy platform to use and I’m not surprised by its popularity. You can hit the ground running in minutes. The wealth of (mostly free) features and themes to suit every taste and genre swung it for me, and then I discovered the top drawer support from loyal and dedicated users. I’ve stuck to WordPress.com rather than switch to WordPress.org because I’m happy to steer clear of the technical aspects of self-hosting a website. I just want to publish and be damned!
Getting down to the nitty-gritty, how did you choose the Sight theme for your blog?
My blog design has changed over time as I’ve tried on different looks for size.
I grabbed the Sight theme as soon as it was launched. For me, it offers clean, sophisticated lines, a crisp font, and flexible simplicity that is visually appealing without getting in the way of my writing.
Do you have any design or writing tips to offer to aspiring bloggers?
In terms of tips and hints about the blogging game, there are some simple rules of engagement I try to observe:
- Aim to post at least once a week. It’s good for SEO and will help garner an audience. In the crowded blogosphere, content is king and the best content is new, fresh, and frequently updated.
- Break up your words with interesting and relevant images. Keep your page clean and uncluttered. Fussy, multicolored scripts and busy designs can hurt the eyes and put the reader off.
- Fans can be fickle and lazy. Make it easy to follow you by adding your social network links and the chance to subscribe to your pearls of wisdom by email.
- Engage with your blogging peers as much as possible. It’s good to talk and networking pays big dividends.
- Cultivate a strong social media presence.
What’s next for you? Any exciting upcoming projects you’d like to share with us?
The second and final installment of my memoir from the Turkey years is almost done and dusted. It ties up the fraying loose ends and brings our escapade to its crashing conclusion. It’s got a working title of ‘the Sisterhood,’ which gives those readers familiar with the first episode a bit of a clue about the storyline. I’m presenting my publisher with a bit of a corker and more than a few surprises. For more information about me and my work, please check out my author website at Jack Scott Books and, of course, the WordPress.com blog that started it all, Perking the Pansies.
Good luck with your future projects, Jack, and thanks for the chat!
You might also enjoy other posts from our Blogger Profile series:
- A Blog-to-Book Success: Catching Up with WordPresser-Turned-Bestseller Jared Gulian
- War and Life Afterwards: An Interview with Brian Castner
- Blogger Profile: Poet and Author Kellie Elmore
- Blogger Profile: David Gaughran