Style and substance

Maggie Alderson is clearly a woman used to getting things done. Immaculately turned out in black, the style columnist, author and former editor of British Elle apologises for being late, explaining that she got caught up with radio interviews, before joining The Canberra Times photographer for our photo shoot. Just a few minutes later, happy with the shots, we are off to the dining room to chat over salad and Diet Coke.

Alderson lived in Australia for eight years, but she was born in London and lives on the British coast with her husband and daughter. She flies back to Australia at least every two years, and was here recently to promote her new novel, Everything Changes But You.

She still writes regularly for Australian publications, and says her life has been enriched by her cross-continental career.

''The great thing about the internet is I feel like I stay quite connected with Australia,'' she says. ''[On] Twitter I get really good links to news stories and things, so I feel that it's really easy to stay in touch with what's going on here. I don't feel out of the loop at all. And I've got The Sydney Morning Herald app on my iPad and look at that every day.''

Indeed, if journalists could be divided between those who love the way digital media is changing their professional landscape, and those who loathe it, Alderson would fall firmly in the first camp. As a writer who spent years covering international fashion shows, she is not threatened by the rise and rise of amateur fashion bloggers. The best blogs, she says, are ''amazing,'' and the weaker just serve to make the professionals look good.

''I think we're at the beginning of a whole new world of consuming information and ideas, and I think at the moment it's a bit of a free for all, and the really good ones will rise to the top and the less good ones will fall away. At the moment, it's open season.''

In the blogosphere, Alderson loves Liberty London Girl, ''she's become a friend,'' and The Sartorialist, ''I just think he's [Scott Schuman] a genius.'' Australian Candice Lake is also a favourite, and she recently discovered Mademoiselle Robot, written by a French woman living in Britain.

She admits the sheer volume of content online can be overwhelming, but thinks it is important to make an effort to keep on top of it all. Blogging has changed the way people dress, she says, particularly at fashion shows.

''I see these creatures lurking around outside, hoping to get their photo taken, and they'll have a lampshade on their head. They just look ridiculous,'' she says. ''But I do think people are striving to be original, and that's obviously overly contrived, but I think I like the way people are dressing in a mixture of op-shop and vintage and chain store and any designer they can get their hands on. I think that's really good, and I think people are being more creative.''

She is generous with her praise for those efforts she likes, but bloggers hoping to catch Alderson's eye should take note. There are some things that do not fly with this fashion veteran, and she is not afraid to say so.

''I can't stand those ones who just put pictures of themselves up the whole time, they do my head in. I like ones that have a variety of content,'' she says.

Alderson is also unimpressed by blogs dedicated to the fashion of famous children. ''It disgusts me, absolutely, the whole Suri Cruise thing,'' she says. ''I mean, I've never met her mother - I'm sure she's a very nice woman - but any woman who puts a three-year-old in heels is never going to be my friend.''

Alderson loves children's clothes and buys lots of them for her daughter, but says she is careful to only use her sparingly in publicity, rather than ''parade her around as a product''.

Everything Changes But You is a family story set in Australia and Britain. Alderson approaches her fiction writing a little unusually. She starts with a concept, in the case of her latest, couples who come from different countries, and how alcoholism affects a family. She then finds photographs of people in magazines that fit the mood of the book she wants to write and pastes them above her desk to help her maintain focus.

Alderson loves writing books, but she admits to feeling isolated sometimes, sitting in a room alone with her thoughts. She would like to work in an office a couple of days a week, just to break it up a bit, she says. Again, she says, the online world has proved an invaluable source of company.

''If I feel I'm going to go mad, I just go on [Twitter] and have a chat,'' she says. ''Lots of my friends on there are other novelists and journalists, or scriptwriters, so we're all sitting in a room on our own. So I have a little chat to them and then I feel OK and go back to work. It's like a virtual water cooler.

Alderson is a refreshingly frank conversationalist, which might be the secret to her longevity as a columnist, and help her outlast the avalanche of self-publishing online.

It is an old rule to know your audience and write to it, but that is not Alderson's way. She says she does not write any differently if she addressing Australians or Brits. Indeed, it is only when she is addressing an over-50s readership that she tailors her writing at all, sprinkling her work with pop-cultural references they will find familiar. ''I just write, and it's very sincere, it comes straight from my head, my heart and my gut,'' she says.

Everything Changes But You. By Maggie Alderson. Michael Joseph. $29.99.

This story Style and substance first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.