Read to a stranger - a meaningful platform for book lovers

18 June 2019 / Leave a Comment

Years ago, I was producing a book and one of the writers was late submitting their essay. I kept calling and asking, 'Is the essay ready? It's overdue.' It was becoming obvious they were writing the essay in their own time. No amount of my calling and questioning was going to hurry it along.

One day, the writer called. He said, 'I'm waiting at the train station. I've finished the essay. I just want to fix a thing or two. Can I read it to you?'

In my head, I was thinking, no, just email me the damn essay. But of course, I couldn't say this. So I said 'Sure, read me the essay.'

It was a lovely essay. But more than that, it felt like the most incredibly intimate experience - to have a stranger reading to me over the phone. I hadn't had anyone read to me since I was a kid. I sat at my desk, listening intently, and I found myself blushing - because it was so far out of my realm of recent experience.

So when someone contacted me recently from Read with Audrey - a new platform that connects strangers to read to each other - and asked whether I'd be happy to have my novella Bequest on the site, I said yes straight away. Book lovers are paired up and either read or listen to a story over an audio or video feed. Afterwards, they are encouraged to discuss the story together - creating a meaningful human connection.

I asked Read with Audrey founder Rob Paul more about the platform:

How did you come up with the idea for Read with Audrey?

I spent a number of years as a Teacher of Psychology. There are two aspects to my teaching which have influenced my thinking and contributed inspiration for the idea.

Firstly, my students taught me the value of peer-to-peer learning as a powerful way in which people, meeting as equals, can share and exchange knowledge and experiences. As a teacher, I also learned how valuable simple peer-to-peer mentoring programmes can be at creating meaningful friendships and supporting wellbeing.

Secondly, through my teaching of psychology I became interested in what are called the ‘Common Factors’. These are a set of therapeutic elements that are common to all types of talking therapy. There are diverse forms of talking therapy, each relying on different psychological techniques, yet their effectiveness is strongly influenced by a set of shared ingredients known as Common Factors.  Personal warmth, compassion, empathy, authenticity, active listening, mutual respect and human connection make up some of these Common Factors. If they’re present in the atmosphere of talking therapy they play a powerful role in helping people to deal with the challenges they face.

I asked myself the question, in what other situations do we experience the sense of the Common Factors outside of a therapeutic setting? Where else do we experience the presence of these ingredients in our ordinary day-to-day lives?

For me, one example is when I read aloud to my children, which is something I love to do. The simple stuff of a book, a voice, and a little time creates a wholesome energy for the heart, mind, and imagination. Reading aloud together each night is both calming and uplifting.

And so then I asked myself … how could I try to emulate some of the positive energy from this experience and recreate the closeness, the moment of shared humanity, and the genuine emotional connection with others I don’t know?

These insights are the seeds of the Audrey idea, fuelled by my own love of reading and an appreciation that immersion in a great book can help comfort and reinvigorate the mind.

Practically speaking, how does the platform work?

People with shared interests are paired via a short introductory profile and on signing up, users can choose to read aloud, listen or do both. The Audrey team curate books and short stories for them to read aloud together. Reading sessions take place in real time online. The experience includes fiction and non-fiction texts specially formatted to be read aloud over the internet on a desktop, tablet or phone for 10-15 minutes at a time.  Following the reading session, pairs are free to share in conversation. Please see for more information.

How do you hope the experience of reading or listening with a stranger helps to tackle social issues and foster connectedness?

I hope that reading together with a stranger will spark interesting conversations, and in turn meaningful friendships, between people from around the world. By reading aloud together I hope people will be moved to talk about their own stories and emotions that have shaped who they are. By lifting this veil between strangers and understanding each other’s stories, hopefully people will be reminded how much they have in common. I believe this encourages compassion and enables people to develop a strong sense of connectedness with someone outside of their usual circle.

I also hope that through reading aloud together people are exposed to new ideas, enabling them to see the world through the eyes of others.

We curate stories for users to read which are thought-provoking, to inspire conversation between the reader and listener. We search for stories that inspire fresh perceptions and encourage the reader and listener to consider how it feels in someone else’s shoes – helping them relate to their circumstances.  A good example is ‘Because We Are Bad’. This is Lily Bailey’s charming and poignant memoir about her childhood battle with debilitating obsessive compulsive disorder

We choose stories with universal themes (relationships, adversity, loss). Through reading stories that resonate, with relatable themes, conversation flows more easily and we’re reminded how much we have in common. As such the right story can build bridges and foster connectedness.

Just like a book shop or library, Audrey is open to everyone who loves books and enjoys reading. However we believe Audrey can have an especially positive impact on the wellbeing of people with print disabilities, those feeling lonely and as a mode of support for those people with long-term physical conditions, mental health issues and other life difficulties.

How do you see Read with Audrey growing in the future?

Our mission is to inspire diverse groups of people to read one hundred million stories aloud together. We want to use stories as a way to build real and meaningful relationships between people meeting as equals. We believe the power of reading can have a transformative impact by bringing people closer together from all walks of life.

Find out more about Read with Audrey:

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Book review: Uses for boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt

6 March 2019 / 1 comment

Holden Caulfield says “What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.” (J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye)

This is how I feel with 'Uses for boys' by Erica Lorraine Scheidt. I want to meet her, I want to hang out, I suspect I'd like her a lot.

'Uses for boys' is raw, courageous and hard hitting. Anna has no role model. Her mother leaves her home alone most nights while she goes through a revolving door of men. 

Anna is desperate for love - from her mother, from anyone, so when boys start paying attention to her she takes it. She lets them do what they want to do. But soon she is getting a reputation for it. 

My heart was practically breaking for Anna as I was reading it. But it also breaks for her mother and for every woman who has wanted to be loved and cherished, not just desired. 

Scheidt's lyrical style of writing and the short chapters are a saving grace and help the reader traverse what is really uncomfortable terrain. 

Bravo. I'm waiting for her next book.

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New young adult novel on Wattpad - Subject to change

1 March 2019 / Leave a Comment

I've been working on a new young adult novel - Subject to change - for a couple of years now.

The initial idea came from a friend of mine who was telling me about her brother in Perth who was divorced and his son no longer wanted to see him. He'd spent over $150,000 in legal fees going through the court system trying to get access to see his son. She described how his ex-wife was manipulative and that there was a term for her type of behaviour - parental alienation.

Having recently separated from my own husband, and seeing the effects on my children in a so-called amicable divorce, I wanted to find out more about parental alienation. I began listening to podcasts and reading articles about parents who were experiencing this type of alienation from their ex-partners and children. It was heartbreaking.

At first, I thought I was going to write an adult novel, but I was talking to my own psychologist who was counselling me through my separation and he said, 'you know whose perspective you have to write this from? A teenager's.' And so I began ...

I've thrown in the subculture of skateboarding and risky urban tricks, an overprotective mother, paranoid about health and wellbeing, and the question of what would it be like to fall in love with someone who has no fear when you've been brought up to fear everything.

Finally, I've started posting chapters to Wattpad - as this is where I've tested my other young adult novels Silver and Repeat After Me with readers.

Here's the blurb at the moment (which is also subject to change):

The one thing Macy's mother can't protect her from is falling in love ...

Macy likes to skate but she's cautious. For years, her mother has warned her that the world is full of toxins and accidents waiting to happen.

Tucker moves in next door. He has no fear. He performs skate stunts off shipping containers and petrol station roofs. His risky urban tricks are legendary. 

Macy wants to fix her broken family ... and she worries all the time about Tucker getting broken.

She discovers that loving Tucker is the greatest trick to land.

Read now:

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One good reader

24 January 2019 / Leave a Comment

Last summer I had a rush of inspiration and wrote 20,000 words of a new contemporary fiction story I'd titled Hide your play in a month or so. Then, as often happens, the story stalled.

I thought I'd see what would happen if I posted chapters on Radish, after having relative success with a novel Permission to Touch on the app.

Radish is a short-form serialised fiction platform where people make 3 cent micropayments to unlock chapters of books posted exclusively on Radish. Readers purchase 'coins' to read stories on the app and authors are paid quarterly.

I started posting a chapter a week of Hide your play and waited. People started reading the first free three chapters but no one was paying for the fourth chapter. I waited. Nothing. It was a dud.

Over a year later, this week something strange has happened. Someone has paid for all the posted chapters. I have one reader.

They've read to chapter 14. Now I have a conundrum. Should I keep writing chapters for my one reader? I don't want to leave them hanging or make them feel like they've been ripped off.

I was workshopping how I now feel like I have to finish this book with a writer friend. She suggested: "You know what you should do? You should write about the one reader in the next chapter of the novel. Put yourself in there. Write about how the writer is writing for the one reader."

While that sounds like some postmodern fun, I really don't know if I should mess around with my one reader.

A few years ago, I had a half-written, abandoned young adult novel, Silver, that I began posting on Wattpad. One reader turned into thousands and it's now had over 700,000 chapter reads.

I feel grateful to Wattpad and the success that story has had on the site. It inspired me to continue writing for the young adult audience.

Recently, I was contacted by an editor at, a serialised fiction site in Singapore, to see if I'd be interested in moving Silver over to them. They'd pay a modest up front fee, as well as a percentage of paid reads if it was put in their pay-to-read program. I read the terms, but in the end felt as though I should leave the story on Wattpad for the time being.

Unless I can get a print deal for it, I feel as though Silver belongs on Wattpad. Those readers encouraged me to finish the story and to write my next YA novel. Sure, it's on the site for free, but I like to think of it as the literary form of street art - put it out there and see who notices it. Gift it to others.

A writer always remembers their one good reader. I'll always cherish the first reader of the first story I posted online, the first reader of the novel I self-published with Screwpulp, the first good reader on Wattpad who said I had to finish Silver, the first reader to leave a 5-star review on Goodreads. Sometimes all you need is one good reader to become a gooder writer.

About Hide your play (a work in progress ...):

A tale about lust and fringe dating 

Passion has died in Hannah and Sidney's relationship. They decide to co-exist in their marriage, to stay together but date other people. 

They come up with a set of rules: don't date anyone in their daughters' school community, always be discreet, don't ask questions about the others' rendezvous and don't fall in love. 

It becomes a game of who can have the most extramarital fun and almost all the rules are broken.

Read now:

I'm Rowena. I'm an author and blogger. My novel The Replacement Wife is available as an ebook from HarperCollins, from $2.99. Luisa tries to find a wife for her husband so she can exit an unhappy marriage happily.

Subscribe to my newsletter for tips on reading, writing and publishing in the digital revolution and receive a free ebook of Love Potion, featuring my flash fiction and a short story about stitching the heart together again ...

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