Claire King


Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

Slow Reads

Posted on: March 21st, 2017 by Claire - 4 Comments

Once upon a time, page-turners were my go-to book choice. I was addicted to the way they would draw me so deeply into the story that I was desperate to keep reading above all else. For the length of the book, a page turner feels to me like the giddy early days of a love affair. No you hang up.

I still like a page-turner from time to time, but only on the rare occasions when I have an empty weekend, or a long journey by rail or air where I can binge read happily for hours on end. Otherwise it is slightly spoiled by everything else that gets in the way, and some of those things are spoiled in their turn by the nagging itch to get back to the book.

These days I tend to go for slower reads. I like the kind of writing where a chapter on its own can be satisfactory. Books that can be savoured over a couple of weeks and be all the better for it. Stories that accompany me when I am ready to pay full attention to them, like coming home after a day’s work or school and having a little cuddle and a chat before getting on with the rest of the evening. What’s for supper, Mum?

This week I have been reminded of another kind of reading. A couple of freshly published, slim blue books arrived for me at the bookshop (after some weeks of waiting) and I was keen to dive into both of them. One is short stories/flash fiction (I haven’t counted the words) – Vanessa Gebbie’s A SHORT HISTORY OF SYNCHRONISED BREATHING and other stories – and the other is Isabel Rogers’ debut poetry collection DON’T ASK.

Not Page Turners

Both have stopped me in my tracks.

In Vanessa’s collection, the stories are deceptive. They are humorous and startling and easy to read. You could gobble up several at a sitting if you were so inclined. And yet…and yet…although it doesn’t take long to read one of the stories, they are so perfectly rounded that to go any further immediately would seem to risk diluting the enjoyment. Instead I find myself going back over the story again for another look.

And then there is Isabel’s poetry. Every poem, every stanza, every line insisting on my full attention. It is slowing me right down in a way that I had forgotten, in a way that perhaps only poetry can. They say that every word matters even when you are writing prose, but in poetry this is amplified. Words are chosen and placed so precisely that it isn’t really about reading at all, but about listening to the poet, finding the resonance, finding our point of convergence.

Perhaps we have become used to skimming. Those of us from a generation that grew up with books, magazines and newspapers when they were still things to pause with can feel the change between that and the streaming information of this decade where reading is constant, but less absorbing. There is so much reading material now constantly at our fingertips that taking the time to read slowly has become a distinct and conscious decision.

I recommend that you step out of the flow for a while and enjoy writing that is not like infatuation, nor companionable love, but more akin to a single, perfect kiss.

The Second Star

Posted on: June 2nd, 2016 by Claire - 4 Comments

Why am I feeling so on edge?

When my debut novel The Night Rainbow was published back in 2013 I was a little nervous of course, but I was mostly just massively over-excited: I was absolutely happy with my book, having it published was a dream come true and I was REALLY looking forward to other people being able to read it.

With the publication of Everything Love Is imminent (July 28th), although in some ways I feel much calmer about publication itself because I know much more about what to expect and what not to expect, my anxiety about how it will be received by readers is much greater.

I’ve been trying to work out why that is. Although The Night Rainbow will always hold a special place in my heart, I like this book just as much for different reasons. So, what is it exactly? I’ve come to the conclusion it’s not the reviewers, or the new readers that concern me. If this were my debut I’d be perfectly fine. In fact, I’m worried what readers who loved The Night Rainbow will think. How will this book compare?

Hardback books

When you publish a debut novel your writing is generally critiqued on it’s own merits, and compared (even in readers minds) to other authors, but it cannot be compared to other novels you have written. Most importantly it cannot disappoint a reader who bought this book because they loved your first. But a second novel can.

It’s not really a question of the standard of writing: writers tend to become more accomplished as they go through their careers, unless a book has been hurried along due to an excessively short publication deadline or something has gone awry with the editing process. But until you have published a second novel, your first is a lone star, a single point of reference.

Unless the second is a sequel or part of a series, it will tell a completely different story to the first. The voice will be different, as will the themes and the characters. There will be similarities that mark out the book as a product of the same author, but it will be largely unfamiliar.


A second novel encourages direct comparison. A second star alongside the first, their positions are marked in relation to each other. It is only when there is a third star that they start to make up a picture of something more – who the author is, their style, what you can begin to expect of them. When you start to see what ties an authors books together – then they become a constellation.

As I finished writing Everything Love Is – and even more so as I embarked of the first draft of my third novel – it has become clearer to me what shape my own constellation is taking. I understand more about what is important to me as as a writer, what seems to tie together the stories I want to tell and how I want to tell them. This is something of a self-discovery, and feels really exciting. But of course that is getting way ahead of myself and is still overshadowed right now by my pre-launch preoccupation with how Everything Love Is will be received by those readers who are waiting for it in anticipation after having loved The Night Rainbow. Because it’s basically all about the readers.

Meanwhile there are a lot of other authors’ second novels out – and coming out soon – this year that I’m very keen to read. After their cracking debuts I really want to see what their next books will bring. It’s wonderful to discover an author whose work you want to keep going back to. I’m looking forward to seeing which of these will become some of my favourite constellations in my literary universe. Are there any growing in yours?


Photo (c) Gary A. Becker at

The Naming of Parts – Language for Language’s Sake

Posted on: May 2nd, 2016 by Claire - 6 Comments

My daughters recently moved from a French primary school to one in England. In the light of the current debates raging around SPaG* tests I wanted to share my first observations about one particular difference between the two systems as we’ve experienced them, and its noticeable effects on my children.


Much of the SPaG conversation recently mocks the fact that in her correspondance the Education Secretary herself has failed to meet the expected levels of primary school grammar, and perhaps if she were assessed on her use of subordinating conjunctions and fronted adverbials she would be found – embarrassingly – wanting. But I want to step back from that kind of sniping and look at the more fundamental issue – how literacy is affected by the ways we encourage children to engage with language.

Author Michael Rosen is a tenacious and articulate opponent of many of our current government’s education policies and his voice can, thankfully, be heard widely in the press, challenging their thinking. You can find his excellent blog here where he regularly shares his opinions on these issues. In this Guardian article he says:

“You must hope we parents are so mystified by this that we’ll think it represents “rigour”. In fact, it’s the grammar invented to describe how the Romans wrote. Our forebears neither knew nor cared how the Romans spoke, so they devised a self-serving system of descriptions that bear little relation to why we say or write things the way we do. So, back with the new gold standard of “subordinating conjunctions”: all this kind of description does is describe language as if humans invented it for the sole purpose of fitting it together. Amazingly, we invented speech and writing to enable us to do things. Language varies according to what we want it to do.”

For me, this hits the nail on the head, and illustrates is the big difference I see already in the way my girls are being taught here as opposed to in France. In their French primary school, French language, spellings, punctuation and grammar were learned by rote. There is an enormous emphasis in this area at least up to age 11, and the children are tested weekly. They certainly came out of it knowing vast amounts about verb conjugations in at least half a dozen tenses, being able to recite by heart the definition of a preposition, and explain the difference between a pronoun and a demonstrative adjective, amongst other things. They also learned about story structure. However they never seemed to DO anything with all of that. They wrote no poetry, no stories and no essays. They did no comprehensions and no projects. All the reading they did was sections specifically written for approved textbooks, which was then followed by questions to answer on the use of grammar and punctuation. It was dry, joyless and uninteresting. Language for language’s sake.

After a month in their new school, my children want to talk to me about the Tudors, about Egypt, about Coasts and Mountains. They want to discuss the life of Charles Dickens, the Plague and the Great Fire of London. They are excited by the different styles of language they are being exposed to and keen to use the new vocabulary they are developing to express their ideas and tell their own stories. Yes, they still have grammar and spellings to learn, and more so because they are shifting languages from French to English, but they are more engaged because they are applying it to interesting topics that give them a reason to use their words, and are exposed (by the school) to literature where the “rules” are not necessarily followed. It’s like a revelation.

I understand that this side of the channel our family’s experience is very limited – I’d be interested to know what your experiences are. For us, the difference is marked and in a very good way. The first thing my 10yo was asked to do when she joined her year 6 class in March was to write an essay about the differences between French school and English school. She had never in her life been asked to write more than a single sentence response to a question. She suddenly had a lot to say.

I’m a writer. I became a writer because I love language. I love the stretch and shift and richness of it. The malleability, the way you can play with it to make ordinary things sound surprising or beautiful. The way you can use words to give someone goosebumps or bring them to tears. The way you can use them to inspire other people, communicate ideas and create momentum. There is such joy to be had in all of this – surely this is why so many people want to be writers? Far fewer people want to become copy editors, (although thank goodness for the ones who do).

I honestly believe that if in my early exposure to English I had not been allowed to be creative, to play with words free of the constraints of the naming of parts, I would have felt suffocated by the rules and quickly lost interest. And even if I had not wanted to be a writer, but just be able to use written communication effectively, the end result would have been poorer. On the other hand, when you enjoy doing something there is a natural urge to improve your craft. In the case of language this means striving to find better ways of telling your stories and being receptive to learning from others, by lesson and by example.


*Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar. Whenever I see this abbreviation I want to add ‘Bol.’…

No Spoilers Please

Posted on: April 25th, 2016 by Claire - 4 Comments

What makes something a spoiler?

Although my new novel isn’t out until July, it’s been available on NetGalley for a while for reviewers to get hold of, a few uncorrected proofs have been sent out and there was recently a Goodreads giveaway, so it’s now in (very modest) circulation.

A few reviews have started to pop up, and since they are so lovely – and also gratifying for an author with pre-launch wobbles (PLWs) – I thought I would add some of the comments onto my Everything Love Is book page.  You can see that here.

Image0004LOW RES

However, in order to do that I had to edit out a few lines of what I would consider to be spoilers. I don’t believe for one minute that the reviewers considered their (very kind and insightful) words that way. But some of the comments included information that, as the author, I’d prefer future readers discovered at their own pace, through the story itself. And if they learn about it before diving in, well, it could spoil the read. Not ruin it, but still make it somehow less gratifying than I had intended, and tried to achieve through the (meticulous) way I wrote it.

With The Night Rainbow there was a huge potential spoiler, and to start with I was quite obsessive about looking at reviews to see if it had slipped out, and thanking reviewers for their discretion! I knew how easily it could be mentioned when trying to summarise what the book was about.* Thankfully only a few reader reviews ever mentioned it, although one national newspaper mentioned it in the first line of their otherwise glowing review. We couldn’t do anything about the thousands of print editions, although at Bloomsbury’s request they did edit the online version.

*I know how hard it is to answer the question “What is it about?” because I am asked it often and struggle to respond in any meaningful way. With some books it’s not a problem – it’s easy to talk plot points without spoiling the story – but with the kind of books I write, it isn’t and I find it easiest to stay thematic. With The Night Rainbow I would say it was about hope, our human struggles with grief, and the tenacity of children. With Everything Love Is I am simply telling people it’s a love story. I do realise that these are not always satisfactory answers, and I’m sorry about that. This is why I need reviewers, obviously.

I am always so moved by the careful way people phrase book reviews. I think that because book reviewers are book lovers, they  are sensitive to avoiding sharing plot points that could affect someone else’s experience of the book, even when this makes writing a review much harder to do. The question is, where is the line drawn between explaining something that gives a little context to the book, and revealing a spoiler, and as an author, should we just try not to get involved? After all, once our novels are published what people say about them is out of our hands.  We cannot curate readers’ experiences of our books any more than we can govern if they like them or not.



Here Comes 2016, Here Come the Books…

Posted on: December 23rd, 2015 by Claire - 13 Comments

I recently read this Glamour Magazine listicle of 11 “female-authored reads” they are looking forward to in 2016. Some of these books I have heard great things about and am looking forward to myself, but the list is very limited, and ends on this note:

“The Girl With The Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer

We know almost nothing about this lit debut by Amy, other than that she received a seven-figure advance for the collection of essays. But we are very excited.”

The problem I have with this is that the article, along with several others published over the last couple of weeks, is it reads like a list of recommended reads, but has been written based solely on publishers’ press releases. And can you really recommend a book based on the size of the advance it earned the author?

At the end of this blog post, therefore, I’d like to point you towards three articles from some very well read women who have 2016 books to recommend to you based on their EXTENSIVE reading.

On the other hand I do like preview articles like The Guardian’s 2016 Literary Calendar (and the children’s version here) which don’t pretend to recommend books based on having read them, but set out some highlights of what we can look forward to over the year ahead. And in that spirit, and to redress the balance a little (I’m sure that Amy’s book is going to be witty and entertaining, but there are so many other great books coming out from female authors that deserve a shout out), here are 11 other female authors that you might not read about in the round-ups but who I think you should be looking out for in 2016:


Jackie Buxton – Glass Houses (Urbane Publications).  Jackie’s non-fiction Tea And Chemo is wonderful. Next, her debut novel!

Joanna Cannon – The Trouble with Goats & Sheep (Borough Press). There’s already a LOT of buzz online for this debut.

Emma Geen – The Many Selves of Katherine North (Bloomsbury). Look at this beautiful cover:

The Many Selves of Katherine North

Rebecca McKenzie – In a Land of Paper Gods (Tinder Press). I had the luck to read an advance copy, and loved this book.

Fiona Melrose – Midwinter (Corsair/Little Brown)

Catherine Ryan Howard – Distress Signals (Corvus)

Holly Seddon – Try Not To Breathe (Corvus)


Second and subsequent novels from writers with amazing debuts:

Carys Bray – I loved A Song for Issey Bradley. Can’t wait to read The Museum of You

Emma Chapman – The Last Photograph (Picador) sounds intriguing. How will it compare to How to be a Good Wife?

Sarah Perry – Following the mesmerising After Me Comes The Flood is The Essex Serpent, out in July (Serpent’s Tail).

Caroline Wallace – The Finding Of Martha Lost (Transworld) I’m a big fan of Caroline’s work under her other name Caroline Smailes, so can’t wait for this.


And Many More! 

As promised above, here are three great 2016 previews whose authors have read all the books they are recommending:

Please have a look at Isabel Costello’s amazing Literary Sofa 2016 Hot Picks for some wonderfully diverse selections which I haven’t mentioned here.

And here is a 2016 top ten from the lovely Cathy Retzenbrink in Stylist who also picks out three of the books mentioned in the Glamour piece, but does also highlight The Essex Serpent (and tips Sarah Perry for great things!), the new Maggie O’Farrell and My Name is Leon (see comments below).

Naomi Frisby lists her diverse (first half) female authored recommendations here and tells us why, for her, they have the Wow Factor.

Also, I’ve started compiling a twitter list of authors with novels being published next year, 27 in total (so far all female on my radar!) and of course it doesn’t include non-tweeting authors like Maggie O’Farrell. Let me know of suggested additions.


Does Amazon block reviews from Twitter/Facebook followers?

Posted on: December 17th, 2015 by Claire - 3 Comments

Several authors have had complaints from readers recently that they have tried to leave reviews on amazon and not been allowed to do so.

The belief is that amazon is changing its review policy and if amazon can see (by authors/readers connecting their social media accounts such as facebook and twitter to their amazon account) that you are somehow connected, they will view the reviews as biased and will delete them.

Of course this seems like a crazy policy: readers like to connect to authors on social media and authors like to connect to them. Readers like to leave book reviews and authors LOVE that. Reviews help other people find our books. (Thank you readers).

And yet, many authors seem to have resolved their readers’ review issues by disconnecting their social media accounts from their amazon accounts.

I wrote to amazon to get clarity on their policy.

Here is their reply in full:

Truths and Lies

Posted on: August 17th, 2015 by Claire - 3 Comments

Every now and then I hear so many wonderful things about a book outside my usual sphere ( I tend towards contemporary adult fiction) that I have to read it. Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls is one of those books. It’s a children’s book, but really you can read and appreciate it at any age. Since finishing it a few days ago I have been trying to explain to people why it is such a good book without bursting into tears.

This is partly just my general temperament, but partly because it is such a beautifully truthful, beautifully human story. A story that happened to coincide with several other things I have read, watched or listened to in the last couple of weeks that have a consistency of theme – the kinds of stories we tell our children.

Stories wreak havoc

A Monster Calls tells the story of  how a young teenage boy deals with his mother’s terminal cancer. There’s also some bullying and a bit of broken family dynamics thrown into the mix. Not so much about having adventures in the fresh air and drinking ginger beer, then. Is this the kind of subject matter that our children really need to be dealing with at that age? The Danish think it is.  They actively teach empathy to children, and believe that we shouldn’t shy away from engaging children with stories that tackle tough topics. We all want to protect our children, but at the same time we want them to fly the nest ready to face the world, and by reading about different kinds of emotions – fear, sadness, anger – children develop their ability to connect with their own emotions and empathize with others.

This is nothing new. Most of the books we read our children contain dark elements (even Guess How Much I Love You if you look hard enough); the storytelling tradition is full of devils, wicked stepmothers, and wolves who eat children. Many of us grew up with the moral lessons of Aesop’s Fables, but also Hans Cristian Anderson’s Ugly Duckling and the Emperor with his new clothes, and the Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, so many of which have gone on to be sanitised by Disney (Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White…).

Fairy tales can teach us truths about foolishness, arrogance, selfishness and good versus evil, but what else are children taking out of these stories? For example, I listened to this broadcast from the excellent Radio 4 Misogyny Book Club series:  ‘Unhappily Ever After’  which discusses how such fairy tales portray male and female roles. If you think back to the kinds of stories you were read, and then later read yourself as a child, can you remember what they told us about how men and women behaved in the world? Which actions were rewarded and which warned against and how the world was described? There was almost certainly much less diversity than we try to insist on these days. And possibly the gender stereotyping was inconsistent with the way we would like our own children to think?

cinderella quote

In the broadcast, Rosie talks first about the fairytales she read, how they portrayed the ideal woman and her aspirations – for the “good” female character it usually culminated in marrying the prince. But interestingly she compounds this experience with her later reading as a teenager, notably Twilight, and talks about how she responded to that story and the relationship portrayed in it by entering into a string of abusive relationships.

I haven’t read Twilight, and I don’t believe that in itself it is a bad book that will turn teenagers towards abusive relationships, but as we grow up we do take our context from the stories we are told, and more and more these days there it seems harder to find a balance. As well as books, we are told stories by our teachers, our peers, our parents and other people we trust. We are also fed stories in the other media we consume, notably in commercial “storytelling”: The adverts that tell you how buying things will make you more popular. The TV shows that show kids how anybody can be a pop star if they want it 110%. The glossy magazines with their beauty essentials and airbrushed models. And the internet…which brings me onto the subject of pornography.

porn warning

Pornography is another kind of storytelling, I believe. Boy meets girl. Boy fixes girl’s washing machine. Fellatio results.

Something else I came across last week was this video on what our children are learning about sex from the internet. The children (16 year olds) talk about what they have ‘learned’ from watching internet porn and how it influences their thinking and behaviour with the opposite (in this case) sex.  It then shows the effect of bringing a Belgian sexologist in to a UK School to change the narrative. It might seem strange to include porn as ‘stories’ – on so many levels – but the children who are watching it seem to believe it is fantasy.

A Monster Calls has fantastic elements. Central to the plot is a walking, talking yew tree. Shaking off the boundaries of the real world allows complex ideas to be conveyed simply and poetically. In fantasy, magic and the supernatural can provide conduits for telling very human stories. It doesn’t matter if the protagonist is a wizard or a scarecrow, a sentient robot or a flying nanny, the characters are sympathetic and the story is one that the reader can relate to, and find truth in. Every story we write, fantastic or realistic takes the reader on a journey, asks them to consider a situation, empathise with the characters and wonder what they would do in a similar situation.

Yew Tree Monster

Yet the further our stories get from fantasy, from what we know cannot be true, and the closer they get to resembling the world around us, the harder it can be to tell where the truth ends and the fiction begins.

Our children must learn to discern which stories are fantasy, which are fictionalised portrayals of events that could happen in real life and which hold no truth at all. And here is where the danger lies. We have a responsibility to tell the truths, as hard as they might be, because if we don’t then lies will take their place. At every age, from the first stories we read to them, to the books and magazines they read and the websites they visit during their teenage years, the stories we tell our children inform their view on the world.



A report from the YALC (Young Adult Literature Convention) talking about whether sex should be included in YA books.

list of Young Adult Titles that get first sex (awkwardly) right.

My blog post on Why I think 5 part story structure is less important to kids than storytelling


Fire and Flood*

Posted on: July 18th, 2015 by Claire - 1 Comment

Writers, generally speaking, tend to read a lot. But we are also a pretty tough audience, as it can be hard to get fully swept away with a story if you can’t detach your author’s mind from the writing itself. For me it takes a sustained, captivating voice coupled with a powerful sense of place – environment, atmosphere or era – to make a novel believable and compelling.

But the last two books I finished went beyond that, both managing not only to engage me completely as a reader, but also speaking to me as a writer because even as I was swept along by the story I could not help but admire the authors’ skill: novels for novelists, perhaps? Both enjoyable and inspiring.

I don’t do book reviews but I wanted to share these novels, so I’m going to choose three words I think best describe the books, and give you a couple of quotes as a flavour of the writing.

The first is Stephen Kelman’s second novel, due out next month – Man on Fire. I found it comedic, charming and redemptive. Quotes below from uncorrected proof.

“I had the feeling the weather would enjoy stripping me down to the vulnerable parts I could cover up with clothes back home. I thought it might expose a madness I’d been carefully hiding all these years.”

“I chose the groin kick for my opening record because its danger and high skill level required would guarantee that it would remain intact for many years to come (this has since been proved correct as to this day of writing I remain unmatched in this area).”

“I was beating the life out of Bibhuti with a baseball bat when my first monsoon broke…”


The second book is Sarah Perry’s debut novel After Me Comes The Flood – which was recently released in paperback. I found it languid, discomforting and atmospheric.

“She stood and reached across the table to shake my hand. Hers was as small as a child’s and her nails were dirty. She was very slender, and I could see how fine and sharp her bones were, with a thin covering of white skin glossy in the heat. In a voice on the verge of singing she said: ‘You must be hungry, John. Do sit, won’t you? And don’t let Walker frighten you: he will, you know – if he can.’ She gestured towards the man sitting next to her, who concealed a smile, then struck a match on the table’s edge and lit a cigarette.”

“As John set out on the path he paused to let a toad cross; it splayed out its soft patient feet and crept past, a pulse throbbing in its stomach and its butter-coloured eyes rolling thanks.”



*By complete coincidence, the casts of both of these novels play out their stories in searing heat, in anticipation of impending rains, but the similarity stops there. Even the quality of the heat and the impact it has on the characters is perfectly distinct in each book.

Are there books you have read recently that you loved as a reader but also admired for the quality of the writing itself?


Blurby be Kind (2)

Posted on: January 30th, 2015 by Claire - 15 Comments

In the Before Time, when my editor at Bloomsbury was sending The Night Rainbow proofs out to authors with little enthusiastic and hopeful notes, suggesting if they liked it they might consider saying something nice for the jacket, I wrote this post: Blurby be Kind (do have a read and then come back!)

The post talked about how I was feeling, which was anxious, mostly, and how I *would* behave in the future, should I be faced with the same request myself.

Three years on, and I am indeed getting quite a few requests to read novels, usually debuts, with a view to providing quotes for the book jacket or for PR releases.


And when I say quite a few, well, I have read more of these proofs in the last six months than I have read books from my (very tall) to-read pile, because they often come with deadlines whereas my own reading does not. Some have come direct from authors I know personally or on social media. Some have come from my editor and the remainder arrive from other publishers.

In some ways I’m absolutely delighted about this. It’s an opportunity to pay forward some of the kindness I received myself. (An actual author giving up their time to read my book – amazing). But in other ways it is a tricky thing to handle because however much you want to love a book, sometimes you just don’t. And that’s sad, especially when you know the effort and the hope that are bound up in that little proof.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and have come to this conclusion: I’ve been reading for pleasure for decades now, and I tend to know what I like. When I browse books I flick through the first pages and when I find a voice that is going to grab me and delight me I just know it straight away. When I listen to others making personal recommendations, in reviews, on blogs or on twitter, I tend to get a good sense of if a book is for me. That’s how I choose what to read. So I enjoy the books I’ve chosen for myself more often than not.

But with the hopeful books lining up for a bit of cheerleading, there’s none of that. My personal taste in books is not usually a factor, and so many of the books I am sent, just as with many of the books in a bookshop, are simply not my cup of tea, no matter how well written they are or how successful they will go on to be.

Still, when I read one of those books that nevertheless found its way into my hands I get such a sinking feeling. Because I want to be that cheerleader, I do. I carry on with those books long past the point I would normally – either as a reader or as an editor – because I want the magic to happen. But to be honest I already know it won’t. It’s like a blind date with a lovely person that you just don’t fancy. So if you know your book has been sent to me hoping for some blurb-love, please know that I have given it my best attentions, whatever the outcome. And if I don’t fall in love with it, well,  it’s not you, it’s me.

And by the way, isn’t PROOF a weird looking word?




Mixed Reviews

Posted on: May 29th, 2014 by Claire - 6 Comments

As I’m sure you’ll be aware, the extraordinary, inspirational woman, Maya Angelou, died yesterday.

She had an astonishingly rich life, starting right at the bottom of the pile and ending her life as a teacher, a role model, a treasure and an inspiration to millions.

Maya Angelou

I came to know of her first through her poetry. The first poem I read of hers was Still I Rise, which is one of my favourite poems to this day. I re-read it often and it still makes me cry and it still makes me feel stronger. You can find it on YouTube being read by Maya herself.

Yet when Wikipedia, and some obituaries out today, mention Maya Angelou’s poetry they say it ‘received mixed reviews’.

I’ve seen this phrase before and I don’t like it. It often seems to be used as a euphemism for ‘Wasn’t particularly special.’ But I think poetry should receive mixed reviews. I think poetry, and all forms of writing should aim to speak powerfully, but not to every reader and not to every reviewer. Books that are unanimously feted and glorified make me suspicious, and might in fact disappoint readers if, as is sometimes the case, it turns out to be a matter of The Emperors New Clothes. Only by reading widely do you find the words that reach into you.

Nor should writers worry about the prospect of ‘mixed reviews’. Trying to please everybody can only make your writing weaker, because it can no longer come from the heart.

Maya Angelou herself said “I have learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Maya Angelou Walking Along Beach


The photos in this post are taken from Maya Angelou’s biography on

Following a Trail of Thoughts.

Posted on: November 25th, 2013 by Claire - 2 Comments

Sometimes people visit this blog via a link from another website, and of course I like to pop over and see who sent them here.

– Today I found myself at the blog of Mitzi, whose blog is Tea & Biscuits & A Good Book (and who can argue with that?) and who has just finished reading The Night Rainbow (in the bath).

I had a look around her blog and was interested to see that Mitzi lists three criteria for how she chooses her books, and the first is:

“1. Recommendation – you know whether your taste in reading material is the same as the person who recommends it.”

Sure enough, in her review Mitzi mentions that she had heard about The Night Rainbow last month from Jo, at her blog Through The Keyhole.

I followed the trail, and in reading Jo’s post, I found that in her turn she had come to the book through recommendation, having heard about The Night Rainbow from Anna at the Green Tapestry blog, (a gardening and allotment notebook), who had written a post back in August talking about her summer holiday reading.

I usually try not to read too many reviews, as I’m finding that what people have to say about a book that has been published somehow affects how I feel about the one I’m writing now. But as an author it was a joyful little moment, finding this organic trail of blog posts. It’s reassuring to see readers picking up on recommendations and passing them on in their turn, and a privilege to peek at the dialogue between the bloggers and the readers who leave comments.

So my thanks to each of these three bloggers for sharing their thoughts, and to everyone who has taken the time to write a review or simply to tell others how you’ve enjoyed reading The Night Rainbow. After the brief burst of excitement over the launch of a book, I honestly believe it’s people like you who determine how it fares in the long run.

Tea and Biscuits

If you’re interested in other blogs where you can find book recommendations, I did a series of interviews with book bloggers earlier this year. Start here and follow the trail!

Word of Mouth 1


How Stories are Made

Posted on: September 25th, 2013 by Claire - 33 Comments

I was surprised to discover this week that my eight year-old daughter is learning ‘Five-part Story Structure’ as part of her school curriculum. It’s not something I ever learned at school, and in fact was only exposed to for the first time quite recently, long after I’d started writing seriously myself.

One thing that makes it particularly surprising is that my younger daughter, who is nearly six, has just started in the class where French children are taught to read, and some of the children in her class literally don’t know how a book ‘works’. (Not all of them. And you can make your own guess as to whether my own children love to read and engage with stories). Yet two years later they are already moving on to learning the constituent parts of a story.

If you don’t know the five parts, typically they are:

  • Exposition: Setting the scene. “Once upon a time…”
  • Rising Action: Building the tension. “But then…”
  • Climax: The really exciting bit. Sometimes known in our house as ‘the Bad Part’*
  • Falling Action. “And so”
  • Dénouement or resolution: Ending the story. “Happily ever after.”

*I’ve been telling my daughters about ‘the bad part’ of stories for a while, because if they stop reading (or listening, or watching) a story when it all seems too scary to bear, they never get to see the hero pull through, and you are left without a satisfying and cheerful resolution.

Little Red Riding Hood

So in the exercise they are completing, they are comparing Charles Perrault’s original version of Little Red Riding Hood with the later Brothers Grimm version of the story and seeing how they differ at each of the steps. For example, unlike the milder Grimm telling (where Little Red Riding Hood and her Grandmother are rescued by the woodcutter, who slices open the Wolf’s stomach and sets them free, relatively undigested), in the dénoument of the original story, Little Red Riding Hood is lured into bed, and then promptly eaten by the wolf. The End.

Anyway, having thought on the matter, firstly I’m not sure that this is the right time to give children such a functional view of story telling. Isn’t this a time when stories should be something that they delight in, or in which they see echoes of their own struggles and realise they are not alone? As GK Chesterton put it, “Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

Secondly, the five part story structure seems to me a very oversimplified explanation of how stories are built. Unless the writer is being very formulaic, the journey between the opening and closing of a story can differ wildly from one story to another. Could this be a case of teaching a basic ‘rule’ first, and then going on to cover the exceptions? But are the exceptions not in the majority?

Here is a link to an illuminating and funny Kurt Vonnegut talk where he plots out the structure of some well known stories.

My final exception to the teaching of story structure to children is that if we are going to teach anything about storytelling we should start with the magic. We should explain to them why we tell stories, the profound effects that stories can have on human beings in terms of emotional responses, learning and social skills. We should explain that telling stories makes us human, and that we can all do it, and in fact we do all do it every day. That when my daughter walks in from school and says “Guess what happened to me today!” the magic is already starting.

Word of Mouth: Rob Around Books

Posted on: May 14th, 2013 by admin - 4 Comments

Thank you to everyone who has given this series of blog posts such a warm reception. I’m so pleased you’ve been interested in finding out more about people who blog about and review books online. My last guest is Rob, aka Rob Around Books. Rob describes himself both as a ‘book sniffing weirdo’ and as a ‘literary evangelist’, and having known him online for 3 years now, I’d say that’s a fair assessment!

Rob with Joyce

When did you become a literary evangelist and why? Has reviewing books changed the way you read?

I’d like to think that I’ve always been something of a ‘literary evangelist’, but it’s only been about a year or so since I first started labelling myself as such. It all came about when I realised that the term ‘blogger’ just didn’t really fit with what I stand for in the world of book reviewing. You see, my main aim in doing what I do is to encourage people to pick up books and read – nothing more, nothing less. And the most powerful ‘weapon’ I have at my disposal is my own passion and enthusiasm for the written word. I guess I view reading as a form of religion, and to spread this ‘religion’ effectively involves plenty of overzealous preaching to the masses, much like an evangelist who spreads the word of the gospel. It all sounds a bit nuts I know, and as though I have ideas above my station, but in reality ‘literary evangelism’ is just a fun role that I try to live up to.

You describe sharing your passion for reading as a kind of religion. To continue the metaphor, do you remember the moment when you were ‘converted’?

My ‘conversion’ came at a fairly young age. As an only child I used to spend a lot of time on my own. I was never unhappy, but more often than not I had to find ways to entertain myself, especially during the summer months when I stayed with my grandparents in the country village where they lived. It was here that I first discovered the wonderful world of Just William and The Famous Five. These books gave me so much entertainment and companionship, and they fuelled my imagination as I recreated scenes from these books in the open countryside around me.

As far as my conversion to literature goes, I have a lot to be thankful to my grandparents for. They, together my parents, were very encouraging when it comes to reading, and there was never a time when a new book wasn’t sitting there waiting to be read.

As time progressed I did gravitate more towards nonfiction – nature, science, history etc. to the point where I never really read much fiction. In fact my conversion back to fiction only returned in recent years, when I realised once again just how much value I got from reading novels, and especially the classics.


Are you a literary superhero, and if so what is your mild mannered alter ego? How do the two get along?

Oh I don’t know, ‘literary superhero’ sounds awfully pretentious doesn’t it? That said, I was playing the role of ‘literary superhero’ last year as part of Book Week Scotland’s celebration of the written word. Selected as one of the members of the League of Extraordinary Booklovers, my job was to dispense book advise to all those seeking it. It was a lot of fun – the perfect job for me you might say – and I even came away with my own cape and a mask to keep the persona going in my own time, and to remind me of the rewarding time I had during what was a wonderfully bookish week.

Do I really consider myself to be a literary superhero though? Well if superhero powers are measured in terms of passion and enthusiasm then I guess I am, but in reality I’m just a regular guy with an insatiable passion for the written word and a drive to get others reading. Have I a mild mannered alter ego? Well, if you’re asking if I’m ever away from books, then the answer is no. I do take time to connect with the world around me of course, but barely a minute goes past without the written word being somewhere at the forefront of my mind. I know, there’s an institution for people like me, right? 🙂


What are the high and low points of reviewing books for you?

I get many highs from reviewing books, and one or two lows as well. The biggest high of course comes from finding out that your reviews have made a difference to somebody, whether that be author or reader. I get no greater satisfaction than hearing that a book I’ve shone a light on has motivated others to read it, and a word of appreciation from the author him/herself makes all of the countless hours of effort worth it. The biggest prize of all in this respect, is hearing that I’ve encouraged a non or seldom reader to pick up a book. When that happens I can think of no bigger high.

I’ve also connected with a phenomenal number of beautiful minds through reviewing – authors, fellow reviewers, publishing people, book lovers – who have given me more than I could ever give back. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve felt truly blessed to be in the company of such people – both virtually and in person – and it is, for me, one of the major plus points of reviewing.

Additionally, book reviewing not only brings me to books I may never have considered, but it also ensures that I connect with a book with more thoughtfulness and depth than I might have given it otherwise. That niggling reminder in the back of my head that you’re sharing your reading experience with others is a great concentrator. It’s like reading a book for a test I guess, and we all know how much more attention we give to our reading when it’s for such an important purpose as this, right? So what I’m saying I suppose, is I get way much more out of a book when I’m reading it for review.

As to the downsides of book reviewing? Well, the most noticeable thing is how much time it sucks out of your life. If you’re going to commit to reviewing books with any kind of seriousness then be prepared to invest many long and torturous hours. This game is seriously time consuming, and although there are rewards are there to be reaped, the time investment often outweighs the benefits. There is no end to it either. It’s perpetual, and if you have an anxiety linked to never being able to get to all the books you want to read in a lifetime, then it that anxiety becomes ten times worse when you start book reviewing. Arrggghhh!!!

Although you do review some general fiction, you tend to steer into other areas. How would you describe your taste in literature? What makes something stand out for you?

Oh, I think my literary tastes are definitely eclectic, and a little left of field. I’m a little strange in that I tend to steer away from books that are heavily marketed and/or being spoken about by everyone, because as snobbish as it may sound I like to read differently so that I can bring something different to the table, so to speak. The Japanese author Haruki Murakami once remarked, “If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking”, and this I’ve adopted as a mantra, not at all to be pretentious or exclusive, but just to add something new to the mix.

I also consider it something of a duty to shine a light on lesser supported titles (debuts, releases from small presses) and genres (particularly translated fiction and short fiction), and there’s nothing that satisfies me more than when I’ve encouraged somebody to read a book that they’ve never heard of before, or to engage in a genre that’s new to them.

As for what makes something stand out for me? Well, it’s certainly not ‘shiny and new’ that does it for me. Rather it’s literary works which have stood the test of time. It saddens me to see so many readers these days easily seduced by fancy covers and clever marketing. As a society we have an obsession with the new and the up-to-date, and consequently we shun anything that’s more than five minutes old. We pick up the latest literary creation from an author of the minute and we hail their writing as the greatest thing that we’ve ever read, yet most people have not really read anything more than a handful of years old.

No, the real treasures in my mind are the ones that are already under our noses i.e. the works of literature that have fuelled past generations and have endured. For example, I remember re-reading The Great Gatsby not long ago and telling people that once you’ve read this literary masterpiece you realise that there is nobody alive today that can even get close to touching the genius of Fitzgerald. And the same in my opinion goes for the likes of Steinbeck, Hemingway, Flannery O’Connor, Chekhov and Maupassant, to name but five. Recently, I’ve discovered the Canadian author, Morley Callaghan who seems largely forgotten outside of Canada, and yet reading him one discovers just how alive and precise his writing is, and how easy it is to engage with. His novels and short fiction zing with freshness and they feel as invigorating today as they must have during the decades they were first published. In other words Callaghan’s prose has very much stood the test of time, and this is very much what makes something stand out for me.


Where do you get your reading recommendations from? 

My reading recommendations come from all over the place. Friends and colleagues are a big source, and I include the dear people that I know and love on Twitter and Facebook in this. Never a day goes past when I’m not noting down another half-a-dozen books or so that people have enthused so magnificently about.

Literary award longlists and shortlists are also a big source of reading inspiration for me. I don’t tend to focus on the bigger prizes so much, like The Man Booker and Costa Book Awards for instance, but more specialist prizes such as the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and the the Frank O’Connor Short Story Award, are constant sources of inspiration.

Finally, books themselves are a primary source for recommendations. Books about books especially are like untapped gold mines waiting to be discovered. My current infatuation with the Canadian, Morley Callaghan came about solely as a result of reading about him in Joe Queenan’s ‘One for the Books’. And, my love affair with the ‘father of the essay’ Michel de Montaigne, stemmed from reading Sarah Bakewell’s ingenious biography on the man, ‘How to Live’.


What is your point of view on the star rating system of book reviews? What, for you, do 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 stars mean to a prospective reader?

I use star ratings for my reviews and have always done so. However, I would never use such a system works on its own because I don’t think it works. But when used in conjunction with a written review it does offer a reader an instant snapshot of a reviewer’s opinion. As to a star rating’s meaning? Well, it’s intuitive enough surely? 5 stars signifies a triumph, while 1 star means it’s a bit of a flop. Anything in between is a variance between these two extremes.


Recommend me three books (or other pieces of literature) that have blown you away

Herodotus’ The Histories – This is the book that made me want to study history at university. It’s all about epic wars, lost civilisations, great kings, myths and legends. What’s not to like?

Shusaku Endo’s Silence – Based around the persecution of Christians in seventeenth-century Japan, this is one of those deeply affecting novels that climbs to the bottom of your soul and lives there for ever more. Martin Scorsese is meant to be adapting this for the big screen, with Daniel Day-Lewis playing the chief missionary who bears witness to the all the wrongdoings, but thus far nothing has materialised.

John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row – When people recommend John Steinbeck they usually talk Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men or East of Eden. However, my favourite Steinbeck novel is Cannery Row. Populated by endearing and never forgotten characters, Cannery Row is by far Steinbeck’s greatest triumph, and although it’s nowhere near as epic in scale as Grapes of Wrath or East of Eden, it’s the kind of novel that has your mind continually wandering back to it, even years after first reading it.

Many thanks to Rob for his illuminating evangelism, and once again to the others who took part. Do explore their websites, and if you’ve enjoyed this post, please do visit the other interviews in the series:

– Dan – Utter Biblio

 Isabel – On The Literary Sofa

– Teresa – Lovely Treez Reads

– Alan – Words of Mercury

– Lindsay – Little Reader Library

– Ann – Random things through my Letterbox


Word of Mouth: Random Things Through my Letterbox

Posted on: May 13th, 2013 by admin - 3 Comments

A warm welcome to the lovely Anne Cater today, in the penultimate post in my week of book bloggers.

Anne Cater

Anne, your blog is Random Things Through My Letterbox, and as well as reviewing books you review well, pretty much anything. What is the strangest thing you’ve reviewed?

I must admit that although I started the blog with the intention of talking about everything that arrived through the letterbox, over the years it has slowly morphed into a ‘book review’ blog and not much else. There have been a couple of very random items though; a foil blanket for use in emergencies, some Angel Delight ice cream and a packet of cat shaped paperclips stick in my mind quite clearly. My difficulty is with blogging about them, and making it entertaining for readers.


Where do your books come from, how many books do you read per month on average, and has reviewing them changed what and how you read?

Books arrive on an almost daily basis! I’ve always posted reviews of books that I’ve read on various websites; Amazon, Good Reads, Waterstones etc, and usually had a good response. Over the past year I’ve started to Tweet my reviews and this has certainly attracted lots of attention from publishers and authors. I’m now on the mailing list for various publishers who send books out randomly and I do receive lots of requests via my blog for reviews.

On average, I read around 12 books per month and this has not changed since I started reviewing, I’ve always been a quick reader. I don’t think that reviewing has changed how I read but it has certainly changed what I read. Although I still read my favourite authors, I now experiment with genres that I probably would not have considered in the past, not because I didn’t think that I would enjoy them, but purely because I wouldn’t have even heard of them. The internet is a wonderful thing, it has opened up the world of literature so freely to everyone. I often spend hours just browsing online – reading other reviews, noting down titles on my ever expanding wish-list, just totally immersing myself in the world of books and reading.


You say publishers send out books randomly. As an author this interests me – just as we are advised to approach agents who are interested in our ‘genre’, so I would have imagined publishers target their ARC mailings. Not the case then? If you were asked to advise publishers on approaching book bloggers, what advice would you give?

I’d guess that publishers do target their ARC mailings as I rarely receive books that I’m not interested in.  When I say ‘randomly’, I mean that they arrive without notice and I’ll often receive 3 or 4 books from the same publisher within a couple of weeks, and then none from them for ages.

I’d advise publishers to take a look through a blogger’s reviews, to  get a feel for what they like to read first, and then make their approach.  It’s always good to receive a copy of the the press release, the blurb about the book and maybe a little about the author.  Most bloggers are delighted to get on to a publisher’s mailing list, but I’d advise the publisher to ask about any genre of book the blogger really doesn’t want to read rather than ask what they do like.


What are the high and low points of reviewing books for you?

The highs including receiving so many beautiful new books through the letterbox. I still get a tingly, joyful feeling every time a new book arrives.
As a result of my blog, last year I was invited to be part of the first Pan Macmillan Reader’s Group Panel, made up of book reviewers from around the country. We have met up three times so far, to read and discuss a book, and then help to produce the reading group guide material that will be in the paperback edition. Pan Macmillan have treated us to cocktails and afternoon tea, and we’ve had the opportunity to meet and chat to authors – it’s been wonderful, and I’m honoured to be part of it.

The low points are few, but I often feel a little anxious that I won’t be able to get a review done on time. I work full-time as a Community Development Worker, I also do voluntary work, so blogging and reviewing is very much a spare-time occupation, as much as I’d love to do it full-time. My working hours are flexible, and I’m a night-owl so many of my reviews are done late at night.
Also, I’m so aware that I’m a reader and not a writer and am often worried that my reviews will not do the book justice. I admire authors, and I could never write a novel so I always try to be as constructive with any criticism as I can.

If I really don’t have anything good to say about a book, then I won’t publish a review.


You talk about anxiety over not getting a review done on time – do you feel a pressure to time your reviews around specific dates? Do you think that readers prefer to see several reviews go up all in the same week (a big ‘push’) on a new book?

Not all publishers ask that reviews are posted in time for publication date, but I do like to try and make sure that reviews are up either before, or the same week as publication date. If a publisher or author has specifically asked me to review a book, then I will prioritise it for publication date where I can. If I’ve received a book with no prior notice, then I will review it as near to publication date as possible – it doesn’t always work that way though. I’ve noticed that there are some dates during the year when quite a few books are published, for example 14 March and 9 May this year were particularly busy publication dates, there was no way I was able to read and review all of them for the same date.
I have to admit that a couple of months ago, I actually started a ‘review spreadsheet’! It sounds a big geeky, but it has made it easier for me!

As a reader, I tend to read reviews by bloggers/reviewers that I follow and trust, so lots of reviews of the same book can be really interesting – it’s interesting to compare views and thoughts.


What would you say is your taste in books? What makes a book good for you?

My book tastes are wide and varied and I will give pretty much anything a go. I enjoy non-fiction as well as fiction, although I don’t tend to read as many non-fiction titles.
I guess that contemporary, modern fiction is my favourite genre – a bit of a cop-out really as that would cover a range. I enjoy crime fiction and a good psychological thriller that makes me think will always be a winner.
Over the past few years, I’ve started to read more and more Young Adult fiction, although I have passed on the vampire/werewolf fad. I prefer gritty and real over witches and magic.

What makes a book good? A book that stays with me for a while, that makes me think and that I enjoy reading. The subject matter doesn’t have to be ‘pleasant’ as long as the writing is engaging.


What is your point of view on the star rating system of book reviews? What, for you, do 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 stars mean to a prospective reader?

Personally, I’d rather do without the star ratings. I don’t use them on my blog but have no choice if I want to post my reviews on sites such as Amazon and Good Reads. I rarely take any notice of a star rating either, preferring to read reviews by bloggers/reviewers whose tastes I already know and trust. Star ratings are so subjective. I may have loved the reading experience although the writing may not have been great.

I really enjoyed The Da Vinci Code – it kept me up until the small hours, yet I appreciate that the writing is not brilliant. So what do I do? Give it 5 stars because I really enjoyed it, or 3 stars because the writing is not perfect?

I know exactly what you mean. There’s such a difference between a critical review and a rating which says how much you enjoyed a book. Great point.


Anne, You don’t read ebooks, is that correct? Do you think that the market will eventually push you in that direction? What for you is the difference between reading on paper and on a screen?

Ah! The BIG issue! No, I don’t read e-books, although I do have the Kindle app on my iPad and have tried it – I’ve read 2 books on there and although both books were very good, I really didn’t enjoy the experience. I am not against ebooks and ereaders at all, I think that for people who love gadgets (stereotypically, probably men and young people), ebooks are wonderful and will encourage new readers.

I’m not sure that the market will push me in the direction of ebooks – not in my lifetime anyway, but I’ve love to be around in 100 years, to see the world of books then. I have over 1200 books on my TBR (to be read) pile – yes, that is crazy, and yes they take up space in my (small) house – but I love being surrounded by books, I love browsing through them, reading the backs, looking at the covers, re-arranging them, just anticipating them. People always try to sell the Kindle for travelling, but one of my favourite parts of preparing to go on holiday, is choosing which books to take. I usually take books that have been on the shelf for ages, usually quite easy reads. I love discovering the bookshelves in the apartments and bars when we are in Greece, and leaving my books there for someone else to enjoy – and taking a couple away myself.
Reading on paper v reading on screen? For me, there is no comparison – it’s not so much the actual reading, but just holding a book. I’ve had a book on my person at all times since I was 10 years old and would feel lost without one. An ereader just doesn’t feel ‘right’ to me, or smell right! I love that book smell – whether it’s a brand-new book or an old, battered paperback.


Recommend me three books that have blown you away.

I could name more than three, but the following are the ones that always spring to mind when asked this question:

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon – This book was a turning-point for me in terms of what I read. My boss lent it to me and urged me to read it, back in 2006. Although I’d always been an avid reader, until then I usually read best-sellers and the sort of fiction found on the supermarket shelves. The Shadow of the Wind changed my reading habits forever. I was transfixed, it was like nothing I’d ever read before – totally magic.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini – I’d read The Kite Runner and enjoyed it. My friend Teresa (Lovely Treez Reads) gave me her copy of A Thousand Splendid Suns and I still treasure it. It takes the reader on an emotional journey that I found physically painful at times, yet so important, and so beautifully written. I think one of the main reasons that this novel blew me away is because the author is male, yet the story is told through female eyes – very clever, and incredibly well done.

Room by Emma Donoghue – I’d been a fan of Emma Donoghue for a while and bought Room as soon as it was published in hardback – more because of the author, than because of the blurb. It is a work of genius, she is a genius! Her ability to weave a story never ceases to amaze me. The language is astounding, the impact of the story is long-lasting. This should be a classic in years to come.

Thank you, Anne for coming by to chat!

If you’ve enjoyed this post, don’t miss the others in the series:

– Dan – Utter Biblio

 Isabel – On The Literary Sofa

– Teresa – Lovely Treez Reads

– Alan – Words of Mercury

– Lindsay – Little Reader Library

– Rob – Rob around Books

Word of Mouth: Little Reader Library

Posted on: May 12th, 2013 by Claire - 7 Comments

For the fifth in my series of seven book bloggers is Lindsay Healy aka The Little Reader Library. I got to know Lindsay via Twitter and really enjoy reading her reviews.

Lindsay Healey

Why do you blog about books? How many books do you read per month on average and has blogging about them changed the way you read?

I started writing reviews of books a few years ago, placing them on Amazon, then writing them for Newbooks magazine. Then I began to notice and read a couple of book blogs and one day decided to try it myself, as a way of collating the reviews I wrote for different places into one site.
I blog because I enjoy books and I enjoy writing about them, and I’d like to write my own book one day.
The quantity I read varies a lot. It can depend on a lot of factors, but especially on mood. Some months I have read twelve books, others only three or four, and it depends on the books themselves, how I feel, and so on. I wish I could read faster but I can’t otherwise I miss things and have to re-read.
Blogging has meant that I have read a lot of new authors, I’ve started to read e-books, I’ve read books I would very likely have never come across otherwise.


What are the high and low points of reviewing books for you?

Highs – I love sharing the excitement when I’ve just read a book and thought, wow! It’s wonderful to think that someone might read my blog and pick up a book because I’ve written about it recommending it. It’s lovely when people say that they saw a review on my blog and went and bought the book because they thought they’d like it too; a really rewarding feeling.
I’ve also had the chance to ‘meet’ (virtually at least!) some lovely authors who have featured on my blog; this is an aspect that I didn’t anticipate – I thought it would just be book reviews but now I feature author guest posts, interviews and excerpts from books too.
By reviewing books, I have received some lovely books pre-publication and I feel very fortunate to have had the chance to read some of these releases early.
Getting to know other book lovers through their blogs and through twitter has been great.

Lows – I really enjoy writing my blog but there have certainly been things that have made me enjoy it less sometimes as time has gone on. There can be pressure from authors/publishers to review their books within a certain time span and having certain expectations and this has reduced my enjoyment of reading and made reading and blogging feel more like a job and not a pleasure. This is something I am really aware of now and I am trying to get back to the feeling of reading being a joy and not a stress otherwise it will be ruined for me. I guess partly if a book blog is doing well then it will attract a lot of requests and I was too eager to say yes to want to please everyone and I’ve realised I need to say no a lot more now in the hope of being able to feel less stressed about it. Unfortunately there is never enough time to read all the books we might want to read. Blogging has introduced me to so many new books and new authors which is wonderful, but it means that I sometimes have read books that I feel I ‘should’ read instead of ones I would like to read. I’d like to change that back.


Regarding the pressure to review more books than you can manage, have you thought of (or heard of) setting up a book bloggers collective, where you ‘share out’ the books? I’ve just discovered Bloggers Recommend in the USA, which seems to bring a number of bloggers together in one place. Smart idea?

I hadn’t heard of the book bloggers’ collective before but it sounds like a clever idea; I think a lot of bloggers must have numerous books around the house that they perhaps will never read and it’s great to pass them on to other keen readers rather than them languishing forgotten. What I’ve done myself on my blog recently is I’ve invited book-loving friends who I’ve got to know online through a book forum to read some of my review books and write an occasional guest review for my blog. I think and hope that this has worked well and offered a different perspective and style from my writing too for readers of my blog, and it has given some readers a chance to have a go at writing a review too.


I do empathise with the feeling that book blogging can start to feel like a job, and of course an unpaid one at that. It’s a lot of effort to craft a well written review, more so than a general blog post. It amazes me how many people do this. Would you ever consider reviewing professionally, or adding some kind of revenue stream to your site?

I appreciate what you’ve said about it being a lot of effort to craft a well-written review. I’ve often spent many hours writing my reviews, and thinking about what I want to say. Sometimes I’m really pleased with how a review has flowed, other times I just can’t seem to put together what I want to say very well. I am my own biggest and harshest critic. I don’t know if there are many opportunities for bloggers to move into reviewing professionally, and whilst on the one hand it might sound ideal because I am already reading and reviewing a lot, to be able to earn some money through my love of books and reading, on the other hand reading then really would be equated with work, and it has never been about financial recompense for me. Plus I suppose I’d worry if the enjoyment and relaxation that should come from reading may be lost even more then.


What would you say is your taste in books? What makes a book good for you?

When I was younger I read lots of classics and loved novels such as Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and Thomas Hardy novels, and then as a student I read lots of German and some French literature. Now I tend to read a lot more new books, and I have quite broad tastes; I can enjoy reading a cracking crime novel one week and an historical novel the next, but I’d like to return to some of the classics one day. It’s hard as there are so many wonderful books and the more involved in the book world you get, the more books you find out about, and the ones you wish to read just spirals out of control!

A good book is one that has characters who fascinate me whether I love or hate them, a storyline that I am intrigued by and desperate to continue with, a beautiful use of language, or it may call out to me personally.


So many people this week have cited Jane Eyre as an all time favourite book. What is it about this book that has stayed with you?

I think it’s because it’s a captivating story that has got a bit of everything; love, passion, desire, friendship, loneliness, poverty, sadness, cruelty, madness, tragedy, wit, such vivid, memorable characters and all against the superb backdrop of the wild and rugged Yorkshire moors landscape. I grew up not that far from Haworth and have visited quite a few times, walking the steep cobbled streets and exploring the Parsonage and it was exciting to think such talented authors had lived there.


What is your point of view on the star rating system of book reviews? What, for you, do 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 stars mean to a prospective reader?

When I started my blog, I did use star ratings, but for a long time now I haven’t used them. I do add my book reviews to amazon and goodreads, and some on waterstones, and obviously then you are compelled to give a star rating, and I do so using the terminology they supply as a guideline.

I stopped using stars on my own reviews for a few reasons. One, because I think it is very difficult to give totally different books from different genres a comparative rating. Another reason is that I felt that people would just have a quick look at the rating, and not read the actual review I’d written, which is the true indicator of what I thought.

Also I think that people view them very differently, so what you rate a book may be interpreted differently by someone else. I saw an author comment about how to see a three star rating on goodreads as a good thing once. Well, three stars on goodreads means ‘I liked it’ and is a good rating, but evidently some are not happy to receive this. Also, a lot of bloggers/reviewers have different interpretations of what the star ratings mean; I know some bloggers who very rarely give a five star rating, others who give this for most books, so how can it be very helpful to compare them.

They can be a good guideline, but the words of the review and the fact that the reader trusts the reviewer is much more important.


Recommend me three books that have blown you away.

The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman – an intelligent, brilliant and important novel that made a big impression on me.

The Last Summer by Judith Kinghorn – I became completely immersed in the world of this beautiful novel.

Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes – I found this book absolutely compelling and utterly convincing.


Thank you, Lindsay for coming by to chat.

If you’ve enjoyed this post, don’t miss the others in the series:

– Dan – Utter Biblio

 Isabel – On The Literary Sofa

– Teresa – Lovely Treez Reads

– Alan – Words of Mercury

– Anne – Random Things Through my Letterbox

– Rob – Rob around Books