Reading between the lines

Gabe reading, by Jason CC BY ND 2.0

By K. M. Lockwood, @lockwoodwriter

Books within books - what lies beneath reading in stories. How and why would you use that in your own work.

On Monday 9th January, I was the willing subject of the Golden Egg Academy question and answer session on Twitter. Thirty minutes of furious reading and typing about my role as a reader for Serendipity Reviews. ( If you want to see my replies and typos follow the #GEAQA hash tag!)

One of the first questions was what do I love about book-blogging? It's the range and scope of current works for children and young people. Not just books but comics, graphic novels and all - and the whole multiplicity of genres, styles and approaches. Thinking about the wonderful creators in SCBWI British Isles and SCBWI Ireland for this article made me consider this.

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Reading and reviewing has taken me out of my comfort zone. It has led to a degree of chutzpah where I beg for review copies ( I never thought I'd do that on social media). It has made it clear that my role is not a critic: it's not about me and my tastes, it's about the book and the reader.

In short, it has challenged my empathy. This is handy for a developing editor and writer.  I've tackled books I'd never have thought of going near - by inhabiting a variety of different MEs. Sometimes it can be a ME in a different mood. Sometimes pizza hits the spot, sometimes only full Sunday dinner will do. Frank Cottrell-Boyce or Frances Hardinge? It's all good.

So what use are a reviewer's musings to an author or an illustrator?

Simply, reading matter reveals a deal about character. So many questions to answer. 
  • Why does a character  read - to be entertained, to learn, to escape?
  • How do they read - eagerly or reluctantly, in quick bursts or long bouts?
  • What do they read - diaries, newspapers, comics, ads, recipes, novels, poetry?
  • When do they read - in snatched moments, when they should be doing something else?
  • Where do they read - bath, bunk-bed, boarding school, spaceship, prison library, kitchen table? 

Many of these answers are powerfully visual - perhaps funny, poignant or revealing. Take the grandly displayed unread tomes of a pompous villain - and her stash of celebrity magazines. Or a handmade fairytale treasured in poverty.

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  • Know what your characters would read and why.
  • Show through image or dialogue.
  • Suggest attitudes - perhaps conflict?
  • Reveal the effect it has on them - and others.
  • Have fun with your choices!
Jasperdo CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


  1. I'v never forgotten a conversation with you about a book I didn't particularly like because the flow of narrative was interrupted by chunks of information. You told me then that this appealed to many boy readers. It made me see the book in a different way and changed my perception of the book. It really taught me to try to get outside my own reader brain when assessing a book. Thank you!

  2. Thank you for those kind words, Candy. It *is* all about the readers - not us.

  3. Brilliant article. I will definitely be asking my characters what they read, their reading choices and how they found the process of learning to read. Well done, you clever lady.

  4. I loved this–it made me think about becoming a book blogger myself. It's true it's very mind-opening to read things you don't particular feel like reading. So interesting to think about what your characters read, too.


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