Magdalena Ball runs compulsivereader.com, a website based in Australia. She is a literary force in her own right and anyone who hosts a website devoted to reading, particularly compulsive readers, of which I am one, has to be highlighted in some form or fashion, and this is my way of extending my thanks and acknowledgement for what she does. Thank you, Magdalena.
How is life different in Australia compared to having lived in the United States?
I really don’t think I can compare as it was a different time, not just a different place. I left the US when I was around 22, single, and going to England to study. I had spent most of my young life in NYC. I’ve lived in Australia for some 28 years, in a very rural country setting. I’ve had 3 children here. Life is so different that it’s like comparing youth with middle-age. It’s different in so many ways that I’d have to write an entire memoir to just start touching on those points. (it’s in hand – sort of).
Could you explain what the job functions of a Research Support Lead are?
That’s my day job! I support the processes of research and innovation. I run a library, do literature searches, obtain grants and concessions, help write up proposals, encourage and support our new idea process and do a lot of things on spreadsheets.
Can you tell us about the differences between the educational system such as Oxford compared to City University of New York?
I was an undergrad at CCNY and a grad student at Oxford, so again, we’re not really comparing apples with apples. However, the Oxbridge system was very different to what I was used to as an undergrad in NY. I found I was mostly on my own with my thesis except for a once a week session with my supervisor. It was just me, the library, and a lot of anxiety! I was welcome to attend lectures if I wanted to (though none were relevant to my thesis topic), and I did have a few mandatory textual criticism classes I had to attend for my ‘qualifying exams’, but mostly there was no structure. I also was used to the ‘Socratic method’ of US university, where I was encouraged (indeed my grade depended on it) to participate heavily in classroom analysis. This was not really the done thing in an Oxford lit lecture, at least in my experience. I had to learn a lot of things the hard way (cough gauche American cough).
The Compulsive Reader website has grown considerably over the years. Is it self-sustaining for the most part, or does it take regular and constant oversight?
I do it all myself – which is my choice. So all reviews come to me, I do all the editing, and put them up and control what is seen and create the monthly newsletter. So regular and constant oversight. But I suspect I could hand it over to a few of my more trusted reviewers if I needed to, or just stop doing anything for a few months and it wouldn’t matter too much.
You have done collaborations with other authors. What makes some collaborations work better than others?
All of my collaborations have been positive! Firstly I really like to open into the difference of another’s viewpoint, so even if it looks strange or uncomfortable to me, I tend to see that as a positive thing. But trust, mutual respect, and the ability to put aside ego for a final product that is something different and generally better than either of us could accomplish alone are all key things. My collaborations have always been with artists who are both unbelievably talented and simultaneously humble and open. The perfect combination! I’ve been lucky.
You have been reviewed and done reviews. When you are writing a review, what is it that is foremost in your mind?
I always want to create an assessment which is going to be of value to a potential reader. So it’s important to me to substantiate what I say – always – to provide examples and detail.
Some people read reviews of their works. Others don’t look at them at all. How do you, as an author, handle reviews?
Lol – I don’t get that many reviews so I read everything and for the most part, am pathetically, stupidly grateful if anyone says anything even remotely positive about my work. I’ve had a few reviews that were so wonderful and intelligent that they were like works of art themselves. I usually read them several times – sometimes just to keep me going if I start to feel insecure. If I get a bad review, I take it on the chin and don’t talk back – it’s part of the deal. I have had a few bad reviews, though I have to admit that I’ve never received a negative review that struck me as intelligent! That might be very painful.
Where do you see the literary world, particularly that of poetry, going in the future?
Well, poetry seems to be having a moment. I see it becoming more and more important – not just in terms of a literary reader, but in terms of the common reader. I also think that the notion of a distinct, identifiable genre is slipping. I’ve read many wonderful books lately that are poetry, essay, literary criticism, memoir, and fiction all at once and they’ve worked beautifully. I also predict that curation – the small, careful, attentive publisher who really produces quality books – will become more important, especially as their beautiful books continue to win literary prizes.
Is there anything you would like to comment on?
Readers wanting more can always come and link up with me on the socials (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) or at my website. Thanks very much for taking the time and trouble to come up with questions for me!
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