• John Dempster

Aoife Lyall on writing review of novels and poems

Last night, poet and writer Aoife Lyall led an inspiring workshop on ‘Writing Review of Poetry and Prose’ at a HighlandLIT Online event attended by seventeen of us.


Aoife began by sharing ‘Hints and Tips’ gathered from her own experience of writing reviews of poetry and novels both for her own website, and for other publications.


She emphasised the range of opportunities for review writing which exist, varying in length from brief reviews on Amazon or Goodreads to the 5,000 critical essay. And she warned us that reviewing is time-consuming – to write and edit a 500-word review takes her 15-20 hours, including the time spent on reading the work in question. Reviewing is never going to make you rich, she confessed. The average payment for a review of up to 1000 words is around £40.


Of all the ‘Hints and Tips’ what struck me most was Aoife’s focus on writing reviews with confidence: someone may feel ‘who am I to criticise?’ But in fact, Aoife assured us we are allowed to have an opinion – our voice is part of the conversation that is only beginning when the writer puts down her pen. Each reader brings their own experiences to their reading; each of us encounters a work in a unique way. As long as we evidence from the text supporting our point of view, our review will have integrity. I really loved Aoife’s focus on integrity – aiming for honestly-written reviews which have no ulterior motive


In the second part of the evening, Aoife read through a review she had written of HighlandLIT member Helen Sedwick’s novel The Growing Season, showing how the review was structured and the thinking behind each paragraph. She also discussed her review of Postcolonial Love Poem the second collection of work by Natalie Diaz, giving some hints on reviewing a collection of verse – read the whole book, she said, focus on the things which leap out at you, the themes linking the poems, and weave your review around those insights.


And finally, we had the privilege of reading two of Aoife’s own poems, and deciding what we might say if we were reviewing them.


Aoife emphasised throughout the evening that the review writer is enriched through the process of reviewing. Preparing a review compels you to engage thoughtfully with the work being reviewed, processing your reaction to it, and learning from it techniques which can subsequently be deployed in your own writing.


It was an inspiring evening, which encouraged those of us who feel a hint of ‘imposter syndrome’ when we have to write a review: our reading, as long as it is backed up by reasons, is valid, and we can take part confidently in the on-going conversation.


Thanks Aoife, for sharing with us last night! We look forward very much to reading (and perhaps reviewing!) your own first collection Mother, Nature which is published by Bloodaxe on 25th February. You can book here to attend the book launch on Tuesday 23rd February.

Aoife’s website is here.



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