Sunday, September 20, 2009

Reviewer Time: Graeme from "Graeme's Fantasy Book Review"

Another week rolls by and surprise, surprise I am quite punctual for my own blog feature. My own manic routine seemed to agree that this next guest stand no delay in presenting. Without further ado the man sitting on my virtual chair for yet another “Reviewer Time” is none other than Graeme Flory, mastermind behind “Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review”.

I am having quite a hard time listing all the good qualities about this blogger, mainly because they all make me green with envy like for instance the fact that he is based in London, which I find irresistible as a city. Then we move down the list and note that he’s been one of the main cogs in the review-blogging phenomenon and has been one of the three places I read with fervor, when I was introduced to this breed of blogging. The man obviously has a broad taste in a huge plethora of genres featuring even the outlawed urban fantasy and at the same time is a zombie freak. On a personal level I feel as if Graeme is an alternative version of me living in the UK and not several countries to the East. What is truly mind boggling for a solo blogger and extremely beneficial for a devoted reader is the sheer number of posts Graeme produces per month.

Each day there is a review to be found on “Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review” and I think that the reviews are pretty darn good. It’s true that I prefer structure to free style, because more or less I am weird when it comes to organizing, segmenting and dissecting. When I cut loose and go with the flow I try to be funny, side track and ramble, so writing reviews with no structure is difficult mission to accomplish. However in the right hands it can be entertaining, touch a novel’s vital points without revealing too much, place helpful references and share personal experience, while avoiding the rant or monologue. Foreshadowing aside I think you get the gist that such is the case with Graeme, who has developed this review technique as a signature mark since 2007. My favorite two qualities about Graeme’s reviews are 1) his sense of humor that is so very British and manifests in the slightest expressions and 2) the fact that he pulls out a lengthy review without spoilers or details that would demystify the wonder of reading a book. The latter is a quality that speaks more or less about experience in the field.

Apart from reviews, readers are treated to fabulous giveaways that sometimes are even open to international participants and I would hope that trend grows through time. Then there is the linkage: signings from Forbidden Planet, news and book spotlights. I enjoy Graeme’s series of interviews, which are always a sure delight and pleasant introduction to some amazing talents in fantasy and speculative fiction in general.

As you can see diversity is ever present, quality is top notch and quantity doesn’t fall that far behind. What more can you want?

HM: Following the already established tradition at “Reviewer Time” I will be searching for the human aspect behind each blog. So what’s the daily version of Graeme, when he is not cranking reviews at “Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review”?

GF: The daily version of me? Right now I’m sat behind my office desk looking at the lights and wondering how zombie proof the building is; I do this most days. I’m living and working in London and making the most of the time until responsibility catches up with me and I have to grow up. I also read a lot :o)

HM: I feel incredibly stupid for asking this question, but I think that other people might be confused as well one point or another. Graeme is really your real name, right? *keeps fingers crossed about my intelligence*

GF: Your intelligence is spot on! I am 100% Graeme beyond all shadow of a doubt and there’s no going back, a name graft just wouldn’t work…

HM: In the fun spirit of list-making, please tell us three things that people would probably never ever guess about you.

i) My two younger brothers were named after a saint and a king; I was named after a guy from a comedy show (‘The Goodies’) in the seventies. I’m cool with that.

ii) A number of years ago, I swapped smoking for eating junk food. My lungs are still grateful but my stomach isn’t so keen...

iii) I am easily distracted when it comes to thinking of final list ite... Oh look! Pretty flowers!

HM: When and how did you decide that you were cut out for the role of a review blogger?

GF: That’s a really tough question actually. Sometimes I’m still not sure (in terms of looking at what I write and wanting to improve on it) but I guess if there was a time then it came I realized that people were coming back to read what was on the blog. I had to be doing something right so kept on at it. It isn’t something that comes with a job description, you just find a spot where you’re happy and just keep plugging away.

HM: Your blog name is pretty straight forward, but I am curious about your fascination with fantasy, sci-fi and all in between. What’s the story behind your love for the SFF?

GF: It was really a mixture of Doctor Who, on the TV, and going to see Star Wars for the first time when I was a kid. The books came along later (Doctor Who again but also Alan Garner’s ‘Elidor’ and ‘The Hobbit’ as well) but when they did that was where my love for SFF really kicked off with Tad Williams and Michael Scott Rohan leading the way. I’ve never looked back since. Right now, it’s all about Steven Erikson’s ‘Malazan’ series; at least it would be if I could read ‘Dust of Dreams’ during a packed London rush hour commute!

HM: Keeping it professional, how do you feel in the role as one of the chief reviewing sites or generation one as I like to call you guys?

GF: I wouldn’t call myself generation one at all, more ‘Generation Two’… There were loads of people doing this before me; I’ve never really thought of myself as a ‘chief reviewing site’ either but if people see it like that then that’s great; I was given a lot of great advice when I started out so one thing I do try and do is to always be there if someone is starting out and has questions they want to ask. Other than that, I’m just enjoying doing what I’m doing.

HM: As a well known blogger, there must be some pressure associated with keeping a regular output and such. At least I imagine it so. What’s the reality of being famous in the review blogging scene?

GF: Adulation beyond my wildest dreams! Actually, to be totally honest my life hasn’t really changed other than that I’m getting to try out a lot more SFF fiction than I would have done before. Reading books I wouldn’t normally pick up (whether I end up hating them or not) is all part of the fun and I’ve discovered a whole load of new favourites. I love reading so I’ve never found myself under any pressure to keep up to a schedule. Like I said earlier, I’m just enjoying doing what I’m doing.

HM: Looking back in time, when review blogging hadn’t reached such popularity, I gather publishers weren’t as eager to promote through blogs. How were the first months after you launched the site?

GF: Not as bad as you might think. Other bloggers had already blazed a trail, in this respect, so publishers were a lot more open minded about helping me out. The hardest thing was making that initial contact, once that was done then things ran pretty smoothly. Back then, it was more a question of getting myself into some kind of posting routine (‘post scheduling’ is my best friend as far as this goes!) and making the blog look pretty :o)

HM: What’s the thing that pulled you into the world of blogging in the first place?

GF: Being able to discuss books online, forums and so on, was a real breath of fresh air (I came to all this fairly late) after years of browsing the SFF shelves on my own. I wanted to see if I could set up my own little space on the net (I’m not very technical at all so being able to set something up on Blogger felt like a real achievement!) to talk about books and actually get more down than a “I loved this book, it was great!” Blogging is a great way to collect your thoughts and make sense of them; they have to make sense otherwise no-one will read them!

HM: Your reviews are written almost as a recommendation you would make to a friend over a mug of coffee and I enjoy their conversational feel. Was this your sole approach to writing a review or did you try different formats in your earlier posts?

GF: The conversational thing is something that I’ve always tried to go for but it’s only really started to work in the last couple of years. When I first started writing reviews things were a little stilted and awkward but as time went on it all began to flow more smoothly. I really enjoy reading SFF and I’m hoping that a more conversational tone reflects that.

HM: What’s your reading schedule? How do you arrange your day to find time to read and review to keep up relative activity?

GF: If there’s a spare second then you’ll normally find me reading! I commute to (and from) work and a good book is the best way to deal with the stresses of London rush hour (which is the subject for another blog!). We don’t have a television either so there’s always time for reading in the evening. As far as getting the reviews posted, my lunch hour is always good for that :o)

HM: You have done an awful lot of interviews. I personally am addicted to asking people questions, so where does the thrill from interviewing come from for you specifically?

GF: For me it’s a throwback to the days before the internet when all I really had was the book itself and no way to really fathom what was going on in the author’s head when they wrote it. Sure, I could read interviews in papers but they weren’t answering the questions I wanted (dammit!) These days, authors are so much more accessible through the web (at least the more internet savvy ones are) and I’m grabbing that chance with both hands! If I’ve got questions then I’m going to go out there and ask them! None of this relying on other people’s questions anymore, now I’ve got the chance to get the answers that I’m really after…

HM: Questions are essential to creating a good interview. There must be a balance of fun and serious questions. What’s your formula for a good interview and do you easily find inspiration for your questions?

GF: I try and open things up with something slightly irreverent and then go from there; I wing it really; if it’s a book that I have really enjoyed then the questions just spring into being, if I don’t particularly enjoy a book then you won’t see an interview at all! If there is a formula then I guess that it comes down to asking a question that gives the interviewee plenty to talk about in their answer. If you can do that then everything else takes care of itself.

HM: Now it’s time for a “Reviewer Time” classic. Apart from enjoying reading the written word, have you ever had any writing aspirations of your own?

GF: I’ve got a few ideas bouncing around in my head but they’ve never made it onto paper, at least not yet. Life seems to be too full of other stuff to let me get on with it, or am I just making excuses not to give it a go? Erm… watch this space I guess.

HM: You have reviewed some works that feature zombies. After the hype with Zombie Week still high for me, I want to ask a zombie related question. If you were in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, how do you rank your survival chances? Will you plough or become chow?

GF: I used to think that I would be ok in a zombie uprising but now I’m not so sure… The problem is that I’m a real softy. To win through this kind of situation you need to be able to say things like, “I know we’re married but you’ve been bitten and you’re going to become a zombie. I don’t want you coming after me so I’m going to have to shoot you, sorry about that…” When push comes to shove I love my wife too much to shoot her in the head! I’d end up becoming a zombie too.

HM: What is the kind of story that will always engulf you no matter how many times you see it done? Naturally, if you don’t have one, your latest trope obsession applies.

GF: I’ve got a big thing for military sci-fi and fantasy right now (‘The Black Company’, ‘Malazan’ series and anything set in the Warhammer 40K universe). It’s always good to get away from what Kings and Planetary Governors are up to and see what’s going on for the poor bastard who’s been awake (and under attack) for the last four days. I can’t get enough of it.

HM: On the polar end, what is the current trope or tropes that annoy you beyond words?

GF: Feisty yet vulnerable girl falls for the local vampire lord/were-wolf pack leader. I can always see it coming a mile off and I’m left hoping against hope that something out of the ordinary will happen (like feisty vulnerable girl force feeding garlic to the vampire). It hasn’t happened yet…

HM: Have you ever left a book unfinished? I myself can’t often bring myself to quit a book, when I have started it and given a word to review, but time is valuable and reading time is usually scarce.

GF: I generally try and finish whatever I start but sometimes a book just doesn’t work for me and life really is too short to slog my way through something that does nothing for me at all. If it’s not happening then it’s onto the next book. These books don’t get a review as such but they do get a mention…

HM: There has been a wee debate about ranking or not ranking, after Paul of “Blood of the Muse” aroused bloggers. I haven’t seen you react or share your opinions on the matter. As one of the bloggers that do rank their reviews, what can you say about the practice?

GF: Because I’ve got loads on, I generally come in at the tail end of these things when all the useful stuff has already been said. I also make it a rule of mine to try not to react to the more blatant muck raking that happens online (especially when the guy starting it admits to deliberate inflammatory language); I’ve fallen for it before and it’s not worth the hassle. The internet is big enough for people to write reviews in the way that suits them; there will always someone who wants to read what you’ve written. I’ve always ranked my reviews (a throwback to the days when I wasn’t writing so much about each book) and it’s now a habit as well as something that people might expect to see. It’s not actually that big a deal at all, people should just go with whatever they’re comfortable with.

HM: Well it’s curtain time, which means that the closing words are up to you. Hope you had fun.

GF: I had a great time, thanks for having me over and I hope you’re enjoying whatever you’re reading!


Hagelrat said...

Cool, I love Graeme's blog so this is brilliant.

Renai said...

Very interesting!


Keeping the Door

ediFanoB said...

Great interview! I like that this time the questions differed a bit compared to previous reviewer times.
I hope you both keep on your good work.

Harry Markov: daydream said...

@ Hagel: He is so damn brilliant, I am super envious.

@ Renai: Thank you for stopping by and sharing your input.

@ Michael: I try to add some diversity. I can't achieve the same effect with all questions, but a slow shift can be found. Glad you spotted it.

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