What’s the difference between a manuscript critique and a beta read?

text reads: beta read or manuscript critique? which one do you need?

A few months ago, I wrote a thread on Twitter about how beta reading a book differed from a manuscript critique. It just so happened that I’d read three manuscripts that week. Two were books by established writers, which I was beta reading and one was a manuscript by a new writer, for which I was doing a critique/assessment report.

The two experiences were very different. The two beta reads I read quickly – reading them as a story and making the odd note to myself as if I came across something that needed attention. They were both authors I enjoyed reading (and in one case I’d read the whole of the series up to that point, so I could point out any series inconsistencies because I’d enjoyed the other books and remembered things from them).
The other was a newer writer, so needed a lot more notes. My notes ranged from small things like incorrect usage of words or minor instances of head hopping to bigger structural issues.
I wrote up all three sets of notes over a weekend. The beta reads took me about 30 mins each to check notes and write up. The critique took me several hours. The other main difference is that I would charge for the critique, but the beta read was for free (those authors would do the same for mine another time).

All this got me thinking about the time a newish author asked for a sample edit of one chapter (which I did). They then asked for a full manuscript critique. But a few days later, they cancelled because they didn’t want to pay for ‘a very expensive beta read’. I didn’t argue at the time – I hadn’t started work on it – but there is a big difference between a beta read and a critique.

Notes on a beta Read

When I beta read for a writer who knows what they’re doing, my notes tend to be short – ‘needs more tension here’ or ‘this subplot doesn’t tie in’, ‘the ending doesn’t work’. I’m telling them what’s wrong, but I can trust that they will know how to fix it.
Similarly, that’s the sort of note I get from my beta readers. I have rewritten an entire 20K ending based on ‘this ending doesn’t work’. They only had to tell me what was not working. I would then do the work to figure out how to change it. This is the sort of editorial note you’d get from a structural editor in a publishing house.

Notes on a manuscript critique

My notes on manuscript critiques for newer writers run to several pages because ‘this doesn’t work’ is a useless note to give someone who doesn’t know what to do to fix it. I have to unpick WHY things don’t work (sometimes it’s easy to work out, because it’s a beginner mistake I’ve seen before, sometimes it’s not). I have to explain my observations. I have to suggest ways they could fix it. I have to be careful to tell them exactly what is wrong, but not tell them exactly, word for word, how to fix it – because that interferes with their voice and if there’s one thing we’ve heard from editors it is that they don’t want critique services to interfere with the voice of a writer

You need notes that are specific to that book and where the author is in their journey. If their 100K book only has 70K of story in it, you need to work out what that core story is and tell them which bits to cut (and maybe explain story structure). If their book is too short, you have to give them guidance as to where to expand it. You can’t say ‘add a subplot’. You have to suggest places in the book where a potential subplot might be hiding. Sometimes this means reading the manuscript several times.

And THEN, you need to go through and work out if you’re hitting the right balance in your feedback. Too negative and you risk putting the writer off writing. I remember all too well the pain/horror of my first manuscript critique. But once I’d stopped crying and eating all the chocolate I could find, I realised that they had a point. I made the changes they suggested and it improved the book. But that was only because I was in the right frame of mind to accept the criticism that I’d asked for. If I’d been earlier in my writing journey, I might have given up. I’d hate for that to happen.

On the other hand, if you’re too positive, you risk giving the writer a false sense of safety. They will think you’re a lovely person, but the report won’t help them improve their book or get closer to finding a publisher. Plus, I feel that telling people what they want to hear rather than doing what they paid you to do is ethically dubious … even if it is nicer.

So you have to read an re-read the wording of the feedback, all the while thinking ‘is this too harsh? Is this sugar coating it?’.

Reading a manuscript that needs a lot of work is not fun. It’s time consuming and it’s hard work. (And I should be spending that time writing!)
So yeah. A manuscript critique is different to a beta read. One is work. The other is fun.

Which is why we charge for the one that is hard work [and take great care about whom we extend the beta reading offers to!].

In case you hadn’t already guessed, I do manuscript critiques and mentoring. Details are under the Resources for Writers tab, or just click here to go to the manuscript critiques page.

Inheritance Books: Kate Frost

This week’s guest on Inheritance Books is Kate Frost. Welcome to the sofa, Kate. I’m sorry, we haven’t had a guest in a while. Let me dust it down for you. There you go. I’ll go put the kettle on, why don’t you tell us a bit about yourself.

KateFrostHeadShotI live in Bristol, a city I was born in and have always lived in, apart from three fabulous years spent at university in Aberystwyth. I grew up in the 1980s in a Victorian terraced house with a park at the end of the road. I have fond memories of my childhood with Sunday afternoon tea in front of the telly watching nature programmes; camping holidays with my Mum, Dad and younger brother getting bitten by mosquitos, discovering beautiful places and having barbeques in the rain; and Christmas spent with my Grandparents on their farm in Norfolk. I also have vivid memories of being in hospital when I was seven and undergoing open heart surgery to fix a hole in my heart. I was at that blissful age where it was an adventure rather than a traumatic experience. It also put me on the path to becoming a writer, as I had an amazing home tutor during the months following the operation, who taught me all about dinosaurs and how to write stories.

I studied drama while at Aberystwyth, but after graduating got disillusioned with the whole audition process of having to look a certain way or know the right person to get a role. I started writing again and over the next few years had articles and short stories published in magazines such as New Welsh Review and The London Magazine. I had various jobs along the way including being a bookseller at Waterstones, a Virgin Vie consultant hosting make-up parties, and putting my drama background to good use working as a Supporting Artist appearing in the films Vanity Fair, King Arthur and The Duchess. I did a MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University in 2004-05 and then wound up working out of hours for NHS Direct for a few years while I finished writing my debut novel, The Butterfly Storm and built up my freelance writing business writing blogs and features for easyJet.  

The past few years have been busy. I got married in 2008, and later that year we bought a house in need of complete renovation so spent the next couple of years doing it up. We then got our dog, Frodo, a gorgeous Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, struggled through four rounds of fertility treatment, during which I published The Butterfly Storm, finished writing my first children’s book and was made redundant from NHS Direct. In February 2014 our miracle son was born and now my life is happy and hectic and revolves around a very energetic toddler while trying to write novels.


Which book have you inherited from the generation above? Why is it special?

Narnia seriesThe Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – well in fact C.S. Lewis’ whole series of Narnia books. They weren’t passed on to me but bought for me by my parents. Despite my mum being a prolific reader now, she was never interested in reading when she was a child, as she was too busy playing outside (she lived on a farm near the north Norfolk coast) to be interested in books. As an adult she realised what she’d been missing out on all that time and encouraged me to read. I remember being about eight or nine years old and getting swept up in Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy’s adventures and devouring the whole series of seven books. I also remember being bitterly disappointed when the back of my wardrobe didn’t lead into a snowy Narnia. But my love for books was cemented and I quickly realised the power of imagination, and so started writing my own stories.

Yay! An excellent choice!


Which book would you like to leave to future generations? Why? 

Year of WondersI’m fascinated by the Restoration period with the plague and the Great Fire of London and so I loved Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks, a novel about the plague set in 1665-66. I first read it when I was in my mid-twenties, just as I was really focused on writing for a living and not long before I did my Creative Writing MA, and so it was a book that influenced me greatly. It’s also one of a handful of books that I wish I’d written.

Apart from being based on a true story, which in itself is fascinating, it’s beautifully written, descriptive, emotional and poignant. It’s one of those novels that stays with you long after you’ve read the last line and I’d encourage anyone to read it.

I’ve not read that. It sounds really interesting. Thank you for sharing your favourite books with us Kate. Good luck with the book.



Kate’s latest book Beneath the Apple Blossom is out now. You can find out more about Kate on her website, Facebook or Twitter (@kactus77)


Inheritance Books: Patricia Marie Budd

Today’s guest on Inheritance Books is Patricia Marie Budd. Hi Patricia. Have a seat on the sofa. Would you like a biscuit? Tea? Coffee?  While I’m doing that, please tell us a bit about yourself. 

unnamedI am a high school English teacher by trade. How I wound up teaching is quite funny. Back in my early twenties when I was living in Toronto studying mime I loaned a friend $100.00. Sadly she was never able to pay me back. Her partner at the time was an astrologer so in lieu of the money I was offered a class in astrology and a chart reading. I knew I’d never see the money so I took the class and chart reading. According to my chart I was destined to be both a writer and a teacher. The writer part made sense as I had already written my first play and had it produced in the Rhubarb Festival in Toronto but the teacher part seemed a bit weird. Still, I figured, why not, I’m not making any money as a mime so I applied for Education at the University of Regina.

When the English department learned of my having produced a play they convinced me to study to become an English teacher. Feeling cocky from my recent (albeit brief) success in theatre I agreed. And then I took an English class. Why hadn’t I remembered having had to drop out of English 200 because I was failing miserably? My counselor warned me that if I didn’t improve my spelling and grammar ‘yesterday’ they were pulling me from the Program. That is when I learned the real meaning of hard work. I am pleased to say I succeed and have been teaching high school English since the fall of 1991.

I never did have any real success in theatre, just marginal recognition. My third play received honorable mention in the 2001 Alberta Playwriting Network’s competition but it never saw the light of stage. It was shortly thereafter that writing novels became my passion. My first novel, A New Dawn Rising came out in 2006, Hell Hounds of High School came out in 2011. Hadrian’s Lover was released in 2013 and Hadrian’s Rage will be out May 3 of this year.


 That is quite a weird way into the teaching profession, but what a great story!

Which book have you inherited from a generation above? Why is it special?

unnamed (1)When I was a little girl I used to read a book belonging to my mother titled Amy Vanderbilt’s Complete Book of Etiquette: A Guide to Gracious Living. I know my mother read it and had incorporated some of its advice into her life, especially the sections on “Dress and Manners” and “Home Entertaining”. My mother was an extremely beautiful woman and when she dressed for a social night out she was absolutely stunning. I remember she had this beautiful green dress she kept in her closet. She had worn it in her youth and I secretly told myself my mother had been wearing that dress when my father had fallen in love with her. She also threw the most amazing parties. She dressed my siblings and I in our Sunday best to serve her guests. I loved serving dainties to her guests; it always made me feel so grown up. Though it has been decades since I’ve opened this book it sits on my bookshelf and I always think fondly of my mother when I see it.


Which book would you like to leave to future generations? Why?

unnamed (2)I wouldn’t leave just one book. I would leave the entire series. The first book I recall sparking my love of literature was Laura Ingalls-Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods. I could smell Pa’s pipe and feel his rough beard against my cheek. One time when my uncle tickled me with his beard I pretended I was little Laura Ingalls. I read the entire series from beginning to end and then I read it again. I even picked it up later in life when I found the set at a used bookstore. Even in my forties I loved the story of this little girl and her life in the woods, on the banks of Plum Creek, on the prairie, in the town, during the harsh winter, being a young teacher, falling in love and becoming the mother of her own children. I most especially loved her telling her fiancé that she would not say the word ‘obey’ in their wedding vows. I smiled and was proud of Laura Ingalls. This series turned me into an avid reader.

I haven’t read any of the books, but I used to watch the TV series as a child (and loved it)! You’ve prompted me to go look for the books now. Thank you for sharing your favourite books with us, Patricia. All the best with your own books.

Cover - Patricia M Budd 2015 v2Patricia’s book, Hadrian’s Rage, is available to buy now. You can find out more about her on her website.

Inheritance Books: Marie Laval

Children Reading by Valerie Everett

Today’s guest on Inheritance Books is fellow RNA member and all round lovely person, Marie Laval. Hi Marie, take a seat. Why don’t you introduce yourself. 

MarieLaval (2)I am French and have been living in Lancashire for quite a long time, almost long enough to have got used to the rain! I grew up in a small village near Lyon.  I studied law and history at university there and for many years my ambition was to be a journalist. I was always very attracted to England and to anything English – I blame great authors like Daphné du Maurier, Jane Austen and Wilkie Collins – so I came to live in England shortly after graduating. Unfortunately, I did not become a journalist, but held a variety of jobs, mostly in admin at the University of Manchester. I retrained as a teacher a few years ago and now work in a large secondary school. When I’m not busy looking after my family and planning lessons, I dream up romantic stories! I started writing short stories and now write full-length contemporary and historical romance. My novels are published by Accent Press.


Which book have you inherited from the generation above? Why is it special?

DSCF1718It was so difficult to pick just one book, Rhoda! I inherited a lot of books from my parents, mainly novels, which are at present sitting in cardboard boxes because I am supposed to be moving house in the next few weeks.

One of the books that means a lot to me is a collection of humorous texts by the talented French comedian and writer Raymond Devos. The man was so much more than a comedian. He was a genius with words, and I remember how proud and grown-up I felt when as a teenager I was able to finally understand some of his jokes and puns! ‘Histoire d’en Rire’ was the last ever book my sisters, mother and I bought for my father for his birthday, and I will always cherish it.

Most comedy writers have some genius with words. (Terry Pratchett, PG Wodehouse…)


 Which book would you like to leave to future generations? Why?

Once again, a very difficult choice. I hesitated between two but in the end chose ‘Le Lion’ DSCF1722by Joseph Kessel (apologies because it’s in French!). ‘Le Lion’ is a novel I treasured since I first read it aged twelve or thirteen. I brought it to England with me when I moved here, and as you can see the cover is rather battered. The story is set in Africa, in the land of the Massai people, and is the tale of an incredible friendship between a little girl and a …lion, of course! After many adventures and plot twists, the story doesn’t end well for the lion. Joseph Kessel was a great writer, a journalist and adventurer, and a pioneer of aviation in the 1920s. I read most of his novels, which gave me a yearning for literature and faraway lands. Many of his stories were made into films, starring great French actresses such as Catherine Deneuve and Romy Schneider.

I do hope my children grow up to be as fond of ‘Le Lion’ as I was.

Merci beaucoup!

You’re welcome! Thank you for sharing your favourite books with us, Marie. All the best with the new book!

BLUEBONNETSBlue Bonnets, the second in the Dancing For The Devil Trilogy are now out and are available from Accent Press and Amazon 

 You can find out more about Marie at her website, or on Facebook.  


Inheritance Books: Jeannie Von Rompaey

Today on Inheritance Books, we’ve got Jeannie Von Rompaey. Hi Jeannie, welcome to Inheritance Books. Please, make yourself comfy on the sofa. I’ll put the kettle on. While I’m doing that, why don’t you tell us a bit about yourself?

Cheers! JeannieI’m passionate about reading, writing, art and the theatre. I was born in London, brought up in a village in Northamptonshire and now live on the subtropical island of Gran Canaria with my husband, TJ, a historian. I love living in a warm climate with blue skies above and a light breeze; but enjoy visits to London and other cities to see my daughter, go to the theatre and visit art exhibitions.

I have an MA in Modern Literature from The University of Leicester and have had a varied career as lecturer, theatre director and actor. As Jeannie Russell I’m a member of the Guild of Drama Adjudicators and adjudicate at drama festivals in Britain and Europe. Next year I’m off to Frankfurt to adjudicate there.

I write novels, short stories, poems and plays on subjects I feel strongly about, including: the complexity of human nature and the future of our planet.


Which book have you inherited from a generation above? Why is it special? 

image1Indian Myth and Legend by Donald A Mackenzie was given to me by a friend of my mother’s who had travelled in India. I was fascinated by his stories about a continent I knew little about.

From the first I loved the cover of the book, its intricate patterned design that promised entrance to a different world. I also loved the gold leaf that edged the pages, now unfortunately faded.

The inside did not disappoint either with its tales of Indian traditions and myths. The black and white photographs of Indian temples, sculptures and ceremonies are combined with coloured prints from paintings of deities and nymphs. I’ve found the names of the divinities and the myths surrounding them useful when inventing names and characters for my dystopian novels in the Oasis series. For example the wives of Shiva: Durga, the Destroyer and war goddess; Kali, the black earth-mother with her built in serpents; Jagadgauri, the yellow harvest bride and Sati, the ideal of a true and virtuous woman. The latter is satirised in my novel, as she is promiscuous. A touch of irony, that I love.


Which book would you like to leave to future generations? Why?

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. It’s dystopian fiction, set in a terrifying but fascinating future. Reading this book marks the beginning of my interest in this genre.

image2I love the cover of this paperback because of its vibrant primary colours. Every woman in Gilead is defined by the way she is dressed and colour-coded. The women on the cover are handmaids because they dressed in red, the colour of blood. Their only function is to breed. The Marthas, who cook and do household chores, are in dull green robes with bib aprons over them. The gowns of both handmaids and Marthas are long and concealing. These examples of the dress code give an insight into how detailed and cleverly constructed this novel is. I admire the way Atwood has created such a complete, imaginary world. The men of Gilead imagined they were creating a utopia, but even they become disillusioned and victims of the rigid system. Reading this book made me realize that utopias are impossible to create. Human beings are flawed and so when trying to form a perfect society are bound to fail.

I’d like to leave this book to my daughter because it not only acts as a warning to future generations but also celebrates the resilience of women in a male orientated world.


Fabulous choices. Thank you for letting us peek into your bookcase. Your novel sounds like fun (I’m a sucker for folklore absorbed into modern fiction). I hope it does really well.

Oasis Ascension Front FinalYou can find out more about Jeannie by visiting her website or her Amazon page. Her new book Accession is available to buy now.

Inheritance Books: Romy Somner

Children Reading

A rather different Inheritance Books today from Romy Somner. She asked if she could have three copies of the same book. I thought this was really charming. So, instead of the usual style, I’ll let Romy explain. (While I have a nice sit down on the sofa).

Inheritance Books: The Enchanted Wood a blog post by Romy Sommer

Romy 2014Considering how our bookshelves are overflowing, it seems unreasonable to have three hard cover copies of the same book. But when you look closer and see that the books in question are Enid Blyton’s The Faraway Tree series, you might realise that these books represent three generations of our family.

For three generations of women in our family, The Enchanted Wood was the start of a love not only for Enid Blyton’s books, but for reading.

Enchanted Wood

The cloth-bound version dates back to the early 1950s and belonged to my mother when she was a child. Then there are the books from the early 80s which I grew up with – their black and white line drawings exactly how I still picture the characters.

Line drawingThe newest versions are the set I picked up off a bargain books table on a whim for my own daughters. Even though they hardly needed another copy, I wanted desperately for them to love these stories as much as I did, and the full colour, glossy pages were too attractive to ignore.

New colour versionI’ll admit, these newest books disappointed me. It turns out they aren’t Enid Blyton’s original words, but rather modern re-tellings of the stories. They might make the stories more accessible to today’s children, but I far prefer reading to my daughters from the earlier books. It has lead to some fascinating conversations, including what the purpose of a handkerchief is or how clockwork toys work. We go off on tangents, exploring how children lived decades ago.

So not only are these books treasured for their memories, but they’re still very much in use today. While I read from one of the older books, my daughters get to sit with the newer one and look at the corresponding pictures. And in the process we’re making a whole lot of new memories to pass on to the generations to come.

What a lovely post. I have a set of the new ‘updated’ (I call them sanitised) versions, but I remember reading ones with line drawing in when I was younger. 

Thank you for sharing your Inheritance Books with us Romy. All the best with your new book.

Not a Fairy Tale_SmallerRomy’s latest book Not A Fairy Tale is published by Harper Impulse and is available to buy now. You can follow Romy on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Goodreads or on her website/blog.

Inheritance Books: Inge Saunders

This week’s Inheritance Books are from the lovely South African author, Inge Saunders. Hi Inge, welcome to the Inheritance Books sofa. (I’m still getting used to the sofa, personally. In a good way). Can I get you a cup of tea?

While the tea’s brewing, please tell us a bit about yourself.

IMG00551-20121118-1305I`m a Pisces. I love dancing. I daydream A LOT. I have this thing about Top Gear (British), I can`t explain it…but Jeremy, James and Hammond *shakes head in awe*

 Top Gear? Riiight. Moving swiftly on. Which book have you inherited from a generation above? Why is it special?

My grandmother was an avid reader. At age ten or so, I asked her what she was reading one day and she showed me the book. An Afrikaans romance novel, Van Tinkie, Met Liefde by Ella Van Der Mescht. She gave the book to me and it`s the first romance novel I ever read.

2074374_150213160844_DSCN2929I still remember all the details of the story although the book itself had gotten lost as we moved to our new home. I had reread it so many times. It was my go-to book when I was bored, sad, or just wanted an escape from the everyday. This spunky heroine who travelled on her horse from one small town to the next because her father`s former childhood friend had invited her for a visit, meanwhile the two were planning on getting her married to the friend`s son! *laughs* It`s brilliant in its simplicity. Needless to say, the two end up together. But not before the sparks fly, a current money-grabbing fiancé provides problems and the two, themselves, are as apposite as night and day.

The book was the start of many sessions of reading with my grandmother and a shared love for books. She unfortunately died before I could share my first novel with her. I know that where she is, she`s only read it but wrote it with me.2074374_150213160815_DSCN2928

Which book would you like to leave to future generations? Why?

 It`s no secret to those who know me. I adore Jane Austin`s work. Therefore, I do firmly believe future generations would benefit from reading Pride & Prejudice.

I’ve often asked myself, what did a twenty-first century teenage girl from South Africa have in common with a woman who lived a completely different life on another continent and time, why did her love story impact my world? Why did Elizabeth Bennet make me root for her, laugh with her, get angry for/with her, and become completely besotted by Mr. Darcy with her? When viewed like this it doesn`t make sense!

Yet, Jane (because we`re cool like that *wink*) managed to draw me in. Elizabeth`s vivacious, strong-willed, kind, compassionate, passionate, and terribly wrong when she`s wrong and remorseful. She recognizes her position in the world and instead of letting her family`s circumstances get her down, she enjoys her life, appreciate what they have and doesn`t dwell on what she can`t have. And she`s extremely intelligent. It makes her a bit formidable. She doesn`t have to suck up to anyone to gain their approval, because she`s content with her life. And a bit arrogant about it *laughs*

Pride & Prejudice serves as a mirror. It`s hard pressed not to find a character with elements of yourself in there. But most of all, it`s a fun read. It`s romantic. It`s a commentary on class. It`s a view of the role of women, what`s acceptable or not. And funnily enough those things are still relevant today. My teenage self had these things in common with Elizabeth Bennet and I still do, which makes this book relevant and timeless.

 It certainly is timeless. The dialogue is as fresh today as it would have been back in the day. Thank you for sharing your Inheritance Books with us, Inge. All the best with the new book. Come by again soon.

Falling-For-Mr.-Unexpected-200x300Inge’s next book Falling for Mr Unexpected is published by Decadent Publishing and is available to buy now. You can find out more about Inge on her blog, Facebook, Pinterest, Goodreads or Twitter (@IngeUlrike).

Inheritance Books: Kate Lord Brown

This week’s Inheritance Books are from lovely Kate Lord Brown.Hi Kate, welcome to the Inheritance Books sofa. (Yes, we have a sofa now! And cushions. Did you see the cushions?) Anyway, biscuit?

Please, tell us a bit about yourself.

kate I’m the desert living author of ‘The Perfume Garden’ and ‘The Beauty Chorus’. When I was four, my mother put a yellow cloth bound copy of the 1001 nights on the top shelf of my wardrobe because it was ‘too advanced’. Naturally, I was captivated, and clambered up the wardrobe at every opportunity for a spot of clandestine reading, (this is a good trick if you desperately want your children to learn, say, Shakespeare or algebra). I have no idea what happened to that copy, or if it influenced me working and living in the Middle East. My family and I have lived in the only true desert country in the world for five years, which sounds rather exotic and ‘English Patient’ but we have just had the worst sandstorms in fifty years which was – frankly – like a gritty apocalypse.

It must feel awfully cold and clammy for you on the sofa then. Let me shut the window. There. 

Where were we? Oh yes. Which book have you inherited from a generation above? Why is it special?

Puffin Book Of Children's Verse coverOne book I have tucked safely away in storage in the UK (along with a library which fills half a container), is the treasured germolene pink copy of ‘A Puffin Book of Verse’ inscribed wonkily by Katy Lord in felt tip, and given to me by my parents at a time when I still pronounced ‘Anonymous’ as ‘Anymouse’. It was required reading at prep school, and from its pages we learnt a poem each week off by heart. I had the great good fortune to have teachers who genuinely loved literature. It instilled in me a love of the rhythm and beauty of language, and along with battered copies of the Observer’s books of Wild Flowers, Horses and Dogs it transports me back to early childhood growing up in a wild and beautiful part of the West Country.

Which book would you like to leave to future generations? Why?

LittleprinceBoth my children were given their own copies of ‘The Little Prince’ – it was a book we read over and over again when they were small (those lovely, cosy tea/bath/bedtime story times), and we wore out the BBC audio cassette on the school runs to and fro along the Meon Valley from Petersfield. It’s a children’s book, but in a very gentle, magical way teaches important lessons, which I hope sunk in, about living a good life and the importance of trusting your heart. The children gleefully rescued a French rag doll Little Prince from a yard sale here for me, and he sits tucked in among my notebooks – we’re past bedtime story times now, but every time I catch a peek of him he reminds me of a lovely period of our lives, (and I love his yellow ‘fro). princeHe also sits above the files for the new book I’ve written about the artists’ Schindler, which features Consuelo de St Exupery, wife of Antoine who wrote ‘The Little Prince’. She was the inspiration for the Little Prince’s ‘Rose’, and I like the idea that they are together.

Thank you for sharing your Inheritance Books with us, Kate. All the best with your new book. I just love the cover!

perfume gardenKate’s book The Perfume Garden is available to buy now. You can find out more about Kate on her website, or chat to her on Twitter (@katelordbrown). 

Inheritance Books: Julie Maxwell

This week’s Inheritance Books come from writer and academic Julie Maxwell. 

Hello Julie, welcome to Inheritance Books. Please, tell us a bit about yourself. Julie Maxwell[1]

I learned to read and write when I was very young. Ever since I’ve been contriving ways to avoid doing anything else. One of my earliest memories is of being scolded for hogging the toilet (there was only one in the house) because I was actually sitting there reading a book. Maybe it was The Billy Goats Gruff, which I loved so much I wanted to get ‘inside’ it and more than once ripped it up in an attempt to do so! I also remember getting very worked up by my inability to get the tails of my y’s and g’s to go neatly under the line of my exercise book. My mother tried to tell me, ‘It doesn’t matter, Julie.’ But I insisted, ‘It matters to me.’ (Yep, I’ve always been like that.)

After reading English literature at Christ Church, Oxford, I became an academic who specialises in researching and teaching early modern English literature (i.e. Shakespeare and his contemporaries). I also publish pieces on contemporary fiction. But in 2003 my life changed when I was given a three-year Junior Research Fellowship at New College, Oxford. I had the time to do nothing but read, research, and write. That was where I wrote my first novel, You Can Live Forever. To my delight it won a Betty Trask Award (for the Best First Novels by Commonwealth Authors under 35). Last year I published a second novel, These Are Our Children – a tragi-comic story about the problems that so many women experience during pregnancy and childbirth.


Which book have you inherited from the generation above? Why is it special?


Tales of Long Ago retold by Enid Blyton. When I was about 7 or 8, we had next-door neighbours whose own kids had grown up. One day the dad casually mentioned over the garden fence that he’d give us all their old books. When exactly? we wanted to know. Tales of Long AgoTomorrow, he said. So my sister and I went round there the next day, at some over-zealous hour like six in the morning, dragging him out of bed. He stood wearily at the front door in his caramel-and-cream striped dressing gown. No, he didn’t have the books to hand. However, we got a huge boxful pretty quickly after that – presumably so that his next lie-in would not be disturbed. There were loads of brilliant children’s novels, but what stood out to me was Enid Blyton’s retelling of the tales in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Being a kid, I didn’t really register the force of the word ‘retold’ on the front cover. I thought that Blyton was the original author of the masterpiece! I was already a fan of the Famous Five, etc, but my opinion of her really went up after that. I gave the story of my encounter with ‘Blyton’s’ Metamorphoses to a character in my novel These Are Our Children.


 Which book would you like to leave to future generations? Why?

Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall. You never know what’s going to happen next and Decline and Fall is what I’d call emergency reading. You can read it in a day any time you’re in despair. If the end of civilisation envisaged by so many novelists materialises, forget the search for tinned goods and stock up on Evelyn Waugh! For the struggling novelist in particular, Howard Jacobson’s Zoo Time (which I’m currently halfway through) seems to have a similar curative effect.


Thank you for sharing you Inheritance Books with us, Julie. All the best for your new book.

TAOC PBJulie’s book These are Our Children is available now. You can contact Julie through Quercus books.