As some of you may know I write book reviews for the Write Away website. On Friday 28th August I attended the Write away Reviewers’ Event at the OUP offices in Great Clarendon Street, Oxford.
It was wonderful. LOL! OK that is an in-joke that hopefully will be understood by those who attended.
But, seriously I had the most brilliant time. My worry was I was not going to get up in time to get my train as I spent a rather late night the day before at Candy’s beach abode. But, thanks to my lovely reliable husband I did and found the connection from reading to Oxford very easily and arrived at 9:05 as scheduled.
At the station I met Theano and Kelly and we walked the short distance to the OUP building without getting lost - due to my map, which I had carefully highlighted in different colours, the night before. It showed all the different routes I would need to know for the day. Actually, to be quite honest the other two probably knew the way anyway.
When I got there Nikki Gamble presented us with a massive cloth bag of OUP children’s books. There were five uncorrected proof copies in the bag, a pack of paper, a book mark and an OUP pen. The books were:
- Daughter of Fire and Ice by Marie-Louise Jensen (that I got signed as she was on the panel of speakers).
- The Death Defying Pepper Roux by Geraldine McCaughrean
- Sea Wolf by David Miller
- Lydia’s Tin Lid Drum by Neale Osbourne
- And Very Short Answers to Very Big Questions
The event was opened by Richard Thompson who welcomed us to the OUP building. He explained the OUP was the biggest University Press in the world; bigger than all the university presses in the whole of the US put together. He also mentioned the children’s department was the best although they may print some dictionaries and other stuff too.
Nikki then introduced Nicolette Jones, children’s book reviewer for the Sunday Times. She told us how she started off reviewing adult books and was asked to review children’s books to help raise their status. She judges the books to the same standards, looking at plot, language, characters and emotion, etc.
She told us that when reviewing books we should not underestimate children. Always judge a book on its own terms - what does it aim to do and does it achieve this aim in the end? She said reviewers can often fall into one of two camps, hatchet job or rave. Nicolette prefers to be objective, and was inspired by the essay written by Oscar Wilde, ‘The Critic as Artist’, who advocates an artist should recognise the beauty of work different to their own tastes.
If you do happen to dislike a book it is more important that you make a case for why you dislike it and this point must be well argued. There is a difference between a reader and a critic. As a critic you have to try to be objective.
All reviews have to be an interesting piece of writing. Her advice is to whittle down and say as little as you can and never spoil the plot. You should keep the market in mind and as we are writing reviews mainly for adults who are buying the books for their children or class, we need to mention if it covers a controversial issue.
Next to talk to us was Lesley Webb, who is an Early Years Consultant and writes reviews for Write Away on books for children aged 0-2. She told us before she starts to write a review she considers whether she like the book and why? She finds it most difficult to review a book she feels indifferent about. She explained how it is very important when reviewing books for that age range you discuss the illustrations and try to consider what the child will be getting from the book.
After coffee a panel of speakers talked to us about the editors and writers perspectives of book reviews. On the panel were, Marie-Louise Jensen, author; Michelle Harrison OUP and author of Thirteen Treasures and Jasmine Richards OUP.
Marie has also written reviews for Write Away. She explained that reading is a personal experience. People react to books differently, in their own way with different tastes. There is no pleasing everyone. A book review is an emotional response and if you look online at sites such as Amazon you will see many books will have a wide range of reviews from 5-star to 1-star. Often critics do not agree with each other.
Michelle read to us parts of a particularly nasty review. It was a very moving experience listening to her read something that had clearly been very upsetting to her. And she pointed out she had not read the worse bits. It thumped home how a bitter critique was not constructive and how devastating to the author it can be. I also thought it was entirely unprofessional to write such a critique. She compared the critique to a more constructive one written by a member of the Write Away team. Her book Thirteen Treasures published by Simon and Schuster, won the Waterstone's Children's Book Prize.
Jasmine then spoke to us about book reviews from an editor’s perspective. She explained that reviews can be used for promotional purposes. They are important as covers need an expert to validate a book in the eye of the consumer. She also pointed out that for a book to be published someone had to of loved it and it must have been loved by more than one person to have got through the process. A book review is just one person’s opinion.
Nikki summed up the talk by explaining we can recognise a review by the voice it is written in. each reviewer needs to develop their own voice. The voice of the reviewer is your clue to how skilled the reviewer is.
After lunch we went on a guided tour of Oxford with a particular reference to the children’s authorise and stories inspired by the city. We happened to see the filming of Lewis (spin-off of Morse) and saw Colin Dexter. After the tour we had tea in The Rose with Linda Newbury and David Fickling.
It was then time to walk back to the station to catch the train home.