Monday, 13 March 2017

No Spoilers!

“Man Reading” by orionpozo is licensed under CC BY 2.0
By K. M. Lockwood @lockwoodwriter

Five years ago today, I had my first review published on Vivienne Dacosta's blog Serendipity Reviews. Reading and writing about so many books has taught me a lot. I'd like to share some reflections on my experience and suggest a few ideas to use in your own work.


Over the last five years I have reviewed a gross of books for Serendipity Reviews - that is 144. (Not to mention a few more on Fantasy Book Review). All that reading, plus other books for my Golden Egg Editing Course and general interest, has been a challenge to my understanding and my ego.

Understanding first. There's the genre of a book to begin with - I had to learn about the expectations within, say, High Fantasy, Urban Fantasy and Magical Realism. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente follows different rules to Tom Pollock's Skyscraper Trilogy or David Almond's A Song for Ella Grey.

Art by Karen Radford

Then there's the question of age ranges. It's not only vocabulary and syntax, but subject matter. There can be well-written easy-to-read books that deal with matters more suited to teens, and their mirror image - complex works that can challenge a keen and experienced young reader without being inappropriate. Even more awkward to place, but brilliant, are those books which deal with tricky subject matter in accessible ways: Watch The Sky by Kirsten Hubbard was one such, Horatio Clare's Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot another. It is difficult to judge - and I am constantly learning. Some sorts of books have wide crossover appeal such as ghost stories - but may need content warning.

Secondly - tackling books which are not-my-sort-of-thing. I'd recommend this to any kind of creative person. It's a great source of stimulation. On one hand you can come across unexpected pleasures - feminist steampunk, anyone? On the other, it makes you consider what it is you don't like and why. This for me was a challenge to my ego. I realised that my dislike for a genre often masked an unpleasant disdain for its readers. Not fair. Not helpful.

“Dislike Graffiti” by zeevveez is licensed under CC BY 2.0
I had to grasp that it's not about me - it's about the one Perfect Reader for that book. I'm a matchmaker: I have to describe work so that the right person knows it's suited to them. This is exactly where the cover, and any illustrations, can make an enormous difference. I do my best to credit artists - some publishers don't make it easy - because their work often conveys the soul of the story clearly.

One bonus from summarising other people's books is improvement in writing synopses. Likewise, I can still learn from approaches in genres I'll probably not tackle. For example, the way that snobbery and racism are effectively dealt with in Robin Stevens' Murder Most Unladylike books - yet with charm and lightness. There's something to aspire to.

We all know it's worthwhile looking at how other people tackle their creations - reviewing makes you do this on a regular basis.

"Netsuke of Monkey examining Turtle" by Japan via The Metropolitan Museum of Art is licensed under CC0.10


Questions for your own work

  • Do books play a part in the life of your main character?
  • Why - or why not?
  • What were their favourite childhood tales?
  • What might that reveal about them?
  • What would be on their TBR pile or wishlist?

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by K.M.Lockwood  
@lockwoodwriter  
Golden Egg Academy accredited Editor
Chief, cook and bottle-washer at Peacehaven B&B

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