Article published on November 5, 2015.
Emily Benet is half-Welsh and half Spanish and she now lives in Spain after abandoning London. #PleaseRetweet is her new novel and there’s a clue in the title.
When did you first start writing?
I wrote my first novel at the age of 11. It was called ‘Dandelion Abbey’ and featured heroic field mice. It was a complete rip off of the Red Wall Series, the books I was reading at the time. I also started keeping a diary around that age….
What difference has social media made to your life?
A huge difference! My first book began as a weekly blog about working in my Mum’s chandelier shop. After a bit of Facebook spamming, it was spotted by Salt publishing and commissioned as a book called, Shop Girl Diaries. My next book became successful after I posted it on the online platform, Wattpad, which led me to signing with an agent and getting a book deal with Harper Collins. I’ve been invited to talk at universities and literary festivals about social media, and now I’ve written a novel about social media addiction. Sometimes I wonder where I’d have got to if I’d never set my virtual foot online!
Have you had any negative experiences because of social media?
Very few, thankfully. I had someone send me a nasty message on Facebook about my blog once. Not bad when you’ve been blogging for over seven years!
What do you think are the risks of an overly ‘online’ life?
1. Wasting time: getting distracted by videos of kittens instead of achieving your goals.
2. Emotional exhaustion: caring more that people ‘like’ what you’re doing than enjoying what you’re doing.
3. Aches and pains: Sore eyes from too much screen time and a sore finger from too much scrolling!
Do you think people have altered their behaviour because of social media?
I think it’s more a case of living the same life but glamorising it online. There are also the people that meet up and spend the whole time on their phones and not actually talk to each other – that wouldn’t have happened ten years ago!
How important do you think it is to have a social media detox? Is your novel telling readers to disconnect?
I think taking a social media detox puts you back in control. The novel is suggesting readers should take a time-out and have a look at how social media makes them feel. Does the way they use it enhance their life or leave them feeling drained?
Do you think the perks of Twitter or Facebook outweigh their bad points?
I think so… I’m having trouble remembering what life was like before Facebook and Twitter!
Have you had any experience with trolls or trolling? What advice would you give to someone who is experiencing the ‘nasty’ side of social media?
I had someone swear at me on Twitter out of the blue. Another person signed up to Amazon only to leave one star reviews of my books – and not review anything else. If people are directing abuse at you, block them. If people are expressing negative views about something you’ve done but aren’t insulting you, thank them for their comments and then get on with your life.
What makes social media so addictive?
Getting ‘likes’ and ‘retweets’ gives you a little high because it’s a sign of approval. It’s a sign people think what you say is funny or clever. The problem is the high doesn’t last very long so you keep chasing it by posting more. When your happiness is dependent on whether people are approving of your online activity or not, then it becomes a problem and can lead to anxiety and depression, which of course needs to be treated.
Can friendships/relationships ever be as fulfilling online as they are offline?
I don’t know about romantic relationships – it definitely doesn’t sound much fun only interacting online! But I do have two friends who I met through Twitter and who I keep in touch with via Whatsapp and Email. We have only met about three times in real life, but I think it’s the meeting in real life that has made it more meaningful… and the fact we all share a passion for writing!
Selfies- All ego or modern art form?
I think it’s people wanting to feel like celebrities. Watching people taking selfies for ages, particularly with a selfie-stick, makes me cringe. It’s just the same photo over and over with a pointless pinch of background. Just ask someone to take your photo for you! I recently came across a Wikipedia page on injuries caused by selfie-sticks. It would be wrong to say it made my day, wouldn’t it? So I won’t say it.
What are your biggest social media NoNos?
1. Automated Direct Messages on Twitter
2. Instagram accounts purely made up of selfies.
3. When people only self-promote on Twitter
4. Ambiguous Facebook status
5. #when #people #hashtag #every #single #word
What more could be done to reinvigorate people’s passion for reading? I think interactive books read on smartphones will become more mainstream, which will help reading seem more ‘cool’.
What do you think makes us so obsessed with celebrity?
It’s a funny one. I’ve never been much of a ‘fan girl’. I suppose we’re attracted by the glamour of it all. It offers some kind of escapism. Everyone loves a rags to riches story, don’t they?
Why did you leave London?
You need half a million pounds just to afford to live in a shoe box. A shoe box that isn’t even in a nice area. Also, the weather. I was always cold!
How long have you been blogging for? Have you always felt comfortable sharing your life with an audience?
I’ve been blogging for seven years. I’m a very open person and always have been. That said, I think I feel less comfortable about sharing my personal life online now than I did at the age of 24.
What do you do to keep yourself sane and centred?
I meditate every morning for 20 minutes and read a chunk of ‘Stillness Speaks’ by Eckhart Tolle.
Would you ever self publish a book again?
If I don’t find a publisher for my next book, then why not?
What plans do you have for the future?
A lot more writing…
FROM THE ARCHIVE: Big Interview nb72: Cecelia Ahern STAYING TRUE TO HERSELF