The annual Malta Book Festival is currently taking place in Valletta’s Mediterranean Conference Center (MCC).

It is free of charge and open to the public morning and evenings, plus all day during the weekend.

Times of Malta participated in ‘A Riveting Workshop’ by former BBC-journalists Rosie Goldsmith and Max Easterman. 

Both are engaged with the European Literature Network (ELN).

“We are very happy to be here because some writers that you have in Malta are truly amazing, and they must be known to the world!” Ms Goldsmith told the participants.

The session was focused on introducing the participants to the art of reviewing.

“We use the word riveting a lot, because it all has to be riveting! Especially if you want to be a reviewer for us,” the two journalists stated while speaking about the work that ELN has started.

“People ask us how they could get a foot into the BBC, but we usually tell them to start up a blog or a website to get their own thing going instead! Reviewing is an extremely competitive business and the spaces offered are getting less and less,” Ms Goldsmith explained while sharing an audio-recording by reputable critic Claire Armitstead:

“A part of being a critic is that you will get reactions, but that’s a part of the task you know? A good critique is seldom a popular one,” The Guardian reviewer was heard saying to a crowd in the (comparable to Malta) small islands of Jamaica.

A reviewer needs to address the general reader, the session was told.  

“A review should contribute to enhancing the bigger picture. It tells what’s good and bad about a piece of writing. Another thing is that you must put together an introduction, a main part, and a conclusion to consider it a review. It should deliver insights to the wider world of literature by putting the piece into a context. So, in order to become a good reviewer you must also read a lot” Max Easterman emphasised.

“Most importantly, to stand out as a critic, what you write have to be presented in a personal way because in the end people will keep only read your reviews because they know what style you have!” Ms Goldsmith chirped in.

He explained that people sometimes confuse a negative review with being the same as bad, but a ‘bad’ review is badly written, and a good review needs to contain both positive and negative critique!.

The second part of the workshop was dedicated to giving aspiring publishers or becoming writers hands-on advice for doing successful PR. Some general tips from Ms Goldsmith and Mr Easterman were also given and could be summarised with the popular acronym K.I.S.S. - for Keep It Short and Simple!

The role of reviewing in 2017

Following the two hour-workshop Times of Malta asked a few questions about what reviewing means today. Here is what the guest speakers had to say:

“People often like to share their views about books that have read, but a good reviewer offers a more qualified critique based on knowledge and experience which can give the reader a broader and deeper perspective.

"Just like we still need good journalists and not only 'citizen' journalists, good reviewers are needed to explain and clarify to A general reader”.

"A good critic must also write well and interestingly so that readers want to read what they write.

"The main challenges for reviewers in print today are limited space in newspapers and magazines, smaller budgets, the large number of books printed and competing for review space.

"Online reviewing is becoming the norm and provides an excellent platform but it cannot become the only norm. There also needs to be a strategy for online reviewing, and that strategy must include professionalism, quality and consistency.

"Readers must be able to trust a reviewer. That takes time, and as with media in general, to create trustworthiness people need to remember the reviewer. 

Here are some of Rosie Goldsmith’s tips for writing a good review:

- Never write only about the middle of the book or about a part of the story that doesn’t make sense to the reader (especially in crime-reviewing, always avoid spoilers).
- How did the book make you feel? What was your favourite part of the book?
- Did you find anything you didn’t like about the book?

- Consider plot, character and style.
- Round up the review (summarise some of the thoughts, who is the book suitable for etc.)
- If it is demanded of you, give the book a grading.

The purpose of the Malta Book Festival is to promote reading and literacy while engaging visitors in discussions with both writers and literature experts.

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