Tag Archive: blogging

Notebook and Pencil

Image courtesy of winnond

I recently started writing a book review and found myself thinking that I have no idea whether I am doing it “right?”

What makes a good book review? What elements are essential? Is there a specific structure I should be following? I realised that I’d never studied the matter and there was an opportunity for me to learn something about writing here. So I did some reading and thought I’d share what I came up with here.


1. Dear potential reader

What is the purpose of a review? Seems like an obvious question, but I hadn’t given it direct thought before. Here’s some of the answers I came up with:

  • To inform a potential reader about what to expect from a book
  • To guide potential readers choices about what to read
  • To create or participate in discussion about a book by sharing your opinions with other readers or potential readers

The common theme is other readers, and you should bear that audience in mind when you are writing a review. You’re not writing to show you understood a book, or learned from it, or enjoyed it (okay, depending on context, maybe you are a bit). You might use those points in pursuit of your goal, but they are not the purpose in their own right.

2. 50 words to 5000

Book reviews come in many sizes, from a few sentences to a whole essay, but all of them are striving towards the same reader centric goals. Longer pieces will analyse the book in more depth, but short pieces can still achieve those goals by sticking to the bare bones.

3. The bare bones

While I was reading up on this I kept coming across the same formula for a winning review:

  1. Summarise the book (avoiding spoilers)
  2. What did you like about it / What was good about it?
  3. What didn’t you like about it / What was bad about it?
  4. Give an overall verdict/recommendation

Other common, basic, advice included: stay impartial, find something both positive and negative, give a rating if you want to, support your opinions with examples, and so on. Not so tough, right?

4. But is it any “good”?

I was really worried that this basic format I kept coming across left no room for analysis of the writer’s technique or choices (my favourite part of reviewing). Such analysis is, perhaps, of more interest to fellow writers than readers, granted. Then I came across this definition of a book review:

“A book review summarizes the book’s content, examines the author’s intent in writing it, and expresses the reviewer’s opinion about to what extent the author succeeded in conveying the intent or communicating a message.”

Mark Nichol, How to Write a Book Review

In essence, this challenges the reviewer to give their opinion on the quality of the writing, and its effect on their reading experience. So there is a place for it.

5. Other ways to blog about books

As with every rule in writing the bare bones structure is only a suggestion or guideline. Sometimes you might want to choose a specific aspect of a book to talk about, or to link several books with a common theme together and compare them, or create a list of recommendations. The standard “review” is only one type of article about books and you don’t have to stick to it.

Here’s one blogger who’s created a whole list of ideas:

Books Speak Volumes – Bloggiesta: How to Write More Creative Book Reviews

6. Checklist

There are a few essentials you do want to include regardless, so that your readers can find the book. Make sure you check these items off your mental checklist:

  • Title of the book
  • Author’s name
  • Publisher
  • Name of a stockist (or even better a link)
  • Cover art (if practical)

Here’s a few places where you can read more:

Daily Writing Tips – How to Write a Book Review, Mark Nichol
The Writing Centre – University of North Carolina – Book review handout
Book Trust – Writing Tips for Teenagers – Tips for writing book reviews
Writing World – How to Write a Book Review, by Bill Asenjo
Wiki How – How to Write a Book Review



Scribbles blog hop & give away

All of the bloggers taking part in this blog hop event will be posting pictures of their journals, and talking a little about how journals, and paper in general, play a role in their writing practice.

My lifelong relationship with stationery

NOTE – click on any of the images to read more.

A sheet of loose leaf paper with writing, in a binder

My oldest notes c.1996/7

As soon as I got a computer of my own as teenager, I started using that to write my prose. Writing my drafts on paper seemed like adding an unnecessary step; it would have to make it into the computer eventually. Given that I couldn’t type without looking at the keyboard, copy typing from a hand written manuscript would have taken many long, boring hours… per page!

Now I can type while looking at the screen and my typing speed is not much slower than the speed I can write by hand. It’s certainly fast enough to keep up with my brain.

An open notebook showing hand written text

My notebook for my WIP

For me, paper is a planning tool, a tool for exploring ideas. I like to take advantage of the fact I can write and draw on it in any way I like.

Notebooks are a great way of making sure all your notes stay together but I used a lot of loose paper sheets for jotting down ideas.

I do most of my actual writing on my laptop, but paper often comes back into the mix during the rewite and editing phase.

A printed page in a ring binder showing hand written annotations

Editing a short story

Post-it notes are a great invention. When I was struggling to work out a plot hole and pacing issue in my draft novel, Hidden Talent, I wrote each scene down on a post-it note and tried them in different orders stuck to my coffee table. It also turned out to be a great way to explain my dilema to my partner so I could bounce ideas off him and talk it through.

An ink sketch on lined paper of a tree beside a path. A bird sits on top of a way marker.

One of my doodles

I can’t imagine being able to work completely without paper. Even with programs like Scrivener and Photoshop to expand the functionality of my computer beyond simple word processing, there is something uncomplicated about paper, a freedom of expression.

I turn to paper when I am out of my comfort zone, when I need to seriously wrestle with a problem.

A stack of various size and style notebooks

Notebooks everywhere

Somehow the act of drawing the pen across the page adds gravity and momentum to my thoughts. It is as though words written on paper have more weight than strings of characters on a hard drive. After all, as writers, we all want the ultimate destination of our words to be the paper of printed book.

What is your relationship with paper like? Do you find you use paper for certain parts of the writing process more than others? Has anyone found they have been able to move completely away from the pen? I hope you’ll share your views in a comment.

Give Away Time!

Spiral bound, A5 notebook with a close up photograph of cheese puffs cover, with a striped pencil

Give away prizes - click to enlarge

Hi, my name is Chrissey and I have a stationery addiction. Some girls like buying shoes, I like buying pens, folders, notebooks, stickers and all things stationery.

In celebration of my first blog hop, I’m going to do a little stationery give away comprising a funky cheese puff notebook and a pencil. Leave a comment and follow me, either here or on twitter @arcadestarlet and I’ll draw a winner next Friday.

Remember, if you win the give away, you must be willing and able to provide a suitable postal address. If you wish to opt out while still posting a comment, please include “not entering” in your comment.

Ready, set, HOP

Thanks for reading and I hope, commenting. Now why not hop to another of the fabulous bloggers taking part in the scribbles blog hop:

Danielle La PagliaAnne MichaudMarianne Su

Victoria D GriesdoornRen WaromJ.A. Campbell

Tammy CrosbyMaria KellyNatalie Westgate

Tony NolandLarry Kollar

One Lovely Blog… seriously? Me?

I seem to have been given this:

One lovely blog award

I’m not sure how I feel about it. I mean, it’s pink. Does this look like a pink place to you?

Well, since my lovely friend Dianne decided my moody grey blog needed something pink, I supposed I’d better accept it and then inflict it on someone else.

So, here I go with seven interesting things about me, none of which are particularly pink:



1. I secretly wish I could be a fantasy warrior or a steampunk superhero.

This why I like archery and old guns and have a bit of a thing for guys who do fencing and martial arts. It is a dream I intend to realise within my lifetime.

2. I sometimes have to fight the urge to pet my goldfish.

Despite the fact that they are fish, I find them adorable and cute. I had a dream once where they could swim around the room and this was before the Dr Who episode with the fish which flew around in the fog.

3. One of my guilty pleasures is watching Supernanny.

I don’t have kids, but somehow I feel qualified to pass judgement on crappy parents on the TV. I figure if I watch enough episodes, when/if I do have kids, I will be an excellent parent.

4. I have decided that if I get married I want to have a pirate themed wedding on the S.S. Great Britain.

My boyfriend wants Tim Minchin’s “You grew on me” for our first dance. One day we want a three story house with a pool and a flume and an arcade with a ball pit in the basement. Oh, and exactly three cats, because over three makes you a cat lady, less than three… well you’re not really trying, are you? Given that we are not engaged we may have missed a step somewhere.


5. I’m an agnostic, or an atheist, one of the two.

My personal motto with regards to faith is “I don’t do religion, I have faith in people.” It is a stance I reached through:

a) some personal experiences with Christians who believe that the relationship between Christianity and being a good person is both co-dependant and absolute (Before you say “But…” yes, I know this is not the majority view)

b) an archaeologist’s perspective on the concept of ritual and religion in societies

c) the fact that hard core creationists make me laugh so hard I risk wetting myself

Special effects for Terror of the Killer Carnivorous Coat - Chrissey uses a paintbrush to add liquid latex to the actors neck

On the set of "Terror of the Killer Carnivourous Coat," Chrissey applies a knitting needle stab wound prosthetic to actor Nathan Head's neck.

6. At least 10 different people have let me stick stuff to them and/or cover them in blood and slime

Doing special effects for the Great Escape is about the most fun I have ever had. It can get very messy. In the film Threefold, the final effect resulted in a red stain on my friend Mark’s parents’ living room floor. It, along with the one on my friend Felek’s wall, is still there.


7. My alter-ego, CM Owens’ first name is Carrie

The M stands for Maureen, but I’m not supposed to tell anyone that! I chose this pen name because Scarlet Knight was already taken, a fact which deeply disappointed my boyfriend. My.  Her. Our first erotica story was written about a real life friend of mine, but I’m not going to tell you who.

I will be passing this award on to award on to a couple of people I have connected with through blogging, twitter and sharing work:

T James – Whose blog always makes me smile and who very kindly asked to borrow one of my posts from The Great Escape for a piece he is writing

Emma Cunningham – Because she takes her blogging far more seriously than many people I know and has had loads of great advice on promotion and networking.

There would have been a nomination for:

Heidi Hovis – Who distils excellent words of wisdom into 500 word chunks on her blog and provided one of our first guest fiction pieces over on The Great Escape.

… but someone beat me to it!

Lastly a shout out to my fellow nominee for this week:

Marianne – Another fellow writer who jumped into blogging with both feet and got totally stuck in less than a month ago.


I’ve let this blog fall rather by the wayside (not that it ever really got going in the first place that is) but it’s time for a re-boot.

From now on I will be posting weekly, updating on a Monday to coincide with our update schedule over on The Great Escape.

You can expect to see:

  • Rants and commentaries
  • Short articles on writing, film making and other creative media
  • Film and book reviews
  • Interviews (hopefully, in time)

You can also find a lot more over on The Great Escape:

  • Original videos, fiction (stories and poetry) and comics
  • More interviews
  • Site news
  • Longer articles including writing advice, film making features and more

We also have the Great Escape Forum, where you can get involved and become part of our growing community.

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