Carly Findlay began her writing career as a blogger and is now in the process of finishing her first book. We spoke to Carly ahead of her upcoming Pathways to Publication webinar about her own road to publication, which has included television appearances, a high social media profile, and fighting discrimination against disabled people.
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learnt so far during your publication process?
Just how many people are keen for my book to do really well – and for me to be the best writer I can be. I have an agent now – Jacinta Di Mase Management – and Jacinta and her team have encouraged me from the moment I called her asking what to do after a publisher contacted me in January. She pitched my book to nine publishers and five came back with offers. All of the publishers were lovely – having to tell four publishers I wasn’t going with them was like leaving puppies behind. My publisher, Catherine Milne at HarperCollins, has been so nurturing yet firm, telling me to shake that monkey off my back and get writing. And there has been wonderful support from my existing readers and strangers excited about my book. I haven’t enjoyed the writing process as much as I’d hoped to, and a few times I thought I couldn’t do it, but other people’s excitement and encouragement has made the hard slog worth it.
You’ve appeared on TV shows such as ‘You Can’t Ask that’, and you’re active on social media. What are the best and worst things about having such a high public profile?
The best thing is having someone write to me or stop me in the street and say my work has helped them in some way – maybe think about disability and appearance diversity differently, or my writing and photos have given them confidence to be proud of their facial difference or skin condition.
The worst thing is people’s expectations of me – it feels like they’re waiting for me to trip up. From the expectations that I’ll give my time and friendship to someone who is emotionally abusive, to policing me on language and my career decisions, it can be tiring and hurtful.
How important is it for disabled people to tell their own stories in different formats?
I love how social media allows us to tell our own stories at low cost and in real time. Social media has removed some of the social barriers we face around being heard. We can blog, post text and photos to social media, create videos and connect with other disabled people. It’s also easier for us to reach the mainstream – editors and publishers are often on social media and are sometimes looking to publish diverse voices.
Our voices should be centred. Rather than interviewing a parent or disability sector worker, ask an actually disabled person – the issue is most likely affecting them the most. I did a quick video for the ABC this year – advice for journalists and editors when reporting disability.
A complaint you made about treatment from a taxi driver led to you taking part in a video that educated the taxi industry about disability. You’re also involved in disability training with organisations. How important is education, and is the perception of disability changing?
It’s important we tell our stories of discrimination so people can see what actually happens. So often I receive the response, “I can’t believe that happens” – but it does. The more we educate on our own terms, the more people can look at their own and others’ behaviour and say, “that’s not okay”.
Sometimes during my training people can get defensive about their beliefs about disability – and I think that’s because of their cultural background and how they’re used to disabled people as heroic or tragic figures. When I tell them disabled people aren’t there to make non-disabled people feel better about themselves or to inspire simply because we exist, and show them some examples of problematic media, they soon change their perception. It can be really rewarding to see their mindset shift – and know they’ll take some of what they’ve learnt back to their workplace and the wider community.
It’s important that we are paid for our work though – organisations should pay us to write, speak and train.
Prior to writing your memoir you’ve written for magazines, websites and on your blog. How important has this work been in finding your voice?
Writing my blog was really good practice for writing for the mainstream media. It showed editors I could write regularly, build my voice, develop and nurture an audience and explore ideas. It has also meant I’ve met many wonderful writers in my niche and outside.
Blogging also enabled me to get to know myself – to identify as disabled, and to explore ideas I didn’t know existed until I wrote about them.
I wish I had more time to write on my blog now. It was the purest form of writing – actual writing for pleasure rather than to a deadline! Maybe when the first draft is in, I’ll be able to write for it more!
I credit blogging for giving me so many writing and speaking opportunities. If it wasn’t for that little BlogSpot blog I set up in December 2009, I’m sure my career wouldn’t be where it is today.
About Carly Findlay
Carly Findlay is an award-winning writer, speaker and appearance activist. Carly has the rare, severe skin condition called Ichthyosis. She writes on disability issues for publications including ABC, Daily Life and SBS. She was named as one of Australia’s most influential women in the 2014 Australian Financial Review and Westpac 100 Women of Influence Awards. She has appeared on ABC's 'You Can't Ask That' and 'Cyber Hate' with Tara Moss, and has been a regular on various ABC radio programs. Carly is currently writing her first book - a memoir - to be published by HarperCollins in 2018. Read her writing on appearance diversity and disability at carlyfindlay.com.au