A New Blogging Year, What Will It Bring For A Little Book Problem?

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I’m a bit late with my Happy New Year/ blogging intentions post. After all, it’s the sixth of January, we are almost a week in. This is very unlike me, I am a Type-A, anal, organised, get-it-done-on-day-one type.

This is deliberate, and indicative of how I intend the year to proceed. My main intention (not resolution, not making any of those this year. They are just pressure, I never end up keeping them, then I feel guilty. It’s a whole big hiding to failure from Day One) is just to cut myself some slack this year, particularly when it comes to blogging. I’m just going to ease up, take a step back and stop putting so much pressure on myself to do things a certain way or measure up to a certain ideal. This is supposed to be a fun hobby, not another set of obligations and I’m planning on returning to that mindset. Fewer deadlines, more doing what I feel like doing.

We all know 2020 was a pretty dire year for so many reasons, and there were times where it was really hard going. It was books that saved me much of the time, and I read more in a year than I ever have before – 186 books in total. There were other times though, when I had taken on too many blog tours, was reading books because I HAD to, rather than wanted to, and felt obliged to review them on a certain date, that it just added to the stress, rather than relieving me of it. As we kick off 2021 in yet another lockdown, I’m determined that won’t happen again.

I still intend to carry on blogging fully, and have lots of things planned for the blog (more on that below), but some things I am going to be doing differently. Less reading to a timetable and more free reading. Fewer blog tours but more trying to engage authors and promote books in other ways (although I’ve not made a great start with this for January – oops!). Putting the fun back into blogging and making it feel less like an obligation, which it can become if you over-commit. When this happens, the authors aren’t getting the best of me, so I think we will all benefit.

All of my blog features – Friday Night Drinks, Desert Island Books and Romancing The Romance Authors – will continue, and I’m currently dreaming up new ones to work on. I’ll be doing some blog tours, but a maximum of two per month from March onwards. I am still open to approaches for non-time-critical reviews and guest posts from authors and publishers, so please don’t feel afraid to approach me. I am sure there will be something I can do for you in most circumstances.

I’ve set my Goodreads Reading Challenge goal at 120 for the year, which isn’t too much pressure. I had a lot of fun with my personal Desert Island Books last year, so I will be continuing that this year with my Desert Island Children’s Books. The introductory post for that is going up on Saturday, so please follow along. I’m also attempting the Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge again, and I am determined to see that through to the end this year for the first time. Here are the prompts, if anyone is interested in joining in.

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I’m planning on concentrating more on my writing this year. I am on the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s New Writers’ Scheme for another year and have two manuscripts on the go. I am enrolled in Sophie Hannah’s Dream Author Coaching programme, and I’m determined that this is the year I really kick my writing ambitions in to gear. Maybe some day soon I’ll be on the other side of someone’s book review blog. That’s my dream.

20th January marks the fourth anniversary of my first post on A Little Book Problem. I can’t believe how far I have come in that time. Over 700 posts and 7,000+ followers across all platforms. Site views doubling year on year and now, thanks to the RNA, award-winning. It’s so much more than I ever imagined when I typed that first, tentative post four years ago. To celebrate, I’m going to be doing a huge giveaway, so watch this space for details coming up next week.

I’m hoping for a happier, healthier new year for all of us in 2021. I know we aren’t off to the best start, but I’m hoping brighter days are on the horizon. The time will come when we can all get together in person again, hug and laugh and celebrate in the sunshine. In the meantime, I am so grateful that I have books, and the wonderful camaraderie of the bookish community, to see me through. Thank you all for your support, and I look forward to sharing more book love with you over the coming months.

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Top Twelve Books of 2020

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Yes, you heard correctly. This year I am allowing myself twelve books in my round up of my favourite reads of the year. I was really struggling to narrow it down any more and, given how much of a trial this year has been already, I decided not to tax myself further.

I have read 185 books this year at the time of writing this post, and so many of them have been marvellous and could have made a ‘best of’ list. However, there is limited space and time for recommendations, so these are the ones I would push most heavily, were my arm to be twisted. I do want to thank the authors of all the books I have enjoyed in 2020 though, you should know that your work has been the one steady point of sanity in a world gone mad and I am so grateful for each and every word.

These books weren’t all written in 2020, but they were ones I read for the first time this year. You can find my detailed reviews of the books by clicking on the links in the titles (except the Steve Cavanagh one. I’ve only just finished that and haven’t had chance to review it on the blog yet. Sorry, Steve!)

12. The Lido by Libby Page

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11. Beast by Matt Wesolowski 

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10. Spirited by Julie Cohen

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9. Fifty-Fifty by Steve Cavanagh

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8. I Am Dust by Louise Beech

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7. The Cactus by Sarah Haywood

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6. The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

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5. Hinton Hollow Death Trip by Will Carver

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4. More Than A Woman by Caitlin Moran

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3. Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

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2. Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

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1. Fake Law: The Truth About Justice in an Age of Lies by The Secret Barrister

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So that’s it, my top reads of 2020. Please do let me know what you think. Did you love or loathe any of these books? Are any of them on your 2021 TBR? What was your book of 2020? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Looking forward to lots more great reading in 2021, and wishing all of my readers a very, very Happy New Year.

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RNA Media Star of The Year!

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I’m sure most of you will already have heard my fantastic news from yesterday, which is that I was announced as the Media Star of the Year at the Romantic Novelists’ Association Industry Awards. I’m still digesting the news, because it was totally unexpected given the other amazing nominees in the category, but I’ve been floating on cloud nine ever since. Thank you so much to everyone who has congratulated me across all my social media channels since then, I hope I have managed to respond to you all but I may have missed one or two in the chaos. My notifications have never blown up so much, so apologies if anyone slipped through the net.

Normally the awards are announced at the RNA Winter Party but, times being as they are, the presentation was done over Zoom. In many ways this was very sad, because I really missed seeing all my RNA friends and socialising with other industry professionals and bloggers on the night. In fact, due to coronavirus, it has been almost exactly a year since I have seen most of my writer friends in person at last year’s party, and I miss them all very much. This was the view from my hotel room last year, right by the Tower of London, which reminded me of what I was missing.

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Still, the one advantage of not being there in person that no one could see the fact that I actually shed a tiny tear when I realised I had won. Public crying is never a good look! All the nominees had to record an acceptance speech in advance, in case we won, which was an odd thing to have to do. Watching mine, all I could think was that I should have worn more makeup and smiled a bit more! My bookshelves which were behind me got a lot of love afterwards though.

It’s really hard to say how much this award means to me, and how stunned I was to get it. I set up my blog towards the end of 2016. I had discovered book blogs earlier that year (I know, late to the party or what?) and started following a couple of people. Emma Welton at damp pebbles and Kaisha Holloway at The Writing Garnet were two that really stood out to me and, after a while I thought maybe this was something I would like to do to keep track of my reading. I started blogging properly in January 2017, although I had no clue what I was doing to start with and it was all a bit hit and miss. Gradually, I discovered more and more bloggers, got involved with some blog tours and began to find my feet. And it was other bloggers that I learnt from, who guided me, welcomed me into the community, inspired and supported me to enable me to get to this point. I am not very good at keeping track day to day of who shares my posts but I hope me returning the favour lets you know how much I appreciate all your support and I am going to take this opportunity to thank you all from the bottom of my heart for making me feel welcome in your world, supporting me and becoming my friends. Being part of this community has given me so much pleasure over the last four years.

The first blogger I met in person was actually Anne Williams of Being Anne, at the RNA York Tea in September 2018. She was immediately friendly and welcoming. Anne was the RNA Media Star last year, and was nominated again this year, which is a fantastic achievement and shows how much she does to promote romantic fiction and how valued she is by the community. To stand alongside her, a titan of book blogging, was a huge honour.

One of the other nominees, Rachel Gilbey, is possibly the most well-known blogger name in romance. Not only does she blog herself at Rachel’s Random Reads, but she also runs a fabulous blog tour organising business in Rachel’s Random Resources, the go to promoter for romance. Rachel was one of the first people to trust me, as a newbie blogger, with reviewing books and she has become a great friend over the past few years. She is also an absolute minx at getting me to agree to blog tours when I have decided I’m not putting any more in the diary, so she is definitely someone you want promoting your book. I love her to bits and she has been nominated for this award three times now. What a massive achievement that is.

The final nominees were the team from #UKRomChat, who are an amazing group and do so much to promote romantic fiction. Jeanna was the very first one to congratulate me personally yesterday, and this was their second nomination in a row too. Given who I was up against, is it any wonder that I was having to pinch myself at winning? Congratulations to all of you, it is such a privilege for me to be in that company.

Aside from all the amazing bloggers who have inspired and supported me, my blog would be nothing without three other groups of people. Firstly, the publishers who put their trust in me and allow me to read their books in advance and help launch them into the world. It is a massive privilege always to get hold of an advance copy of a book and one I never take for granted. There are so many fabulous publishers out there, big and small, battling against the odds to keep bringing us fantastic escapism in book form, and I think we’ve all realised just how important this is over the course of the year, so thanks for letting me be involved.

Secondly, the authors. I’d have nothing to write about if you weren’t writing, and nothing to do with my free time or, indeed, keep me sane. Between the covers of a book has been my happy place since I first learnt to turn the pages, and you are the ones that bring me that joy. As well as that, I appreciate all the time you take to put together guest posts, or answer my ridiculous questions for my various blog features. I am never in doubt that the quality of content on my blog depends largely on the quality of what you produce for me to talk about and share. So thank you all.

Finally, my readers. Without you, I’d be shouting into the void like a crazy person. Every time you read, like, share and comment it makes me happy and feel like the work is worth it. I never take you for granted.

Finally, a huge thank you again to the RNA for this award. I discovered the RNA at roughly the same time as this blog started, although it took me a while to pluck up courage to apply to the NWS. Since then, I have been taken to the bosom of the loveliest, friendliest, most sociable and supportive bunch of people you could ever wish to meet and I have enjoyed every second I have spent with all of you. This award is just the icing on an already delicious cake and I am just delighted with it.

I have heard the RNA Chair, Alison May, talk about how, when she joined the RNA, she had ‘found her people.’ I feel like this about the publishing world in general, and the book blogging and RNA communities in particular. Whenever all the crappy news of what is going on currently in this chaotic world gets too much, I know that books, and the book community are going to be a place of refuge and positivity, which is something priceless.

So, now I have written a blog post gushing enough to rival even Sally Field’s cringe-worthy 1985 Oscar-acceptance speech, I am done with the sentiment. Normal service will be resumed shortly.

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Change is Afoot! Jump on the Bandwagon!

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Good morning, lovely people! I am very excited this morning, because I’m announcing some changes to the blog, and new opportunities for authors and bloggers to take part. There’s nothing I enjoy more that a bit of collaboration, it really freshens up the site and prevents my readers getting exceedingly bored of just listening to me droning on, so I’m really looking forward to it. A change is as good as a rest, as my granny always used to tell me.

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So, the first (and unexciting, let’s get the boring stuff out of the way and build up the suspense for the new developments) announcement, is that the 2021 diary is now open and just begging to be filled. So if there is anyone out there who has a book coming out early next year and would like to book in a guest post, or appear on my Friday Night Drinks feature, or is organising a blog tour for the beginning of the year and would like me to be involved, now is the time to book that place in the diary. I also have a few Friday Night Drinks slots available for December, these are open to anyone in publishing – authors, publishers, bloggers, blog tour organisers, editors, cover designers, proof readers, booksellers…. All welcome.

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Now for the two new features I am introducing.

Firstly, I am introducing a new regular interview feature for RNA members, where I will be asking you to tell me why you write romance, which romance writers and books you love and inspire you, and what you love most about the RNA. The feature will take place every other Tuesday, to tie in with #TuesNews, and will kick off in September with the winner of my #underwatervampireerotica competition (see more below if you are baffled, and why wouldn’t you be?), but slots are open thereafter for any published authors who are members of the RNA. (If this is successful, I may expand to other genres at a later date. To start with, this is my way of giving something back to the RNA, an organisation which is supporting me through my own writing journey.) I’m calling this feature Romancing The Romance Authors, so let me know if you are interested.

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The second new feature has been inspired by the fun I have been having this year choosing and re-reading the twelve books I would want to have with me if I knew I were going to be stranded forever on a desert island. You can find out which I have chosen by following my monthly Desert Island Books posts and, I’ve enjoyed this so much that I’m going to carry on next year with my twelve Desert Island Children’s Books. But now I’d like to know what your Desert Island Books would be, just because I’m nosy. So, again this feature is going to run every other week on a Wednesday (at least to begin with, I’ll expand it if it is really popular), starting on Wednesday, 9th September. I’m going to be mean to you and only let you pick FIVE books to take, and you’ll have to tell me why you’ve chosen these particular ones. This feature is open to anyone who wants to take part.

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Finally, I wanted to announce the winner of the #underwatervampireerotica competition I ran during my seminar at the RNA Conference. The person who got closest to guessing how many blog tour/NetGalley books I had bought after reviewing them was Claire Huston, who guessed 142. The actual number was 118 (I feel like I have let down all the people who thought it was all, or almost all, of them but I’d be bankrupt if I bought them all!). Clare, I know I have already bought and reviewed your book, so you have credit in the bank with me for the next one, and you get to be my first guest on Romancing The Romance Authors on 1st September, and I’ll be in touch about that shortly. Thanks to all who entered.

So, if anyone would like to be featured on the blog in any way, including Friday Night Drinks, Romancing The Romance Authors or Desert Island Books, please get in touch by emailing julie@alittlebookproblem.co.uk, filling in the contact form on the blog or sending me a DM via social media and we will put something in the diary. Requests are dealt with on a strictly first come, first served basis. Look forward to featuring as many of you as I can fit in!

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Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel Of The Year 2020: International Shortlist Revealed For Crime Writing’s Premiere Prize

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The shortlist for the 16th Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year has been announced, taking the reader on an international crime spree from New York to Calcutta, London to Lagos via Glasgow and the Australian outback.

Chosen by a public vote and the prize Academy, the titles in contention for this most prestigious of prize’s – which feature five Theakston award alumni and one debut novelist – showcase exceptional variety and originality, including spy espionage, historical crime, gallows humour, outback noir and serial killing siblings.

The news coincides with updated lockdown reading research from Nielsen Book showing that the genre is continuing to soar in popularity, a trend led by younger readers and men. Alongside an increase in the overall number of crime and thriller novels in the bestseller charts, even more people are turning to the genre in lockdown, particularly younger readers (18-44). Of the three quarters saying that their fiction interests have changed, 26% say that crime and thriller has become their genre of choice.

Marking a meteoric rise since being selected by Val McDermid as a spotlight author in the 2019 Festival’s highly respected ‘New Blood’ panel, Oyinkan Braithwaite remains in pursuit of the coveted trophy with the Booker nominated My Sister, the Serial Killer. Based in Nigeria, Braithwaite is the only debut author remaining, and one of the youngest ever to be shortlisted. Inspired by the black widow spider, Braithwaite turns the crime genre on its head with a darkly comic exploration of sibling rivalry, exploring society’s feelings towards beauty and perfection.

The remaining five authors on the shortlist are all previous contenders hoping 2020 is their year to claim the trophy. The legendary Mick Herron, likened to John Le Carré, has picked up a fifth nomination with Joe Country, the latest in his espionage masterclass Slough House. A former legal editor, Herron’s commute from Oxford to London led to the creation of this much-lauded series, which is currently being adapted for television with Gary Oldman taking on the iconic role of Jackson Lamb.

Scottish-Bengali author Abir Mukherjee is vying for the title with Smoke & Ashes, described by The Times as one of the best crime novels since 1945. Accountant turned bestseller, Mukherjee was shortlisted in 2018 for the first book in the Wyndham & Banerjee series set in Raj-era India, The Rising Man. Smoke & Ashes – the third  instalment – is set in 1921 in Calcutta, where Mukherjee’s parents grew up and where he spent six weeks each year during his childhood.

Authors making it through to the shortlist for the first time include Glasgow’s Helen Fitzgerald for Worst Case Scenario, which marks her first appearance on the Theakston list since The Cry, adapted into a major BBC drama starting Jenna Colman, was longlisted in 2013. Packed with gallows humour, Worst Case Scenario takes inspiration from Fitzgerald’s time as a criminal justice social worker in Glasgow’s Barlinnie Prison, alongside her experiences with depression and going through the menopause.

Despite receiving international recognition, before Belfast’s Adrian McKinty started writing The Chain – for which he picks up his second Theakston nod – he had been evicted from his home and was working as an Uber driver to make ends meet. Persuaded to give writing one last go, McKinty started on what would become the terrifying thriller that sees parents forced to kidnap children to save their own, and for which Paramount Pictures has acquired the screen rights in a seven-figure film deal.

The final title on the shortlist is The Lost Man by former journalist Jane Harper, who was previously longlisted for her debut The Dry in 2018, for which the film adaption starring Eric Bana is due to be released this year. Inspired by the beautifully brutal Australian environment, The Lost Man explores how people live – and die – in the unforgiving outback and is a moving – particularly topical – study in the psychological and physical impact of isolation.

The full shortlist for the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year 2020 is:

 

–                 My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (Atlantic Books)

–                 Worst Case Scenario by Helen Fitzgerald (Orenda Books)

–                 The Lost Man by Jane Harper (Little, Brown Book Group, Little, Brown)

–                 Joe Country by Mick Herron (John Murray Press)

–                 The Chain by Adrian McKinty (Orion Publishing Group, Orion Fiction)

–                 Smoke and Ashes by Abir Mukherjee (VINTAGE, Harvill Secker)

Executive director of T&R Theakston, Simon Theakston, said: “Seeing the huge variety and originality within this shortlist, it comes as no surprise to hear that crime fiction is dominating our lockdown reading habits. Offering both escapism and resolution, these exceptional titles transport readers around the world and I can’t wait to see where we settle on 23 July when one of these extraordinary authors takes home the 2020 Theakston Old Peculier cask.”

The award is run by Harrogate International Festivals and supported by T&R Theakston Ltd, WHSmith and the Express, and is open to full length crime novels published in paperback from 1 May 2018 to 30 April 2019 by UK and Irish authors.

The shortlist was selected by an academy of crime writing authors, agents, editors, reviewers, members of the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival Programming Committee, representatives from T&R Theakston Ltd, the Express, and WHSmith, alongside a public vote.

The shortlist will be promoted in a dedicated online campaign from WHSmith, digital promotional materials will be made available for independent bookstores, and the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival’s online community – You’re Booked – features exclusive interviews and interactive content. This forms part of the Harrogate International Festival virtual season of events, HIF at Home, which presents a raft of live music, specially commissioned performances, literary events and interviews to bring a free festival experience to your own digital doorstep.

The public vote for the winner is now open on www.harrogatetheakstoncrimeaward.com, with the champion set to be revealed in a virtual awards ceremony on Thursday 23 July marking what would have been the opening evening of the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival. The legendary gathering – which formed part of Harrogate International Festival Summer Season – was cancelled, with much sadness, due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The winner will receive £3,000 and an engraved oak beer cask, hand-carved by one of Britain’s last coopers from Theakstons Brewery.

 

Blogging in a Time of Coronavirus & a severe case of Can’tBeArsed-itis

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Hi guys. Hope everyone is keeping well and staying safe, whatever the situation is where you are. What a strange time we are living through.

I know the blog has been really quiet lately and I can only apologise. It’s not just been the blog either. All my social media, participation in Facebook groups, WhatsApp chats, online friends and family meets – I haven’t really been doing any of it. Truth is, I’ve been suffering for the last month from a severe case of Can’tBeArsed-itis.

It hasn’t been quite as bad as the photo above suggests. I haven’t been laying motionless face down on the sofa (with my shoes on? Who does that? What are we, savages?). I’ve actually been really busy. I’ve just been doing it all within the confines of my home and garden.

When lockdown first started, I was like everyone else. Chatting with friends and family on Zoom, probably more than I did pre-quarantine. Taking part in loads of online challenges and chats. Blogging and Instagramming up a storm. Then I had a little accident and gave myself quite a severe burn on my hand which necessitated a trip to A&E late one Friday night. (The absolute last place I wanted to go at the height of a pandemic and it was as awful as I expected. If anything convinced me how completely unlike normal life is, it was that trip to A&E on a Friday night. It was an eerie, zombie-apocalypse-movie-like experience.) As a result, my left hand was completely bandaged for a week and I had to type one-handed, which brought blogging and writing to a grinding halt and, even as I gradually got the use of it back, my mojo seemed to have disappeared.

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Back in February, I took the decision to cut right back on blog tours for the spring and summer to try and get through my NetGalley backlog, so luckily I had few commitments that needed meeting and I could embrace my lack of enthusiasm for blogging for a while. (I wonder now if I had some weird premonition. I also wound up my travel business in Autumn 2018 because I had a bad feeling about where the industry was headed, and I’ve never been so glad about a decision in my life now. Spooky!) Instead, I have been focused solely on myself and my daughters and our life at home.

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I’ve been quite lucky on the homeschooling front as my daughters’ school are providing real time lessons for them as per their normal timetables via Google Classroom. However, this has still necessitated constant interaction, especially for my 12-year-old who is very gregarious, is missing her school friends desperately, and has co-opted me into the role of new best friend. For someone who is used to working from home and spending many hours by themselves every day, being on constant call is mentally draining. Honestly, I always had a lot of respect for teachers (my sister is one) but now my admiration knows no bounds. The strain is exacerbated by the fact of being a single parent, solely responsible for all of this as well as running the house and all the attendant tasks that go with it (oh, the endless dishwasher emptying and re-stacking…). After spending hours explaining the difference between direct and representative democracy, analysing Beatrice’s role as a woman in ‘Much Ado About Nothing,’ timing circuit training exercises and playing netball for PE lessons, searching for photos of the friezes on Trajan’s Arch, dissecting the contrast between socialist and capitalist viewpoints in ‘An Inspector Calls’ (which I had to read first), to be honest, I’ve had little brain space left for any intelligent commentary on the books I’ve been reading. It’s also almost impossible to concentrate on anything when you know there is a strong possibility of being interrupted any second. (My daughter required my help three times just during the course of typing this blog post.) To all you parents who are doing all of this whilst trying to hold down your normal full-time job in this abnormal environment as well, I salute you, I have no idea how you are doing it.

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Instead, the girls and I have been doing lots of fun stuff together. Playing badminton and giant Jenga in the garden. Walking our dog in the fields behind our house. Baking up a storm, making our own pizzas, having cooking lessons. Building Hogwarts Castle from Lego. Doing jigsaws. Sharing TV shows we love. I’ve been introduced to Riverdale and Brooklyn 99 and my daughters are now being spoonfed Buffy the Vampire Slayer from the beginning. It’s been great fun spending proper, quality time with my girls. They are growing up so fast, savouring this time with them is something I will remember as a positive once this is over.

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Basically, over the last month, I’ve pulled my head and tail into my shell like a turtle and shut off the outside world. I guess it’s been a form of self-preservation. The constant negative news, combined with missing family and friends, was dragging me down so I withdrew from it all. And I don’t think I’m the only one. I saw on Twitter some other bloggers discussing the fact that their page views and follower numbers were up, but interactions on the blog were down. I think maybe people are looking for content to consume while they are stuck at home, but the constant need to interact in the virtual world has become draining. I read a fascinating article about why this may be the other day. It suggested that it just reminds us of what we are missing in real life, a momento mori of the lives we had before which are not going to be the same again for a long while. This certainly resonated with me.

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Anyway, I now have a massive backlog of reviews to do, so I’m making a concerted effort to get out of this funk and back into the real world. But for anyone who just doesn’t feel like blogging at the moment, don’t beat yourself up. The world is topsy turvy and we all need to do what we gotta do to stay sane and get through. We’re all adjusting to our new normal, and are doing the best we can. And, if all else fails, there’s always Buffy.

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Take care and stay safe.

Let’s Talk About #Bookstagram #tipsneeded #bookbloggers #bookblog #bookblogging #instagram #helpme #advicewanted

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So, I’ve been thinking a lot about Bookstagram lately. I’ve noticed more and more requests for Instagram tours hitting my inbox. Anne Cater mentioned in a post a week or so ago that publishers were starting to look for minimum numbers of followers on Twitter and Insta for people taking part in their blog tours. I am enjoying and envying other people’s lovely book posts on my Instagram feed. My Instagram feed is sad and limp and neglected; I could never take part in an Instagram tour of a book using my currently tragic and slapdash efforts.

I decided more effort was required in the area of Instagram if I want to grow my blog. Plus, who doesn’t like looking at beautiful photos, especially of books? And I thought it might be an interesting creative outlet as an alternative to all my current, word-related hobbies.

So I started reading some posts about how to create a lovely bookstagram feed and, wow! I came away feeling simultaneously impressed, daunted and confused. I have more questions than answers and decided to reach out to you, my bookish colleagues for help. I am calling on your wisdom and experience to help me figure out how to improve my Instagram game with the limited time and talent at my disposal. I am begging you for any advice, tips and tricks you have to offer that have worked for you.

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Firstly, how important is Instagram in the current world of book blogging, especially for those of us who have not hit the heady heights of the top ranks? I have read that Instagram is now the fastest-growing and most influential platform, but does it drive traffic to your blog? Are you finding you are getting more interaction in general and on your blog if you are active on Bookstagram? What I am asking is, do you find it is worth the effort?

Secondly, I read a lot about the importance of a theme and consistency so that your feed looks curated and your grid is balanced and, if I look at some of my favourite bookstagram feeds, I can see how this works.

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This one always has very busy and interesting pictures in muted tones.

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A lot of you will recognise Cait’s feed with her bright colours and lots of flowers.

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All of the photos on this one have a sepia wash.

I looked at my feed and realised my theme was ‘Busy, middle-aged woman who takes random photos that she posts sporadically and can’t be arsed with filters.’ Not sure this is a heart-winner as far as themes go. So, how much time and thought do you all put in to your overall feed to be successful? I have read that people spend 3-4 hours A DAY curating their instagram feed. I mean, there is just no way on earth that this is a possibility for me with all the other commitments I have going on (these must all be young people with no children, remember those days?). How little time can you reasonably spend on Instagram and it still be worth it? If I just do one photo (which I have not spend 3 hours staging, taking and editing), can I still have a reasonable insta following?

What are the best things to post? What do you like to look at on bookstagram? Does an insta feed just have to be books or are other things interesting to you as well? How often do you post?

What about your reviews? Do you post your whole reviews on Instagram and does that get a good response? I had toyed with the idea of posting a photo and an abbreviated review on Instagram rather than the whole thing, but will people visit the blog to read the whole thing? There is just so much to think about!

Hashtags. How many to use? Which ones are best? Where do you put them? I have read advice that says to use 5-30 and put them in the first comment, rather than in the caption as it looks neater. Have you tried this? Does it work better? It is all so confusing!

Instagram stories? I don’t understand them. What are they, how do you use them and should I be doing it? God, I feel like such an old fogey!

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If anyone has any fabulous advice on how I can improve my bookstagram game without having to spend more than 15 minutes a day on it, using anything other than my iPhone or the filters on Instagram itself, I will gratefully listen. What works for you? Have you read any useful articles? Can you recommend anyone whose feeds I should follow.

Or am I just a dog who is too old to learn new tricks?

 

 

LAST CHANCE TO ENTER! #RNA60 Romantic Fiction Book Club Facebook Group Launch Competition. Win 60 Romantic Novels from 0ne More Chapter! @RNATweets @0neMoreChapter_ #Competition #Giveaway #RomanticFictionBookClub #RomFicBookClub

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Today is the closing date for the Romantic Fiction Book Club’s huge launch competition, so if you haven’t already join the new Facebook group for readers, authors and bloggers who love Romantic Fiction, you’d better get on to it quickly!

As a reminder, this year marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and, to celebrate this momentous occasion, the RNA have launched a new Facebook group, the Romantic Fiction Book Club, which aims to be a warm and cosy place for lovers of romantic fiction to engage with other readers, bloggers and authors of romantic fiction. The group is open to anyone who loves to read any type of romance, bloggers, and all authors of novels with a romantic element, not just those who are members of the RNA.

To launch the new group with a bang, we have an amazing competition for you. In conjunction with publisher 0ne More Chapter, members of the new Romantic Fiction Book Club Facebook group have the chance to win an amazing bundle of 60 romantic novels, donated by 0ne More Chapter. There are also 60 runner up prizes of a single, signed romance novel, so there are a total of 61 prizes up for grabs. What amazing odds of winning something! The competition is running from 14th to 29th February., i.e. TODAY!

All you have to do to enter the competition is join the new Romantic Fiction Book Club here and then follow the link below to the competition:

One More Chapter & RNA Diamond Anniversary Giveaway

There is detailed information about how to enter on the new Facebook page, including how to increase your chances of winning by subscribing to the RNA and 0ne More Chapter’s social media links, plus, there is lots of fun interaction going on in the group. UK entries only I’m afraid. What are you waiting for, go and sign up now!

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#RNA60 Romantic Fiction Book Club Facebook Group Launch Competition. Win 60 Romantic Novels from 0ne More Chapter! @RNATweets @0neMoreChapter_ #Competition #Giveaway #RomanticFictionBookClub #RomFicBookClub

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Calling all fans of Romantic Fiction! This year marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and, to celebrate this momentous occasion, the RNA are launching a new Facebook group, the Romantic Fiction Book Club, which aims to be a warm and cosy place for lovers of romantic fiction to engage with other readers, bloggers and authors of romantic fiction. The group is open to anyone who loves to read any type of romance, bloggers, and all authors of novels with a romantic element, not just those who are members of the RNA.

To launch the new group with a bang, we have an amazing competition for you. In conjunction with publisher 0ne More Chapter, members of the new Romantic Fiction Book Club Facebook group have the chance to win an amazing bundle of 60 romantic novels, donated by 0ne More Chapter. There are also 60 runner up prizes of a single, signed romance novel, so there are a total of 61 prizes up for grabs. What amazing odds of winning something! The competition is running from 14th February (of course!) to 29th February. Take a look at some of the fabulous titles up for grabs.

All you have to do to enter the competition is join the new Romantic Fiction Book Club here and then follow the link below to the competition:

One More Chapter & RNA Diamond Anniversary Giveaway

There is detailed information about how to enter on the new Facebook page, including how to increase your chances of winning by subscribing to the RNA and 0ne More Chapter’s social media links, plus, there is lots of fun interaction going on in the group. UK entries only I’m afraid. What are you waiting for, go and sign up now!

I’ll see you there!

(There was an interesting article about the new group and how it came about in Frost Magazine earlier this week, you might like to check it out here.)

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The Etiquette of Book Blogging: A Growing Minefield #bookblogging #bookbloggers #bookblog #amreading

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I thought the thing that was going to get me most riled up yesterday was our exit from the European Union. However, having decided early on to focus solely on bookish Twitter and avoid the worst of the Brexit furore, I managed to stay relatively calm, if deeply saddened, on that front. Little did I expect that it would be bookish Twitter that would end up getting my dander up! (I’ve always wanted to use that phrase somewhere and never had the chance before.)

The cause of the annoyance? A tweet from an author stating that it was ‘pretty rude’ for readers  to tag authors in our reviews, and that most authors are of this mindset. They must just have been talking about negative reviews, I hear you cry. You’d think so, but apparently not. It’s all reviews, and tweets about reading their books, or in any way letting them know you are engaging with them at all, seemingly. Yes, letting authors know you are actually reading the books they have written for this purpose stresses them out and they would rather be left oblivious to the fact this is happening at all – save presumably for when their royalty cheques come rolling in.

I apologise for sounding a little narked, but it’s beginning to get extremely difficult for book bloggers to know what to do correctly in any given situation these days. I mean, what is the actual etiquette for blogging about books? Any new bloggers could be forgiven for not having a freakin’ clue what authors or readers want from them, there are so many conflicting opinions and reactions out there. The fact this is happening was borne out by reactions to the author’s tweet – lots of surprised ‘really?’ type responses.

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Now, I never write posts like this, by which I mean opinion pieces on book blogging. I don’t tend to engage in any controversy, because book blogging is a fun hobby for me and you can guarantee that sticking your head above the parapet isn’t the way to a quiet, happy life. There is a lot of viciousness out there, and all I want to do is spread the book love. That is it. I love books, I want to talk about them all day long to like-minded book nerds, discover new books and authors and spread the love of the books I’ve adored, support the authors I love – and, yes, tell them what their books have meant to me. I am a happy, little, sunshine-y bookworm who blogs about books for fun. That’s all there is to it. But a lot of the current negativity is taking some of the fun out of it for me, and I just wanted to talk about this a little.

Look, blogs are our personal spaces, we can do what we like with them, that is the joy of our little corners of cyberspace. But equally, it is a responsibility and, if you want to play nice with others and not be considered a douche, there are a few basic tenets of good manners we all understand. Don’t slag off books you haven’t read or were delivered damaged by Amazon. Don’t use book blogging as a way of scrounging books you have no intention of reviewing. If you volunteer for blog tours, do post what you’ve agreed to post when you’ve agreed to post it and, if you can’t, contact the organiser in good time to say why. And the biggie, the number one cardinal rule – NEVER, EVER, EVER TAG AUTHORS IN NEGATIVE REVIEWS!

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Aside from these, are there really any other blogging rules? I don’t think so.

Do you have to review everything you read, good and bad, to be taken seriously? I personally choose not to write negative reviews at all. This is an individual decision based on a number of factors: 1) I’m trying to write a book and it’s HARD, so anyone who has written one and got it published deserved a round of applause, not a kicking from me, even if I hated it; 2) Opinions are subjective and just because I disliked something doesn’t mean others will; 3) My blog is to celebrate books I love, not pull others down; 4) My mother always told me, ‘If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.’ However, I realise other people have a different opinion and review everything they read, good and bad. That’s fine, it’s your blog, you do you. JUST DON’T TAG AUTHORS IN YOUR NEGATIVE REVIEWS, that’s just not cool.

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I’ve received criticism for this approach, mainly on the basis that a) I’m not being honest and b) people can’t tell if they agree with my reviews if they can’t read the negative ones. I disagree. a) All of my reviews are 100% my honest opinion of the book, I just choose not to share the negative ones. This does not alter one word of the positive ones, they would read exactly the same even if the negative ones were published! b) Read my review of a book you have also read, if our opinions on that gel, you should be able to tell whether our views and tastes align or not. If you can’t, no harm, no foul, you aren’t obliged to read my blog, it is entirely optional and if you choose not to, I won’t hold it against you. My reviews are there for the people who find them helpful.

Bloggers have come in for a lot of criticism again recently for not being ‘real readers,’ whatever that means (this is a recurring debate.) Presumably this criticism is levelled at us because somehow our opinions are skewed because we have been asked to read books in advance by authors or publishers, or been given complimentary copies for review, rather than buying them ourselves. Well, I call crap on this. All the book bloggers I know are the most avid and passionate readers out there. This is why they started blogging in the first place. They read hundreds of books a year, some gifted and many not. They buy more books than anyone else. They are absolutely readers, first and foremost, and I know that the vast majority, like me, would never contemplate writing a less than honest review of a book, just because they had received a free copy. And Joanne Harris agrees.

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So, to the current case in point, is it rude to tag authors in positive reviews? I don’t think so and, until today, I have never had an author ask me not to tag them. The opposite is true, I am often asked to make sure I do tag the author and the publisher so they can find the reviews. In fact, in my experience, authors and publishers are desperate for good reviews and want to shout about them far and wide. They pay for blog tours and send out advance copies to generate them, they beg us to put them on Amazon and Goodreads to help boost visibility, ranking and, hopefully, sales. They share them to generate buzz about a book. For small publishers and indie authors, they are the most important publicity tool they have at their disposal. Or so we have been led to believe. Which is why tweets like this one are so confusing and disheartening. It feels like all the work we do to try and promote authors is being thrown back in our faces.

Reviews are for readers, we know this, but it would be dishonest of me to deny that engaging with authors is one of the highlights of being a book blogger. Being able to get to know our favourite authors and discover new ones, get advance notice of their new books, get an insight into their writing process, get to interact with them on social media, and even in person, is one of the joys of this. It isn’t why we do it, but it makes doing it really worthwhile. So for an author to tweet like this, in a way that makes us feel like an unwelcome intrusion in their day, that they don’t have room for engagement, or even want to know that their readers exist and are loving their books, and to assert that they speak on behalf of all authors – well, it’s a bit of a slap in the face. A ‘we’ll take your money but please don’t bother us’ vibe that is unedifying.

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Look, when I tag an author in a post, I’m not expecting them to engage with me. Don’t get me wrong, I love it if they do, but it’s not anticipated. That isn’t why I do it. I do it so they can see the review and share it if they think it will help publicise their book. I do it so they can read it if they wish and, knowing someone loved their work, feel a bit happier and a bit like what they are doing has meant something to somebody, somewhere. I do it so the readers who do read my posts can go to their feeds and maybe find out more about the author and their work and engage with them. For me, it is about being part of a community sharing a love of books. If you don’t want to engage, that is fine, just ignore me. But please don’t accuse me of being rude.

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I’m sure being a writer isn’t easy, even my limited experience so far has given me that much insight. However, insulting the very people who are your biggest fans, who are most firmly on your side and who are going out of their way to tell the world and its wife how brilliant your books are and how much they love them, isn’t the way to win friends and influence people. It’s just likely to mean the people who are most likely to buy and read your books avoid doing so. The more obstacles, insults, hurdles and criticism bloggers face for expending time and energy and love on doing something for free, the less they feel valued and and the more they feel denigrated for doing it, the more likely it is they will simply stop. Because, if it’s not fun any more, if we can’t do right for doing wrong in someone’s eyes, what exactly is the point?

There must be ways around this for authors who don’t want to be notified of book reviews. Make a note in your profile that you don’t want to be tagged, maybe? Most reasonable people would respect this, and the unreasonable ones are going to do what they want whatever you do or say in any event. Make your account private, or don’t be on social media at all if you don’t want to interact with your audience. Unfortunately, social media is not a one way street, interaction is the whole purpose of it. Just ignore those tweets, no one is going to think the worse of you for it, that is your prerogative. I fear, however, that putting your work out into the public domain is opening yourself up to some interaction with the public, however much you wish that weren’t so, it goes with the territory. It’s always a risk, a bit like this blog post in fact.

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Maybe this post is unwise. Maybe I’ll get up in the morning and delete it without posting it. Maybe I’ll get a barrage of abuse, or it will pass by unnoticed. Or maybe, just maybe, it might help us see one another’s perspective. I love book blogging. The bookish community is the happiest, friendliest place I’ve found to be and I’ll keep doing it as long as that continues to be true. If there are rules I’m not following, let me know, the last thing I ever want to do is upset anyone, truly. But, until I hear otherwise, I’ll keep doing what I do, how I do it, including tagging authors in my reviews and, I hope they will appreciate that I do it, not to be rude, but because I have loved their book and I want to tell the whole world that it was great (or at least the very minuscule part of the world that reads my blog.)

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