Today I’m delighted to be interviewing Jasmine Turley, whose blog, Books and Boxes, immediately caught my eye, being a fellow Maximo Park fan. Jasmine describes herself as a native of the true, non-TOWIE Essex, who spends an unnatural amount of her time with her face in a book or e-reader, and who started blogging when numerous friends and family became overwhelmed with the number of bookish conversations she instigated. On the occasions when she surfaces from a book, Jasmine enjoys eating the food her boyfriend cooks, visiting various pubs and bars in London with her sister, and spending too much time and money in bookshops. In fact, Jasmine sums up her chief enjoyments in life as food, books, wine, books and tea. (Sounds good to me.) She now lives in Reading with her boyfriend, David, who patiently and good-humouredly tolerates the ever-growing book pile that threatens to consume their house.
Jane: Welcome, Jasmine. Perhaps I could introduce David to my long-suffering partner Matt! Can I start by asking, when did your love affair with reading begin?
Jasmine: I don’t really know – I just always loved reading. I do remember being quite young and negotiating how much time I could have to read in bed before lights out though! And coming home from the library with as many books as I could get away with, then laying them all out and doing ‘eeny-meeny-miny-mo’ to work out which one I would read first (though I always cheated if it landed on one I didn’t want just yet). Books were just always there.
Jane: Can you remember being read to by your parents as a child?
Jasmine: I have to say I can’t, although I’m sure they did – I mostly remember me reading out loud to them for school, or to myself before bed – I must’ve been a very independent reader. That’s not to say they aren’t readers, but I think they just left me to it when they realised how much I enjoyed it.
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?
Jasmine: Argghhh, this changes almost every time I think about it! At the moment I have fondest memories about Danny, Champion of the World by Roald Dahl, The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett (which little girl DOESN’T want to find she’s inherited diamond mines?!) and Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling, though it has to be said that it was the pictures in my edition that I loved the most.
Jane: Were you a big fan of reading under the covers with a torch?
Jasmine: I wish! I know I tried a few times, but I could never negotiate the right kind of tent-above-the-pages. Plus it got so hot under there! What I did instead was take my book into the bathroom, lock the door, sit with my back against the radiator and read away, with the full light on – then, if anyone came knocking, I could easily hide my book under some towels or behind the curtain and pretend I was going to the loo. Unfortunately my parents quickly got wise to what I was up to, but for a while it was pretty good!
Jane: Are there any books that you would describe as ‘life-changing’?
Jasmine: Maybe not life-changing, per se, but definitely empowering lessons from a few – The Lovely Bones by Alice Seabold taught me that you can overcome anything, and Last Chance by Sarah Dessen taught me that you shouldn’t let others get you down. But life-changing, perspective-changing books? I haven’t found one yet.
Jane: On average, how many books do you read a month?
Jasmine: Oh, god, I don’t even know! I usually have 2 or 3 on the go at any one time – I’ve got my commuting books, and my home books! But I’d say I average about 3 in a 7-day week, so roughly 12 a month? Give or take, anyway. My record is 3 in 24 hours, but that’s rare – I was on holiday and doing pretty much nothing but reading.
Jane: You are really quite prolific! Do you set yourself any reading challenges?
Jasmine: Not really – I try not to pressure myself when it comes to reading. I once attempted to read through one of those ‘100 Best Books Ever’ lists, and feasibly, I could’ve done it – it’s just I began to resent the list for not letting me read what I wanted, when I wanted to. I know some people like reading challenges but I just find them restricting. The closest I come to challenging myself now is rationing a book I’m really enjoying, so I don’t rush through it – now that’s a tough one. I have a tendency to binge-read, finish a great book in a day, and then spend the next week mooning about how I miss reading it!
Jane: How do you score on reading ‘the classics’? http://storycartel.com/blog/vote-results/ (I score very badly.)
Jasmine: Oof, not well at all – 9.5 for me! The half’s because I’ve made it over halfway through Crime & Punishment but never actually to the end. I’m quite surprised at that list actually – don’t ever think I’ve seen a “Classics” list without Anna Karenina or War & Peace on it (not that I’ve read either of those). Just goes to show that what we are told are the classics, are not what everyone considers classics!
Jane: I’m glad it’s not just me!
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 their lives’. How do you respond to that?
Jasmine: It honestly just makes me sad. I have a friend who does not read – flatly refuses to pick up a book – and I just wonder what he does with himself sometimes. It must be very dull to live in the real world all the time.
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?
Jasmine: Ugh, yes to both. I can’t resist books, and I read at pretty much any spare moment I have. I do try to maintain something of a book/life balance but I will read when drying my hair, on the loo, in the bath, on trains, buses, tubes, planes, in lunch hours, before bed, before work – nowhere and no time is safe from me and a book! And as for book-buying… well, getting an e-reader was a blessing and a curse. A blessing, because I don’t think my house could cope with the same number of print copies as I have ebooks, but a curse, because it’s all too easy (and cheap!) to get books instantaneously now…
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 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.)
Jasmine: Now? Online, absolutely. It used to be my local Waterstones, which I would browse in a lunch break, but now it’s mostly ebooks, so it’s all digital. If I really like a book though, I’ll still get the print copy.
Jane: What is your favourite bookshop and why?
Jasmine: Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath! I was there just last week and I don’t even live in Bath. On the occasion that I am around, however, it’s always a stop for me. The staff there are so lovely and knowledgeable, and the atmosphere is just great.
Jane: I’m so glad you mentioned Mr B’s because I’m also a fan. How do you think the experience of buying books in a bookshop compare with buying books online?
Jasmine: It doesn’t, really. Online shopping is rarely as satisfying as going in person. Buying books online is so clinical and impersonal. A few clicks and you’re done. You can’t get chatting at the checkout about books because let’s face it, if your computer started commenting on your choices, you’d freak out. Browsing online is also a much harder, more stressful experience than in a bookshop (I find, anyway), and you’re less likely to stumble across an intriguing title. I’ll always prefer bookshops to online – it’s just a far more pleasant experience, albeit a costlier one.
Jane: How has being part of an online community enhanced your experience of reading?
Jasmine: I’m definitely more aware of upcoming titles – previously, I’d just walk into a bookshop and see what I liked the look of! But now, through blogs and sites like Twitter, Buzzfeed and Book Riot, I can see what the latest hot novel is – and they’re not always necessarily the ‘big’, promoted titles. For example, I wouldn’t have known about The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes, or Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, without Twitter, and they’ve turned out to be the huge hits of the year!
Jane: Do you think that you would be aware if the book you were reading was traditionally published or self published?
Jasmine: Not until I started reading it – this is going to sound harsh, but if you like reading, I think you can tell if a book has been properly edited or not. It’s just there in the little things, like typos or repetitive phrases.
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 recommendation from?
Jasmine: I’m lucky enough to work in publishing, so I often hear about new authors and titles through the grapevine – though obviously there’s a heavier influence for my publishing house’s authors! But I find Twitter is a great platform – Bookseller, @bookplugs and various publishing houses that I follow have all proven to be fruitful in their plugs.
Jane: Do you think the media gives enough coverage to books?
Jasmine: In a word, no. Unless there’s an award coming up, or a title has broken some kind of record, you don’t hear about a lot of book-news unless you’re specifically looking for it.
Jane: Do have any particular favourite genres of fiction?
Jasmine: I love books with an element of fantasy to them; I love being transported to new worlds, and I have nothing but respect for those who can craft an entire universe from their imaginations. C. S. Lewis, Phillip Pullman, J.K. Rowling… these people are my heroes. It’s one thing to come up with a cohesive plot and characters, but a whole new world to go along with it? A well-made world is a trickier thing to create than most people think. I also really like mysteries – not necessarily detective stories or whodunits, but if there’s a secret and no one’s telling, I have to know.
Jane: What would it take to make you experiment with a book outside your preferred genre/s of fiction?
Jasmine: I’m actually quite an easy sell – an intriguing plot and an interesting character is usually enough to pull me in. I’ll give anything a shot – except supernatural horror, I’m really, really not good with ghost stories!
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)?
Jasmine: I’m glad to say, no. I’ve got nothing against erotica, or E.L. James, but bad writing is always a turn off, and when I read the first line of the first book– I believe it was ‘Damn my hair!’ or something along that lines – straight away I just thought, ‘not for me!’.
Jane: How do you decide what to read next?
Jasmine: At any given time I have a reading list of titles I’ve yet to get through – like most book-lovers, probably – but the preceding book I’ve just read often has an influence. For example, if I’ve read a Regency novel, I may fancy another straight after, because I’m enjoying living in that era, or the language and tone of the book. Then again, I might have read 3 fantasy novels on the trot and now want something more realistic.
Jane: Regardless of genre, what are the elements that you think make a great novel?
Jasmine: Appealing characters – they don’t have to be likable, but they do have to catch my attention. Also, I love it when some piece of information is missing, but clearly important – I like being kept hanging! And humour. Just because you’re not writing a comedy, doesn’t mean you can’t be funny at times. It’s like in real life – people make bad jokes, or awkward comments at inappropriate times, and so can your characters. It makes them more realistic.
Jane: If you discover a new author, do you tend to devour everything that they have written?
Jasmine: Yes, absolutely. John Green, Gillian Flynn and Ben Aaronovitch have been my latest discoveries; with Gillian’s books, I managed to spread them out of the year (and now Sharp Objects is my favourite of the three), whilst Aaronovitch’s PC Peter Grant novels are ones I can’t help but snaffle up. I’m trying to resist getting the latest one – Broken Homes – but my resolve is cracking…
Jane: Can I ask you, which is your favourite fictional character and why?
Jasmine: That is a very tough question as I have so many, all dependent on the mood I’m in or the type of book they feature in. However, one character who particularly sticks out in my mind is Rob Fleming, from High Fidelity by Nick Hornby. I just love him; he’s the most useless man, trying to blame his unhappiness and dissatisfaction on other people. But really, he’s just trying to come to terms with the person he is, rather than the person he thought he was going to be, which I think is something everyone can relate to. He’s a miserable, self-deprecating, decent-at-heart bloke, and he feels so real – I’m pretty sure everyone knows a Rob.
Jane: What is your favourite name of a fictional character?
Jasmine: That would be Delysia LaFosse from Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day by Winifred Watson! She’s a complete floozy and her name sums that up perfectly. I always imagine it being said in the drawl of a Southern Belle, even though the whole thing is set in London and Delysia is British.
Jane: Do you prefer eBooks or ‘tree books’?
Jasmine: Is it okay to say I don’t have a preference? eBooks are easier for me in my day-to-day life, but tree books are just better, and ebooks have made me appreciate them more. Now I enjoy the ceremony of picking up a print book, opening it, holding it, turning the pages – before ebooks, I didn’t notice. So ebooks fit into my life more conveniently, but I appreciate print books more because of the ebooks.
Jane: As a reader, how do you see the shift from paperback to digital books? Will the trend continue to go upwards or will it plateau?
Jasmine: I think it might plateau, as e-readers move away from being solely for reading and more as multi-purpose tablets. After a while I think people will start to move back to print books, as their e-readers become more distracting. How can you get immersed in a book with Facebook and Twitter notifications popping up all the time?
Jane: You’ve blogged about how book titles have become more important to you as you have shifted from tree books to eBooks. Getting the title right is one of the most difficult things for an author. Nine times out of ten, someone else has got there first. My publisher changed the title of my first novel from Venn Diagrams to Half-truths and White Lies and I didn’t feel as if it belonged to me anymore. What do you think a good title should convey?
Jasmine: That’s a shame – I always wonder about how titles get created. It must be so frustrating for you to go from thinking of your creation one way, to being told to think of it in another! It must be like being told to rename your pet! I have to say though, I don’t know if a title should have to convey anything – for the most part, I just like to be hooked by it. In fact, the less it gives away, the better – I don’t want to be forming too much of an opinion based on the title in case I’m disappointed by the actual contents. I quite like books where the title is lifted from a passage or line in the novel – something to bring it full circle.
Jane: What are your reading habits? Do you have a favourite armchair, perhaps? (I see that you like a big cup of tea).
Jasmine: I DO like a big cup of tea! English Breakfast, with milk and two sugars, please. But if it’s the right time of day, a glass of red wine also goes down very well. My favourite spot at the moment is the right side of the sofa, near the bookcase and under a standing lamp, where I can curl up. I also like reading in bed, but I have to be careful with that as then there’s always a temptation to snuggle down and fall asleep. Other than that, I read pretty much anywhere I can find space to stand or sit.
Jane: Some readers like quiet, others the bustle of a coffee shop etc. Do you listen to music or have noise around you when you read or do you need silence?
Jasmine: I prefer a relatively silent environment – background noise is okay but I don’t actively seek out noisy places or listen to music. In fact, I don’t really like music playing at all whilst I’m reading unless it’s quiet enough that I can tune it out, or classical music. It’s just I find that I’m easily distracted by noises, and if I started listening more to a song, or to a conversation going on nearby, then there’s no point in my trying to reading. But then, if it’s the right kind of book, I can tune anything out!
Jane: As a reader, what point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person?
Jasmine: I LOVE first person narration. They’re so unreliable! One of my favourite books is Company of Liars by Karen Maitland, which is set in Plague-ridden England and is full of creepy twists and unpredictable characters. As it’s all told from one person’s point of view, you only ever know as much as they do, and in a world that’s in as much turmoil as 13thC England, it makes for very claustrophobic, tense reading. And another great first-person read is, of course, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – I think it did so well is because Nick is so obviously lying, so you’ve absolutely no idea what’s going on – you have to form your own opinions and hope eventually someone will reveal the truth.
Jane: You have written 9 Bookish Commandments of which number 5 is ‘Thou shalt respect all books by reading at least 50 pages before giving up.’ What do you find turns you off a book?
Jasmine: Characters I can’t get on board with. I don’t care if I’ll hate them or love them, but if I’m indifferent to them, what’s the point? I won’t care what happens to them. Also, bad writing will always turn me off – clunky sentences, unnecessary and pretentious descriptions and stiff dialogue are just some bugbears. In short, anything that gets in the way of me connecting with the book and characters.
Jane: What advice would you give readers who want to progress to becoming book bloggers?
Jasmine: Just write about what you like about books, and about books that you like. There’s no point trying to force it if you’re always looking at books you think will get you hits, not the books you are passionate about. Keep it honest as well – if you read a book and you didn’t like it, say so! There’s no point in trying to be polite about it (although don’t be mean, either). I’ve also noticed that I get more hits for my lists and opinion-pieces than reviews, so I tend to do more of those now, which luckily, I happen to enjoy. Finally, try to write regularly – I’m not so good at that, but regular posts will remind people of your presence.
Jane: Are there any other book bloggers that you regularly follow?
Jasmine: I’m actually quite bad at following other book bloggers – it’s not that I don’t want to, it’s just I’m a harsh critic of myself and I always compare my entries unfavourably to other people’s, so I try to avoid where possible! But if I stumble across one I’ll always have a read.
Jane: I know that your hate spoilers. What do you think makes for the perfect book review?
Jasmine: I do hate spoilers, though that’s a fairly hypocritical thing for me to say as I am quite bad at keeping them to myself – I’m fairly prone to word-vomit where I just talk and talk and don’t really think about what I’m saying! But a good review should have a brief summary of what the story is (obviously), the kind of genre, and it should touch on what characters you liked/didn’t like, and why. Always explain why, as much as you can!
Jane: Do you have any celebrity followers?
Jasmine: If I do they’re being very quiet about it! Speak up, guys!
Jane: Do you find yourself inundated with requests for reviews?
Jasmine: Not really – I think I’m so sporadic with reviews people don’t think to ask! But sometimes when I post a new blog people will comment on that, and maybe offer their own opinions or suggestions. I love it when that happens.
Jane: Have you ever been instrumental in helping to launch the career of a new author?
Jasmine: Not yet, although I have been asked to review a friends’ book that has just been self-published. I haven’t read it yet, although I know it’s a Dan Brown-esque adventure-thriller with a twist of the supernatural, so who knows? Maybe he’ll be the author I launch!
Jane: You’ve mentioned several authors already, but are there any others whose work you particularly enjoy?
Jasmine: Margaret Atwood, for starters; so often she touches on subjects that make people uncomfortable, but in such a way you can’t resist. She’s a powerful woman. And I really enjoy Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant series, because they’re so well-written and nicely straddle the banal and the bizarre.
Jane: Are there any books that you find yourself returning to time and time again?
Jasmine: Oh, all the time. I read Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day by Winifred Watson at least 3 times a year (I’ve just finished another re-read last week), and then all the others on my favourites list will probably be read at least once a year.
Jane: You are an evangelist for A Company of Liars by Karen Maitland, but have only been able to find one other person who has ever read it. Why do you think that great books slip under the radar?
Jasmine: It’s now 2 people! A friend came over the other weekend and she had borrowed it from her library! I nearly kissed her. I honestly don’t know why – maybe people are put off by the setting? Plague-ridden England isn’t exactly as glamorous as the Tudor court, as in Hillary Mantel’s and Phillipa Gregory’s books. Perhaps the publisher didn’t get behind it? I honestly couldn’t say.
Jane: What is your favourite opening line from a novel?
Jasmine: This can vary for me, but at the moment it’s absolutely from The Bookstore by Deborah Meyler. Straight away it’s captivating, paints a portrait of the character and just generally is a great way to start a book:
“I, Esme Garland, do not approve of mess. This is unfortunate, because ever since I woke up this morning I’ve had a feeling I might be in one.”
Jane: Oh, that’s a good one. Is there a phrase or quote about reading that you particularly like?
Jasmine: The one on my blog will always be my favourite – “You can’t get a cup of tea big enough, or a book long enough to suit me,” as said by C.S. Lewis. I first saw it on a blackboard in a bookshop and I just instantly loved it – I’ve always been a fan of Lewis (my undergrad dissertation was on The Chronicles of Narnia) and I just felt like he had summed up my feelings about reading perfectly.
Jane: And finally, have you ever been tempted to write a novel? Pitch it to us now.
Jasmine: I have been, but I’ve never got it off the ground! I’m playing my cards close to my chest though – you never know, it might happen! All I’ll say is that it has a title – The Sea Tiger – and would be for children, though I’m not too sure of the age group.
Visit Jasmine’s blog: http://www.booksandboxes.blogspot.co.uk/
Or follow her on twitter: @Booksfrom_Boxes
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