Today we travel to Paris to chat with Keith Crawford about how being a retired naval officer, driving speedboats, dancing with a princess, lecturing, being a stay-at-home Dad, owning a radio production company, spaceships, and coffee come together as part of Keith’s past and current life.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I am a 42-year-old retired naval officer, disabled veteran with PTSD, Doctor of Law and Economics, trained Barrister, playwright and novelist. I travelled all over the world, drove speedboats and flew aeroplanes, spoke at conferences and danced with a princess. After my injury I spent 6 years in a wheelchair, during which time the Navy paid for me to go to University. It was there I met my future wife, an extraordinary French girl who I was convinced would come to London with me if I came out and spent some time in France first. We have now lived in Paris since 2008.
In 2014 I was lecturing at Sciences Po when my wife fell pregnant. I decided to leave my job in order to support her career and be there for our children – we now have three. Becoming a stay-at-home Dad was quite a change in lifestyle, never mind being a man and a foreigner in a totally different childcare environment. The same year I set up my writing blog, www.aboutwriting.org, as a developmental journal of my quest to learn to write fiction. My objective was to put the ideas I taught from behavioural law & economics in an entertaining, high octane context so that I could talk to more than just privileged grad-students (who were lovely but probably had all the advantages they needed already).
I set up www.littlewonder.website, a radio production company, to commission, produce and publish plays by new and diverse writers. We have published more than 40 plays, all of which are free to access and usually get around 3000 listeners. My play Kevin’s World was longlisted by the BBC Drama Room Competition, and my first novel, Vile, a critique of our theory of knowledge and the violence inherent in patriarchy wrapped up in swordfights and murders, was published in December 2019. My second novel, Dead Moon, is the story of a starfighter pilot trying to get pregnant in the last days before the end of the world and will be published on August 30th, 2020.
Why did you choose to be a book blogger or how did you come to be a book blogger? How long have you been book blogging?
I first came across book blogging via the fabulous Kelly Lacey of Love Books Group, who did a book blog tour of my novel Vile. This was a lovely experience where people who were passionate about reading read and talked about my novel – basically the dream come true! It seemed like such a lovely community that I wanted to be part of it. I joined Anne Cater’s book connectors group in early 2020.
I have always read both widely and voraciously. Since I started taking fiction writing seriously, I’ve kept notes and written amazon reviews as a way of reflecting on what I read. Given that I already have a blog it was a short step to start writing book reviews. The biggest shift was size: my reflective journal articles tend to be thousands of words long, whereas a decent book review shouldn’t be much more than 300 if you want to get it on Instagram (which may or may not be worthwhile, but at least it keeps me unusually concise!)
Kelly Lacey’s Love Books Group: https://lovebooksgroup.com/author/lovebooksgroup/
Anne Cater’s Book Connectors: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1466353170351020/
Are you accepting requests at the moment? How do you prefer to be contacted?
I am not accepting requests, as I prefer soliciting authors who are looking for reviews over social media or via book-blogging groups. It has been my experience producing both theatre and radio plays that many writers are extremely bad at reading submission requirements! As I’m a new book blogger I shall for the time being stay in safer waters.
That being said, I am interested in reading more books by British writers of colour and transsexual writers. British can be by birth, naturalisation, or hanging round in Britain long enough to have picked up our bad habits (except racism, you can skip the racism) – so writers who fit that criteria should contact me via the form on my website, https://www.aboutwriting.org/contact-us/
No promises though.
What information do you want to receive with the request?
First of all, confirm that you are a British writer of colour or transsexual. I’ll take your word for it; it is up to you to self-define – just remember you’re going to look like an idiot if it comes out that you lied. I’m looking to broaden my horizons and help promote two groups that often find it difficult to be heard. Yes, I know it is difficult for everyone, but there are plenty of other far more prestigious book bloggers out there you can try if you’re frustrated by all that awful anti-white racisms everywhere. (Do I need to put a sarcasm emoji there? Po’s law is not my friend.)
Second, give me a clue as to the genre. I’m into Science Fiction, Urban Fantasy and Literary Fiction with a story (I like pretty language as much as anyone, but it needs to have a story!) I read well researched historical fiction, that is to say by a historian, and I’m prepared to give anything to go if the pitch amuses me. I’m not very interested in memoirs, and as I’m ex-forces thrillers aren’t likely to thrill me unless they are either highly realistic or deliberately fantastical.
Thus, the pitch: a blurb giving me an idea of the story and that gets me interested.
Please be aware that because I receive a lot of submission due to my other work, many of which are unsolicited, I won’t reply unless I’m interested. I know that’s harsh, but I just don’t have enough hours in the day!
What types of book blog posts do you offer? Reviews, interviews, book spotlight, guest posts, etc.
My two main post types are long, off-beat ramblings about the nature of writing, and clear, analytic (and, erm, chatty) book reviews that are written to fit the Instagram word limit. I strive to be positive but will also almost always find some reservation or point of curiosity in a book – no matter who the writer – because I feel the review is more useful this way.
I do interview people I have run into and find interesting and will do more. I am absolutely open to guest posts and happy to do an exchange for anyone who enjoys absent minded academic types blithering on their blog.
I’m not involved in book tours or similar at the moment, but if I find a good home it sounds lovely!
What is your preferred book format to read? If digital, what digital file do you prefer?
Paperbacks! I love a good paperback. Hardbacks are cumbersome. Paperbacks go in my little bag with me to the park, where I try to keep half an eye on the children whilst being transported. God, I love reading.
I read plenty of digital books and think this is a hugely important part of the market, particularly as it has allowed authors who would never before have been heard to meet their audience (yes, I read Taken by the T-Rex, and no, my mind will never be the same again.) As long as the format doesn’t predate the millennium, I can read anything. PDF’s are probably the easiest.
Do you only participate in official blog tours or do you accept requests from authors? Do you accept request from indie authors, or indie publishers? Would you like to share a few of your favourite blog tour operators?
I don’t participate in blog tours (other than as an author) but I’d like too in the future when I understand them better. I absolutely do review Indie authors and try to make sure at least a quarter of my reviews are of Indie Books.
My favourite blog tour operators are Kelly Lacey of Love Books Group, because she is just a lovely and amazing person who got people to read my books whilst making me feel energised and excited rather than alcoholic and razorbladey, and Anne Cater from Book Connectors who takes absolutely no shit and thus curates one of the most positive communities I’ve met on the internet. I don’t know how she does it, but I am in awe!
What is your preferred genre? Do you read nonfiction, memoirs, or any style of poetry? What genres do you NOT read?
Science Fiction, Science Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, anything with a big concept or big idea. I read a lot of classic literature because it must be classic for a reason, and I’ll read absolutely anything that catches my eye. I don’t read a lot of memoirs, and particularly dislike biographies of people who are still alive – it feels disrespectful (my own quirk, I don’t expect others to feel the same way.)
I do read and blog about non-fiction, but unless you’re well known in your field – that is at least a PhD and probably tenure unless the research is REALLY innovative – there’s no way you’re ever going to make it to the top of my book pile. Not to mention I’m currently reading and annotating Pickerty’s Capital in the 21st Century in the original French, so goodness only knows when I’ll emerge.
My speciality is law and economics. I’ve written for the economist on insolvency law and I know far too much about why people make stupid decisions and do illegal things to ever have hope for humanity again! So, yeah, send me spaceships.
Do you write a review if you did not like the book? Do you use a star rating system for reviews you write?
This is a tough one. First, if I really don’t like the book, I won’t publish a review – and I won’t finish the book. I’ll send a message to the author saying that the book didn’t work for me and it is best that I not leave a review. This is occasionally the point (from my experience with scripts) that you receive a return message embellished with extraordinary vulgarity. Life on the internet can be tough, and one moves on (thankful, with a certain sadness, that one is neither female nor black – as us large white men get it relatively easy).
I always try to make at least one critical point about the book. This is not necessarily a negative point (although it can be). Rather, every book has something in it that might not quite work or might be off-putting for some people. I think that is an important part of a reviewer’s job (e.g. I love Hemmingway but if you don’t include a content warning for Generation Z readers, they might get a shock!) I stick rigorously to what the Navy called the “Shit Sandwich” rule: start with something good, mention reservations, finish with something good. Who knew the Navy were so thoughtful?
As for stars, this is tricky, because review inflation (something I wrote an article about) basically means that anything three stars or lower is a negative review (and one star is trolling). I usually don’t leave a star review on my blog, but as I always add the reviews on Amazon (which is what the author really cares about) and Goodreads I’ll put 5* if I loved the book and 4* for everyone else. Hopefully, the content of the review is enough to say how I really feel.
Article about writing reviews and review star inflation at https://www.aboutwriting.org/how-to-write-a-good-book-review/
Once contacted, when can the author or blog tour operator expect to hear from you?
Slowly, and only if I am interested in the book. Blog Tour operators can expect a faster response, but I have three small children, a business, my book blog, my exciting and ever dynamic disability, and novels to write.
That being said, I read like lawyer (when you study law you learn to read fast or you fail), so I get through books pretty fast and once you’re on my pile I’ll get a review out in a couple of months.
If it is part of a book tour and there is a deadline, then I will meet the deadline. I never miss deadlines. Yes, in my head that was spoken like the climatic line from the James Bond film The World is Not Enough, which I maintain is a great Bond film.
What is your favourite aspect of book blogging?
It makes me think about the book more deeply, which doubles the pleasure and also helps improve my writing. I also know how desperately important reviews are to authors so, particularly when it comes to Indie authors, I love being able to give them that knowledge that someone out there has read and thought about their work.
Ever since I started book blogging I’ve been reading much more. I always read, I’ve always loved to read, but whereas before it felt like a guilty pleasure blogging about it has made me actualise reading as an important part of my work process. Gosh, that was a pretentious sentence. Book blogging makes me read more, and I like reading!
What does your ideal reading space look like?
As a dysfunctional alcoholic pretending he is a high-functioning alcoholic, basically, a bar or café. It’s the same for writing. I adore that amorphous background noise that is so much less oppressive than the silence of a library (much as I love libraries).
Plus the cup of coffee (not beer or wine or anything fun) steaming away next to me makes me feel like a grown up, which is something you start to lose when you spend most of your time with your small children.
Writing around children is exceptionally difficult. I do it when I have to, although I’d prefer to pay attention to them (one shouldn’t give children too much attention, mind. Smelly little things 😉). Escaping to a café, opening up my laptop, absent minded letting my coffee go cold and getting words on the page or leaning back and leafing through whatever I’m currently reading is basically heaven.
If you could have a fantasy tea or coffee date with an author, book blogger, or famous person from the past or present, who would it be and what would you ask them?
I want to be Margaret Atwood when I grow up. I recognise that there are several barriers, not least intellect, culture (as in, she is more cultured that me), and nationality (which in this case is to say the other sort of culture). However, while I most often reference Iain Banks or Stephen Donaldson as the writers I most resemble (my ego is indeed that large), Margaret Atwood writes the sort of books I want to write if I were the dream version of me. She says big, interesting things while never forgetting the importance of story and telling it with beautiful, beautiful language.
The truth is that the coffee date conversation would mostly revolve around how she does this as well as managing her academic career, responsibilities, teaching and other publishing! I found teaching exhausting and rewarding, probably in that order. I’d also be interested to hear how she feels about contemporary feminism and the suppression of debate (including whether that suppression genuinely exists), on the promise that I wouldn’t share a word she said. I do think all these prominent people getting lots of press coverage about how they aren’t allowed to speak their mind while speaking their mind is rather silly, but Professor Atwood is obviously smarter than me so I’d be keen to listen to her side of the story.
I would say more, but I’m worried that at this rate the rest of the world is going to give Canada an unrecoverable superiority complex…
What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned about yourself through reading and book blogging?
Social media makes me anxious! Put me in a burning building and tell me to get everyone out in one piece before the gas tanks explode, fine, no worries. Leave a mean comment on a blog post and I’ll be up all night wondering what I did wrong.
There are lots of unspoken rules of book blogging (I would speak them, but, well, they’re unspoken) and I’ve made a few mistakes that the community has helped me through. Therefore, I think, it’s essential for new book bloggers to talk to each other and help each other out. I think I’ve worried more about social media reactions than I worried about my results from the bar exams!
Bleurgh. 2020 has made me long for the 1990s more than any other year!
What do you miss about being a kid?
Absolutely nothing. I hated being a kid. If I could erase my memory before the age of 16 (when I left home) I would be sorely tempted. It was an awful time that I had to follow up with crazy military adventures just to make sure that the blackness of it all didn’t swallow me.
Why on earth am I admitting this in an interview? Just in case there’s somebody who reads this who needs to hear the following: it’s okay if your childhood wasn’t great. It doesn’t make you a bad person, even if you did bad things. You were a kid! Wouldn’t you forgive a kid? I would forgive my kids anything. And if your parents won’t forgive you, that makes them the problem, not you.
As for people who did bad things to you, you don’t have to forgive them. You don’t have to do anything except be where you are. Make where you are the best it can be – not brilliant, not perfect, not the shining single Instagram shot – just enjoy where you are. There’s always next year to be Margaret Atwood (2020 is a write off anyway).
It was great having you be a part of MTA, Keith. I joined the Book Connectors facebook group around April 2019. It has been life changing! Love that group. And, that’s how we met, too! All the best to you! – Camilla
Link to the novel Vile:
Link to the novel Dead Moon:
Kelly Lacey’s Love Books Group: https://lovebooksgroup.com/author/lovebooksgroup/
Anne Cater’s Book Connectors: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1466353170351020/
Review policy link: https://www.aboutwriting.org/the-about-writing-book-blog/
Contact form link: https://www.aboutwriting.org/contact-us/
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