Tag Archives: P G Wodehouse

Novelists, Reviews and a Competition

Announcing PG Wodehouse essay Prize 2022

This week I have been thinking about how I read and write reviews and, in particular, a very special competition. The latter invites you to try something similar but a bit more substantial for my dear P G  Wodehouse. See below for details.

Now, there are many ways of appreciating a novel.

You can study it, dream about it, carry on the characters in your own story (or several) and talk about it until your friends beg you to stop.

writing tipsTo share your enthusiasm with the whole world, all you have to do is write a review and post it on a bookseller’s website. Writers, desperate to let readers know that their work exists, are pathetically grateful for these reviews. I know. I am one of them.

In the torrent of electronic messages that surge over you every morning, received wisdom is that you need to see the name of something at least seven times before it sticks.

So numbers of reviewers matter. Seven appearances before your snapping synapses are supposed to make you curious enough to go and look at the title on a website. And then you can actually read what readers thought about it.

What is An Amazon Review?

The most frequented of these websites is, of course, Amazon. The General Purveyor of Online Books, Gadgets and Comestibles has started to invite me to write reviews all the time.  Only a couple of days ago I received an email headed “Ever wonder if your reviews are getting noticed?”

This particular message  lists the last three novels I have bought. (Well, actually, it calls them “products”. ) And invites me to choose how many stars out of five I would give each book and suggest I review them. It adds, rather to my surprise, “videos are especially helpful.”

magic momentVideo review of a book? Really? I haven’t seen one of those yet. But no doubt someone with the technical expertise, maybe a home studio or two, and an ego the size of a house, will actually video themselves talking about their reading matter of choice and why they did or didn’t like the result. Not sure I’d watch it, though.

Fortunately, a number of gentle readers will review books on Amazon out of the  goodness of their hearts. The best of them give a tantalizing glimpse of what it is that particularly struck the reader as memorable. Then I can make up my mind if the iconic character or scene under reference takes my fancy.

(Just a hint here, for anyone who wants me to read a particular book: “psychological thriller” is my instant turn off. I’ve read several and they all gave me nightmares.)

When a Review Becomes a Complaint

The reader review can be a seriously odd animal. Readers can take against a book for the strangest reasons, some of which have nothing to do with its content.

I have seen a novel splatted by a grumpy review for a) ugly cover b) late delivery c) not being set in North America.

Or, in another case, a disappointed reader complained that a murder mystery wasn’t funny enough. I found that a recommendation, to be honest.

Mind you, bookseller friend of mine told me that a woman brought back a copy of The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli. One of his colleagues had recommend it. It had won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction that year. It sounds a gripping story, about a woman who goes into the Vietnam War as a photo journalist. While there, apart from her experience of the country, the people and the war, she has significant relationships with a married alcoholic who mentors her, and his Vietnamese sidekick with a tragic past.

The customer’s complaint? The book didn’t have any recipes. The title was misleading.

Reader Reviews, Author Appreciation Days And More

Some of the best reviews on Amazon, Waterstones, Kobi and elsewhere originate with dedicated book bloggers like Being Anne  and her peers, who read lots and are genuine enthusiasts. Reader reviewers often specialise in one or two favourite genres, and offer insights based on knowledge and experience.

And then sometimes you find inspired comments from someone who has just fallen in love with a book and longs to share it. For instance, “Honestly I have no idea if this review is even going to be coherent, because if I could give this book all the stars in the sky I would.”

This is actually for one of my own much loved discoveries, The Goblin Emperor by Kathleen Addison. I’m pretty sure that’s the review that convinced me to try it. So many thanks to Jess Gofton whoever they may be.

I’ve written a fair few in my time, too but only for books I’ve really loved. I find them much too difficult to write for anything less than totally passionate absorption. No matter how hard Amazon begs.

Most reviews on bookseller’s websites are only a couple of paragraphs of personal response. But some, like the one I’ve just quoted are much fuller. And then there are the really meaty reviews of books on bookish websites. A new favourite is this review at a gallimaufry website of Katherine Langrish’s book on the C S Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia.  

Lewis is one of those beloved writers like Tolkien, Daphne du Maurier and P G Wodehouse who attract devotees and scholars to days and even whole weekends of study.

A couple of years ago I went to one on Diana Wynne Jones, whose work I have loved for more than 30 years. It was a revelation – and not just to be with kindred spirits. There were at least three papers which sent me back to re-reading my favourites. And one that made me look again at a book of hers that had never grabbed me before. Fabulous stuff.

That Competition

Which brings me finally to that competition. The P G Wodehouse Society (UK) has just launched a new international essay competition. International. Mark that. The originator of the fabulous Russian author Vladimir Brusilloff thoroughly deserves an International Essay if anyone does.

Brusilloff appears in a collection called The Clicking of Cuthbert in which most of the stories are about golf. In the course of a somewhat stilted conversation with Cuthbert, the author delivers himself of what might well be called the ultimate self-penned review:

“No novelists any good except me. Sovietski — yah! Nastikoff — bah! I spit me of zem all. No novelists anywhere any good except me. P G Wodehouse and Tolstoi not bad. Not good, but not bad. No novelists any good except me.”

So this competition invites you to write an essay about why Wodehouse is so extremely not good, but not bad. There are two prizes for an essay on his work; nothing biographical need apply. The under19s are asked for a essay of not more than 1,500 words to compete for £250. Those of maturer years have a minimum and maximum wordage to contend with (4,000-5,000) but their prize is £1,000.

Full details and how to apply are on the Society’s website.  The closing date is 12 noon BST on Wednesday 1st September. So you’ve just about got time to re-read your real favourites and jump to it!

Pip, pip.

Sophie Weston AuthorSophie

Romantic Novelists in Wodehouse and Christie

resolution by letterA couple of weeks ago I gave a talk about romantic novelists in fiction and how they compared with the real thing. To be more precise, it was PG Wodehouse’s romantic novelists. Regular readers of this blog will remember that I have blogged about them before. (I am a huge fan of Rosie M Banks, before you ask.)

Two interesting things emerged from my researches. First, while PGW exaggerated some aspects for comic effect, in general he was pretty respectful of their work ethic – and success!

The second was – those exaggerations. I assumed they had sprung, new-minted, from the Master’s imagination. But just a bit of digging found that PGW had sources on which he might well have modelled even the most egregious. Glug. Continue reading

Mousetrap, Superman and Posterity

This blog contains two main stories – what The Mousetrap did to Hamlet and how Superman distorted an Edwardian hero. For me, anyway.

For some weeks now I’ve been engaged in editing a book that I have re-visited over several years. It has made me think about references which may shift with time.

Something that seemed set in stone in 2008 may have become seriously misleading in 2021. Even downright counter-productive. As, I hope, my two stories will show.

Hamlet’s Dilemma

I love Shakespeare. I saw my first Hamlet when I was fourteen and I have seen it countless times since. There’s usually something new to discover and always special moments of power that stop me dead in my tracks. These depend on the production, of course. But generally one of them is the play within a play in Act 3 Scene 2.

Murdoch's Tower at Caerlaverock Castle ScotlandHamlet is obsessing about his mother’s remarriage. His father, the King, died only four months ago and Hamlet suspects his uncle of murdering him. Not only has the Queen married him, Uncle is now King. Hamlet started with a vague suspicion, but then he encounters his father’s ghost walking the battlements. He confirms it. Continue reading

PGW’s Royal Romance

I have just read PGW’s royal romance, The Prince and Betty. When I first wrote about romantic novelists in Wodehouse World, I knew that the book existed but I had never read it. Now that I have, the story itself and, indeed, the history of its publication is a jigsaw puzzle.

However, I’ve also learned something about how it fitted into PGW’s life and other writing. And it has made me think again about Wodehouse’s place in romantic fiction.  And, indeed, of romantic fiction in his own life. So I thought I would share.

PGW’s Royal Romance – before the beginning

gold coinsWodehouse made his reputation initially with school stories. By 1909, however, he wanted to leave that behind and “butt into the big league,” as he told fellow free-lancer L H Bradshaw.

In New York, on leave of absence from his UK employer, The Globe, he found a literary agent who sold the two short stories PGW had brought with him for US$500. He was earning less that 10 guineas a pop from magazines in the UK. Continue reading

What to choose for Reading in Lockdown?

Rather to my surprise, people have been asking me to recommend books for lockdown reading. Virtual strangers, some of them. I suppose they think a writer reads more than other people. Well, to keep abreast of the competition, if nothing else.

Now, I like talking about books. And I am congenitally incapable of ignoring a request for help.

But this particular question throws me into a quandary. I mean I can happily spout for hours on books I love. As you probably know. But…

Finding a story that somebody else might like, especially someone I barely know (not to mention that someone’s son, daughter or grandchild) is hard. To be honest, it has left me  with eyeballs swishing about, looking for the escape hatch.

So far I’ve blundered through, hauling up titles from the cellarage pretty much at random. Do people want books they can read together? Or are they trying to read to block out the effects of too much togetherness?

With a very uncertain Christmas coming, I thought I’d try to be a bit more disciplined.

New Lockdown Bookworms?

Continue reading

Finding Your Voice

When two writer friends meet their first talk is of editorial revisions. You don’t risk a word on that unfinished book in case it stays that way. And you don’t talk about horrible reviews until you’re on at least your second glass.

But revisions are common to all writers and moaning about them – or sometimes sharing the joy – is a truly bonding experience.

This is the season when reports from the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers Scheme  start to come back. Many of them will contain suggested revisions. Welcome to the club, guys!

But sometimes the report (or a book doctor or even an experienced reader friend) may say: “I don’t think you’ve found your voice yet.” “Inauthentic” may even be murmured.

What does it MEAN? And what can you do about it? Continue reading

Reader work

reading with catReader work is a new concept for me. Reading, especially with Companion Cat purring beside me, has always been my purest pleasure.

Fact, fiction,  annual financial statements, cornflake packets, I read them all. And I revelled in the otherwhere of the printed word, quite apart from whatever I learned from the text in question.

During lockdown, I have been reading even more than I usually do. Some old friends, for the dark times. Right Ho, Jeeves never lets me down. Nor does Sylvester. Or Wyrd Sisters, Fire and Hemlock, Persuasion…

But also new voices. Recommendations, serendipitous discoveries, long postponed titles from TBR pile, curiosities. All were interesting, many fitted my mood or preoccupations of the time. A few were utterly fabulous and I binge read everything else the author had written.

But what surprised me was that reading a new book tired me. Especially the ones that I really loved. Nearly as much as writing the damn stuff.

Reader Work – Co-Creation?

Think about it. Reading a new book is nearly as tiring as writing a new book? Continue reading

Writing a Reader Review

publish for impact blurbI find it really difficult to write a reader review of a novel. As an author I am hugely grateful to the kind people who leave reviews of my books on Amazon and other sites. I deeply feel I ought to reciprocate more. But the whole enterprise is fraught with danger.

This is a recurring problem at this time of year. Between Christmas and the end of the year I usually read a lot.

I finish books I’ve left midway during the year for some reason. And I read my Christmas present books. I read books I’ve been setting aside so I can take a good long run at them. And I experiment with books that other people have recommended during the seasonal socialising. And I go back to old favourites because, let’s face it, this is the time of year when memories get hold of you and I’ve got some lovely Bookish Memories. Continue reading

Audiobook Bertie Wooster

Recently, a reader of this blog, noticing that I turn into a drivelling fan girl whenever P G Wodehouse crops up, invited me to review a new audiobook edition of Right Ho, Jeeves.

Hugely flattered, I returned a resounding “Gimme.”  Only rather more gracefully phrased. At least, I hope so.

And then the doubts set in. Had I implied I was qualified in any way to do this? I had never read/heard/listened to an audiobook. That’s ANY audiobook. The odd 15 minutes with Book at Bedtime on Radio 4 was the limit of my literary listening.

But this was a whole book. What if I didn’t care for the experience? AAAARGH!

When To Read an Audiobook

Continue reading

In Praise of Books with Friends

Books with friends. Right ho, JeevesThis week I want to praise books with friends in them.

I confess, this is pure sentiment on my part. I’ve had an emotional time in which I have been hugely grateful for my friends. They sustain me. This week I’ve been on a writing retreat with several of them, and they were stars. When asked, they gave me constructive suggestions. If necessary, they took the piss out of me. We laughed lots.

And they all held out a hand when I needed that, too.

So I started thinking about friends in books. It is not a genre that bookshops recognise. But it’s a quality that always enhances a book and often endears it to the reader.

Blessed Bertie Wooster is not just a silly ass, but a chap who touches your heartstrings for exactly that reason. He sets out his stall in Right Ho, Jeeves. “Gussie and I, as I say, had rather lost touch, but all the same I was exercised about the poor fish, as I am about all my pals, close or distant, who find themselves treading upon Life’s banana skins.Ah yes. A chap one can rely on. Definitely hero material. I knew there had to be a reason why I’ve always loved him so much. Continue reading