Linda Hill founded Linda’s Book Bag in February 2015 and has never looked back, rapidly becoming one of the most influential blog-based reviewers in the country.
As to how she built up her huge following, she says:
“I went on to Twitter and followed all the authors I knew, then searched for publicists and publishers. I put out a few reviews and quite soon I was asked to do a blog tour. It just grew from there – people started sending me books and requesting review space on the blog. It snowballed after the lockdowns. During the first one, I was receiving 200 emails a day. It’s even escalated since then – I’ve just been out to meet someone for coffee and when I got back there were seventy-four new messages waiting for me.”
Linda always refuses payment for anything connected with Linda’s Book Bag (she is a guest reviewer for My Weekly and does accept payment for that). She says she doesn’t want to be paid because her aim is not to act as an advertiser: it would compromise her own morality and she would find it distasteful. She does not, however, give bad reviews. “I can’t read everything I’m sent – nine books arrived this week. It’s wonderful to get a book through the post, but that doesn’t mean I’ve promised to praise it. If I read – or start to read – a book I don’t like, I contact the person who sent it to me and say it’s not for me.”
Once she has met or reviewed an author, Linda often keeps in touch with them. “Lots have become friends – I’ve been to their homes and they’ve been to mine. One of the things I most like about the book community – I mean the genuine book community, people who really love books and writing – is how mutually supportive it is.”
She has only had a couple of negative experiences over the past seven years. One author sent her a book to arrange a book tour and she discovered the book had been ‘completely stolen’ from another author. The author ‘disappeared completely’. And sometimes people who contact her are ‘not as polite as they could be’ – they may take it as a given that she will want to read and review their books.
As well as running her blog, Linda is one of the organisers of the Deepings Literary Festival, now in its third year. The original plan was for it to take place every two years, but the 2020 and 2021 events had to be cancelled owing to COVID restrictions. The festival took place this year, so the next one will be in 2024.
“In the first year I was asked to interview Alison Brice. Planning interviews takes much longer than people realise. I spend several hours researching and writing the questions. I write out the whole script – just so I can get it straight in my head, and, for the last festival, in case I went down with COVID, so someone else could take over.”
Asked if she writes herself, Linda says that she has published more than twenty tutor resource books for Hodder Education. She started her working career as an English teacher and then became an Ofsted inspector. She also set up her own business running independent projects – for example, an event in the Millennium Dome. She was in demand straight away. “The first year I went independent, I had ten free days, including weekends.” She has been encouraged to write by others and once entered a competition run by Simon and Schuster that involved writing the first few chapters of a novel. “They said they’d like to see the rest, which didn’t exist, so I wrote 55,000 words in the space of two weeks! Unsurprisingly, their verdict was that it had promise, but it wasn’t for them.” However, although she has a ‘story in her head’, Linda says she has no burning desire to write. She wants to do other things, including the Book Bag and travel. She and her husband Steve are prodigious travellers and have been from “Antarctica to Zambia, Australia to Zimbabwe.”
Linda grew up in Wood Newton, which at the time boasted a pub and a shop and a solitary telephone box. She was a late reader, not learning to read properly until she was eight, when she first acquired a pair of spectacles and realised that “all those black marks on the pages mean something.” Thomas Hardy is her favourite writer from the classics. Among her modern favourites are Carol Lovekin, Chris Whitaker and, for crime, M W Craven, to whom goes the distinction of being the only writer whose entire series of books she has read. She says her tastes in writing are eclectic – she reads most types of fiction, except SF, Fantasy and Horror.
Asked what advice she would give to new authors, Linda says:
“When you’re contacting reviewers or other people on social media, don’t just launch in with ‘Here’s my book; buy it!’ Build up a following by following authors of books similar to your own. Support other authors. Organise a blog tour – it’s like undertaking a physical tour of bookshops. Take part in social media regularly – not necessarily by writing a lot, but by constantly reminding people you are there. Join Facebook groups – the Crime Book Club, Book Connections. Interact with people. Create relationships and build them up. Be brave: approach local libraries and radio stations. Be prepared to put yourself out there – I know this is hard for some authors.”
In the wonderful wordy world of Twitter, I have discovered wit and wisdom as well as utter tripe; philosophical musings and mundane mutterings; verbal zeniths and linguistic nadirs. I arrived on this astonishing ethereal plane only last October, armed with a mighty prejudice against it, but told that it was essential to the contemporary writer’s existence. I still don’t know whether this latter is true, but I have, contrary to my biased expectations, had a fun time of it! I was certainly delighted to receive the above compliment about my idiomatic use of language from ‘The Grumbling Gargoyle’ (@LynnGerrard), who, btw, does a well bad tweet.
‘Fun time of it ? That’s a bit colloquial, Christina! Are you letting your standards slip? That’s the trouble with Twitter: it’s full of acronyms and slang. It’s like television, appealing to the lowest common denominator and debasing your every utterance…’ Oh, dear: the voice of a high school mistress, prim and proper and insisting on perfect phrasing and enunciation.
One of the really interesting (to me, at least) ironic things about having received a ‘formal’ education in grammar is the fact that it was a straitjacket that for many years constrained my own writing, even if it ensured that my expression was ‘correct’. Over time, however, I let my creative hair down and played… and played. I broke rules and loved being a linguistic iconoclast; the results were so much more interesting and original. However, I do remain firmly of the belief that this works only if the rules to be broken are understood and the ungrammatical is deliberate.
An English teacher I know was bewailing the fact that her pupils in their conversation almost universally use street slang, such as ‘sick’ and ‘wicked’ and ‘evil’ and ‘bad’, all degrees of approbation; I’m not sure why anyone, least of all English teachers, should mind this, as pupils are consciously employing and enjoying irony in their daily interactions. What’s wrong with that? Revelling in opposites seems like fun and kids like fun and learn from it; they are playing. Give me a wicked (not ‘wickedly’!) ironic conversation rather than a formal Govean lesson on what irony is, any day. I expect that most teachers are still doing their best (Rock on!) to provide a strong grammatical foundation and I can understand why they might be frustrated by the prevalence of, say, ‘could of ’ in pupils’ formal writing, as it reveals lack of understanding of the spoken corruption of ’ve, but I hope that they are also broad-minded enough to enjoy the verbal devilment of children’s experimentation with words.
Thank you, Twitter, for the best of your frivolity. U iz well cool.