Taking part in the Emerging Writers’ Festival this year as an industry insider, Eileen (Eiley) Ormsby, corporate lawyer turned writer. Eiley runs her own blog All Things Vice and her writing has been published in The Age and she is now on her way to becoming a published author after being offered a book contract.
You went from being a corporate lawyer to writing about the ‘seedier side’ of the internet, how did this come about and was the transition something you had been interested in for a long time?
That was not a specifically thought-out path. Basically I got disenchanted with the corporate law life after the Global Financial Crisis. I’d always loved writing, so I enrolled in a short creative writing course at CAE, after which I started a novel. I enjoyed that so much that I quit work to enrol in the RMIT Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing. While there I finished the novel – a chick-lit novel set in the world of reality TV – and enrolled in non-fiction and journalism classes. I found I had a knack for writing non-fiction that people were interested in reading.
Your blog “All Things Vice” is a highly insightful read, what drew you in about the darker side of the internet that made you want to write about and at times do you think damn, I wish I never looked into this so deep.
Whilst in journalism class at RMIT, I had an idea for a feature on an online black market I’d heard about, Silk Road. My classmates gave me great feedback so I submitted it to The Age (and by ‘submitted’ I mean stalked a bunch of editors until one agreed to read it). After it ran (under the byline Eileen Ormsby), the editor asked me to do a follow-up feature on the dark web in general.
Once I started to get published, I discovered it wasn’t enough to have articles in mainstream media; to be successful you need an ‘online presence’ as well. That’s how my website, allthingsvice.com, was born. I saw a niche in writing on these sorts of sensational subjects in a way that was hopefully non-hysterical, insightful and a little bit humorous.
A lot of what I encountered on the dark web was more likely hoax than real – especially the sites offering hit man services and detailing human experiments, or claims of real-life gladiator fights to the death. But the most distressing thing, of course, is the child porn and abuse sites which are very real. I have never looked at any of the images of those sites, but it is pretty revolting even knowing they exist. Hackitivist group Anonymous has managed to knock some of the bigger ones out occasionally, but they just go down for a few days and then pop up again.
You’ve recently been offered a book contract, congrats! What will it be about?
Thanks! I’m pretty excited. It is a book on the underground black markets like Silk Road – how they started and how they manage to thrive right under the noses of law enforcement. As I’m passionate about drug reform, it will also be interesting to look back in a post-prohibition world (i.e. after the deadly War on Drugs finishes, hopefully in my lifetime) and see what part such black markets had to play.
As a part of The Emerging Writers’ Festival you are a partaking as an industry insider discussing the reality of being a writer, is it true Eiley? Are we destined to a life of eating ramen noodles and sleep deprivation?
It is definitely a hard industry to crack, and the reality is that most people will never make a living purely out of their writing. That means trying to squeeze writing around your day job (in which case you get to eat better than ramen noodles, but may well be up until 5am) or taking the path of the starving artist (sleep-ins and noodles).
You certainly need to be disciplined because, as any writer will tell you, it’s the ‘having written’ part we love, more so than the actual slog of writing. That said, you need to have a passion for the written word, an idea, and a focus if you want to make a living out of it.
Can you explain a day in the life of writer, Eiley Ormsby?
There is no typical day. Sometimes I work from my home office, sometimes from a pub or café, sometimes from a co-working space with other freelancers. I am not good at mornings at all, so I will rarely start anything before 11:00am. When I’m doing a feature for Fairfax or similar, a couple of days will be spent interviewing people, either on the phone or in person. Then there’s fact-checking, writing, editing, responding to the editor’s queries and rewriting.
I had a corporate writing job, which took up two-three days a week, sometimes from home and sometimes from their office in the city. That involved exciting things like policy and procedure manuals and corporate blogs. I have been able to scale that work back to one or two days a fortnight since getting the advance on the book.
When I’m working on my site or my book, my interviewees will generally be in different timezones, so that means late-night skype calls or encrypted chat sessions. Sometimes the boot is on the other foot and people want to interview me, which always terrifies me.
Finally, a word of advice to all the emerging writers out there?
Surround yourself with other writers, do the courses that inspire you, but most of all – just write.
Eiley will be appearing at Industry Insiders: The Reality Check at 6:15pm tonight at The Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing & Ideas. Check out her blog at allthingsvice.com and keep an eye out for her book!