Lots of lovely book bloggers have interviewed me about my books over the past three years or so, and I had so much fun taking part in Jill Doyle’s Five on Friday interview, that I decided to turn the tables and interview a blogger. Jill Doyle has been blogging since 2015, has been nominated for many blogging awards and was voted Best Blogger in the 2019 MyVLF Awards and also Top 100 Book Blog. I must confess that before my first novel was published, I’d never heard of book blogging, let alone something called a blog tour. My publicist at Impress Books gave me a crash course and insisted I up my game on social media. Somewhat reluctantly, I shuffled into the 21st century, muttering and dragging my feet as I got to grips with the world of Twitter and Instagram. But I was in for quite a surprise when I found out about book bloggers. Here was a group of people who read and review a phenomenal number of books and share their bookish thoughts on their blogs. As a writer, I’m extremely grateful to book bloggers for the light they’ve shone on my books. As a reader, I’m equally grateful for all the reading suggestions I get. So, if you love books, find yourself a few book bloggers to follow, and you could start with Jill’s Book Cafe. Here, you will find oodles of author interviews, book news, reading recommendations and news of book deals. And of course, who better than a former librarian to come up with excellent book suggestions? (I was entirely dependent on the local library for my childhood reading habit, and life without libraries doesn’t bear thinking about.) So, without further ado, over to Jill…
As a former librarian at a public library, how important do you think public libraries and librarians are for inspiring children, young people and adults to read?
I think they’re incredibly important, they certainly helped nourish my love of books and learning. Growing up, we weren’t poor, but there certainly wasn’t the disposable income to be spent on lots of books. They were definitely treats for birthdays and Christmas, consequently my local library was a saviour. I don’t remember my first ever visit to a library, but I suspect it would have been when I’d already learnt to read. I was already 6 by the time the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 enshrined into law the provision of a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ library service. The biggest ‘high’ of library experience as a child was meeting one of my favourite authors, H E Todd. I loved his Bobby Brewster books and was so excited when he came to visit our library. I queued to get his autograph (yes, I still have it) but I was too starstruck to tell him about my idea for a Bobby Brewster story. I’ve not really changed much – still stalking authors at book signing and festivals!
Libraries now welcome ‘readers’ from any age and I encourage that – libraries should be welcoming and inclusive. There was a sense of children being seen but not heard in my younger library days, definitely the era of the stereotypical shushing librarian. It’s lovely to see babies and toddlers being read to and learning to discover books and reading for themselves. During my time as a librarian it was incredibly rewarding (if not aging) seeing those toddlers grow up and have the confidence to start requesting their own books and tell you all about what they’d been reading. I always had my regular adult readers too who had always read everything we had by their favourite authors and were constantly on the lookout for a ‘new’ read. That could sometimes be a challenge with the chap who only read westerns and ideally Zane Grey!
We had an adult learners class that used a room upstairs and the joy, for them and us, when they started borrowing some of the specially written ‘Quick Reads’ was wonderful.
Libraries also ‘lose’ readers at certain stages in their lives – older teenagers certainly don’t normally want to be seen in a library (I was no different). But that doesn’t mean they’re not reading or that they won’t return when they’re older – mums/dads with their children, for example. The key is having helped to nurture their reading in their formative years.
The biggest challenge though has always been how to get non-users through the doors. People will always have different perceptions of libraries, that are often bizarrely contradictory. For some, libraries are seen as being for those who can’t afford to buy books/access information and conversely some of those who can’t read or don’t have the disposable income to afford books see them as ‘not for them’. I suspect that will always be a dilemma that will need to be constantly chipped away at – if we still have libraries.
I think as a society we will pay the price in the future for allowing libraries to close. We are taking away access to a vital service. Libraries are a gateway to reading and learning and a good librarian is the key to unlocking access to new authors, reliable information (not fake news) and life-long learning. Where will all those younger readers like I was access their books and love of reading? The ability to read and want to read is a keystone to education. Without that our society will be much poorer on every level.
Sorry this answer seems to have turned into an essay.
Book bloggers strike me as being hugely selfless, given how much time you all spend reading, reviewing and promoting books with no thought of reward. What made you want to take up book blogging? And please do tell us about your ‘Haiku Reviews’.
I never consciously decided to become a ‘blogger’ and it took me quite a while to actually recognize that I was one. I just used to read what I wanted – largely library books, and then I discovered NetGalley – this is a site where book reviewers and other professional readers can read books before they are published, in e-galley or digital galley form. Requesting books now came with the expectation of writing a review, which I did, posting to Goodreads and Amazon. I thought it would look more professional if I had my own place to post reviews so I started the blog. I never expected other people to read it, I never thought I’d still be doing it 5 years later and I certainly never thought I’d be accepted and recognised as a ‘blogger’. So it was more by accident than design.
Mmm my Haiku Reviews. These were my bright idea of trying something different. Traditionally, a Haiku conforms to a structure of 3 lines of 5, 7 and 5 syllables, respectively. That’s about all my reviews had in common with a Haiku. The idea was to try to drill down and capture the essence of a book. Due to the compact nature of the form it really makes you think about the salient features of the plot, or the feelings that the book evoked. They were quite fun to do, although to be honest, probably took as long as a standard review given the thought that had to go into them. They sort of fell by the wayside when I was diagnosed with cancer, along with my traditional reviews. Reviewing is something that requires memory and concentration, two things I now don’t always have. I should revisit my Haikus and try again.
You’re not only a book blogger, but a boob blogger, too. What made you decide to open up about your innermost feelings during what must be one of the most difficult periods anyone could go through?
My ‘boob’ blog was something else that I never actually consciously thought about writing. (Can you see a pattern emerging here? I’m a bit of an act first, think later person). The first post was really just a way of letting people know about my diagnosis and also a way for me to make some sense of what I’d just been faced with. I’d known about the lump for weeks but hadn’t told anybody about it until there was something definite to tell. But once the post was written it was a bit like letting the genie out of the bottle. People were so supportive, it would have been difficult not to keep them informed. Though that wasn’t the only reason for carrying on with it. I realized it allowed me to get things out of my system and expressing my annoyance with processes or just admitting how I felt, was a sort of relief. With hindsight, I’m convinced it helped me to cope as I didn’t bottle things up.
Writing the blog also gave me control over what I chose to reveal (pretty much everything) and when (normally when I felt I was ready to respond to the comments that it would generate.) It bizarrely helped me through the darker moments at times, as it made me laugh to think about how I’d be writing about it. It was never intended to be a gloom and doom read.
I never realized how little I knew about breast cancer or chemotherapy until I faced it myself so it was encouraging to read that the blog had helped enlighten others and that has to be a positive. I thought breast cancer was breast cancer – how little did I know? As for chemo, essentially you felt tired, sick and your hair fell out. Well, if only!
On the plus side, it did wonders for my profile – my boob blogs are my most viewed posts and more people know who I am now. However, I wouldn’t recommend it as a marketing ploy.
You’ve done a fair bit of globetrotting in your time. Will you tell me about your favourite trip and perhaps share a photo or two?
I’ve been so lucky in my life to visit lots of wonderful places and undertake several charity challenges that have given me some wonderful memories. All my trips have been special and not sure I could pick an absolute favourite but the one that left me with an abiding love of the place was a trip that started as an inconspicuous short break.
In April 2010 I went with a friend for a short break to Seville, fly out Monday come back Friday – perfect. I’d always wanted to see the Alhambra in Granada and Sheila had always wanted to go to Seville. So this trip was intended to combine both. The universe, however, had other plans and our brief 4 night stay was extended to 12 courtesy of a certain Icelandic volcano. The day it decided to erupt, we were innocently strolling through the Alhambra followed by a late lunch in Granada.
We got back to the hotel, tired, but elated, to find several missed calls from our frantic husbands who eventually informed us we were ‘not going home’ as our Friday flight was cancelled due to the volcanic ash cloud. The earliest possible option would have been the following Monday, which (assuming it would fly) was now full. So at the very least we would be stranded in Seville for an extra week. But not just any week, it coincided with the Spring Feria, with its carnival atmosphere and a city full of costumes and caballeros. We were beyond ecstatic, and with the husbands at home keeping an eye on flights/bookings, all we had to do was enjoy it.
We took a bus trip to Cordoba and fell in love with the Mesquita, but mostly we just discovered Seville. We spent the time ambling around the tiny, twisting narrow streets of the Juderia, peeking into courtyards, stopping off for cafes con leche (and the odd jug of Sangria) and generally taking in the atmosphere. We did all the typical touristy things and just totally fell in love with the place. One of my happiest memories is sitting at dusk in the Plaza del Triunfo listening to a flameno guitarist, it really was my idea of heaven.
It began a love affair with Spain and all things Spanish, but especially with Seville. I’ve been back twice since with my husband as I wanted him to love it as much as I did and thankfully he did.
As an author published by a small, independent publisher (Impress Books), it’s very pleasing to see that you promote the indies on your website. What do you think small presses bring to the world of books?
I think the indies fill a gap in the market for well-written books of all genres that would tend to be passed over by the bigger publishers. Passed over not because they’re less worthy of being published, but because they’re largely deemed not commercial enough. In this context, I’m taking commercial in its monetary sense rather than its descriptive sense. With the bigger publishers, the bottom line is the deciding factor while smaller presses are more inclined to take a risk on something more niche.
Many smaller presses are open to direct submissions from authors, thereby avoiding the added stress of trying to find an agent. With the larger publishers, having an agent acts as a further screen to filter out ‘unsuitable’ manuscripts.
Smaller publishers are able to have a closer working relationship with their authors and there seems to be a more collaborative working relationship in getting the book published.
This year I made it my aim to buy at least one book per month from a smaller indie, who I then featured as my Indie publisher of the month. I’ve read some fabulous books as a result and have gone on to buy further books from the publishers I’ve discovered. I’m aware that building my list of Indie Publishers is ongoing but hopefully it will help to give a shout out to lots of worthy books that don’t always get the viewing and recognition that they merit.
What does your blogging day look like and do you have any particular reading and writing rituals or equipment that you can’t do without?
Recently I made another ‘rash’ decision to add a new weekly feature highlighting books being published in the coming week. This has really meant I have to be more methodical in how I work as it’s a time-consuming process, first in tracing the titles and then in putting the actual post together. Before that, my only regular weekly post was my ‘Five on Friday’ feature.
I work part-time (luckily from home, with my husband) and must admit that during my cancer I started working later and spreading my working hours over 4-5 days. This became a habit that lingered on once I was firing on all cylinders again. This meant my blogging time was largely the weekend or evenings, which worked but didn’t leave time for much else – like reading (or perhaps cleaning?)
So I’m now working over 3 days during the week to free up 2 weekdays to try and get my blogging done in the week and freeing up my weekends – I suspect I’ll still be blogging though as I’ll just work on the features I haven’t had time for.
With regards to rituals/equipment. I have got myself a PC in the house to stop me working in our office, but I do prefer to work on one of the office machines, as I think I work better on that. I’ve now set myself up with an online calendar so no matter what machine I’m on I know what I should be doing. I used a diary before that, but it was invariably never in the same place that I was!
Other than that, I always like to have a notebook and pencil handy for writing down ideas. I’m always full of ideas – it’s seeing them through to fruition that’s my problem.
Your blog has lots of exciting features, such as News & Views and Five on Friday, would you like to talk me through them, and also tell me about any new features you have planned?
My features started to develop once my reviews started to dry up, so they gave me something else to focus on. Essentially all my features are designed to highlight books or authors in, I hope, an interesting way.
This feature started back in August 2017 when I was putting together a Q&A for an author. She’d asked that I didn’t ask the usual questions, which suited me, as to be honest, they’re not the questions I want the answers to. I’m nosey and like to know about the author as a person, rather than their writing process or motivations. So I came up with 5 questions requiring 5 answers, all designed to let the reader learn a little bit more about the author. It was only once I’d put it together I realized it could be rolled out as a series and so the feature was born. It was initially a fortnightly feature as I didn’t think I’d find enough authors to fill my diary, but 3 years later, it’s a weekly feature that happily I’m so far managing to fill. This feature was a real bonus when I was ill as it gave me something to focus on and meant I was still producing ‘book’ related posts rather than talking about my treatment.
This is a mixture of regular posts along with other posts that simply don’t fit anywhere else but includes:
My Bookish Month – This is my round-up of what I’ve bought in the month (usually too much) along with any events I might have attended, and if I’m lucky, what I’ve managed to read.
Coming Soon – this is my new weekly feature highlighting my pick of what’s being published in the coming week. This is compiled via trawling The Bookseller, Amazon, Fantastic Fiction and also making a note of anything I spot via reviews, Facebook and Twitter. It’s a bit hit and miss as there’s no definitive place I’ve found for sourcing publications.
Kindle Sale offers – Jill’s Book Café actually started on Facebook as a page sharing Kindle offers. When I started the blog it made sense to use the same name. Once a month I now do a trawl of the Kindle Monthly Deals and produce my pick of the titles.
This started as a specific feature looking at authors that had a strong location link in their work. It then sort of morphed into a more eclectic mix of posts that featured places I’ve visited with an associated book list. The ‘association’ can sometimes be a very tenuous one, but allows me to indulge in my favourite activity of producing a themed booklist – once a librarian …
I’ve covered subjects as diverse as Hereford Cathedral’s Chained Library, the Casa Amatller in Barcelona and the Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods in Singapore.
This is my annual, mega list of Christmas titles. The time is fast approaching for me to get this year’s underway. I’ve currently got over 100 titles published this year waiting to put in their appearance.
I don’t have any specific new features planned, but remember most of my existing ones were unplanned so that could change at any time!
I do though have lots of ideas swimming around for features based on places visited and books read. I read a great book (one of my indie purchases) called Painted Ladies by Lynn Bushell. This has got me enthused to write a feature on authors’ muses (with a booklist of course). I also recently visited a Small Farm and Owl Centre which has so many bookish possibilities, including one of my favourites, The Trouble with Goats and Sheep!
What question have I not asked that you wish I had, and what is your answer?
I think given the way I’ve waffled on, I’m not sure there’s anything I haven’t touched on, so for everybody’s sake I think I’ll refrain from pondering on anything else.
Finally, the hardest question: can you tell me what your favourite three books are, and why?
Forever Amber By Kathleen Winsor (the picture features my 1970s volumes)
The only book I’ve ever read twice. I studied The Restoration at A level and this was recommended by our teacher for historical background reading. At the time, I was a teenager attending a not particularly high achieving, all girls, comprehensive in Hull in the 1970s. I suspect our teachers were desperate to suggest anything that might interest us. Well it worked, I loved it. Having devoured Jean Plaidy in my early teens, this was right up my street, and of course it threw sex into the mix. It also has its very own feature on the blog – Forever Amber, the Restoration and Me.
Four Letters of Love by Niall Williams
I read this back in the 1990s while on holiday in France. I remember just falling in love with the the story and the beauty of the writing. I also fell a little bit in love with the author, or more specifically the idea of the man who could write so poetically from the heart – if that makes sense.
In love everything changes, and continues changing all the time. There is no stillness, no stopped clock of the heart in which the moment of happiness holds forever, but only the constant whirring forward motion of desire and need. . .
Nicholas Coughlan and Isabel Gore are meant for each other – they just don’t know it yet. Though each has found both heartache and joy in the wild Irish landscape, their paths are yet to cross. But as God, ghosts, fate and the sheer power of true love pull Nicholas and Isabel together, so too does life threaten to tear them apart. . .
I’ve since collected everything that he’s published. It transpires that he and his wife live in County Clare (where my husband’s family are from) and several of his books feature the area. His latest book This is Happiness is rural Ireland in a nutshell, another magical read.
So difficult to pick a third one but I’ll opt for The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon. An engaging tale set in the summer of 1976. It features Grace and Tilly, two ten-year-old girls who go looking for the missing Mrs Creasy. They think if they find God, they’ll find Mrs Creasy. I loved everything about it, the novelty of the story, the engaging characters and pure nostalgia of it. It’s a book of perfectly crafted phrases that accurately describe an action, an individual or the evocation of a mood/feeling. It was a book full of heart.
Where can we follow you on social media?
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jillsbookcafe/ (Which I’m rubbish at!)
I am a 60+ year young, Yorkshire lass and my life has always revolved around books. I’ve been a bookkeeper, a book seller, a book curator and a book blogger.
I left school at 18 and drifted into accountancy before deciding at 22 that it wasn’t for me and headed off to University where I did a joint BA honours in History and Scottish Studies at Stirling University. This was followed by a Post Grad Diploma in Information and Library Studies at Strathclyde University. I worked in the Law Library and Hallward Library at the University of Nottingham before joining Cheshire County Council in 1990. I worked as a Chartered Librarian with a variety of roles before leaving in 2004 when I was an Area Reference Specialist responsible for the collections across a wide number of libraries. During that time I undertook an MA in Local Studies at University of Liverpool in my own time.
When I left the Library Service in 2004, I started to work with my husband. He’d been made redundant and was starting up his own accountancy business. So I’m back to working with books of another sort.
I started my book blog in November 2015 and it opened up a whole new world for me. It’s a lovely, supportive community through which I’ve gained many new friends, made up of both other bloggers as well as authors. It was my lifeline when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017. I’ve been lucky to be nominated for several awards and was named 2019 MY VLF best Book Blogger.
I love travelling, reading, researching family history, wasting time on social media and have shelved my Spanish lessons until my memory improves.
Thank you very much, Jill, for talking to me on the blog today. I’ve really enjoyed finding out more about you and your blogging, and I especially enjoyed the trip to Seville on this chilly autumn day. If anyone is looking for inspiration for new books to read, ideas for Christmas or articles to read, then I highly recommend popping along to Jill’s Book Cafe!