2016 Snapshot: Stephanie O’Connell

Interview by David McDonald.

To call you a prolific reviewer would be an understatement! As well as Goodreads, your reviews can be found on 100% Rock Magazine and BookLikes. Could you tell us a little bit about those venues? Is there a methodology behind the way you approach reviews, whether it is what you choose to look at, or how you structure a review?

My reviewing “home” is on 100% Rock Magazine, and this is the only place that full reviews can be found. I do, however, publish partial reviews with links to the master post back on 100% Rock. But these sites are more than just a way to garner traffic. Goodreads and BookLikes have different items in their respective pro/con lists, but what it boils down to is that these are social networking sites for lovers of books. They’re a great way to turn reading into something of a social activity, and a brilliant alternative to shoving your recent favourite book down the throats of all your friends so you’ll have someone to talk to about it.

I mean… “encouraging” your friend to get in on an awesome book is all well and good, but sometimes they don’t like the genres you do and, well, there’s just no accounting for taste.
When choosing books, my methodology has actually changed recently with the change of day job. For the past couple of years, while working in a bookshop, I always made an effort to read a little from every genre in order to be able to assist the customers better. Now, while it’s true that I will enjoy reading anything so long as it’s well written, I’ve always been a horror, sci-fi, young adult reader at heart. Since moving over to work as a sales rep for a children’s publisher, I’ve been able to focus more on the genres that are near and dear to me.
When it comes to the reviewing stage, it really depends on the title. Sometimes a review just pours from my fingertips, typically when I either loved or loathed the title, but when my feelings towards a book are around the middle of the scale, it can be a little difficult.
In this situation I will usually take the blurb as a starting point, insert some quotes I recorded while reading, and throw some of my feelings at the page. Eventually a common theme or a train of thought will emerge, and everything just clicks into place from there. There have been books that I’ve let sit for a while with the intention to come back at a later stage, but it’s definitely easier to review within 24 hours of finishing the title.
You’re also an editor. Do you find it hard switching between the two roles of reviewer and editor? Or do they feed into one another?
Sometimes I feel like the fun part of my reading brain is broken, and bemoan the fact that maybe I can’t enjoy books anymore. A title will inevitably come along and bowl me over, reassuring me that there is still hope and I haven’t turned into an evil, book-hating monster. But at the same time, I do feel like the editing and reviewing feed into each other.
Writers can learn a lot from reading, and it’s the same for editors. We get to see what works, what doesn’t, and different ways to potentially approach a roadblock in our own works. And, of course, the editing helps me to look critically at review titles and sometimes this helps to pinpoint where the story went down the wrong track.
What other projects have you been working on, and what can we expect to see from you in the future?

Well, I’m technically also a writer, but with a day job, reviewing, and editing, it can be a little hard to properly switch off the work brain and get lost in creating my own stories.

In the more immediate future, I am hoping to launch a curated reading subscription, which will trade on my editing, reviewing, and book-recommending experience over the past six years.

What Australian work have you loved recently?
I’m really loving where Aussie YA is going at the moment. It pushes boundaries and confronts its readers, and it does so in a voice that those of us who grew up in Australia can really feel at home at the same time.
From the YA category, I’d have to recommend Yellow by Megan Jacobson, which is set in Australia in the nineties; deals with issues such as alcoholism, bullying, and not fitting in; and readers can play a game of “spot the aussie thing” and get caught up in the nostalgia.
I’d also like to mention a few fantastic speculative YA titles that came out last year, and hence don’t quite fit under the recent category:
In the Skin of a Monster by Kathryn Barker is set in a small town on the Federal Highway in NSW. It’s far more speculative than the blurb suggests, and absolutely blew me away.
Lifespan of Starlight by Thalia Kalkipsakis is a time travel story set in Melbourne, with elements of Gattaca and The Time Traveler’s Wife.
Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff doesn’t take place in Australia, but is by two Melbourne-based authors, and is delivered in a style that really breaks the mould in terms of formatting.
Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?
I can’t pick one, so I would just have to give up easy access to the aisle and a nice view out the window to sit next to both Jasper Fforde and Patrick Ness. (There are so many others that spring to mind, but these two won out, so you’re just going to have to let me have two.)
Jasper Fforde, because he’s witty and silly all at once; there would be no shortage of fiction based humour, and the worlds he creates are so well built that they just make sense – punny coincidences and all.
Patrick Ness, because each of his books is different from the last (unless in the same series), he doesn’t pick a genre or a trope and just rehash it over and over like some authors do, ad nauseam, but explores and stretches his writing muscles.
They both seem like really great people, and I also think they’d get on well!

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