Reviewing and being reviewed, Twitter-style

A couple of months ago I engaged a promoter in California to find reviewers for my latest translated book, Stories to Read by Candlelight. He works at this by requesting my Twitter password and using my account to send out multiple requests to bookish Twitter users. I’m not convinced this was a good idea. A couple of reviewers accused me of spamming (though of course it was him acting as me) and in the end Twitter blocked me and I had to beg for two days to get them to let me back in.

Despite this, he managed to find several reviewers who are keen to read my book, but whether they all do remains to be seen. A few good reviews have been posted so far on Goodreads.

The promoter then asked me if I’d be interested in a little reviewing myself. I agreed, and he offered me an Australian novel for older children. Never having reviewed a book before, I had to read up on the correct process for saying what I liked and didn’t like. Here it is: my first ever book review.

Esme’s Wish is the first novel in a series by Elizabeth Foster, published by Odyssey Books in 2017. It was written for older children or young teenagers. The protagonist is a 15-year-old girl who has two friends about the same age. The book’s focus is the fantasy world that Esme slips into after her father’s second marriage, and since it does not deal too much with the emotional dramas that can accompany a new family arrangement, including a mean stepmother, I see it as more suitable for pre-teens.

I liked the focus on individual Gifts, reminding young readers that we each have one, but for some of us it takes a lot of living to discover it. While the Gifts in Aeolia are magical – various inhabitants breathe under water, walk on top of it, cast songspells, are not burnt by fire – the inference is that every human has a gift. As a teenager I would have liked to be told this. Another truth in Esme’s Wish is that we don’t know everything about our parents’ past lives and it might be painful to go searching. But I also liked knowing that Esme’s friends, Daniel and Lillian, supported her when she was searching for her mother.

For young readers, the many references to Greek mythology are a great introduction to the epics and the terms that have become part of Western language and culture. Also valuable to dwell on is the Pearl of Esperance that represents all those temptations we encounter, things that are sweet and hard to resist but do us harm in the end. It represents addictions, or even promises that we will get what we want if we just do this one forbidden thing. Esme’s Wish reminded me of Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis in which some children escape reality through a painting, and there are ships and water and dragons in it, too. These are my kinds of story.

I really enjoyed the first half of the book that included Esme’s earthly family and her thoughts in Italics as she (and I) tried to understand the turn of events. In the second more fantastical half, the pace increased but the obstacles were quickly overcome and I was no longer guessing. I was keen to come to a resolution of Esme’s problem with her new family and how they would react to her discovery. However, I’ve just learnt that many novels are now published in series form, and it’s normal to leave things open at the end of the first one. I expect all will be revealed in the next book or books.

My favourite line is: ‘Just goes to show that you shouldn’t worry too much about whatever Gift you get. It might be the best thing that ever happens to you.’

Thank you to Elizabeth Foster for sending me a copy of Esme’s Wish.


Getting reviews

It’s what authors have to do. Get reviews. I’ve tried it for my previous two books and only ever managed to get one solitary review in spite of asking bloggers around the world.

Now since the release of Stories to Read by Candlelight, I’ve been offered advice from my publisher, Michelle Lovi at Odyssey Books, and her public relations man in California, Henry Roi, who has magically rustled up numerous reviewers to read my book and write their reflections on Amazon and Goodreads. Henry has me using Twitter daily though I’ve hardly touched it before. I’m doing my best to show potential readers what makes my little translation worth reading by adding ‘tweet’-sized quotations from each of the eight stories.

While the Twittersphere is not a place I enjoy, I can see the benefits for a time like this in a new book’s life.  All but one of Henry’s reviewers have said yes, and today I received my first review. A good one. Phew.

Illustration by Erin-Claire Barrow for ‘Monsieur d’Avonancourt’ by Jean Lorrain

Shelley Nolan posted her kind words on Amazon and Goodreads and, in reduced form, on Twitter. Here it is in full:

‘This is my first time reading a translated work and I was hooked from the opening introduction. It has a wonderful sense of nostalgia as it tells of stories from the author’s childhood, some of them eerie and disturbing, others whimsical or cautionary. I loved the parts where Jean Lorrain explained each story and how it affected him as a small boy and could clearly picture him watching on as his family’s seamstress regaled them with fantastical tales that made him shiver. Stories that would resonate with him long into adulthood.

I also loved the glimpses it gave into provincial life in France so many years ago, and the roles the servants played in the lives of their employers. This helped to bring the stories to life, painting vivid pictures as I read each one and transporting me back in time. As a translated work, it was a seamless read that was packed with charm and otherworldly beings, creating a delightful collection that was a perfect way to spend a few hours.’

Illustration by Erin-Claire Barrow for ‘Useless Virtue’ by Jean Lorrain

Shelley’s review would certainly tempt me to read this book! It’s interesting to see what leaps off the pages for others who read Lorrain’s words. He was a very perceptive turn-of-the-century man who observed, and never forgot, quirky behaviours.

As the translator of someone else’s ideas, I’ve read and written the text of this book – Lorrain’s French and my English – hundreds of times over the past six years or so, and while I’ve never stopped liking it, I’ve never known what other readers have thought despite the original being 120 years old, for there are no reviews of the French original (that I’ve found) and before now no English translation has been published of the whole collection.

I think I’m looking forward to reading any other reviews that turn up…

Walking Canberra

Apparently, it’s good for writers to write reviews of other writers’ work. I’ve never done it and never wanted to, till now.

I had a great morning walking round some natural ponds and listening to hundreds of frogs croaking among reeds, all thanks to one small book: Walking Canberra by Graeme Barrow, self-published in 2014. So I feel compelled to share this pleasure with anyone who might be contemplating a walk in our beautiful bush capital. Here goes my first book review…

Waiting to be served at my local newsagent, my eyes fell on this little book propped up among the sweets at the counter. The full title held my attention: Walking Canberra: 101 ways to see Australia’s national capital on foot. I’d long been considering how to get some exercise and at the same time discover some of the unknown treasures and pleasures in our world, and this title promised to deliver exactly that.

Gungaderra Creek, Gungahlin

Walking Canberra is nothing like the stuff I work on as a translator, it’s neither a fairy tale nor a New Caledonian drama, yet it’s currently a favourite book that I’ve been referring to for the past four weeks. I’ve heard there aren’t many copies left because it’s going out of print. Graeme Barrow self-published his books through his own business, Dagraja Press. He was a Canberra journalist who wrote books on bushwalking in this region, as well as a few local histories. He died in May last year, so here’s hoping that someone else will take on the project of updating his advice on walking in Canberra’s parks and bushland as the city changes and grows and old paths and landmarks are moved or removed.

Barrow wrote like a friend to friends. The information and instructions are clear as a bell, and though he published it in 2014, I’ve found that the details (in the walks I’ve taken so far) are still correct. There are small maps on each page, and a description of what to see along the way, an outline of where to turn, where to linger and what to avoid.

Last weekend and this, my husband and I walked the Gungaderra Creek Circuit, chosen by me because of its level of difficulty: “Easy”. The local government has created a series of ponds instead of the usual concrete stormwater drains, and these ponds attract water birds and frogs frogs frogs which are invisible among the reeds but loud! There are no frogs in my suburb so this sound was a surprise.

Purple swamphen watching me approach on the boardwalk
Egret, heron, and ducks

While walking in what is essentially still suburbia, there are reminders here and there of human slips in the design: a thorny rosebush growing as though grafted onto a young eucalypt, a pink soccer ball fallen into the dense reed bed…

… and there’s the street beside Gungaderra Creek that was named and renamed after two Australian authors…

Minnie Bruce was the author Mary Grant Bruce, famous for her Billabong series, who was granted a street name in a suburb (Franklin) where Australian authors were the theme. Ten years ago her family asked for the name to be revoked since her mother was known as Minnie, and Mary was known as Mary (despite being named Minnie at birth). So, Morris West, another Australian author, was given the street. West was famous for many novels but particularly his first, The Devil’s Advocate, which has been reprinted more times than any other modern Australian novel. Now there’s a claim to fame that deserves its own street!

Out of the 101 ways to see Australia’s national capital on foot I’ve already done about 47 by dint of having lived here for 21 years. I’m thrilled to have found this special book that gives me ideas for filling my free days for the next 21 years.