I’ve said before that book bloggers and reviewers are the modern-day patrons of authors, but one particular book blogger has supported my writing from the beginning, and so I’m delighted to be interviewing Cleo Bannister who blogs under the very wonderful name Cleopatra Loves Books.
Jane: Welcome, Cleo. Can I ask you, when did your love affair with reading begin?
Cleo: I can’t remember when I didn’t love books, most specifically I remember choosing books at the library aged about 3.
“In the long ago days of the 1970′s my mother could leave me in the library while she shopped safe in the knowledge that I wouldn’t even miss her. I am passionate about children having a broad selection of books to choose from both at home and school.” (Extract from Cleo’s blog.)
Jane: Can you remember being read to by your parents as a child?
Cleo: I don’t really remember being read to although I know that this happened, if that makes sense. I was an early reader so my memories only really start after I’d learnt to read (I think).
Jane: My favourite books when I was growing up were The Owl Service by Alan Garner, Anne of Green Gables by L M Montgomery and The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay. What were yours?
Cleo: Thursday’s Child by Noel Streatfeild, anything by Enid Blyton and The Secret Garden were big favourites, although I had loads!
Jane: I find that Enid Blyton has really dated but my god-daughter loves her. I have just re-read Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes. Were you a big fan of reading under the covers with a torch?
Cleo: No I had a bedside light! My parents were ok as long as I was in bed being quiet.
Jane: I know you’re an avid reader, but on average, how many books would you say you read a month?
Cleo: Between 8 and 10.
Jane: That is an extraordinary number! Do you set yourself any reading challenges?
Cleo: I do, but then I fail because they centre on reading the books I have and I can’t resist choosing new ones all the time.
Jane: How do you score on reading ‘the classics’? http://storycartel.com/blog/vote-results/ (I score very badly.)
Cleo: I’ve read 13…
Jane: (Wipes brow, secretly relieved.) The publishing industry recognised in 2003 that reading as a pastime was in steady decline and that for some, book buying and reading had ‘little relevance to people’s lives’. How do you respond to that?
Cleo: I think that I talk about books more with people now than in the past. My reading habits have stayed pretty much stable throughout my adult life although I am now more likely to buy books than borrow them from the library.
Jane: 45% of adults in the UK buy few, if any books and only 25% read ‘regularly.’ As with most things, those adults who read tend to read obsessively. Do you have a serious book-buying/reading habit?
Cleo: Yes, I fall into the obsessive camp which is why I have so many books both physical and eBooks that are waiting to be read!
Jane: Between 2008 and 2010, the number of book buyers looking for books on-line more than doubled from 17 – 38%. Where do you buy most of your books? (Can I just say that beacuse I am tied to my writing desk, I buy on-line, except when I’m on holiday or visiting a new place, when I always make a book shop my first port of call. I also use the coffee shop in my local Waterstones for meetings, so I do pick up there.)
Cleo: I mainly buy on-line but that is because I live in a place with only one bookshop. I tend to buy books for presents from the bookshop.
Jane: How do you find the experience of buying books in a bookshop compares with buying books on- line?
Cleo: Buying in a bookshop has an immediacy and I often buy a book and then sit in a café and start reading, it is all part of the experience which I don’t get from buying on-line
Jane: How has being part of an on-line community enhanced your experience of reading?
Cleo: I get to hear about even more books that I probably wouldn’t have discovered.
“So why the blog? Well…. I first started capturing all the book titles I’d read using Amazon’s Listmania as an aide-memoire, this progressed to reviewing those books I’d particularly enjoyed (or hated). Word spread outside my group of friends where book reading is a common topic, to the global company I work for, and I am now frequently asked to recommend a ‘good book’, particularly by those who don’t regularly read. This is as well as proof-reading and reviewing published work for my colleagues. Being invited to join Amazon Vine in 2011 also has prompted authors and publishers to contact me for reviews so I decided to spread my wings and put all the information onto this blog.” (Extract from Cleo’s blog)
Jane: Do you think that you would be aware if the book you were reading was traditionally published or self published?
Cleo: I am only aware if the blurb makes the point, to me it doesn’t matter either way it is the content I want.
Jane: With the number of self-published books increasing by 59% last year alone, it is really difficult for authors to make their books stand out. Where do you get the majority of your book recommendations from?
Cleo: I get nearly all my recommendations through other book bloggers/Goodreads, a few from Amazon based on previous reads and a similar amount from book reviews in papers.
Jane: What would it take to make you experiment with a book outside your preferred genre/s of fiction?
Cleo: I have been much more experimental with the types of books I read since being invited to join Amazon Vine which meant I could try for free… once I’d taken the plunge there was no stopping me.
Jane: The bestselling book of all times in Britain is E.L. James’ “50 Shades of Grey”. The BBC even reported that the trend towards erotic adult fictions was “cannabalising” other genres including science fiction and fantasy, sales of which have decreased by 25%, and that horror was down by 30%, which may prove that the Brits are more into “saucy” than “sorcerers”. Have you – or have you felt any pressure to – succumbe(d)?
Cleo: No I didn’t read it and am very unlikely to, what I heard about it simply didn’t appeal to me.
Jane: So how do you decide what to read next?
Cleo: I make endless lists of what I intend to read and invariable change them. If I need to read a book to review it then that takes priority otherwise it is what mood I’m in. If I’m tired I want tried and tested authors.
Jane: Regardless of genre, what are the elements that you think make a great novel?
Cleo: Great plot that hangs together, characters that make you feel something (even if it is intense dislike) and a proper ending, I’m not a fan of the ambiguous ending as a rule.
Jane: Do you prefer eBooks or ‘tree books’?
Cleo: I like owning tree books but eBooks are so much more convenient to carry around, I like having a selection of books at my fingertips permanently.
Jane: As a reader, how do you see the shift from paperbacks to digital? Will the trend continue to go upwards or will it plateau?
Cleo: I think it will continue, the rise in people I talk to who read more now do so because of the convenience.
Jane: What are your reading habits? Do you have a favourite armchair, perhaps?
Cleo: I love reading in bed, something I’ve done since being a small child. Reading in the garden in the summer is lovely too. Best of all is on holiday as before I go on a beach holiday I spend at least two months refining the list of books I’m going to take to get maximum enjoyment out of the extended reading hours available! I am a list-maker and the organisation, reading reviews and finally deciding what to read is part of the pleasure!
Jane: Some readers like quiet, others the bustle of a coffee shop. Do you listen to music or have noise around you when you read or do you need silence?
Cleo: I prefer silence but as I share my life with other people this rarely happens now and I have learnt to read with noise.
Jane: What advice would you give readers who want to progress to becoming book bloggers?
Cleo: Just start one, write about those books you love and your passion will shine through, once you’ve got going other book-bloggers in my experience help to fan the flames. I participate in a couple of memes to keep the content flowing while I’m reading the next book to review.
Jane: Do you find yourself inundated with requests for reviews and, if so, what selection criteria do you employ?
Cleo: I get quite a lot of requests for reviews. It has to be something I think I’ll enjoy and depends on how many books I already have to read. (if I have a lot but like the sound of the book, I let the author know that it may take me a while to get around to theirs).
Jane: How do you like authors to pitch their books to you?
Cleo: Politely… and with some knowledge about what I read/have read. Don’t send me sci-fi books to review and definitely not with the book attached to the first email, these get ignored!
Jane: Are there any authors whose writing you particularly enjoy?
Cleo: Yours, I will always buy the latest Peter James book, Elizabeth Haynes, Dorothy Koomson and Erin Kelly but really there are too many to mention.
Jane: Are there any books you find yourself returning to time and time again?
Cleo: I rarely read books more than once, but do return to Margaret Forster’s Shadow Baby and some of Barbara Vine’s books (Asta’s Book being my favourite) when I want a ‘comfort read.’
Jane: I know that you hate spoilers. What do you think makes for the perfect book review?
Cleo: A short introduction that gives the flavour of the book and then what you liked/didn’t like about it including plotting, characters and research as applicable. My reviews on my blog tend to be more personal than those I post on Amazon, in that if a book has particular relevance to my life I will say so but I think the blog appeals to a different audience.
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