Author Interview – Candida Baker

Candida Baker has enjoyed a varied creative career in Australia since arriving here from England in 1977. The common theme throughout her professional life has been writing – she is author of nine books and five anthologies. The titles of her latest publications are: The Infinite Magic of Horses (2009), The Wonderful World of Dogs (2010), The Amazing Life of Cats (2011) and The Wisdom of Women (2012), all published by Allen & Unwin (no prizes for guessing she is an animal lover!). Candida is soon to release her third children’s book Belinda the Ninja Ballerina, later this year with Ford Street Publishing.

Author Candida Baker.

Candida is also an accomplished journalist and editor. Her experience in this area reads as an impressive list: editor of The Weekend Australian Magazine, a position she held for five years; deputy editor of the Good Weekend; arts editor of the Sydney Morning Herald; Sydney-based feature writer for seven years for The Age in Melbourne.

She is a self-confessed ‘horse fanatic’ which began at the age of five when her father read Black Beauty to her. A tree-change to the hinterland of Byron Bay in 2004 allowed Candida to engage further in this passion and add horse breeder, horse rescuer and horse trainer to her list of growing credentials.

Despite the move away from the city to the quieter life, Candida doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon. Since the relocation to the Byron shire she has added festival director (of Byron Bay’s Writers’ Festival in 2011) to her list of credentials, and since 2014 has been the publisher and editor of Verandah Magazine, an online arts, culture and lifestyle magazine.

Candida is also an accomplished photographer (when she finds the time!). Her work has been exhibited in several group exhibitions in the Byron region, and she has sold to private clients in Australia, the US and the UK. In 2015 Candida completed her MA in Art History with the University of Adelaide.

Congratulations on the launch of your latest venture – Verandah Magazine. How did the concept come about?

Some years ago I ran a small print magazine here in the Northern Rivers called Coastal Arts, and at the time it seemed to me that there were really no publications covering arts, culture and lifestyle across this region. Last year I decided that it was time to take a leap into the online publishing business, and I felt that this was still a gap in the market, and that’s how it came about.

How do you deal with the barrage of tasks involved with being at the helm of a magazine? Is time management a crucial factor?

Time management is completely crucial for me in all factors of my life. I get up very early – 4.00 or 5.00 am is not unusual – to do some of my own creative work, and to do an early morning meditation, and then after horses, dogs and getting my daughter to school I do the magazine work, and any work related to writing, the magazine, or any creative project in which I’m involved, such as the events I’ve started running up here under the helm of Verandah. I do admit to having a nap, or a small meditation moment during the day so I can recharge and work again in the afternoon.

Do you have any advice for would be magazine publishers reading this article?

Yes. Don’t do it unless you really love it! But also if you do really love, just do it.

How do you fit in time to deal with the social media component of being a writer and editor in this technological age?

I tend to do social media at night, or around lunchtime when I can’t do creative work, but it is frustrating that there is yet another thing we have to do with our time. However, I’ve become reasonably accomplished at social media to the point where I’ve started giving workshops in it.

You didn’t start out as a writer. How did you get into journalism? What were you doing before then?

Well, I did almost start out as a writer because although I wanted to act when I was young, my first job when I’d finished my shorthand and typing course at Pitman’s was working for a television programme called Weekend World which was made by London Weekend Television. I used to type the journalists interviews up, and I actually ended up working on the programme for three years on and off, and in a sense it was my journalistic internship. I met all sorts of amazing people – Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithfull, Harold Wilson, Roger Daltrey from the Who – to name just a few.

You come from a very creative background. Did this influence your own artistic journey? What precipitated your move to Australia from England?

My father was an actor, my mother was a costume designer, my grandmother read books for publishing houses, and my grandfather was a publisher, editor and writer, so yes I guess it must have influenced my journey! I have always loved the immediacy of journalism, but I equally love the length of time and the patience it requires to write, or put together a book. I particularly love working with words and images – in any form or combination, really.

You have had a varied writing career, from writing books of various genres, running a writers festival, to the demands of editorial positions for Sydney and Melbourne newspapers. Is there any particular period in your writing career that you have found more challenging than others? Have there been any highlights that you would like to share?

To be honest I found the past ten years of living in the country challenging professionally. It’s coincided with a period of time when journalism has changed dramatically from a print medium to an online medium and it hasn’t been the easiest time to be in the business! Highlights have definitely been running the Writers’ Festival, but also more recently I’ve loved studying for my MA. I had never gone to University or gained a degree and it was truly a fantastic experience to achieve that over a three-year period.

Your next book – Belinda the Ninja Ballerina – is due out in 2015. What inspired this latest project?

Belinda just simply came to me! I was on holiday in the Whitsundays, and I was sitting on an island, at a beach, and I was thinking about my daughter, and what a beautiful dancer she is, and how hopeless I’d been at dancing – and would have always preferred to be on a horse! I suddenly got this vision of a little girl who would rather do martial arts than ballet, and suddenly there she was – Belinda the Ninja Ballerina.

Do you have any advice for remedying writer’s block?

The only way to remedy writer’s block is to write! I had a long drought where I thought I could no longer write fiction so I stuck to non-fiction for some years, but in the last few years the fiction has come back, which is a relief.

Who do you call on for support in your hours of need? Now that you are editor and publisher is it lonely ‘at the top’?

I call on my sister, my family, and my horses – probably in that order, and also the universal life-force! I like the idea of being at ‘the top’. I do everything, sell advertisements, write stories, run the WordPress blog, and so no, I don’t have any time to be lonely. When I get to the top, wherever it may be, or whenever, I’ll let you know what it’s like!

How have you dealt with rejection over the years? Do you ever get used to it?

Rejection is always hard. I don’t think it’s possible to get completely used to it, I think it’s more that you realize you just can’t take it too personally, and to keep on trying. If at first you don’t succeed, that sort of thing…

It would be remiss of me not to mention your love of horses in this interview. It is the backbone of your life. Why horses in particular?

Horses are a strong part of my ancestry. My great-grandfather bred Cleveland Bays in Yorkshire, my father grew up riding horses in Bulgaria as a child, and rode most of his life, and I seem to have been beamed into this lifetime as at least half-horse! I first rode one when I was 18 months apparently, and when they took me off I was inconsolable. I’m sixty in a couple of months, and I still ride – although not as often – and I still get sad when the ride’s over. What I love most though, is natural horsemanship. I call it ‘horse listening’ – I’ve found that really learning how to communicate with horses has heightened all sorts of aspects of my life, my intuition, my ability to listen, my psychic abilities, and more practically it keeps me fit.

Any regrets about leaving Sydney for a tree change? What informed this decision? Is there anything you particularly miss about the city?

I miss art galleries more than anything else I would have to say, but then nature is the ultimate art gallery really, so perhaps not even those. I wouldn’t swap living in the country but I would say that it’s had massive challenges, some much bigger than I ever might have imagined, but it’s also taught me some amazing lessons about love, life and loss – and also, I hope, how to stay calm under pressure. And to keep a sense of humour.

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Writer’s Edit would like to thank Candida for taking the time to share her insights with us. 

Zita Fogarty

Zita has always wanted to be a writer and has kept a journal since the age of 11. She left school early to become an apprentice chef before her father found out about her poor exam results. Cooking led to many adventures worth writing about, such as meeting Elton John and catering for an intimate wedding on the Hawkesbury River with no vehicle access or electricity. Now Zita is out of the kitchen and in front of the computer, doing what she was destined to do. Follow Zita on Twitter and read her blog here.

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