Book Reviewing: the Interviews

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David and I met via a book group. I initially considered writing a review of a recent read for our extra week this month, until I hit on the idea of writing a piece of fiction about the review process itself.

We’d love to read about your personal review process – do add them in the comments below

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“Good evening everyone, tonight we’re going to talk about book reviews. With me in the studio tonight are Leon Wolf, Carolyn Sweetman and Jon Friend. Leon has been reviewing books as part of his skills portfolio for a number of years, Carolyn is a renowned book blogger and Jon runs a long-standing book club here in Brighton. Leon, Carolyn and Jon, welcome to the Late Night Chat Show.”

“Leon, perhaps you’d kick us off by taking us through how you got into reviewing?”
“Sure, thanks Amanda. As you can see, I’ve never been one for the booted ‘n suited lifestyle, the 9-5, working in an office thing.”
“For the listeners, I’ll simply say that Leon is dressed in a casual and individual style!”
<sound of laughter>
“I’m a variety of things – photographer, musician and writer, but I realised that I really needed something to even out the peaks and troughs of freelance work. A friend recommended book reviewing and put me in touch with a contact of his and from that I now run a reviewing group.”
“A reviewing group? How does that work exactly?”
“I get shipped a stack of books every week which I separate out based on genre, length, style of writing, that type of thing. In essence, I try to suit each member of my review group to the books I receive. Then they collect their new bundle of books and return the old bundle, together with a brief note of their impressions. I take a quick look through the books myself, then put the reviews together and submit them.”
“So you write all the reviews?”
“Well, I pen them, but they are largely made up of the scribbled notes and impressions of those who’ve read the entire book, while I pick out bits and pieces to round the review out.”
“I see. So, do you ever read an entire book yourself to review it?”
“Very rarely. Only if it’s clear that none of the group would have the time or interest in something unusual.”
“And where do your reviews end up?”
“We don’t write for one particular newspaper or magazine. Our reviews are sold on to a variety of publications.”
“Thank you Leon and now over to …”

“Carolyn Sweetman, welcome”
“Hello Amanda, thanks so much for the invitation to the Late Night Chat Show.”
“Could I ask you the same question, Carolyn, how you got into reviewing?”
“My path is very different from Leon’s, Amanda. I worked in the City for many years but decided to be a stay-at-home Mum once my children were born. That said, I knew I’d want to keep my hand in doing something. As I did English Lit at Uni and have always kept up with my reading, I decided to give reviewing a go.”
“And you chose blogging as your mouth-piece?”
“Well, everyone’s doing it and it’s so easy to set up a blog these days, you don’t even have to pay for a website or anything. I do have a proper website now, but I didn’t spend any money on the technical side of things until I had a decent following.”
“And how long did that take?”
“About two to three years, but I did work hard on the social media stuff.”
“What like Twitter and Facebook?”
“Yes, I know it sounds like I just sat at a keyboard and chatted to lots of people I’ve never met. And whilst there is a bit of that, you also have to work at it. You have to learn about optimum posting times and search engine optimisation, you have to build relationships for business purposes, not because you like someone. I took it seriously. I wrote tons of reviews on amazon and goodreads and built contacts from there too. I tweeted authors, agents and publishers with links to my reviews and put out a monthly newsletter to – what is now – over ten thousand readers.”
“Sounds like all that hard work of yours proved successful. When you started up your blog, what measure of success did you apply?”
“I wanted earn a living from my blog. Nothing massive, but I did want it to bring in some revenue, especially as I paid out so much in the early days on buying books. You see, because I was doing it as a business, I knew I couldn’t sit at home and wait for a book to become available at the library – I’d buy it and review it whilst it was still new and hot. That was a big part of my draw and why I was taken seriously. Now, of course, I get sent free copies for review. More recently, well I get a buzz when I see my reviews being quoted on author’s and/or publishers websites and their publicity material.”
“And your review process is?”
“I read a book from cover-to-cover. If it’s so bad that I cannot, I say so in my review.”
“Thank you Carolyn and finally over to …”

“Jon Friend – welcome Jon. Jon runs a book group here in Brighton. It’s been going for nearly 20 years now and has had a regular membership of between 10 and 15 people. Jon, tell me what got you into setting up a book group?”
“Hi Amanda. Well, I’m an avid reader and have always wanted to discuss the books I read, but none of my family or friends were interested in what I read. So I decided to seek out some like-minded people. I tried once before, but I was living in too small a village. It’s been great here in Brighton, we always have people on the waiting list, but I keep it to a maximum of 15 or the discussions could get out of hand.”
“And do you have a review process Jon?”
“We have a whole range, ‘cos it’s a very individual thing. Depending on life stressors, most of us read everything from cover-to-cover, although there’s some skim-reading when a book isn’t to a person’s taste. Personally, I’ve never not finished a book. It’s a proud boast of mine. We look at writing style – there’s a few in our group who can’t bear anything written in the present tense. We ask ourselves the typical questions: Is it a good story, is it well-paced, is it believable, are the characters well-drawn, did we learn anything new? If all else fails, we end up casting the film!”
“And have you ever considered reviewing as a profession Jon?”
“No, not at all. I enjoy our discussions, but that’s because we know each other and are comfortable in sharing our personal opinions. I’m not sure how happy we’d be to publish them. For us, it’s a personal thing.”
“Jon, thank you so much for coming to talk to us.”

“This is Amanda Don for the Late Night Chat Show saying goodnight and thank you to my guests and to you for listening.”

 

© 2016 Debra Carey

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Just a Man

The prompt:
He is just a man.
He will fail.
You will make sure of that.

 

small man

“Good morning Miranda”, said Gerry, “how are you feeling about our first session?” Miranda smiled, “a little nervous, but pretty excited. I’ve spent so much time talking this through with my group of girlfriends and getting absolutely nowhere with it. So, yes, nervous and excited.”

“I’m wondering” said Gerry, “if there’s something in particular that made you decide to seek professional help with this issue? Something more than the fact it’s been the subject of multiple conversations.” Raising her eyebrows at the unexpectedly on target question, Miranda responded: “I wasn’t planning to mention this quite so early,” she said quietly, “but my last boyfriend sent me this lengthy dissection of our relationship and what he perceived as my unreasonable expectations. I ended it that same day, but it’s been niggling away at me, probably because it’s written down and I can go over it, again and again, and torture myself with it.”

Gerry was nodding and making ‘I’m listening’ sounds, so Miranda found herself continuing: “I thought we could look at the problem overall before addressing the very specific points he raised.” “But the email upset you?” asked Gerry. “Not so much upset me, more came as a surprise. I thought we were doing fine. Well, apart from the usual niggles single people have when they’re transitioning into a couple, but I hadn’t spotted anything more … and I usually do.” “You usually do?” echoed Gerry in a slightly questioning tone. “Yes” agreed Miranda, “I’ve always been the one to examine the relationship, to check its temperature, where it’s going, whether I’m happy, whether I want more … or less. But that’s pretty normal isn’t it? The woman doing the relationship stuff whilst the bloke just putters along.” She laughed ruefully, “apart from the commitment-phobes, of course, who never let you get that far!”

“So, you ended the relationship when the e-mail arrived” said Gerry, “even though it was going fine. Why do you think that was?” Miranda recoiled as if struck, she’d never considered there was any other option open to her and she said as much. Keeping his voice very gentle, Gerry asked “you didn’t feel you could have a discussion about it?” “No,” said Miranda, “I didn’t feel he deserved me as he’d taken the coward’s way, sending an e-mail rather than talking to me in person.” Gerry’s facial expression seemed to say ‘fair point’.

Miranda noticed that each session with Gerry contained more of these unexpected and on-target questions. Despite feeling she’d addressed them well, she’d found herself thinking about the questions, over and over, and wondering if her responses were just a bit too pat, a bit too clever, a bit too deflecting? She decided to share her thoughts with Gerry, only to be rewarded with a broad smile and a suggestion that they discuss her ruminations in more depth.

These discussions began to feature in Miranda’s dreams, which provided interesting fodder for her weekly discussions with Gerry. When Gerry was away for two weeks, Miranda continued noting down her dreams. The night before her next session with Gerry, Miranda had a most memorable dream: She was in a big white room where twelve men and women ranged down one side, sat on ornate gold seats. Miranda approached each in turn only to find herself being asked, “why are you still single?” Miranda became more distressed with each question, finally blurting out to the last one: “You’re the wise ones, the all seeing ones, if you don’t know, how will I ever find out?” “You’ll have to ask Her” said the last one indicating a woman sitting on a far off cloud.

As Miranda got nearer, she recognised the woman as her mother. “Do get on with it Miranda” she heard her mother say impatiently. “But, but … I don’t understand”, blubbered Miranda, “what’s going on Mummy?” “Oh for goodness sake Miranda, you’re not a little girl, call me Mum, or mother, even Brenda?” Miranda shuddered at the thought of calling her mother ‘Brenda’ but took out a hanky and blew her nose. “Mum” she asked, “why am I still single? Why can’t I find a man to settle down with?”

Brenda snorted: “don’t be ridiculous Miranda, it doesn’t matter who you go out with. He is just a man. He will fail. You will make sure he does” and with that Miranda’s mother waved her away. Miranda stood there, her mouth gaping: “But Mum …” “Oh for goodness sake Miranda, what on earth do you think I was doing all those years whilst you were growing up?” Miranda looked how she felt – genuinely bewildered. Sighing heavily, Brenda continued: “I was training you to make sure the male species suffered, the way your father made me suffer. And I can see that I’ve done a good job. Now, hurry along, there’s a good girl. Just keep up the good work and do stop wasting money with that dreadful (Brenda spat out the next word) Man, Gerry, who asks you all those impertinent questions.”

 

© 2016 Debra Carey

#secondthoughts – #1linewed

The majority of writers, if asked directly (and quite often will just drop it into the conversation anyway), will tell you that they got into writing by being readers first.  If you are very unlucky then you might get a rundown of all the key literary inspirations behind their work.  (I promise not to inflict my full list on anyone…).

What is interesting is the real change that is occurring in publishing and writing – I may be wrong, and it is just my perception as I become more involved in this community but it feels that, if you are so inclined, it is much easier to make it as in indy author than it used to be.  Not just that, but the perception of indy authors is changing: from my perspective it is only within the last decade or so that independent publishing has been seen as legitimate, and not simply a euphemism for ‘vanity publishing’.  I’d be interested in discussing this further, if anyone is minded to, but this is not the purpose of this #secondthoughts.

One of the things that has made publishing easier, in some ways, is ‘the internet’.  It’s easier to find the right people, to build up a pre-release following, to go with just an e-book to keep costs down.  It’s also much easier to build communities both great and small around writing.  These can be very genre specific, or general to the action (or, more likely, tribulations) of writing.  One of the great things about this community is the support network, which includes the sharing of #WIP (works in progress).  These usually come in the form of specific themes generated by the ‘owners’ of certain hashtags, for which there is at least one for every day of the week.

My favourite, not least because it was my introduction to this arena is #1linewed, which was launched by @RWAKissofDeath.  I’ve posted against this tag often over the last few months, although I always skip the page number specific themes…

Confession time. Despite my best efforts, my #WIP is, shall we say, not fully developed.  #WIP suggests a car which at least has a chassis and an engine with the body work being added, whereas mine is still, to some extent on the drawing board.  When I came across #1linewed, I’d assumed it was shaded more towards a story in one line, and without bothering to investigate further I waded in, tweeting my own lines.  Just recently I’ve been having second thoughts.  Do my tweets belong in this group?  I don’t have a story that I’m editing.  I don’t have something that I’m ready to talk to an agent about…  Taken in this vein, I feel a bit of a fraud.

On the other hand though, I have a shed-load of ideas that are reaching super-saturation – they are starting to crystallise.  I have an arc, I have some characters, I have some context…the thing that is still missing is the key to the main plot line!  What I really like about #1linewed is that the themes lead me to the seed-points for scenes – I find myself encapsulating an idea in a line, and knowing (at least roughly) where the line fits in the scene and to some extent where the scene fits in the story.  It’s even helped me to define some secondary characters that I hadn’t really thought very much about.

Emerging from my doubts then, a big thank you to @RWAKissofDeath for providing the themes: these have been invaluable.  If you are reading this and coming across #1linewed for the first time, please do check it out on Twitter – there are some amazing writers out there sharing their work.  If you are a regular on #1linewed, I hope you will take my confession in the spirit that it is meant – an acknowledgement that I have subverted (very slightly) the unwritten law of the #WIP, but in the belief that I am living up to the spirit.  And isn’t that a strong part of writing anything in the first place?

 

 

 

Spaceman Crusoe

Finding yourself in the middle of nowhere is a dispiriting experience.  Add to this the embarrassment of being an astronaut reduced to the level of pre-stone-age man and you begin to understand how I felt.  Thankfully there was no one to witness my embarrassment but, on the other hand, neither was there a soul I could turn to for help.

I watched my craft, which from the perspective of the shore seemed to be rather more stable than it had appeared twenty minutes previously when I had thought that it was going to sink beneath the waves.

Great.  Spaceman Crusoe reporting for duty.

As I say, twenty minutes earlier, the situation hadn’t seemed so stable.  Old man Wyss had an easier time of it – he had a family for slave labour.  But I suppose he had to worry about his dependents relying on him to make everything better.  I’d also been lucky in that I’d been able to grab a few items before I jumped ship.  My grand prize was an antique – a real, genuine book, made from compressed fibrous material.  I’d been worried that it was going to get wet, but snug inside my bag, double wrapped in some spare clothes with some other odds and ends I’d managed to save, it had made it to the shore safe and sound.  I wouldn’t be this overjoyed about any book, but this was the classic ‘Survival’.  Who knew, maybe I’d live long enough to be rescued.

Writing Prompt – The Kitchen of the Future

Imagine yourself in the Kitchen of the Future – what does it look like?

Write a drabble (exactly 100 words) or a piece of flash fiction (up to but not more than 1000 words) on the prompt and add it as a comment to this post.

Word count: 100 / 1,000max
Due date: Friday, 14th October @ 2pm GMT

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