New portfolio page up

As a writer, you absolutely need to build an online portfolio that showcases all your work in one, organized online destination. Imagine how hard it is for people to try and find examples of your work scattered across the Internet. Instead, they should be able to access all of your work in one destination that promotes your brand, your expertise, and who you are as a professional. This will make you more visible in search results and generate more business opportunities. Here are the portfolio platforms – specifically for writers – that will create the centralized web presence you need.

So read the advice in an article I found online. It was something I had been thinking about for quite a while already – gathering up all the bits and pieces from my very fragmented portfolio, scattered across Facebook, Pinterest, and LinkedIn – and displaying them all in ONE place. But I hadn’t figured out where and how to do it, in order to tell my writing story the way I wanted it to be told.

So I duly went about checking out the six best portfolio platforms mentioned in the article, and eventually decided to give one of them a bash. Granted it was a free site, so probably not the best option, but the final result was visually just sooo dismal (hello, the 1990s called and they want their web page back!), that I ended up deleting the whole account and, in true Paula fashion, chose to do things my way instead.

And so now, after much brainstorming, collating, crafting, and dozens and dozens of tweaks – to get it looking and feeling just right (my husband calls me Goldilocks), I present to you my brand new Writer page, which is also now the landing page, on this website. Click here to see it!

I realised it just made so much sense to add ALL my writing experience – as both an author and a writer (yes, they are separate things – all authors are writers, but not all writers are authors), to an existing and content-rich website which, for all intents and purposes, is the online nucleus of my personal brand.

Anyway, as you will see from the collection of samples I included, my writer’s journey (separate from my author’s journey) has been a crazy and colourful one to date. As stressful as a writing career can be at times, there is honestly nothing else I’d rather be doing with my life, and I really look forward to seeing what the future holds 🙂

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When’s your next book coming out?

On Saturday I’ll be celebrating my one-year work anniversary at Meropa Communications. This little interview appeared on the company’s Facebook page today. Thought I’d take the opportunity to share it here, for you guys to get a better feel for what I actually do for a living (and hopefully explain why my second book is taking so long to finish writing!)

• Please explain your journey through Meropa?

I joined Meropa on 1 December 2017 as senior writer on a global blue-chip account. Our team of six is quite unique in the Meropa family in that we are based off-site, within an integrated ad agency which was specifically created for and is dedicated to this one client. The ad agency has a global presence, and we all eat, sleep and breathe the same brand. I have a hot desk at the Meropa office, and another one at our client’s premises, but for the most part I work in a fun and high-pressure ad agency environment. When I reflect on the past 12 months, I can’t believe how much I’ve learned, and how much I’ve improved as a writer – not just as a corporate storyteller, but across all styles of writing. I’m surrounded by interesting and inspiring people and have made some firm friends along the way. In terms of my now 18-year-long career in the greater media and communications industry, this has definitely been one of my most productive and rewarding years to date.

• What makes you a Meropian?

I am proud to work for such a well-established, ethical, and authentically African agency, with an empowered company culture, and a reputation for excellence. With an extensive and wonderfully diverse portfolio of clients, I find the scope for growth and development within the organisation very exciting.

• What do Meropians have for breakfast?

News, news, and more news. Whether it be via the radio, TV, newspapers, online, and yes, even the good old grapevine, it’s all fuel for the day ahead. Keeping abreast of topical issues and sensitivities within the societies and countries in which our clients operate is crucial to staying ahead of the curve, and producing work of relevance and value.

• What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned while being at Meropa?

Working in an integrated ad agency environment, and being exposed to all the different departments – creative, DTP, quality assurance, marketing, media, social media, client service, operations, and PR – has opened my eyes to just how many teams, individuals, and specialised skill sets it takes to run an operation of this size. I also think the value of new blood in an intergenerational workplace cannot be overstated. From what I have witnessed, Millennials are a lot savvier than we old-timers were in the equivalent early stages of our careers. And if/when we take the time to really listen to what they have to say, we’ll realise they have more to offer than we usually give them credit for.

• What has been your most memorable moment at Meropa?

In June I received the most amazing recommendation on LinkedIn from a high-ranking executive at our client’s HQ in the US, who flew out to SA for the launch of a big CSR initiative: “Paula – great to meet you last week – thanks for all your support for our event. I must say your speech writing talent is exceptional! I am very appreciative of the lengths you went to in preparing and the level of detail you included. I was super impressed. Perhaps our paths will cross again! Keep up the great work there in South Africa!” There’s not much that comes close to that warm, fuzzy feeling of one’s work being publicly acknowledged by a satisfied client.

• What’s your special skill?

Easy reading is damn hard writing. And I think the most valuable skill I bring to the table is being able to craft the most felicitous prose. I particularly enjoy writing op-eds, speeches, and human interest stories.

• Any additional comments you would like to add?

I feel like I have finally found my niche as a writer, and am incredibly grateful to Meropa for giving me the opportunity to do what I love for a living.

#FutureIsFemale #WednesdayWisdom #MeropaPride

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Winds of change

A little under a year ago I landed an amazing job as Senior PR Writer on the Meropa/Ford account. Over the past few days, my GTB colleagues and I have been coming to terms with news of “the biggest account move in advertising history”, namely Ford’s announcement of BBDO as its new lead creative agency, effective 1 November 2018.

BBDO is part of Omnicon, which is a rival group to WPP. WPP, which created GTB, is the biggest advertising conglomerate globally, and has been Ford’s lead creative agency since 1943 (JWT was acquired by WPP in 1987). Up until now, Ford has always been WPP’s flagship client, but this move signals the end of that 75-year creative partnership.

Although Ford is the second biggest automaker and the seventh largest advertiser in the USA, the company is under pressure to cut costs as profits shrink and its share price stagnates near a decade low. Ford’s current adspend is $4.1-billion globally. The move to BBDO will yield $150-million in cost savings for Ford.

It’s not only marketing that is affected. Over the next four years, Ford plans to cut $25.5-billion in cumulative costs across marketing, engineering, manufacturing, and other areas.

Fortunately WPP has retained the most profitable and faster growing parts of the business, and will continue with Ford’s media planning and buying, shopper and performance marketing, website development, CRM, and PR (which is where our Meropa/Ford team fits in).

WPP will continue with some of Ford’s advertising work in the US, Ford’s advertising operations in China, and Ford’s luxury vehicle brand Lincoln.

And Ford says it will be creating more than 100 in-house marketing positions globally.

So yeah, while the news did come as a bit of a shock to all of us, I think (pray) most of our jobs here in the GTB Johannesburg office will be safe.

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Unfortunately I’m not nearly as far along in my manuscript for Incomer as I’d like to be.

I’m still loving my PR writing job at the ad agency. But working with words for a living – eight hours a day, Monday to Friday, in a high-pressure environment – is mentally taxing. So the last thing I want to do in my downtime is write some more!

The same goes for reading. At the end of an exhausting day / week, my eyes are sooo tired from stringing together words and sentences and paragraphs, that I would far rather #NetflixAndChill than have to use my poor, over-exerted brain to read a book.

Annoyingly though, Netflix isn’t coming out with new content fast enough to satiate my voracious appetite for marathon sessions on the couch. I’m an unashamed binge-watcher. For me, very little comes close to the pleasure I get from sinking my teeth into a gritty British crime drama or Scandi noir series. Pure, unadulterated escapism! With some awesome armchair travel thrown in for good measure.

So this lack of stuff to watch has kinda forced me into reading again. Thanks to a brand new Kindle though – a 44th birthday pressie from the hubster last month – it’s making it a bit easier to get back into the swing of things.

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This is the first time I’ve ever owned an e-reader, and although I will always love traditional paper books, I really appreciate being able to change the font and increase the size of the text on this nifty little device. Plus being able to change the orientation from portrait to landscape. And being able to add notes and highlights that automatically get saved to my Goodreads page, which fellow bibliophiles can view alongside my full review. It’s bloody genius!

The personalised cover was a gift from my brother- and sister-in-law, who also engraved the stainless steel straws I asked my better half to organise as party packs for my birthday shenanigans.

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I’m not sure exactly why I decided to do something big this year (the last one was a Murder Mystery party for my 40th), but I’m glad I did! We had a long and boozy Sunday lunch with about a dozen mates at a local ‘Asian BBQ and rock ‘n roll bar’, followed by some drunken sing-a-long silliness in a karaoke pod in the restaurant’s ‘No Tell Motel’ upstairs. It was an absolute riot. And the turtle-friendly ‘Sex, Drugs, & Wok ‘n Roll’ straws in their ‘PG Rated Since 1974’ bags were a hit!

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So anyway, the very first ebook I bought on Amazon – on my birthday – was Lol Tolhurst’s memoir ‘Cured: The Tale of Two Imaginary Boys’.

This was a title that had been sitting on my ‘Want to Read’ shelf ever since I first heard about it almost two years ago – from a friend of mine, who’s a musician, and also a Cure fan. (Many of my most instant and enduring friendships – some of them going back almost three decades – were forged on a mutual love of the band.) ‘Cured’ was published in September 2016, less than four months after I released Umbilicus.

Then, just five days after starting Lol’s story, news broke that The Cure would be visiting South Africa – for the very first time in their 40-year career – and it honestly felt like all my Christmases had come at once!

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It’ll have been almost 23 years since the partner-in-crime and I – aged all of 20 and 21 respectively – first saw the band play. It was at Earl’s Court on 1 June 1996, when we were living in London on a two-year working holiday visa. It was an event of such significance in my young life (the first time I experienced Stendhal syndrome), that I am dedicating a full scene to it in Incomer.

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The protagonist in my autobiographical trilogy (Umbilicus, Incomer, Premature) is Charlotte van Katwijk. Her first name was inspired by The Cure’s 1981 song Charlotte Sometimes, which in turn took its name, and theme, from a 1969 novel by Penelope Farmer. And her surname pays homage to a very close friend of mine who passed away unexpectedly at the age of 27, just a few months after my wedding. She was engaged at the time, and her married name would’ve been van Katwijk. (She will actually be a supporting character in Premature.)

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Whilst doing research for Incomer a while ago, I came across this amazing blog post by Penelope Farmer aka Granny P. She describes the night in 1996, 27 years after her book’s release, and 15 years after The Cure’s song release, when she (and her niece Charlotte) finally got a chance to meet Robert Smith backstage. And get this – it was at the exact same venue, just one night before we saw them play! 

The upcoming concert in Jozi happens to fall three days after my better half and I celebrate our quarter-century anniversary (we’ve been married since June 2005, but have been an item since March 1994). So you’d better believe that these two old-timers are gonna make a whole dirty rock ‘n roll weekend of it!

I have a feeling we’re going to bump into a lot of old faces who will be crawling out of the woodwork for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the band play on home soil. (Robert Smith will be turning 60 just 5 weeks after this gig, and I’m quite sure they won’t be doing another world tour anytime soon.)

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Anyway, I know I don’t blog here nearly as often as I probably should. But hopefully the occasional plus-size post like this one makes up somewhat for my extended periods of absence in between!

If you’re interested in following my everyday adventures in pictures, you’ll find me keeping a ‘public photo journal’ of sorts over on Instagram.

Thanks for visiting! Love you long time. x

Charlotte Sometimes

I’ve been invited to do an author talk and book signing at ‘The Art of Goth’, a first-of-its-kind event in South Africa, in celebration of #WorldGothDay.

As a self-professed ‘old skool goth’, I was super excited to see an initiative like this happening on home soil.

The main objective of the event is to raise public awareness of the much-maligned and misunderstood goth sub-culture (not directly related to the Gothic art and architecture of the Middle Ages, nor the marauding Goth tribes of the 5th Century – just in case you were wondering). And to highlight the enduring impact of a once-underground scene on contemporary mainstream society – across literature, music, fashion, film, visual art, performance art, and entertainment.

Because Umbilicus is an autobiographical novel, and the protagonist Charlotte is based on the 21-year-old me, I deliberately wove in lots of little details about my lived experience as a self-identified young goth back in the early-to-mid-90s. My journey didn’t end there though. And in my talk, I will explore how the goth sub-culture continued to influence and shape my life over the following two-and-a-half decades, right up to the present day.

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When it comes to venues, this is definitely one to write home about. ‘The Art of Goth’ is being hosted at Melrose House, a beautiful (and purportedly haunted) Victorian mansion in Pretoria, built in 1886.

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Festivities will include guest speakers, a high tea, Victorian-style games, and stalls selling wares catering to those of us with a penchant for the dark and unusual.

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A quick heads up!

One week from now I will be returning to work full-time.

Yip, as much as I have loved freelancing (working from home in my PJs) these past few years, it’s time.

The small human has settled nicely into primary school (he starts Grade 2 in January), and my father-in-law (who came to live with us after my mom-in-law passed away) has given us the support structure we lacked before. He will take over all my weekday mommy duties, in return for room and board.

I’m really looking forward to getting back in the saddle (fully clothed), and earning a proper monthly salary again. Being skint all the time sucks balls.

OK, so what does the job entail? It’s a little complicated, so bear with me…

Ford Motor Company has its very own advertising and public relations company called Global Team Blue (GTB), with offices on six continents. GTB (rebranded from Team Detroit in 2016) is a subsidiary of WPP, a huge British multinational advertising and PR company, with its main management office in London.

In South Africa, Meropa Communications is the agency that services the PR division of GTB, and I have been hired as a Senior PR Writer on the Meropa/Ford account. Although employed by Meropa (in Sandton), I will work mainly at GTB (in Bryanston). I will also have a hot desk at Ford SA’s vehicle assembly plant (in Silverton, east of Pretoria). Basically, I will eat, sleep, and breathe the Ford brand.

As you can see, I am going to be a VERY busy little bee, so my Incomer manuscript will be going on the back burner with immediate effect. I need to focus on this truly amazing career opportunity the Universe has bestowed upon me, and give it all I’ve got!

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In the hot seat

Last night I was invited to participate in a one-hour live online author Q&A, hosted by the fabulously interactive Books & Everything on Facebook, as part of their Annual Book Diversity Week. Check out a compilation of the highlights below.

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ON MEMOIR

Books & Everything guest: A memoir is what I imagine to be one of the more difficult types of books to write, purely because of the personal information you share. Was there ever a time you doubted your decision to write Umbilicus? Paula Gruben: Not in terms of the information I shared in the book. More of my competency as a writer. The Imposter Syndrome.

B&E: Was writing the book primarily a cathartic exercise? PG: A lot of people seem to feel that way about memoir. But no, not really. While it was cathartic, it was more about having a really good story to tell. One that I knew the world needed to hear.

B&E: I haven’t had the pleasure of reading your book yet, but from what I’ve heard it’s a really good read. Was it hard to share your story with the world? PG: It wasn’t hard for me. But it was hard for my adoptive parents. I think they felt I let too many skeletons out of the closet.

B&E: What is your relationship with them like now? PG: I am currently estranged from my mom. She hasn’t spoken to me in almost two-and-a-half years, since the day I sent her my manuscript in March 2015. But I still have contact with my dad. My mom has a lot of personal issues to work through. I need to give her the time and space necessary to do so.

ON ADOPTION

B&E: I have a half sister I’ve never met. I can’t begin to imagine what it must’ve been like making contact with your biological family, and being able to share your story with others. Have you inspired anyone else to start their own search? PG: Yes! I’ve inspired quite a few people to search and reunite. Go have a look through my Testimonials page when you get a chance.

B&E: Why is it so important for an adopted child to know their biological family’s medical history? PG: Like my birth mom says in my book: “It should be a basic civil and human right to have access to this kind of information. Knowledge of one’s genetic identity, and one’s predisposition to hereditary diseases is one of the most essential tools used by doctors to determine a patient’s risk profile.” Think about it – the first thing a doctor asks is if you have any family history of heart disease, cancer, stroke, or diabetes. Until I met my biological parents, I had a massive and totally unnecessary question mark hanging over this issue. 

B&E: How far have we come in really reaching out to adopted children? PG: Well, over the past year, since the release of my book, I have had such positive feedback from fellow adoptees (and adoptive parents and birth parents and social workers) who have read my story, so I know it resonates with a lot of them. I have also done several talks for many people in the adoption community. Slowly but surely adults involved in the adoption triad, or working in the field of adoption, are coming to appreciate and understand the complexity of what the adopted child might go through. Especially during the difficult teenage years. It’s a mammoth task, but we’re moving in the right direction.

ON WRITING

B&E: Did you follow any particular structure in terms of putting the book together? I’ve started my memoir I don’t know how many times, and yet can’t seem to find the right starting point. PG: Ah, the inciting moment. It was only during a writing workshop that I managed to identify the best point to kick off my story. Until then, I was too focused on back story. I love doing workshops and getting feedback from pro’s. I’m actually doing another one in two weeks time. A birthday pressie to myself. I need help with the structure for my second book.

B&E: When the book was written and out there, what emotions ran through you? PG: Pride. My heart almost burst with pride. It truly was like birthing a baby.

B&E guest comment: While I haven’t written a book myself, I have worked with a number of writers and have seen the love and commitment that goes into producing a book and it really seems like giving birth, the ultimate labour of love. PG reply: Don’t joke, I separated my Acknowledgements page into ‘trimesters’, to reinforce the stages of birthing this book baby! The line edit was by far the worst part of the process. But it is absolutely crucial to do it properly, to put out a quality product, if you expect readers (and other writers, and publishers) to take you and your craft seriously. I highly recommend doing a soft launch online (releasing a Kindle edition on Amazon) a good month before greenlighting your first full print run – just to iron out the kinks. Because believe me, there will be a few.

ON PUBLISHING

B&E: Were you traditionally or independently published? PG: I self-published Umbilicus. But I’m going to try my luck at finding a UK-based literary agent to go the traditional publishing route for its sequel. Incomer is set in Soho, London, during the peak of the Britpop / Trainspotting era, so I think (hope!) they’ll find it really interesting. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll self-publish again.

B&E: Did you not enjoy self-publishing? PG: I loved it. But it is sooooo time-consuming. Especially the marketing aspect. I would like to focus more on actual writing, and public speaking. But mostly I’d like to be able to leverage the established networks of a traditional publisher, namely their publicity and distribution channels. Having a traditional publisher behind one’s name is also great for one’s credibility as an author, and growing one’s readership.

ON MARKETING 

B&E: You seem determined to get your story into schools. Why is that? Writers usually just want to get their words down on paper and move onto the next story. Why the interest in education? PG: That’s my target market. Teenagers at high schools. There isn’t a single teen in South Africa who can’t learn something from my story. 

B&E: Is that because of the ‘where do I fit in’ thing teens go through? PG: While the main theme of Umbilicus is the search for identity (for an adopted child, knowing virtually nothing about your biological roots can make this a very challenging time – much more so than what a ‘regular’ teen would experience), the book also covers a lot of other stuff like: crisis pregnancy, abortion, adoption, suicide, and self-esteem issues. Things that are very pertinent to today’s teens. Hence my mission to get it into high schools. I’m still working at getting the Department of Basic Education’s buy-in to include Umbilicus on their list of recommended reading (for the new Comprehensive Sexuality Education syllabus of the Life Orientation curriculum), but in the meantime I am going to try get it into as many school libraries as possible. I got the name of a school distributor just the other day. So when I find a gap, I need to start working on that proposal.

B&E guest comment: You have one of the best websites I have seen – it covers EVERYTHING and is a treat for authors and readers alike. PG reply: Thank you! It took a lot of blood, sweat and tears to build, but it was totally worth it. It’s very useful to be able to copy and paste links to specific pages on my website, like we’ve done here tonight. As a weapon in my marketing arsenal, it’s proven to be one of the most powerful.

ON THE FUTURE 

B&E: Writing something like this is really epic, but where do you go from here? PG: Two more novoirs to complete the trilogy (I have led quite an unusual life, so there’s lots to write about). Then onto a psychological thriller series.

B&E: Do you feel pressure when it comes to producing after your first book? PG: Yes! Umbilicus is YA realistic fiction, and Incomer is NA realistic fiction, so slightly different target markets, but daunting nonetheless.

B&E: Between your multivitamins and your mug of coffee, what books do you have on your bedside table? PG: My son’s Grade 1 reader, and Kumon homework.

B&E: You’ve written a successful novella, you have a partner, a child, you are a public speaker – how do you fit it all in? PG: Please tell my husband that! He thinks what I do is easy. He keeps bugging me to find a “real” job.

B&E: Are you at peace, Paula? PG: I will be when my adoptive mom and I start speaking again. I have faith that this thing will work itself out, when the time is right.