Before Carrie Bradshaw came to our TV screens in 1998, glamourising the freelance writer's life and inspiring many a young lady to disembark for NYC in pursuit of Manolo Blahnik shoes, a newspaper column and their own Mr Big, Aussie writer Rebecca Wallwork was busy filing copy for Interview magazine in the city that doesn't sleep. Meet GWAS's new NYC correspondent and her border terrier, Winnie...
When did you head to NYC and what prompted the move?
I first came to NY in 1996. It was one of those post-uni temporary-work trips that got extended once I fell in love with the city. In '97 I did an internship that led to a job at Interview magazine. I worked there until 1999, when I returned to Sydney for three years. (I worked as deputy editor on Australian Style, and then worked at New Woman and Empire.) I came back to New York in 2002 to be the music editor at Interview. The following year, I left to freelance. I've also worked at ACP's NY bureau. I still freelance, although I now work for a dog organisation as well.
What's been your experience of freelancing from NYC?
Breaking into the US market can take time, and it's something I didn't always chase because I was busy taking paying jobs for Australian magazines. (Paid assignments trump unpaid time spent working up pitches.) Of course, with magazines dropping left and right, the freelance market here has gotten even more competitive. So many people I know who lost their staff jobs have gone into entirely different positions, in TV or in digital media. All that said, in my experience, the US editors are very thorough and highly professional when you work with them. They are very clear about what they want.
Freelancing for Australian mags from New York is great. I like the independence, and the chance to experience different aspects of this strange, wonderful place called America. But blogs, the tabloids and easy access to content has made that need for freelancers on the ground in the US less urgent. I have to look a bit deeper to find original ideas that editors aren't already seeing every day.
Is there a community of Aussie writers over there?
There are small ones that seem to ebb and flow as people arrive and then go back home, and then new people arrive. Apart from my time at ACP NY, I haven't really been part of any big Aussie expat crews, though.
Who are you currently writing for?
In Australia, Madison and Sunday magazine mostly, but I've also written for Men's Style, The Bulletin before its sad demise, Escape in The Sunday Tele, and Shop Til You Drop. In the US, I've written for The New York Daily News, FHM, and I still write for Interview occasionally. I've been writing a lot about dogs lately, though. It's a nice change from the celebrity circuit. Dogs are always on time.
What's been your favourite celebrity interview to date and why?
Hmm, a tough one. I'm going to go with Bette Midler, because she was tired and a little cranky, but still such an undeniable force of nature. She couldn't not be Bette. She warmed up as she started talking, and broke into song at one point. She wasn't quite what I expected, which rarely happens with celebrity interviews. Getting tipsy on champagne with a kooky Toni Collette years ago was also a lot of fun (again, rare with celebrity interviews!).
And best music interview?
I should have a cooler answer than this, but I'll own up. I was a huge New Kids on the Block fan as a teenager. And I interviewed a few of them in person for a "Where Are They Now?" piece in Rolling Stone in 1999. My inner 15-year-old was beside herself!
What is the publicity machine like in the US?
You said it – machine. The big personal publicists can be tough. (Ben Affleck's rep would never return my calls... until I asked him if it was true Ben had fallen off the wagon. He called me back pronto to deny it.) Most of the time you start with a point person from the film or record company, which might then lead to dealing with the personal publicist (the guard dogs who protect more than promote). For Australian stories, I almost always deal with the Aussie film company publicist first, then they put me in touch with the US publicist who handles international media, and then there's often yet another publicist at the actual interview with the celeb. Layer upon layer upon layer! Rarely does it work to approach personal publicists directly to request an interview; although it can work with the stars who aren't so high-maintenance, like Ethan Hawke.
Any interesting experiences with PRs or celebs?
PRs, not so much; it's mostly been about negotiating nitty gritty details. Most interesting experiences with celebs include: attending Donald Trump's wedding and being more preoccupied with not slipping on the very shiny marble floor in my sky-high heels than with all the stars; Dominic Purcell teasing me in front of Wentworth Miller on the set of Prison Break; and being inside the New York Jets locker room. American footballers may not be celebs to some people, but I love the NFL. Interesting experience given the players' different attitudes to towels in front of female journos.
Which magazines are you currently reading and/or loving?
I love [US] Elle – it's the only fashion magazine I subscribe to, because the features are as strong as the fashion. They run a lot of essays by great writers like Dani Shapiro, Cathi Hanauer, and Meghan Daum. And the fashion seems more laidback and fun than the shoots in Vogue, Bazaar and W.
My other standbys are:
- Travel + Leisure (for ogling the photos and wishing I was planning trips to places like Cinque Terre)
- The New Yorker (great profiles, and often on unexpected topics, like... Bonobos! Fascinating.)
- Lucky, because I can 'read' it in half an hour (all sugar rush, no sustenance)
- Madison (and not just when I've written something for them!) There's always a few great reads, and it keeps me in touch with what's happening in Australia. I often experience a 'grass is always greener' hankering for Aussie brands I can't get here in NY.
A few of my favorites have bitten the dust in the past couple of years, like Jane and ElleGirl.
Which blogs/websites are you checking in with daily?
Jezebel – love the mix, the tone, everything. It fills the space left by Jane, and then some.
Elle.com – just to look at pics and read my horoscope.
Jack Marx Live – you never know what you're going to get with each post, but you know it's going to be one of the best things you've read all month. Or year. (I may be biased, I worked with Jack at Australian Style.) His commentators also give me an idea of what's getting up Australians' noses.
Facebook – to play a move on Scrabulous, check in on friends in Sydney and to annoy my boyfriend, who hates Facebook and all it stands for.
iGoogle – I've been playing around with this, customizing a page with everything in one place--my email, news feeds, Google Docs, and Google Notebook, which I'm hoping will help keep me more organized than my numerous hard-copy notebooks.
Your favourite NYC... restaurant, clothes shop, book store?
Restaurant – my local Puerto Rican diner lovingly known as "The Chicken Shack".
Clothes shops – two local Brooklyn stores: Hooti Couture for vintage (the owner, Alison, really is a hoot. She brightens my mood instantly, even if I don't buy anything), and Red Beri, a great little boutique with cute tees, shoes and accessories that make you feel like you've treated yourself even if you can't splurge on the clothes.
Book store – Actual physical stores for browsing: Strand Bookstore for used; McNally Robinson in Soho for new stuff. (Truth be told, I live near the huge Brooklyn Public Library, and often work near the New York Public Library, and utilize both heavily. When I buy, it's usually on Amazon and Half.com)
Girl With a Satchel
P.S. You can expect to see some posts by Rebecca in the near future. What a treat!