If you know Alyson Walsh and her blog That’s Not My Age, you may know her book, Style Forever which came out in 2015. A statement on why style doesn’t disappear when you’re over 40, it’s been a hit with women of all ages, dispensing no-bullshit advice from Alyson and her coterie of global tastemakers. And happily, she’s about to release book number two. Know Your Style is released tomorrow, with even more observations on cultivating individual style, this time without the age focus.
I’ve known Aly for years and years. Our fashion careers and blogging journeys have criss-crossed over each other and we even helped proof read each other’s books. And boy have we shared some of our book and blog-writing growing pains! I thought it would be fun to publish an email conversation with her, discussing books, blogging, social media and… fika breaks.
Disneyrollergirl: Why does the world need another style book?
Alyson Walsh: After Style Forever, I liked the idea of writing a book that was not focused on age as ‘it’s not about age, it’s about style’ has always been my mantra. The attitude towards age has definitely changed (if somewhat slowly) since I wrote my first book, so it felt like a step in the right direction. My style writing is primarily online and so a book offers readers a more unified experience where all the ideas and suggestions sit together. Plus, I’ve found that writing a book can introduce you to a new audience.
DRG: I think people have quite a romantic idea of what it’s like to write a book. What’s the hardest thing about it?
AW: I hate to sound like a martyr but everything! Writing, editing, promoting, there’s a lot of work involved and often you’re on your own. It can be quite intense at times.
I think I definitely suffered from a bit of ‘difficult second album’ syndrome. I wanted Know Your Style to feel fresh and not like I was repeating what I’d said in my first book, Style Forever. I absolutely didn’t want it to turn into Style Forever and Ever and so I felt like I was constantly looking for a new take on style. A hook, something to make it stand out. Which eventually came to me when I’d nearly finished – if only I’d had the lightbulb moment sooner. Writing a book is a pretty organic process.
DRG: That’s so true about the organic process and the lightbulb moment – it definitely evolves as it goes along. That’s just part of the journey and you have to be open to the ‘magic’ happening unexpectedly. Did you ever get writers’ block when writing your book or any moments of doubt/fatigue/raging frustration?
AW: All of those things. As a writer you’re often on your own doing the writing and so self-doubt, frustration and exhaustion do creep in. But you have to keep going. I tend to drink coffee and have a fika break when things get critical.
DRG: Oh, what’s a fika break?
AW: A fika break is a Scandi thing that I accidentally seem to practice.
DRG: Any tips on getting a publisher or pitching a book?
AW: There are a lot of style books out there and so having an original idea is key. I found a niche with That’s Not My Age and have a very loyal following who really like my writing and my down-to-earth style advice. Having an online presence helps. I would also suggest mapping out the book. Write a synopsis with a brief description of five or six chapters and then target the publishers who go for that kind of thing. That’s what I did.
DRG: How much say did you have in everything? Did you have to do lots of rewrites?
AW: I had complete control – there were no rewrites. My publisher Hardie Grant just let me do my own thing, which is good but then back to the self-doubt conundrum…
DRG: I love the illustrations in your book. Who chose the illustrator?
AW: Kate, my publisher has a brilliant eye and I trust her completely when it comes to the illustrations. She sent me examples of about five or six artists and we both agreed on Ayumi Takahashi. I love that it looks so completely different to my first book.
DRG: It does! They look quite Scandinavian. Now I have a few blog questions. That’s Not My Age has always had a sharp focus and an incredibly loyal following. Did you notice a different type of reader coming to your site after your first book?
AW: I’m not really sure about the audience #GoogleAnalyticsFail, though I did gain new followers. The idea with Know Your Style was that it was not about age but about style. And so when my publisher suggested another book with more of an ageless theme, it made perfect sense. Things have moved on since I started That’s Not My Age. We’re seeing more older models and less ageist terminology as brands have finally cottoned on to the power of the Silver Spend. Style Forever had an age-related angle but hopefully Know Your Style will appeal to women of all ages.
DRG: Yes, I was going to ask you the age question. There’s certainly a more positive conversation around age and fashion now. Is there still more to be done?
AW: Yes, there’s definitely further to go with the age conversation, it’s starting to feel a bit tokenistic. Grey-haired older model. Tick. That’s age sorted, then. As I said in this Guardian feature, when we’re not talking about age/ diversity anymore, when it’s not front page news if Helen Mirren/Twiggy/insert older celebrity name here signs a beauty contract, then we will have made real progress. My job will be done…
DRG: Do you have any new plans for TNMA? Shoots? Brand extensions? Podcasts?
AW: I do want to focus more on That’s Not My Age now. I’d love to do more fashion & beauty shoots, in collaboration with beauty writer Vicci Bentley, I really want to work with a range of women of all ages and sizes. It’s just finding the time and the money for the studio costs. I would also like to cover more interiors and possibly some menswear.
DRG: What about vlogging (I’m obsessed with Trinny Woodall’s Youtube)?
AW: I’m really not interested in vlogging at all, I much prefer to be behind the scenes as a writer/editor so a Youtube channel is my idea of hell. That is my age! Also, done properly vlogging & podcasts take a lot of time and expertise – and frankly I have neither!
DRG: Amen! OK, quick fire now. Where else can we see your writing?
AW: The Guardian and FT’s How To Spend It
DRG: Have you got any more books in you?
AW: Mr TNMA keeps saying I should write fiction (and earn some proper money)
DRG: What do you do when you’re not pounding the keyboard?
AW: Walk, cycle, eat, visit exhibitions, drink coffee, I love to travel
DRG: You do, you’re always gadding about somewhere having a fika break! Give me a secret tip about your favourite travel destination…?
AW: Stone Street Coffee, NYC 9th and 18th Street. At night this coffee shop becomes the entrance to a speakeasy
DRG: Where are your favourite cultural hangouts?
AW: Daunt’s bookshop in Marylebone, the Brixton Ritzy cinema, the V&A museum. I do love a French flea market; we always go to Porte de Vanves (globe-hunting) when we’re in Paris. Also the top end of Portobello on a Friday and Columbia Road flower market (but get there early). My favourite park is Brockwell Park in Herne Hill, South London
DRG: Which other writers do you like to read?
AW: I seem to read quite a lot of American writers: I love Elizabeth Strout’s writing and read ‘Anything is Possible’ on holiday this summer. I like Maria Semple, Patti Smith. A L Kennedy is an author I would like to read more of. I heard her speak at Port Eliot last year, then bought a couple of books that I must get round to reading. Oh and I like David Sedaris’ humour. I’m currently reading Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends.