Friday, August 28, 2009

Write Away Reviewers Event

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.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Who do you sleep with?

Last night I was sat in bed reading. I often read before I go to sleep. I was reading, 'Page after Page' by Heather Sellers and in her book she suggests writers should take books to bed. I felt pretty pleased with myself since that was what I was doing.

In her book, Heather Sellers said we should all get into the habit of reading in bed. We should read every self-help book we can get our hands on and watch our resistance to new ideas. In this way, we court the writing life by simply reading. She called this wooing. She recommends reading indiscriminately.

This got me wondering. What authors do other people find wonderful to sleep with? I'd be interested to know.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Avoid blog flogging

The European Unfair Commercial Practices Directive of May 2008 briefly states people must not make false claims or give misleading information about their books.

For example, if you are not a best-seller don’t say on the Internet that you are, else you can be taken to court and named and shamed by the Fair Trading Standards.

Authors and publishers who attempt to boost their online profile by reviewing their own books on sites such as Amazon could also face prosecution.

The law is deigned to protect consumers from businesses creating false blog entries, known as 'flogs'.

For more information on Unfair Commercial Practices Directive check out:

Thursday, August 06, 2009


There are hundreds of aspiring writers out there and basically we are all in the same boat submitting our manuscripts to agents and editors, with similar wishes and desires for success.

Forums bring these people together to chat and talk about their writing. There are different forums for different types of writing. You need to make a search of Yahoo Groups to find a forum that interests you.

My interest is writing for children and so I belong to three forums which discuss issues about writing specifically for children. See my posts:

I got my first writing book commission from a post in a forum.

The Caerleon Writers’ Holiday has a forum:

On the forums I belong to, people often ask the same sort of questions But, these are sometimes questions I may have been pondering over for weeks and just wasn't brave enough to ask myself.

Sometimes little debates linked to writing go on with everyone adding their point of view. These can be fascinating. Sometimes I listen in or add my own snippet. It is important to contribute to forums to get the most out of them, although I am sure there are plenty of lurkers.

It is also important to keep it positive. If someone says something controversial my advice is - keep quiet. Remember some of the members may be very highly-regarded authors or editors and you want to make a good impression.

And probably most importantly, when you post to a forum every single member gets to read what you have written so keep it relevant. If you want to ask a specific person a question it might be a good idea to do it more privately through email.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

What is the point of Facebook and MySpace?

Whilst I was at Caerleon I was asked, 'What is the point of Facebook and MySpace?' To which my first response was... it's a good way to procrastinate and waste time.

But, Facebook and Myspace are good networking tools.

  • Both Facebook and MySpace are social networks where you can meet like-minded people with similar interests to yourself to discuss and share information.
  • Both MySpace and Facebook have the facility to blog.
  • Myspace and Facebook also have message boards where you can share comments.
  • Both have a facility for a newsletter subscription where you can set up a group, invite people to join, and mail to everyone at once.
But, writing a regular e-zine is a big task. Keep it simple and don’t flood people with too many. In my opinion more than once a week is too much. In this way you are using social networking less as a promotional tool and more as a legitimate way to meet new people.

Me and my dog Mutley (1991-2006)

I also use Facebook as my reward. If I have finished a task I allow myself a bit of time to relax and go on FB and water my virtual garden, kidnap a few people and write on my friend's walls. It serves the same purpose as walking the dog use to do - a time to give my brain a rest from writing - especially if I am about to start a new project. I need this break to clear my mind ready to start again.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Virtual Networking

Whilst I was at the Caerleon Writers' Holiday I gave an after- tea session on virtual netorking.

Networking is a great tool to help you reach your goals. You can network in person by joining critique groups, going to conferences and workshops, or by attending book launches. Or you can network virtually through online critique groups, email, u-tube, podcasts, your own websites, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and by having a blog.

One of the most important reasons why should authors have an online presence is that it is an ideal way of publicising your self. Publicity is so important, anything an author can do to help sales and increase familiarity with their name, the better. Having a website and / or blog means prospective publishers and buyers of your books are able to look up more information than they could get off a publicity flier.

You can have an online presence at any stage of your writing career. You can promote your articles, short stories, poetry, forthcoming novel, or your column in a magazine or newspaper.

Virtual networking can generate more contacts and interest in your writing. You can meet people you might not have had the opportunity to meet in person, without the huge travel costs. You can refer potential editors to your site so they can see a range of your work and editors who have worked with you in the past can use the site to get in touch.

The net is available 24-hours a day, every day. An online presence will market your work to the whole wide world. It is an excellent marketing forum and should become an ongoing part of your business as a writer. Your blog is a business tool.

The Internet is here to stay as a communication media, so utilise your resources.