Curbing the seven-year itch

WordPress tells me I started my blog seven years ago this week. How time flies. Actually, it is hard to remember where I put my thoughts before I carved out this space. Although now primarily a book blog, it started out without much focus other than as a sort of personal therapy. Writing has long been regarded as a good way to bring order to the voices in our heads.

It is, however, as a book blog that Never Imitate found its audience. With that in mind, I thought a few other numbers may be of interest.

As of this week I have published in excess of 1500 posts. These include:

  • 865 book reviews, but still none bearing a title beginning with the letter X or Z;
  • 34 interviews or guest posts from independent publishers about their small press, some of which sadly no longer exist;
  • 60 interviews or guest posts from authors to help raise awareness of their work;
  • 75 write-ups of an eclectic array of literary events;
  • an ever evolving review policy as I try to filter the books I accept, to include only those most likely to appeal – we all benefit if my reviews are mostly positive;
  • uncounted random musings when there is something else I wish to try to articulate.

My most viewed post remains a paean to one of my many teddy bears.


Edward reads Mawson’s latest book, She Ran Away from Love

However, most search terms that land a reader here include the title of a book or an author’s name.

Viewing figures vary, often inexplicably, and I try not to dwell on these. Naturally it feels good to be read and appreciated but I exist among a multitude of book bloggers and many have bigger personalities that garner attention. I understand there are steps I could take to raise my profile but prefer to continue to run this blog in my own way. Its title reflects a personal tenet I have no wish to compromise.

Lovely though it is to have a reader take the time to comment on one of my posts I am often unsure how or if to respond – I find all social situations tricky to navigate. I’m never ignoring readers but rather mulling over potential responses, probably more than anyone imagines.

I have observed many bloggers come and go over the years as their lives and motivations change. I too sometimes question why I continue to devote so much of my time to writing about the books I read. My answer has been to cut back rather than walk away. I may at times feel jaded but there are still moments of joy when I feel myself to be a small part of my beloved literary world.

Thank you to all who take the time to read my posts, especially those who then share them across their social media platforms. With so many good books still to shout about, I hope to remain here for some time to come.

Book Review: A Ladder to the Sky

A Ladder to the Sky, by John Boyne, tells the story of Maurice Swift, a handsome Yorkshireman and son of a farmer who is determined to leave his upbringing behind and become a renowned author. When the tale opens he is working as a waiter in West Berlin. Here he meets Erich Ackermann, an aging Cambridge professor whose latest novel has just won The Prize. To satisfy his publishers Erich has taken a year’s leave of absence to perform on the expected circuit of literary events across Europe and America, promoting the book that has unexpectedly brought him fame. He is drawn to Maurice as a moth to a flame, the young man’s good looks and knowledgeable admiration of Erich’s work unlocking desires that have lain dormant for decades.

Erich agrees to read some of Maurice’s writing and is disappointed to find it skillfully constructed but mundane. Unwilling to lose touch he offers to employ Maurice as his assistant on tour. With this foothold the aspiring writer enters the rarefied world of the literati with its jealousies, conceits and ruthless ambition. Always on the lookout for a story idea, Maurice encourages Erich to talk to him about his experiences growing up in Germany under Hitler. Erich harbours a terrible secret that he decides to share.

The plot jumps forward in time to a beautiful and secluded villa on the Amalfi Coast where Gore lives with Howard. Key figures from the world of literature, the arts and politics along with those who believe they will benefit from mixing with these supposed titans have all passed through. Now Maurice has found a way to receive an invitation to stay. Like other aging authors, Gore is tempted by the young man’s mix of admiration and contempt, his confidence and allure. There is much verbal sparring, name dropping and one-upmanship highlighting the tensions, pretensions and sensitivities of authors who, even when revered, are forever alert to the danger of eclipse by newer rivals’ work. Maurice may have by now written a book that garnered wide attention but the cost was high and lacking the esteem he seeks.

A decade later Maurice is married to Edith, an up and coming writer, but has not yet found the continued success he believes is his due. The couple have recently moved to Norwich where Edith is to teach creative writing at UEA while adding the finishing touches to her second novel. Maurice has no firm plans but hopes to pick up ideas, perhaps from her students. What he discovers will catapult him into the world to which he aspires. He will not allow anyone to stand in his way.

The story continues in New York where Maurice founds and runs an exclusive literary magazine, seeking out new writers and granting him access to their ideas. By the end of the novel he is living in London and being courted by a young writer himself, a situation he intends to work to his advantage.

The decades over which the story is set allows for tight plot progression, the pace of which effortlessly maintains reader engagement. Despite Maurice’s behaviour, the terrible actions he justifies to himself as necessary, there is much humour. Authors are often asked where they get there ideas. This tale provides an interesting study into who owns intangible and regularly reinterpreted inspirations. The denouement is ace.

I would offer a comparison to an amalgamation of Patricia Highsmith and Sebastian Faulks but wonder if this would somehow irritate the author who may prefer simply to be recognised as the talented writer he undoubtedly is. Having read this book readers will likely view the authors they queue to meet at festivals and events in a different light. Expertly constructed it provides engrossing literary entertainment, and a deliciously subversive dig at the author’s world.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Doubleday.

Retrospective: 2014

new-years-books

As I have already noted in my book recommendations post, this was the year that I became a book blogger. Over the course of 2014 I have read and reviewed sixty-six books, abandoned a further two that failed to hold my interest and, as the year draws to a close, am part way through one more.

I was feeling rather pleased with myself over these numbers so I mentioned them to my husband. This was a mistake.

‘I thought you would have read more than that’, he said. ‘That’s just a little over one a week.’

My little balloon of pride silently deflated. I reminded myself that it is not a competition, numbers should not matter, and there is no point in looking for praise or admiration at home. Here, I am the Mum who can’t: cook appealing food; keep up with my family when they exercise; add anything of interest to a conversation; remember every detail of every computer and programming language that I worked with twenty years ago.

My home life and my life on line couldn’t be more different and for this I am grateful.

On line I have had  a fabulous year. Authors and publishers have kept me supplied with the books that have facilitated my escape into other, more rewarding worlds. I have been treated to some gems that I may not otherwise have discovered. Getting into book blogging has been a highlight of my year.

I have learned some lessons along the way.

One of these is that I gain no pleasure from reading ebooks. As I read and review because I love books and want to share the joy this means that I will now only accept physical copies. I regret that I may miss out on some titles, in particular Salt’s Modern Dreams collection, but I find reading lengthy text from a screen to be a chore.

Another lesson learned, and one that I regret, is that self published books are too variable in quality to accept for review blind. Some, of course, are easily as good as any that have been released by a traditional publisher. I do not understand, for example, how EJ Kay’s Watermark has not been snapped up by the book trade. However, over the course of the past year I have read too many self published books that had interesting plots but were crying out for a tough edit to smooth over the rough edges and add balance to aspects of the writing. With so many good books out there, and so little time to read them all, I am now strictly limiting the self published books that I will accept.

Alongside my reading and reviewing I have continued to write my own fiction. I am not a blogger who dreams of having my own book published, mainly because I am not writing a book. I write flash and micro fiction which I publish on various sites on line. However, by continuing to write my own fiction I have learned a great deal.

One tough lesson came from another’s review of my writing; apparently I have significant issues with grammar. I am a strong advocate of good grammar so this feedback hit me like a punch in the gut. Having rallied it has been one of the most useful things said to me. Not only is it an area that I can work on to improve but it gave me a taste of how authors may feel if my book reviews are negative. I will always be honest in my opinions, otherwise what is the point of a review, but I try hard to say why, to add context. Reviews are written for other readers, not authors, but I know that they may be read by both.

Another lesson learned from my own writing is how hard it is to write well. Even if I don’t particularly enjoy a book I am in awe of anyone who can produce one. The sheer work involved in capturing all of those words in a coherent and compelling order is worth acknowledging. Thank you authors for creating the worlds that give us readers so much pleasure.

As a book blogger much of my contact with the book world is through publishers. I am immensely grateful to all those lovely PR people who have taken the time to send me books and who acknowledge the reviews that I write. It is a lovely feeling to be even a very small part of this magical, literary world.

At the beginning of the year my blog was a place where I recorded random musings on my life, thoughts and issues that affected me. I will still retain the right to use it for whatever types of post I wish. My hen keeping and teddy bear pieces are fun to produce and I thoroughly enjoyed creating my Shakespeare Bear Review last summer.

In the coming year I will be looking to write many more book reviews as well as adding to my small collection of author interviews and literary gig write ups. I hope that this will be of interest to the visitors I welcome to this site. All writers hope to find readers so thank you for being here. I wish you a very Happy New Year.