Nikki-ann is a great example of how a book review can start a good friendship. I believe it began with her review of my novel Second Hand Heart. Then I noticed that she stayed close to my blog, and often left comments. And I appreciate that. But I appreciated it most when I was having a serious (and unfortunately public) problem with an estranged relative, and Nikki-ann left a comment saying she was having similar family troubles. It’s amazing how comforting that kind of support can be. Reminds us that we are not alone, and our problems are not unique.
Now we follow each other on Twitter and Facebook, and if I had more money I’d be on a hiking vacation in Wales right now, and we’d have a cup of tea face-to-face. This can still happen.
So. On to the interview.
Nikki-ann, I just happen to know that today, June 13th, is your birthday. So let me start by saying happy birthday to you!
Now, I notice on your blog, Notes of Life, you have categories for a couple of Transworld Reading Challenges. And, of course, Transworld is my UK publisher. Can you tell us more about these challenges? I know you explain them on your blog, but maybe you can say a bit for my readers. Am I right to think this is how you first found one of my books? What made you select it? (This answer does not need to be an advertisement for the book. I’m more interested in how you choose, or what catches your attention as a reviewer.)
Nikki-ann: Firstly Catherine, please let me thank you for asking me to take part in your Blogger Wednesday posts. I feel quite honoured!
It all started when Transworld held its Summer Reading Challenge during the summer of 2010. Bloggers were given the chance of picking 4 books from a list of 15 which contained a variety of books published by Transworld. Basically, they send you your first book, you read it, then post your review and then Transworld sent the next book and so on. I decided to choose a couple of crime thrillers (quite possibly my favourite genre) and a couple of books that I wouldn’t necessarily have picked up in the past... Second Hand Heart was one of them.
I don’t usually go for love stories and the like, but I liked the description of Second Hand Heart and thought it offered something a little different from the usual love story. I was right! At the heart of Second Hand Heart’s storyline is organ donation, transplantation and the theory of cellular memory. I’m very much in favour of organ donation and have made sure that all my family are aware of my wishes for my organs to be donated should something happen to me. When we die we have no need for our organs. Why should they be wasted? To know my death could possibly save another life or even multiple lives, is to know if I didn’t leave a mark in life then I certainly did in death.
I thoroughly enjoyed Second Hand Heart and I’m very glad to have found your books through Transworld.
To answer your question about how I choose a book and what catches my attention as a reviewer... Many things! A cover goes a long way as does a synopsis or even the review of another reader. It can often depend on my mood too.
Me: It’s an unusual (but pleasant) situation for me to have my greatest following in a different country. But I’m definitely more popular in the UK right now. I have to, as they say, “Mind the gap,” and try not to exclude either my US and UK readers in various posts, giveaways, and releases. I think of this sometimes when you retweet one of my announcements. I wonder how many of your followers are US, how many are UK. Does it make a difference if the person whose books you feature is not a UK author? If so, how does that difference look/feel?
Nikki-ann: I think I have a pretty even spread of followers from the UK and the US, as well as followers from other countries around the world. I take part in a challenge called the British Books Challenge and so the more books I read by British authors the better I’ll do in that challenge, but I don’t think it makes a difference to my followers where an author is from.
Of course, if I’m running a giveaway (funded by my own funds) then I like to make that giveaway international so that all my followers can have a chance at winning the prize. If I’m running a giveaway on behalf of an author or publisher then some followers will inevitably be excluded... Publishers will only ever send out to the country they’re publishing the book in and authors are usually on a tight budget. However, as my giveaways usually have a rule that a question must be answered, I still get followers joining in one the discussion even if they’re not eligible for the prize.
I think the genre of the book makes more of a difference than the geographical location of its author, to be honest.
Me: One very strong commonality between us: we both have blogs that feature books and photographs. And even our photographs are similar. Birds, landscapes, sunsets, clouds. Can you tell us how your love of photography developed, and what space it occupies in your world?
Nikki-ann: I’ve loved photography from a very young age (see photo!). When I didn’t have my own camera as a child, I borrowed Mum’s. Well, I say “borrowed”, but I don’t think she got to use it much once I got my hands on it. Prior to that I’d even pretend to take photos using Dad’s old camera when it didn’t have film in it! As a teenager I saved up for my own 35mm film camera and I’ve still got it to this day (though, admittedly, it hasn’t been used in quite some time!). It took what I’d consider to be one of the best photos I’ve taken - black & white photo of Justin Hawkins, lead singer of The Darkness. A friend liked it so much I printed a copy for her (having done a black & white photography course in which we spent most of our time developing film and printing our photos).
I like to take a camera wherever I go, be it for a short walk, to a concert or on holiday. If I don’t have a camera on me than you can guarantee I’ve got my mobile phone on me which has a decent enough camera on it.
My everyday camera is a Canon Powershot SX30 IS which is a bridge camera (half-way between a compact camera and an SLR camera, but without the need to change lenses). It’s got a decent zoom on it and it allows me to fiddle around with various settings.
My latest camera acquisition is a Canon 60D SLR with a 50mm lens. I’d been wanting to upgrade my digital SLR camera for quite some time and after months of looking at the 60D I decided to go ahead last month. The 50mm lens hasn’t had much use yet though as my favourite lens is currently attached the the 60D - my 60mm macro lens. It’s brilliant for getting up-close and personal with flowers and bees.
I would love a Leica film camera, but I think I’d need to come into a lot of money first!
Me: Your blog covers a lot of areas, hence the Notes of Life title. You review books and post photographs, as mentioned, but you also make room for family history, music and movies, and…well…notes of life. I like that format, because we get to know the blogger better. What are your thoughts on more personal blogs, as opposed to those with a more narrow, outwardly-directed focus?
Nikki-ann: I actually started out with a personal blog. Well, it was personal website and then I started using it as a kind of diary. Shortly afterwards, the term “blog” started to come into common use and so my diary page became a blog page. That was on a different domain which I no longer use. A few years back I decided to get a new domain - notesoflife.co.uk - and set the whole website up as a blog which makes it a whole lot easier to update. Previously, I’d been updating my old website in plain old HTML and uploading the updated pages via FTP.
My website is obviously more about books these days, but with the added extras of photography, family history etc. I do quite enjoy seeing the more personal side to bloggers as well as their main content because I feel you get to know them more. For instance (and as you’ve already mentioned), if a book blogger/reviewer just posts reviews then it’s difficult to get to know the person behind the reviews.
Me: Mine is a very pet-oriented blog, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. When I ran my More Puppy/More Kitty blog series, I featured your cats, Mika and Leo. Can you tell us just a little bit about them here, maybe something more recent than what we covered in their blog post? Any new photos of them to share?
Nikki-ann: We’ve never had to go out and buy or adopt a pet, they’ve always found their own way to us.
A cat turned up wet & cold at the school where Mum works and jumped in Dad’s car after he’d dropped her off. Dad grabbed the little cat and got it out of the car, but it was back in again before he could close the door. So Dad brought him home and he’s stayed ever since - that was Mika. We had a Staffordshire Bull Terrier at the time and I swear Mika thinks he’s a staffy as he mimics a lot of what Zoe (the staffy) used to do... Such as huffing and lying in doorways.
Leo turned up at my work place a few years ago. He’s part Maine Coone and his long fur was all tangled and flee-ridden. As we already had Mika, I couldn’t bring Leo home with me and so I called the cat rescue people who came and collected him at the end of the day. A month or so later and they still hadn’t found a home for Leo. I couldn’t believe it as he’s such a beautiful and friendly cat. A week later and he’d moved in with us... Much to Mika’s disappointment! By the end of week 1 of Leo living with us I just didn’t think it would ever work. Mika didn’t like Leo and he’d started to dislike me too! Thankfully, the pair started to get on shortly afterwards. As they’re both male cats each of them likes to show he’s the dominant one every now and then, so one will walk past the other and hit him for no apparent reason!
It’s said that cats are very much aloof and like to do their own thing, but Leo isn’t like that at all. He sleeps a lot, but when he isn’t sleeping then he’ll most likely want attention. Leo absolutely loves being brushed and will sit and stare at you until you give in and brush him. He even insists on sharing the bed at night and seems to take up more room than I do! Sometimes he isn’t even content with that... He’ll come and lie right on top of me and he’s not the smallest of cats! On a few occasions I’ve woken up because Leo has lain on me in such a way that it feels like I'm being suffocated! And he doesn’t seem to care one bit!
Mika, on the other hand, does his own thing. He’s pretty scared of being outside, so he’s an indoor cat (they both are), but that doesn’t stop him from hiding. I’ve found him sleeping in the airing cupboard before now! He’ll get into the wardrobe or any kind of hiding place he can find. He prefers my attention when I’m sat at the computer or trying to read a book... the usual thing!
Me: What is the best thing a book can do for its reader, in your opinion?
Nikki-ann: The best thing a book can do for its reader is leave a lasting impression. To have a reader thinking about it long after they’ve finished reading it. Few books do that.
A couple of books set during WWII - each very different to each other - left a lasting impression on me:
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is narrated by Death and follows the story of a young girl called Liesel. Death gives her the name “The Book Thief” when at her brother’s graveside she picks up a book in the snow. The book is called “The Gravediggers Handbook”, it’s the first time she steals a book and it changes her life. She grows to love books and words, learning to read along the way. But books are not easy to come by in Nazi Germany and so she starts to steal them.
[Me, note: The Book Thief is one of my all-time favorites.]
Five Chimneys: A Woman Survivor’s True Story of Auschwitz by Olga Lengyel is Olga’s harrowing story of her time at the concentration camp. It was written shortly after her time there and so it was all very much fresh in her mind (not that something like that would ever leave you). It’s not an easy book to read. I had to put it down several times and gather myself together before continuing. It’s a book that’s totally unforgettable.
Me: Will you recommend a few other book blogs you think are worth visiting?
Nikki-ann: There’s so many!
I have to mention Milo’s Rambles. Milo mainly reviews crime thrillers, but from time-to-time includes other books and interviews etc, as well as the odd personal post too. His reviews are second to none and I could build a huge tower with the books I’ve wanted/bought/requested having read his reviews! I’ve been lucky enough to meet the man himself and he’s such a lovely person.
Fiction Books is another I must mention. Yvonne joins in with a number of different book memes as well as writing reviews. Yvonne’s blog is quite different to many other blogs in that most of the books she reviews aren’t mainstream and so I come across many books I haven’t heard of before. Yvonne is such a wonderful person too. If I’m not active on my blog for a while then Yvonne will often send me a message to ask if everything is OK and that’s very much appreciated. We often bat emails back and forth, usually in reply to something one of us has blogged about.
Books and Writers is another crime fiction blog that gets me adding books to my TBR pile! Keith has a knack for writing great reviews and I often find myself mentally noting down another book to buy. Again, I was lucky enough to meet Keith at a recent do down in London.
The History Girls is a wonderful and informative blog written by a group of best selling and award winning authors of historical fiction. Between them they write historical fiction for children, young adults and adults and their blogs posts are centred around their books, research and other interesting bits and bobs.
Me: Please write your own question, and answer it.
Nikki-ann: Oh, now this is a difficult one! Hmmm... Have you ever considered writing a book yourself?
As a kid I dreamt of becoming an author. I was always writing poems and stories and hoped one day to have a book published. Somehow adult life happened and I’ve never got around to even trying to write a book. I don’t even think I’d be able to write anything of any interest to anyone else, anyway (is it me or was there too many “any’s in that sentence?!). I don’t think I’ve got the patience either. Maybe when I’ve retired (which is a long way off yet!) I’ll have to time and energy to sit down and write something. Who knows?!
Many thanks to Catherine for asking me to be part of her Blogger Wednesday series!
Me: Thank you for being here, Nikki-ann!
By the way, for those who are interested, I actually forgot (until I went back to her blog in planning this interview) that Nikki-ann also interviewed me on her blog. Nice when it can work both ways! You can read the interview here, and thank you so much, Nikki-ann, for all the wonderful reviews of my books!
Next week on Blogger Wednesday is a wonderful look into the awesomeness that is Melanie of Reclusive Bibliophile. Please stop back!