Tag Archives: readers

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

Flying Into the Mist

Autumn mist in LondonWhen I started writing stories, I always set off flying into the mist. Well, I was very young. Often – no make that always, at least to begin with – I ran out of steam. Can’t tell you how many snippets of unwritten novels I have in my filing system.

One of the things I have been doing during lockdown is reading my way through them. 

It was part of my general de-cluttering objective. And no, that hasn’t got very far at all, if you’re wondering. To be honest, I have binned very little yet.

Partly, this is because of how long it has taken me.

Stories Flying Into the Mist

I got back into the stories pretty quickly, to my surprise. Even more surprisingly, I remembered pretty nearly every one. Continue reading

Romantic Novelists’ Association at 60 : with RNA memories

RNA at 60 celebration balloons

The Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) reaches its Diamond Jubilee in 2020. Wow! That makes the RNA more venerable than pretty much all the other writers’ organisations. All the ones that we know of, anyway.

Snoopy at his typewriter

Possibly NOT an RNA member?

So the writers in the Libertà hive started reminiscing — as you do — about what the RNA has meant to each of us. We’re all long-standing members. And it’s an organisation that we revere.
But why? What’s so special about the RNA?

Basically, it’s the people in the RNA and the values they stand for. And the support and friendship that the association provides. Don’t believe any rubbish you hear about romance writers stabbing each other in the back. That was a bad joke from a writer in a non-romance genre — who honestly should have known better.

Rosie M Banks, readerWriters in the RNA are the most helpful, supportive, loving bunch you could ever meet. They know the romance market is vast. No single romance writer can satisfy all those readers out there. So it’s in all our interests to grow the market and help each other.

Which is what we do. What’s not to like? 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

Slow Burn Story

Successful writer, murder your darlingsThis week I have been finishing a slow burn story. Writing has totally absorbed me. Hardly had time to eat and sleep, let alone read my Facebook and Twitter feeds. Actually Tweet or post Facebook status? Haha. In a contest between us, snowballs in hell would be the bookies’ favourite.

It’s been great. But…

Connecting with a Slow Burn Story

Continue reading

Oh look! It’s Christmas… Time to panic?

No! Don’t panic!

Covers ears at the deafening groans.

There are a couple of months to go before we need to start to panic, but the groans are undoubtedly justified.

The children have only just gone back to school, the supermarket aisles are full of the momentary distraction of fake pumpkins and Halloween costumes, but they are already piling up the Christmas chocolate. (I took these two photographs just this morning.) And greetings cards are on sale for those organised enough to get them written before they get swept up in the season.

But forget the stress…

Continue reading

Haunting Ursula Torday

publish for impact blurbA few weeks ago, I blogged about author Ursula Torday  and how I had a sort of virtual not-quite-relationship with her which was like a haunting. I fell over her books on three different occasions in my life, years apart. And now, ten years on, I have just done so again.

So that makes four.
We clearly have unfinished business.

As a result,  I have been reading her books and digging a bit – and reconsidering the very helpful email that her godson, Robert Torday, sent me 10 years ago. This is how it started this time…


Continue reading

Author’s Shadow

Twelfth Night mask I deliberately called this blog “Author Shadow” rather than “Author Discovered” because its subject is not new to me nor, even now, wholly understood.

Sometimes an author grabs you. You know nothing about them. You don’t know why. Yet they speak to you as if you know them – or they know you.

In some ways this author has been walking beside me, in the shadows as it were, nearly all my life. Yet, just occasionally over the years, lightning has flashed and for a tiny moment my mystery lady has been almost revealed. Continue reading

The Sweet Sorrow of Endings

I have done it!  I have finished my latest historical romance!
Hooray, I hear you say. At last.
About time.champagne to celebrate book endings

writer worries waiting for editor's verdict

It has been polished, re-polished and sent winging its merry way to The Editor, the god-like creature who will pronounce judgement upon my baby. As some old writer hack said, “parting is such sweet sorrow.”
It is an anxious time.

But while I wait, chewing my nails to the quick, I have been pondering on Life, the Universe and…


Continue reading

Christmas Wishes and 12 Days of Goodies to come

  1. Christmas Wishes and 12 Days of Goodies to come
  2. Day 1 of 12 Days of Christmas : A Partridge in a Pear Tree & P D James
  3. Day 2 of 12 Days of Christmas : 2 Turtle Doves & Jewellery
  4. Day 3 of 12 Days of Christmas : 3 French Hens & translations
  5. Day 4 of 12 Days of Christmas : 4 Calling Birds & Song
  6. Day 5 of 12 Days of Christmas : 5 Gold Rings & Tolkien
  7. Day 6 of 12 Days of Christmas : 6 Geese a-Laying & Paul Gallico
  8. Day 7 of 12 Days of Christmas : 7 Swans a-Swimming & Company
  9. Day 8 of 12 Days of Christmas : 8 Maids a-Milking & Heyer
  10. Day 9 of 12 Days of Christmas : 9 Ladies Dancing & Joanna
  11. Day 10 of 12 Days of Christmas : 10 Lords a-Leaping & Wimsey
  12. Day 11 of 12 Days of Christmas : 11 Pipers Piping & Ratty
  13. Day 12 of 12 Days of Christmas : 12 Drummers Drumming & Play
  14. Day 13 of 12 Days of Christmas : Was It Worth It?
  15. Twelfth Night
  16. 12 Days of Christmas (slightly revised for Botswana)
  17. Sophie’s Christmas Mystery Serial Episode 1
  18. Sophie’s Christmas Mystery Serial Episode 2
  19. Sophie’s Christmas Mystery Serial Episode 3
  20. Sophie’s Christmas Mystery Serial Episode 4
  21. Sophie’s Christmas Mystery Serial Episode 5
  22. Sophie’s Christmas Mystery Serial Episode 6
  23. Sophie’s Christmas Mystery Serial Episode 7
  24. Sophie’s Christmas Mystery Serial Episode 8
  25. Sophie’s Christmas Mystery Serial Episode 9
  26. Sophie’s Christmas Mystery Serial Episode 10
  27. Sophie’s Christmas Mystery Serial Episode 11
  28. Sophie’s Christmas Mystery Serial Episode 12 Part 1
  29. Sophie’s Christmas Mystery Serial Episode 12 conclusion

curl up in front of fire for 12 days of Christmas

Goodies to Come for the 12 Days of Christmas…

Starting on Boxing Day, we’ll be posting a daily fun episode of the 12 Days of Christmas, but instead of suggesting a song to sing, we’ll be focusing on books we have read and a few of the ideas — sometimes silly or frivolous, sometimes serious — they’ve given rise to.
Please join in with your own suggestions. We’d love to hear what you think.

Don’t miss the First Day of Christmas, here on 26th December
pear tree at the ready…