Random Musings: Literary Podcasts

I am old school when it comes to book reviews, author interviews and literary discussions. I prefer reading to watching or listening. Mainly this is due to time constraints. I can read most articles in just a few minutes whereas audio and visual content demands a much longer time commitment. I prefer to devote that extended time to reading books.

Last year my favourite book prize, the Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses, announced that it was starting a podcast. I was dismayed. Then, when I read of the books, participants and discussions being featured I grew curious.

The episodes released varied in length but required that a significant block of time be made available. To listen I had to find a space within my day. The obvious place, where I would benefit from a distraction, was the gym. After presenting my cost-benefit analysis my husband kindly gifted me a set of headphones. Many fruitless attempts to download episodes to my phone for offline listening later (I don’t use Apple products or have internet access at the gym) I found a means of carrying audio content with me (I use Castbox, available for android).

Listening to podcasts while cycling nowhere or working out on a cross trainer has proved effective at taking my mind off how tiring and tiresome these activities can be. I quickly worked my way through each of the Republic of Consciousness podcasts and sought out alternatives to supplement the time I have available each week. I now have a backlog of interesting book discussions to listen to, thereby working both my heart and mind.

The Republic of Consciousness Podcast for Small Presses

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“The Republic of Consciousness Podcast comes out about 3 times a month. It’ll be a bit different each time, but expect interviews, readings, and some regular features, such as our Book of the Month.”

Bookmunch Podcast

No dedicated page as yet but first two episodes may be found here:
Episode 1 – Emma Glass (Peach)
Episode 2 – Adam Foulds (Dream Sequence)

Why Why Why: The Books Podcast

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“We ask writers why they wrote the book they wrote, editors why they published the book, and readers why they picked up the book and read it.”

 

I realise that I am probably late to the party but I am enjoying these audio broadcasts given that they fill a time slot when reading would be difficult. It goes to show that trying new things can sometimes be worthwhile.

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Live on air – talking about summer reads on BBC Wiltshire

At the end of last week I received an email from Roo Green, producer on BBC Wiltshire’s weekday afternoon radio show, asking if I would be interested in taking part in a summer reads recommendation segment the coming Monday. Anyone who follows my more personal posts, here or on social media, will know that the idea of such participation takes me way outside my comfort zone. I find it hard to think on my feet preferring the written word where I can carefully consider what I say before committing it to public scrutiny. Nevertheless, the opportunity to talk about excellent books that too often fly under readers’ radars was too good to pass over.

Never having attempted anything like this before I was unsure what to expect. I was told that I would be asked about my blog and then invited to talk about one book I would recommend to listeners. I submitted half a dozen suggestions and Their Brilliant Careers by Ryan O’Neill, published by Lightning Books, was selected. I duly wrote out the words that I wished to say as a script and practised reading it out loud. When I arrived at the studio in Swindon I was gently told it would sound obvious that I was reading and I should simply talk to the show’s host, answering his questions as in a conversation.

Back home my children were primed to record the show that I may listen to it afterwards. They also picked up this 15 second ‘coming soon’ announcement a half hour or so before. How strange it is to hear my name mentioned in this context.

In Swindon the segment got under way and I was asked about how I started book blogging, how I selected the books I read and my opinion on ereaders. James Thomas, the show’s lovely host, was doing his best to put me at ease. I managed a shout out to small publishers: Galley Beggar, Influx and Salt Publishing.

We then moved on to the discussion of the book selected – Their Brilliant Careers by Ryan O’Neill. Sadly I did not do it justice. The inspired concept and nuances of structure and presentation did not come across in the words I managed to extract from my nervous brain. Could do better would be on my report card.

To finish I was asked to mention the books I was currently reading. John Boyne’s A Ladder to the Sky was successfully recalled but I didn’t include the title of Patrick Gale’s new book – Take Nothing With You. I then got my blog address wrong (doh!). I truly struggle to think on my feet.

If you wish to listen to my performance it is here (lasts just under 9 minutes).

The plan is to run this segment on BBC Wiltshire every Monday afternoon throughout the summer with a different book featured each week. I have been invited back next Monday to discuss a non fiction book and have suggested Under the Rock by Benjamin Myers, published by Elliot & Thompson. I am delighted that my local radio is talking about books. Wish me luck in rising to the challenge and learning to enjoy the experience.

Random Musings: On why I am withdrawing from blog tours

Have you noticed that blog tours are becoming ever more ubiquitous? Of course I get why they are a thing. While the organiser will be paid, most book bloggers review for free. By tying them into a blog tour the publisher can rely on a book being promoted across social media at a time of their choosing. Review copies sent out do not get lost amidst the ever growing piles of books to be read by reviewers. From the publisher’s point of view harnessing book bloggers, who already have an audience interested in finding their next good read, makes perfect sense.

Recently however I have cut back on my commitment to tours. Much as I remain eager to work with publishers on promoting good books, I have encountered issues that have, at times, been stressful. In this post I share some of my experiences and attempt to explain my reasons for choosing to limit my involvement in blog tours, for the time being at least.

The initial contact from a publisher’s designated organiser is an invitation to take part. Due to busy schedules these invitations are typically sent out many weeks in advance, often before the book is available to read even as an ARC. Decisions must be made based on a brief synopsis designed to sell the book.

If I agree to participate I will sometimes request author content for my stop on the tour. I will email my interview questions or ideas for a guest post within a few days of accepting the invitation, to allow time for responses to be put together. Very occasionally I agree to host content that I will receive blind. This has only been an issue for me when what was provided turned out not to be original, making me feel I may as well have hosted a link to wherever it first appeared – this is not what I want on my blog.

A good blog tour organiser will ensure a copy of the book is sent out well in advance – several weeks before the tour starts. As I require a hard copy, problems with print runs can delay this. So long as I am kept updated I will always do my best to accommodate. I have never yet missed my stop on a blog tour but am obviously happier when not reading under pressure.

As books also get lost in the post, more often than seems reasonable but this is a thing, I will chase if I don’t receive my review copy, a situation that is frustrating for everyone involved. Were I not committed to a tour non-delivery of a promised book would be an irritation but not a concern.

As the tour date approaches I look to the organiser to email a digital copy (.jpg) of the book cover, author photo and blog tour flyer. Ideally the latter will include the hashtag they wish to use. It takes time and effort to prepare any blog post and this increases if covers and author pictures must be searched for on the web where image quality and usage can be problematic.

I generally have my blog posts prepared and scheduled at least a week in advance. Receipt of any author content is required to allow for this. If I am listed on a tour flyer and have nothing to post it reflects badly on my blog. I have had to chase for content many times but have only been entirely let down once.

I have numerous examples of reviews, interviews and guest posts on my blog and assume the organiser is happy with my format and writing style or they would not have invited me to participate. I will always post honestly – integrity matters to me. I wouldn’t have accepted the book had I not expected to enjoy reading it. Nevertheless, some books disappoint and I will not pretend otherwise.

While the blog tour is running I will try to share other participant’s posts. I never share a post I have not read and lose interest if there is too much repetition across the tour. How much I share also depends on the time I have available to seek out and read. For the long blog tours – some last for weeks – I will likely only manage to share a fraction of the stops.

There have been tours where my participating post, even when positive, has been ignored by author, publisher and organiser. My fellow book bloggers are always generous in sharing content but I expect some interest from those who benefit more directly.

Some have suggested that negative reviews have no place on a blog tour and bloggers should withdraw rather than post anything but praise. Late withdrawal strikes me as reneging on an agreement. Such action would also dilute the worth of the tour. Why would a reader click on multiple posts about a book that are known to have been filtered in this way?

Whilst my enthusiasm for tours has been subdued recently the main reason I have cut back on participation is the limit it places on my flexibility to choose the books I read. By filling my schedule with agreed dates I commit myself to particular titles, most of which I have not yet received at the point of commitment.

For publishers reading this post it is worth remembering that, whether or not I am taking part in a tour for a book, if I am sent a review copy I will do my best to read it in a timely manner and then share whatever publicity it receives from multiple sources. Once I have posted my own review I will share other’s thoughts on the title, whatever they may be. I blog about books to make readers aware that they exist, to share the book love.

Do other bloggers enjoy taking part in blog tours? I love talking about books but, for now, desire greater freedom to read titles of my choosing, in an order that suits me. I am, after all, more likely to react positively to a book if it is the one I feel like reading at a given time.

Book Review: The Book of Forgotten Authors

The Book of Forgotten Authors, by Christopher Fowler, is a book for bibliophiles. It offers the reader details and anecdotes on ninety-nine authors who were once hugely popular and are now no longer in print. It is a very personal selection. The author admits that some of those chosen produced work that was predictable and not particularly well written, yet it has a charm that he finds appealing. Others he dismisses. Of Georgette Heyer and Eleanor Hibbert he opines that they wrote novels packaged in

“the kind of pastel covers no man would ever pick up.”

Really?

Each author listed is necessarily given just a few pages. Although superficial this is enough to provide a flavour of why they became popular before sinking into obscurity. Interspersed with the listings are commentaries such as ‘The Forgotten Books of Charles Dickens’ and ‘The Forgotten Booker Winners’. Although esoteric in places these make for interesting reading.

From some of the quotes provided I would suggest many of these authors deserve to stay forgotten, yet this reaction demonstrates just how personal individual reading experiences can be. In talking of the suspense writer Charlotte Armstrong:

“sometimes you want to wring the necks of her protagonists for picking the one option that will get them into deeper trouble. But hey, bad choices make good stories.”

I’m not sure that I agree.

The book is written with a deft and humorous touch. It is also moving in places. The chapter on Polly Hope was a particular favourite.

It is not so much the quality of the literature produced by these forgotten authors as their passing popularity that warrants their inclusion. Tastes change over time as do readers’ offence radars; authors can be sidelined when their evocative voice grates modern sensibilities.

I did not always agree with the conclusions the author reaches. The Forgotten Queens of Suspense opens with

“Ignored, underrated, overlooked or taken for granted, the women who wrote popular fiction for a living were often simply grateful to be published at all.”

This sounded familiar. The author is more generous suggesting

“Today women read more than men, and female authors have finally been accorded the prestige they always deserved.”

If only this were truly the case.

The output of many of the authors listed was prodigious, especially compared to current expectations. Like today some was also abtruse. Thomas Love Peacock is described as an acquired taste, seemingly for good reason. In writing of his tome Nightmare Abbey:

“it seems best to stumble from one page to the next and merely enjoy the juxtaposition of words”

“the book doesn’t so much end as stop. My paperback version is so old that some of the pages fell out, and it didn’t feel entirely necessary to put them back in the right order.”

Do authors such as this deserve a reprint?

There are scathing comments about readers who are described as ‘intellectually inert’. As an example, the author clearly dislikes the once popular little book, Jonathan Livingston Seagull. When a teenager I found this uplifting. Perhaps my more jaded, aged eye would not agree but at the time of reading it did its job and connected.

The author writes kinder words on the renowned Dan Brown:

“The real sin of bad writing is being boring, and Mr Brown is certainly never that.”

Well, he bored me.

Of course, agreeing with the author’s point of view is not the point. What this book offers is a window into the vagaries of the publishing world and its readership, the changing tastes and fickle loyalties. It is packaged in a way that makes it perfect for dipping into and refering back to over time.

I welcomed the insights into the ever evolving literary world, its discoveries and appropriations, pretensions and fads. So much has changed and yet much remains the same. As a great author, who has not been forgotten, once wrote: a man is not dead while his name is still spoken. For these ninety-nine, Mr Fowler could be a lifesaver.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the author, riverrun.

This post is a stop on The Book of Forgotten Authors Blog Tour. Do check out the other blogs taking part, detailed below.

Gig Review: Headline’s 2017 Blogger Night

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(photo credit: Georgina Moore, taken from Twitter)

Yesterday I travelled up to London, always a major undertaking for me, to attend a gathering of authors, publicists, bloggers and other book people, organised and hosted by Headline Publishing. It was held on the top floor of their riverside headquarters, Carmelite House, and was my second visit to the building. On this occasion the bitterly cold weather kept everyone inside enjoying the warmth and ambience rather than braving the views from the rooftop terrace.

I had taken my daughter, Robyn (@LeFailFish), as social events can make me anxious and I valued her support. Having collected our name stickers from Jenny (@jrharlow) in the foyer we made our way up to the sixth floor.

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The always lovely Georgina Moore (@PublicityBooks) ensured throughout the evening that everyone felt welcome and included. She introduced us to several of the authors whose books we were able to take away.

I chatted to Alison Weir (@AlisonWeirBooks) about her fascination with the Tudors and the medieval period and now look forward to reading my proof of her latest installment in the Six Tudor Queens series, Anne Boleyn, due out in May. New insights and secrets are promised although Alison ensured that only teasers, not spoilers, were shared last night.

I had a lovely conversation with Gemma Todd (@GemTodd) before realising that this personable librarian is also the author of Defender, which I had spotted early on the book table and eagerly popped into my bag for future reading. This was a popular choice for many attendees.

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Felicia Yap (@FeliciaMYap) and I discussed our love of Belfast where I was raised and now enjoy returning to as a tourist. Visit Belfast (@VisitBelfast) should totally get Felicia to write a piece for them as her enthusism for the city was infectious. Felicia’s debut, Yesterday, is due out in August and I will be hoping for a proof when available.

Copies of Pendulum were also tempting readers on the book table and I had been advising everyone to pick up this taut thriller, a proof of which I read last summer. I was therefore delighted to meet the author, Adam Hamdy (@adamhamdy) and tell him how much I enjoyed his work. He was chatting to a group of bloggers about setting and how he visits each place featured in his story rather than relying on long distance research.

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Meeting other bloggers is always fascinating as we all write for the love of books but often have different perspectives on what we do and how we are recieved. I was particularly pleased to meet Linda (@Lindahill50Hill), Tina (@TripFiction) and John (@Thelastword1962) all of whose reviews are worth checking out.

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Adam, John, Linda and Tina (photo credit: Georgina Moore, taken from Twitter)

There were many other authors, bloggers, publicists, librarians and book sellers enjoying the company and the freely flowing wine. I could have stayed on to pick up writing tips and share book recommendations but, as ever with my trips to the capital, I had a train to catch if I was to make it home. The roads around our village are very dark at midnight – perhaps I read too many thrillers…

Thank you to the team at Headline for inviting me and for organising such a friendly, welcoming event. Also for my goody bag and the opportunity to add even more titles to my tottering TBR pile. Book people are the best.

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Note: hen is my own. In discussing recognition from Twitter pictures I had told John I would bring it to the evening. Next time he wants a live one.

 

Gig Review: The Inaugural Bath Book Bash

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There are many aspects of corporate culture that I was happy to leave behind when I resigned from my job in the IT department of a large, financial services company:

  • Team Building Days;
  • Ice Breaker Games;
  • Role Play;
  • Networking.

Why then did I choose to attend an event that would require me to walk alone into an unknown pub and introduce myself to strangers with whom I would be expected to mingle and chat for an evening? A couple of words explain all – book people. In my experience book people are lovely and the more of them I have in my life the better.

The inaugural Bath Book Bash was organised by  Jennifer Vennall, a writer and final year publishing student at Bath Spa University. Aided and abetted by Sam Missingham she had offered to help grow the concept of the Book Bash outside of London. If the number of people attending last night was anything to go by, this is a popular idea.

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The venue was The Bath Brew House and they had set aside an area near their entrance which was quickly filled by authors, publishers, creative writing and publishing students, their teachers, and a large number of people I didn’t have time to place. After introducing myself and chatting to several of the early attendees I found myself in authors’ corner where, despite feeling a bit of a fraud, the conversation proved too interesting to leave. Thank you RachelLucy and Jason for your company.

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As well as talking to these authors, I enjoyed conversations with several of the students and a representative of a previously unknown publishing house, Crimson, based in Bath. Another house I have worked with, Impress, were also there but my inability to hear well across a crowded table in a noisy pub prevented me engaging.

I discovered another writer I would have enjoyed chatting to as I was leaving to catch my train. Thank you for saying hi Joanne and apologies that I had to rush away.

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There is obviously scope for a repeat performance. I am unsure if there were any other book bloggers but I felt welcome and a part of the community.

Jennifer is hopeful that another Book Bash will happen in Bath in January. All being well I shall do my best to attend.

Random Musings: Halloween and hibernation

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Have I mentioned that I love Halloween? Its traditions appeal so much more than the trappings of a modern Christmas. For one thing it falls in autumn, that season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, when the trees turn their leaves into flaming displays before consigning them to the ground to be crunched underfoot on crisp, early morning walks. Fires may be lit and blankets wrapped around shoulders as sofas are snuggled into. Curtains are drawn early giving rooms a cosiness forgotten over summer.

Halloween does not demand that gifts be exchanged with all the pressure this brings. Friends may choose to get together but it is acceptable to eschew the social whirl. There is no requirement for an expensive, time consuming meal.

Have you guessed that I am not a party animal? I choose carefully the events I will attend and who I will spend time with. Whatever the occasion I wear clothes that are comfortable on my socially derided bulk. Christmas exacerbates my anxieties with its demands and excesses. It is glitter and false promises of joy to the world.

Had I been born back in the day, I ponder if I may have been considered a witch.

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Witches were often women who would not follow the crowd. Perhaps they refused to marry, choosing to live alone rather than be dominated by a man. Perhaps they dressed differently and would not do as they were told. Some accused of being witches had simply drawn the anger of peers who believed in a hierarchy of sycophancy and aspiration. Witches lived apart and appeared content with that. Their autonomy angered many; in the time honoured tradition, conformists sowed fear of the ‘other’ – and witch hunts ensued. Maverick tendencies are anathema to those whose comfortable lives rely on social discipline.

The festive season, with its myriad of expectation, joviality and consumerism fills me with dread. Each year I dream of locking my doors and hibernating with just my family for company. At Halloween I am permitted to do this if I choose – me, my family and my books.

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Recommended reading for Halloween

Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (translated by Nancy Forest-Flier)

A Love Like Blood by Marcus Sedgwick

The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley

The Blackheath Séance Parlour by Alan Williams

Foxlowe by Eleanor Wasserberg

Pavement by Richard Butchins

The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh

The Many by Wyl Menmuir

The Children’s Home by Charles Lambert

The Black Country by Kerry Hadley-Pryce

I shall be curling up with ‘Dark Matter’ by Michelle Paver. The cover promises me a ghost story…

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