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Bookish. Publisher at Louise Walters Books. Reader, writer, and editor. Working class gal.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

From The Other Side: Margaret Bonass Madden

I'm delighted to be returning to my From The Other Side series this week, after a brief interlude during which I interviewed two of my favourite fellow authors, Isabel Costello and Rebecca Mascull. I then invited the hard working Bleach House Library blogger Margaret Bonass Madden to appear next on my blog, and she agreed! Margaret is a student, mother of five (like me!) and a foster carer. She also manages to find the time to read and review lots of books. Awesome. Here's what she had to say...

All book bloggers are surely book lovers. How and when did your love of reading begin?
I have always been an avid reader. My father used to take me to the library in our coastal village. Then children’s section was upstairs and I still remember the wide, wooden staircase and the big heavy doors. There was a large stuffed ladybird on top of the bookshelves and I wanted her SO badly. There were Beatrix Potter prints dotted around the room and the silence was deafening. The counter was really high and I loved the thud of the rubber date stamp and the little cardboard tickets that were inside each book. I thought I would never be old enough for the ‘grown-up’ library, which was downstairs. When the day finally arrived, I was so proud to have a blue library card instead of the child’s green one.


When did you start your blog?
I wrote my first blog post back in July 2013. I cannot believe how time has flown!

Is there a particular genre you enjoy reading and reviewing?
Obviously, I have a love of Irish Fiction. For such a small island, we have a reputation of producing some of the worlds most talented writers. In general, I love everything except sci-fi and fantasy. I appear to be missing the gene.

Do you have a “day job” (work, children, and/or caring responsibilities) - and if so, how do you fit in all your reading, reviewing and blogging?
I am a full-time BA student and a foster carer. I am studying English and History, after returning to education after more than twenty years. I also review books for both The Irish Times and The Sunday Independent. It can be hard to fit everything in but, when it comes to books, I find the time. 

If I don’t like a book, I usually don’t review it on Goodreads, Amazon, Netgalley or on my blog. For me, that’s the kindest thing to do. As a writer, I know how disheartening negative reviews can be. I also appreciate not every reader enjoys every book. How do you stand on this issue?
I am different to you. I review for the readers, not the writers, so I review everything on Goodreads, Amazon etc. I try to find something positive to say, but will be honest. I won’t always put every review on my blog, as they may have been used in a newspaper. It is rare that I read books that I don’t like, these days. I think publishers now know what kind of books I enjoy and the ones I have bought myself were chosen for obvious reasons. I did read a title recently that was so badly written that I ended up chucking it at the wall. I chose not to review on my blog, as I had not finished it, but I did leave feedback on Goodreads and Amazon. I would NEVER tag an author in a negative review. That is just cruel and unnecessary.

Have you ever had a negative response from an author after reviewing their work, and if so, how did you handle it? (No names needed!)
Yes. The author responded to a review link on Facebook. I did not engage. It is not a wise move. My advice is to NOT respond.

How do you feel about indie authors? Do you consider self-published books?
I do review self-published books, but they must be well-packaged and be edited by a professional. I have read some that have been published without either of these being done and it is very obvious. Asking a few friends and family to read your novel before you press publish is not enough. [I quite agree! - LW]

On the other hand, how do you feel about those over-hyped books from the Big 5 publishers?!
I am usually sent very early copies of books from the Big 5 and can see how a big social media campaign can make a huge difference. I can receive up to thirty books per week, so getting a particular title noticed, very early on, needs some clever marketing. However, not all of these books deserve the hype. Again, this is where honesty comes into play. If you don’t post negative reviews, how will people know not to buy certain books?

There has recently been some negative stuff on social media about book bloggers. I know how this feels, as I am self-publishing my second novel, and lord knows how indie authors get looked down upon in some quarters! So - how do you respond to that negativity?
I don’t engage with individual angry/ranty/trolling social media posts. It is pointless. I did write a piece for the IrishTimes about this very subject, as there was an implication that bloggers are not real readers. This could not be farther from the truth. We are doing this for our love of books. We are not paid. We may be the most qualified to have opinions on books.

Have you made “real life” friends as a result of your book blog?
Have I ever! Since I began bleachhouselibrary.ie, I have met the most wonderful, like-minded people. From authors, bloggers, publishers, booksellers, librarians….
There is always someone I can call on if I am travelling to an event, home or away, that will be more than delighted to meet up. I get to launches/festivals/readings in both the UK and Ireland so I have been fortunate to meet many, many wonderful people. I wish I could attend more events in the UK, but it's financially impossible. Flights are not expensive, but hotels are!

Tell us about the art of writing a review. How do you avoid spoilers but manage to convey the sense or feel of a book? I find it difficult, so any tips will be gratefully received! I’ve seen some fantastic reviews, which I suspect were pretty tricky to write…
It can be SO hard. The short newspaper reviews are the hardest! Trying to get the story across enough to pique interest can be harrowing work. Seriously. Spoilers are an absolute nightmare and are a pet-hate of mine. I read a review last year, which gave the whole story away. I have not bothered to read that book since. What is the point? The only tip I have is to concentrate on the bigger picture; the characters; the location; the feel of the book. Some reviews can take me a long, long time to get right.

Big question: Have you ever been tempted to write, or have you written, a novel (or any kind of book) yourself?
I love short stories. Both reading them, and writing them. I love how you can get straight into the characters heads and compress an idea into 2000 or 3000 words, yet still have an impact. Often the endings are ambiguous, so this is a genre that not many choose to read. Maybe readers fear that short-stories are ‘arsey’ (my favourite word) but this is not the case. If done correctly, they can be both enjoyable and extremely memorable. I have no interest in writing a novel in the foreseeable future. I completely adore writing reviews and still get massively excited to see them online or in print.

Quick fire: E-reader or print?

Finally, what are you reading at the moment?
Letters from the Suitcase by Rosheen and Cal Finnegan. It is non-fiction, which I aim to read as much as possible.

Letters From The Suitcase by [Finnigan, Cal, Finnigan, Rosheen]

Big thanks to Margaret! Fascinating stuff, and a refreshingly uncompromising attitude to book reviews. As Margaret says, they are for readers, not the authors or publishers. I also like the sage advice for us self-published authors about the importance of decent editing and covers. 

Margaret blogs at Bleach House Library

... and tweets @margaretbmadden (bleachhouselibrary)

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Paris Mon Amour by Isabel Costello

Today I'm thrilled to welcome author Isabel Costello to my blog. Isabel cuts quite a dash in the book world with her wonderful blog, The Literary Sofa. I've twice been a guest on the sofa, and felt it was about time I returned the hospitality!


Isabel is now also an author, with her debut novel Paris Mon Amour, published in ebook and audio in June 2016 with Canelo. Isabel made the decision to self-publish the print version of Paris Mon Amour, and that's what we're talking about on my blog today. Here she is...

Could you tell us about your decision to self–publish your novel Paris Mon Amour in print?
There are two sides to this.  Firstly, from the very start (even at the launch!) there was something about this novel that made people want a print version.  That’s largely due to the stunning cover by Dan Mogford, which we kept for the paperback. And like most authors, my dream was always to hold a book I’d written in my hand!
What actually made it happen was one of those random strokes of luck.  The Fiction Buyer from WH Smith Travel read the novel, loved it and wanted to stock it. For that, there obviously needed to be a print edition and when my and my agent’s attempts to find a print publisher didn’t succeed (the tight timescale didn’t help), I couldn’t let the opportunity pass and decided to do it myself.  It was a daunting prospect, but I really believe in this book and it would have felt like unfinished business not to.

What are the advantages of self-publishing?
It’s fantastic to be in control – you hear so many stories about authors being less than happy with their covers, blurbs, marketing efforts, etc. and I got to make those decisions and have everything just the way I wanted it, right down to the font size. I was lucky to have the support of everyone I needed to make it work: my agent, my digital publishers Canelo and the very impressive indie publishing team at Clays printers, who specialise in guiding the uninitiated through every stage.

And the disadvantages?
I suppose it’s the flipside of the above.  When you’re in charge, the buck stops with you. It was a massive learning curve and I worried about making some terrible mistake that wouldn’t come to light in time because nobody was looking over my shoulder. (It wasn’t until I’d read the finished paperback that I was fully convinced I’d sent the right version to print, despite checking a hundred times!) There’s so much to stay on top of and it’s hard work, but fortunately I’ve always enjoyed project management and collaboration and am fairly organised by nature. Finally, although the printing costs per unit are surprisingly low, overall it’s an expensive and risky venture.  Let’s just say I am not on the waiting list for any yachts!

As a self-published author, did you feel that any doors were closed to you? For instance, press coverage?
No, I have been pleasantly surprised - it was far more of an issue when my book was digital only. However, I’m not sure how representative my experience as a self-published author actually is.  This is a very unusual situation with the novel having first been commercially published in digital and audio a year ago. Wearing my marketing hat – I used to work in that field – I was able to make a virtue of the novel’s track record and the response from readers. Over half of the independent bookshops I approached individually with my Advance Information Sheet got back to me showing an interest – I was delighted.

Did any aspects of self-publishing surprise you?  (I found the marketing to be more work and more time consuming than I’d imagined…!)
The thing that surprised me most was how tricky typesetting still is.  Like many people, I na├»vely assumed that in the digital age you just run the text through a programme and it comes out looking lovely. In reality it’s an art requiring patience and painstaking attention to detail; solving one issue (such as crazy hyphenation) often causes another (‘widows and orphans’, anyone?). I am so grateful to Simon Collinson of Canelo for bringing his talents and sense of humour to the task. 

You set up your own Literary Sofa imprint to release the paperback. Do you think readers care who a book is published by?
In a word, no. I think readers mostly care about two things: whether a book appeals and whether it is any good, both in terms of content and presentation.  One of the biggest challenges self-publishers face is ‘discoverability’ – getting it onto readers’ radar in the first place.  Once that’s achieved, it’s down to us to prove we can compete.  One thing that seems to have surprised a lot of people is that the quality of my self-published book matches traditionally published ones, and I’m really proud of that.  Self-publishing has come a long way and is now an important part of the industry; disparaging it is an easy way to look out of touch.

What’s next for you?
When things calm down, I am really looking forward to making a start on my next novel, also set in Paris.  I have a detailed outline but bringing Paris Mon Amour out in print has taken over my life these last four months; it’s certainly true that self-publishing has a major impact on writing time. Otherwise, I am busy preparing for my new Perseverance and Motivation for Writers workshops with psychologist Voula Grand.  Without those ‘resilient thinking’ skills, I might not have had the nerve to tackle my paperback project, but I’m already very glad I did!


Many thanks to Isabel for joining me today. Her route to publication is a fascinating story in itself! Paris Mon Amour is a fabulous novel, which totally deserves to be available in print as well as in ebook and audio.  I wish her every success and can not wait to get my hands on a copy. 

Published on Monday 22nd May, you can buy it on Amazon, and of course in all good WHSmiths Travel bookstores. It is a perfect holiday read!

Next time I'm returning to my From the Other Side series of posts, in which I interview book bloggers. See you then! 

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

The Wild Air by Rebecca Mascull

I'm taking a short break from my "From The Other Side" feature to chat instead this week to fellow author, Rebecca Mascull. 

I got to know Rebecca back in 2013 when we had both been signed to Hodder with our debut novels (Rebecca's The Visitors and my Mrs Sinclair's Suitcase). We became online friends, and soon met in real life. I was thrilled to go to Rebecca's launch party for her second novel, Song of the Seamaid, where we found a few moments to hug and say "Hi"! 

Rebecca's third novel, The Wild Air,  is out this Thursday, 4th May. (May the force be with her!) Let's hear from her now...

The Wild Air is your third published novel. Tell us how that feels please!?
I feel like a proper author now. One could be a fluke, two a coincidence, but three? Well, it’s a magic number, innit!

How did you come by the idea for The Wild Air?
I saw a documentary on the Wright Brothers and loved the idea of it. Once I started researching it, I discovered about all these Edwardian female pilots I’d never heard of. I fell for all of them! I wanted to tell their story, especially since it was so unknown.

Your level of research is legendary! How much did you do for this novel?
Bless you! I did the usual obsessive amount. Dozens of books, documentaries, films, unpublished letters and diaries at the Imperial War Museum and even a flight in a light aircraft! That was the best bit and really made the novel. It became real at that moment, up in the air.

Wow, that is research extreme! How did the flight go? 
I was really nervous before, then frightened to death in the first 5 minutes, which then dissolved into absolute, unalloyed joy. To see the earth like that, to be at one with the air…It was utterly magical and it changed my life. I’ll never forget it.

All your novels have been historical. Are you considering writing anything contemporary? Do you think that would lessen the research workload?!
I do, I do! I’m thinking about it now, actually. Watch this space…

Now that you have written several novels, do you have a favourite among them?
I don’t actually. I love them all in different ways, for their beautiful bits and even their faults. A bit like children! The three heroines are all very dear to me, though very different women from each other. I’m so fond of all of them and each time I’ve finished the drafting, it’s been a terrible wrench and I’ve missed them awfully. Lately I really miss spending time with Dudley Willow, who’s in The Wild Air, and based on my grandfather.

You’re having a third launch party. Will you be as excited and/or nervous at this one as you were for the first?
I was sick with nerves at the first one and only very slightly less at the second one. So I hope this time to actually try to enjoy it a bit more and remember that everyone’s there because they are interested in the book or because they’re supporting me, so why be nervous? I’ll tell myself that on the day, anyway!

What’s next from you?
I really don’t know, is the honest answer. I feel like The Visitors, Song of the Sea Maid & The Wild Air are a kind of historical trilogy about the hidden histories of determined women. So I’d like to do something completely different, I think…

Finally, what are you reading at the moment?

I’m a teacher presently, so I’m reading very little except mock exams and homework! I haven’t read a novel for months. I do miss reading terribly, but I can’t find time for it in my head. I’m sure it’ll come back some day, maybe in the summer holidays, when I have a bit more space in my mind. And then it’ll be all my author friends’ books, with yours at the top of the list! Can’t wait. I’ve heard such great reviews! 


Rebecca blogs at Tumblr

And she tweets @rebeccamascull

Big thanks to Rebecca for joining me today. I've now read all three of her novels, and they are splendid reads. The heroines are all fighting in a man's world to live the life they want to live, and do the things they want to do. Adeliza, Dawnay, and Della are a trio of inspiring heroines, and I'm sure you will enjoy spending time with them. The Wild Air can be bought here

Next time on my blog I'll be chatting to another fellow author, Isabel Costello. After that all will be resumed with From the Other Side...!