It’s a long time since I started building websites with my husband, Steve. The very first one was wordpool.co.uk – a children’s book review site that we started to raise the profile of British children’s books online. It grew and grew, attracted thousands of visitors and eventually led us to start The Word Pool: a web design business that specialises in sites for writers. After ten years, I ran out of steam and stopped adding new reviews, but that original site still sat there and still got lots of visitors.
Steve and I have recently decided to retire from web design so The Word Pool is up for sale and we’ll eventually be handing over the wordpool.co.uk domain to the new owner. I didn’t want all those reviews to be lost forever so I’ve spent the last few weeks going through them and moving them to a new home at a freshly redesigned ukchildrensbooks.co.uk. It was a huge task but it’s finally finished. I hope you like the result.
Don’t worry. I’m not going to stop writing. Being an author isn’t just a job – it’s part of who I am so I can’t ever imagine giving it up completely. In fact, I’m hoping I’ll have more time to do it now.
These days, we are constantly bombarded with conflicting information. Brexit is good, Brexit is bad. Trump has banned Moslems. Trump hasn’t banned Moslems. So how can we find out the truth amongst the bias and propaganda?
The first thing to realise is that almost everything you read is biased – yes, even this blog post. That’s because, when we are writing, we insert bias as soon as we choose one word instead of another. For example, if you’re reporting a big event, saying “crowds of people thronged the streets” paints a different picture from saying “crowds of people clogged the streets”. Similarly, the way we feel about a mother who doesn’t go out to work is affected by whether she is described as a stay-at-home mum or an unemployed benefit claimant. (Both are true because nearly all mums in the UK claim child benefit and anyone who doesn’t work is unemployed.) .
Bias can also shows in what writers leave out. Quoting a politician as saying “I hate cats” is misleading if he really said “I hate cats being cruelly treated.” And it can affect the order of the words makes a difference too. In my first paragraph, I wrote “Brexit is good, Brexit is bad” not “Brexit is bad, Brexit is good” and that may have affected the way you reacted to what you read.
Politicians claim that the spread of bias and misinformation has been made worse by the internet, but I believe they are wrong. Although so-called “fake news” can spread quickly online, the truth can spread just as fast if it’s given the chance. And the power of internet searches helps us discover which facts are lies, which photos are doctored and which dossiers are dodgy.
There are several ways you can help yourself spot propaganda and discover the truth.
- Look at the source of the information you are reading. Some websites and newspapers are more reliable than others.
- Try to get information from more than one source. Looking at two websites biased in opposing directions will help you spot discrepancies in their accounts.
- Be sceptical of quotes and soundbites. Wherever possible, look at the original source of the information in full: the act of parliament, the speech, the leaked email, the executive order. Everything you need is online if you search for it.
Of course, lack of time will stop you doing all of this every time you read something. But treat facts you haven’t checked with caution, and always try to check before you share information on Twitter or Facebook. If we all do that, the people who spread misinformation will find life more difficult and the truth will get a louder voice.
There are so many books available that it’s hard to decide which one you want to read. That’s why the personal recommendations you get in online reviews are so useful. The more reviews there are, the better the system works so, if you’ve read a book you enjoyed, you can help other people enjoy it too by putting a review on Amazon, Goodreads or any other online booksite.
I’ve been writing reviews for many years and ran www.wordpool.co.uk for 10 of those. (That site is still online but we don’t update it any more.) So here are a few tips I’ve learned during that time.
- If you’re going to say what the book’s about, keep it short and don’t give away the ending.
- Sometimes it helps to mention what type of book it is: police procedural, funny fantasy, paranormal romance.
- Say why you like the book.
- Say who else might enjoy the book. If you wish, you can mention other similar books. (“If you like David Walliams, you’ll probably enjoy this” or “great book for fans of Jane Austen”)
- Mention any issues that might make the book unsuitable for some people – graphic descriptions of violence , scary pictures of spiders, lots of elves. (My husband hates stories about elves.)
What about bad reviews?
Authors hate bad reviews. They make us feel awful, but that doesn’t mean no one should write them. Bad reviews can be as helpful as good reviews when people are trying to choose a book, but don’t just write “this book is awful”. Try to explain what you didn’t like so people can decide whether they are likely to think the same. For instance, saying “I didn’t like this book because there were too many elves” would make my husband choose a different book but it wouldn’t put me off at all. (We agree on almost everything except elves.)
Personally, I only write bad reviews if I think there’s something really wrong with the book – like being full of spelling mistakes or failing to live up to what’s promised on the cover (for instance, a book that claims it’s about elves but isn’t.)
The importance of being honest
The whole review system breaks down if reviewers aren’t completely honest. So I don’t think anyone should give a good review just because they’ve been paid to do so or because their friend/mum/auntie wrote the book. That doesn’t mean you should never review a book by someone you know – it just means you should read the book first and only write a review if you would do that even if you didn’t know the author.
This morning I did something I’ve been meaning to do for ages: I set up a Facebook author page. Maybe you’d like to take a look and add a comment.
I’m sorry there’s been a big lull in blog posts. The summer took over my time and a good bit of that was spent hopping around on crutches because I broke my ankle. I wasn’t even doing anything exciting like riding a horse. I just slipped in the house and turned my foot right over. Apparently there’s a tendon that runs from the ankle the the outside of your foot which gets over-stretched if you do that and the result is a crack in the bones at either end. (The doctors said I was lucky not to have snapped the tendon which takes much longer to heal.)
After several weeks of poor mobility and pain, I now really appreciate being able to run again. Steve, my husband, was brilliant when I couldn’t walk. He went up to the stables every morning to turn our my horse and muck out his stable and then went back again in the evening to give him his hay. (Someone else brought him in for us.) Kubus was very good for him and obviously a bit confused by the situation. But we’re now back together again and I’m busy teaching us both to long rein (ground drive) . That’s much harder than it looks but we’re getting there slowly.
Now, the days are getting shorter, the horses are growing their shaggy winter coats and I’m finally back to writing again. At the moment, I’m working on a book about plotting in which I’m trying to pass on everything I’ve learned over the years about creating stories. Hopefully I’ll also manage to blog a bit more often.
Last week I was a victim of credit card fraud. The fraudster spent almost £2000 on a coach ticket, a stay in a hotel and some shoes. “That must have been an expensive hotel,” I can hear you thinking. But it wasn’t. The bulk of the money was spent on the shoes – £1600 for two pairs!! The fact that footwear could cost so much shocked me almost as much as being cheated.
Praise must go to MBNA for sorting everything out at top speed. It only took one phone call to get my card cancelled and the money refunded. So I’m no worse off, and the insight into how the rich live may come in handy one day in a book. No experience, however bad, is ever completely wasted for an author.