JACKIE LAW is one of our amazing panel of judges kindly volunteering their time to support our charity writing competition. Belfast-born Jackie is a prolific book blogger reviewing books, interviewing authors and writing about literary events for her personal blog, Never Imitate. She has contributed to numerous online ‘zines and is a regular reviewer at Bookmunch. Jackie was recently a judge for the prestigious Republic of Consciousness Prize which recognizes innovative indie publishers and their writers. She now lives in rural Wiltshire with her husband and small flock of back garden hens.
How did you get into book reviewing?
I set up my blog as a space to write during a time in my life when I was struggling. Writing is an effective therapy and it helped me to order my thoughts. The initial posts were eclectic in content.
At this time I was also writing short stories – flash and micro fiction. Following some honest feedback from readers online I came to understand that these were not very good. I have always admired creative writers and my own attempts brought into focus their skills.
I wanted, needed to keep writing but decided I could provide more value to readers by supporting books already written. By writing reviews and building my social media presence I aim to increase the visibility of books, especially those that don’t have big publicity drives behind them. I decided to keep posting on my original blog as its ethos fitted my reading preferences. Although some of my reviews now appear on other sites, my blog remains my space. I value the autonomy this allows.
Describe your ideal literary-related day
I am privileged in having a degree of freedom to structure my days as I wish so many of them could be described as ideal. I like to rise early, make myself a cup of tea and check my social media accounts and the mainstream media for book related content. I share anything I think may interest my followers, including my own scheduled posts. If I have a review to write I will start on that – typically this requires two to three hours work. Then I read.
Late morning, I will try to leave the house for a walk or a swim. Both of these activities offer thinking time, essential in structuring my reviews. On my return I go back on social media and also check my admin – there are always emails to answer – before settling again to read or write.
My family return home late afternoon expecting to be fed so I give them my attention. Early evening I typically go on Twitter to catch up with what is happening in the outside world. I don’t have broadcast television but may watch an episode or two of a DVD series. I particularly enjoy adaptations of books, although I dislike it when the plot is changed. I go to bed early. I rarely read in bed.
What do you look for in a good story?
It must be engaging and flow so that I’m engrossed and not thinking about the writing but rather the world created. It must be believable – not necessarily possible or real but consistent. All characters should earn their place, be necessary for the plot, and have depth. Interactions should build on this and not just advance the reader’s knowledge of the protagonist. As a reader, I wish to be trusted to picture, interpret and understand. I don’t need long descriptions of clothes, food or, most especially, sex. Less is more. Most plots can be advanced without knowing every detail.
I look for originality in both plot and structure, for characters to be complex and genders written with equal care, as people not objects. I tend to avoid genre fiction as I find it too formulaic.
I want to feel emotionally invested while reading. I don’t need to like the characters but I want to care about what happens to them.
What reading/creative projects are you working on at the moment?
I have a huge pile of books to read, a mix of new releases and titles that I have agreed to review but haven’t managed to open yet. I feel terribly guilty when I agree to take a book and then it lingers unread. However, I won’t rush any book. An author has put effort in and deserves careful consideration.
I have a number of literary events lined up over the summer – festival panels, author talks and tours. I like to write these up in detail as readers have told me they enjoy the insights provided.
Last year I was on the judging panel for both the Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize and The Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses. I thoroughly enjoyed the new experiences these offered. I am delighted to have been invited to judge this short story competition.
Who would you invite to a literary dinner party, alive or dead?
I would invite lesser known book reviewers, booksellers, perhaps a librarian – prolific and eclectic readers rather than authors. These people love books but have no axe to grind about other’s opinions.
There are groups on Goodreads – such as The Mookse and the Gripes – where cogent discussions of books, especially those listed for prizes, occur. I would like to sit quietly at the table and listen to that sort of conversation live.
Shadow panels for the big book prizes are often more interesting to follow than the official decision makers as participants are not afraid to express their opinions. I discovered when I was a judge that it is important to abide by the group decision even when individuals differ vociferously on the choice of contents of long and short lists.
I should point out though that I am a terrible cook so tend to avoid dinner parties!