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A new lease of life for my books

As you know, I was bitterly disappointed when Satalyte shut up shop as it might have meant the end of my admittedly short career as a publi...

About Me

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I am a writer, editor, reviewer and dance teacher based in Perth, Western Australia.

My books

The first two novels of my trilogy, The Talismans, are not available as e-books at present, but I expect to get them back online shortly. However, I do have paperbacks of The Dagger of Dresnia at the low price of $25 including postage within Australia. I also have a short story, 'La Belle Dame', in print - see Mythic Resonance below. The best way to contact me is via Facebook!

Buy The Talismans

The first two books of The Talismans trilogy were published by Satalyte Publications, which, sadly, has gone out of business. I hope to see my books back on Amazon under a new publisher in the near future.

The Dagger of Dresnia

The Dagger of Dresnia
Want a copy? Contact me at satimafn(at)gmail.com

The Cloak of Challiver

The Cloak of Challiver
Available again as an ebook soon!

Mythic Resonance

Buy Mythic Resonance

Mythic Resonance is an excellent anthology that includes my short story 'La Belle Dame', together with great stories from Alan Baxter, Donna Maree Hanson, Sue Burstynski, Nike Sulway and nine more fantastic authors! Just $US3.99 from Amazon. Got a Kindle? Check out Mythic Resonance.

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Places I've lived: Manchester, UK

Places I've lived: Manchester, UK

Places I've lived: Gippsland, Australia

Places I've lived: Gippsland, Australia

Places I've lived: Geelong, Australia

Places I've lived: Geelong,  Australia

Places I've lived: Tamworth, NSW

Places I've lived: Tamworth, NSW

Places I've Lived - Sydney

Places I've Lived - Sydney
Sydney Conservatorium - my old school

Places I've lived: Auckland, NZ

Places I've lived: Auckland, NZ

Places I've Lived: Mount Gambier

Places I've Lived: Mount Gambier
Blue Lake

Places I've lived: Adelaide, SA

Places I've lived: Adelaide, SA

Places I've Lived: Perth by Day

Places I've Lived: Perth by Day
From Kings Park

Places I've lived: High View, WV

Places I've lived: High View, WV

Places I've lived: Lynton, Devon, UK

Places I've lived: Lynton, Devon, UK

Places I've lived: Braemar, Scotland

Places I've lived: Braemar, Scotland

Places I've lived: Barre, MA, USA

Places I've lived: Barre, MA, USA

Places I've Lived: Perth by Night

Places I've Lived: Perth by Night
From Kings Park

Inner Peace Blog

Inner Peace Blog
Awarded by Joanna Fay. Click on the image to visit her lovely website!

Versatile Blogger Award

Versatile Blogger Award
Awarded by Kim Falconer. Click on the pic to check out her Quantum Astrology blog!

Fabulous Blog Award

Fabulous Blog Award
Awarded by Kathryn Warner. Click on the pic to check out her Edward II blog!

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Write a review worth reading


I love writing reviews! Reviewing has been the main form of writing for which I've been rewarded, either by cash remuneration or some kind of perk such as free books or theatre tickets. From 2004-2012 I was Reviews Editor for The Specusphere, a webzine for the SF community that is now, sadly, defunct. My reviews of theatre, dance and music have also appeared in The Australian, The West Australian, Music Maker, Dance Australia and many other journals. I now write for the Artshub website Over the twenty-odd years I've been writing them, I've learnt a thing or two about reviews, and what will make them shine. Note that in what follows I've focused on book reviews, but performance reviews require a similar approach.

Review writing is a marvellous tool for sharpening our skills in observation and critical awareness. More importantly, it can also help us to develop empathy and compassion – but more on that later. Let's start with the nuts and bolts.

First, know your genre. You can specialise if you like – in books, I review mainly historical fantasy and humour, for example – but it helps to develop a general knowledge of all genres and of writing or performing generally. A reviewer with a broad general knowledge will usually do a much better job than one who has not read widely in both fiction and non-fiction, or who is not a regular theatre-goer.

Second, in structuring a review, the following pattern is pretty standard and is worth sticking to because it works.

1. In the first paragraph, be sure to mention the author's name and to place the book or performance you're reviewing in the context of his or her work or within the genre generally. For example:
Pigs with Wings, A. Swineherd's ninth book, follows up the themes of mud and glory that characterised his previous works.
or
Felix Ninelives's latest offering is firmly set in the tradition of such classics as Cuddles' Cats in a Continuum Cradle and Fluffy's Tomcat's Adventures in Space, in that it deals with issues of feline infidelity and what this means for space travel.

You can go on for a paragraph or two in this vein, depending on whether or not you have in-depth knowledge of – or interest in – the author or the genre. If you have no such knowledge at all, see if you can get some by Googling.

2. In the next paragraph or two, tell us a little about the plot – only a taste, because review readers hate spoilers – and discuss the main characters. A discussion of themes can also be included here. When you are reading, look out for references that hint at themes. In Sean Williams's Saturn Returns, for example, we can guess from the title that this is about a person who is being forced into maturity. Why? Because when a person is about 29 years old, the planet Saturn returns to the position in the heavens that it occupied at the individual's birth. Astrologically, this is said to mark the beginning of a search for true adult maturity and if the subject is not actively seeking self-knowledge, circumstances may well thrust it into consciousness.

Look closely at the names of the main characters. Here again, using Saturn Returns as an example, we can surmise that our protagonist, Imre Bergamasc, is something of a tricksy, deceitful character, since the word 'Bergamasc' is said to refer to the natives of Bergamo, a town in Italy whose citizens were noted for these characteristics. And, of course, the fact that the word ends in -masc suggests that we're dealing with someone who has more than one face. It might also refer to the scene at the end of A Midsummer Night's Dream when the rustic men who have just presented their play before the duke ask if he'd like it followed by a 'Bergamasque dance'. Indeed, Williams's character in some of his manifestations did lead some people on a not-so-merry dance of deception and even betrayal. Without stretching credibility, be on the lookout for such references and mention them if they seem appropriate. Do you see why a broad general knowledge is so valuable?

As an aside, I have learnt from the author that he did not know about the origin of the word 'Bergamasc' and had only the 'mask' connotation in mind. This happens quite often – a writer can be carrying unconscious knowledge which s/he applies in the right place! Sean Williams also explained that the name Imre wasn't an accident, either. Here's what he had to say about it:

His first name gives even stronger clues to another theme in the book: that of power, one's relation to it and the way it can be expressed. 'Imre' comes via 'Emmerich' and 'Almaric' from words meaning 'work, labour' and 'power'. It's also similar to 'Imrie' ('my utterance'), 'Imran' ('host') and even 'I'm' or 'I am'. So this Imre we're following is an expression of his original self's authority, in a way, as well as being a mask trying to discover what true face lies behind itself.

3. In the next section, say what you liked about the book or performance, whether that was characterisation, style, plot or whatever. If you're reviewing theatre, mention the set, the costumes, the lighting - all the elements that make up the whole. Comparisons with similar works can add variety and interest. Be analytical: be sure to explain why you liked certain elements of the book or performance.

4. In the next bit, say what didn't work for you and why. Again, comparisons can help, but make them tactful and kind.

5. In the second last paragraph, sum up your opinion and mention who is likely to enjoy the book – young adults; space opera fans; romantic fantasy readers, lovers of Shakespeare, ballet students etc. As reviewers, our job is not just to express a well-informed opinion but to entice the kind of reader who would enjoy the book or performance into spending a bit of their hard-earned cash.

6. In the last paragraph, include a URL for the author's (or the production's) blog or website.

7. And I don't need to remind you, do I, to run spell-check and to consider carefully your grammar, syntax and punctuation. Or to avoid inane adverbs and adjectives such as good, interesting and nice. A chatty style is fine, but don't overdo the colloquialisms. They were created for conversation, not writing, for which they are seldom specific enough or clear enough.


OK, that's the nuts and bolts done with, so let's move on to more in-depth matters. Remember I said reviewing can help us to develop empathy and compassion? Do I hear your eyes skid to a halt here while you say 'Huh? Empathy and compassion? How so?'

A good reviewer needs empathy and compassion for three different people: the writer, the publisher and the reader. This is because a review serves three purposes, all equally important.

One is to help and encourage the author. You might be surprised how often reviewers get thanks from writers or performers who say a review has made them take stock of their work and see areas where it can be improved. Working on the premise that this is best accomplished through a balance between measured praise and constructive criticism, it's a good idea not to let the latter overwhelm the former. Writers, like all artists, are sensitive souls. I've seen well-known authors utterly devastated by one bad review. I can understand that. It must be like putting your kid in a baby show only to be told to take the ugly little bastard home.

Another thing we can accomplish with reviews is to let readers know whether or not this is a book they would enjoy reading. That the reviewer didn't necessarily enjoy it is neither here nor there. In any case, the reviewer's opinion of a piece will not be the same as that of many readers who might have completely different taste. Therefore, soften criticisms with phrases such as 'It might be seen as ...', 'Perhaps it would have been better if ...' and 'Some readers might think ...' rather than jumping in boots and all with a strongly worded opinion that reads like a dictum from on high. It's fine, even necessary, to hold opinions, but not to express them as if they were fact. Complete objectivity is impossible and perhaps not even desirable, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't aim towards it, for otherwise our opinions will get in the way of our compassion.

The third thing a review does is help to publicise the book. To this end, it's a good idea to put in at least one pithy, complimentary quote that the publisher or manager can use in publicity. I always get a warm fuzzy when I see a quote from one of my reviews in an ad or on a cover because it means I've succeeded in that part of my job, at least.

The very first essay I ever read on criticism – yikes, over fifty years ago now – taught me something I've never forgotten. It said something like 'A man is a better critic than you are if he can see in a piece something of beauty that you have missed.' While ignoring the sexist language of the fifties, I try not to let myself forget that sentiment. Whenever I write a review I remind myself to imagine how I would word my criticisms if I had to offer them to the author verbally, face to face. Not only do I not want to hurt their feelings, but there's always the chance that I could run into them socially or at a convention sometime. There's no point in alienating our subjects when in fact a different choice of words might actually help and encourage them. Remember that to get published or performed at all a work must have a fair degree of merit. Try to figure out what beauty the publisher or director saw in it that you, so far, haven't seen – and help the reader to see it, too.

Should a reviewer read other reviews? Yes, of course, but for my part, I try to avoid reading reviews of a work until my own is finished and on line. The only exception might be in a case where I absolutely dislike the book or performance or can't get into it. In such a case I do one of two things: 
a) Pass it on to another reviewer or 
b) Do some research, which might include reading other people's reviews and asking the opinion of friends who have read the book or seen the performance. Sometimes, this will give me a new perspective, allowing me to concede that there is, indeed, some beauty in the work!

Thank you for perusing this article. May you find much beauty in your reading and in your life!
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