Hello everyone and welcome to my first Non-Fiction November blogger interview here on Always Trust In Books. I am so pleased to have Paul Cheney answer some of my questions about the NF titles he has been tearing through in 2017. I think Paul’s blog is excellent, he is certainly one of the bloggers that inspired me with ATIB and set the bar tremendously high for quality. Paul reads a lot of NF and it was great to have a chance to pick his brains about what he really appreciates about the genre. First I will share Paul’s blog bio and where you can find him on social media, then on to the questions!
About Paul Cheney & Halfman, Halfbooks
I have always loved all things about reading and books, and cannot walk past a bookshop or library without popping in; just to look, you understand. I read all types and genres of books, but my real passion is for non-fiction, in particular travel, natural history, history and science. I also love science fiction and fantasy and try to read some contemporary fiction too. Writing for Nudge Books as their voice of Book Life.
Interview with Paul Cheney
Hey Paul and welcome to Non-Fiction November here on Always Trust In Books. Thanks for participating and taking the time to answer a few questions centred around what you appreciate about Non-Fiction!
First off, can you tell us a few details about your blog?
I started the blog, halfmanhalfbook.blogspot.co.uk in April 2016 after the editor of New Books magazine suggested that it would be worthwhile doing. At the moment it mostly consists of reviews and books that I haul from publishers, bookshops and the library. The reviews are initially published in Goodreads and it disseminates them to my blog, Facebook and Twitter at the same time. I am now very fortunate to get lots of review copies landing on my door mat so people must be reading the blog and reviews.
At the moment I am using Blogger, but I have considered transferring to Word Press. According to the stats on Blogger I am now getting around 1500 – 2000 hits a month, which I find astonishing. I have taken part in two blog tours so far, one for the Wellcome Prize and the other for A Gathering of Ravens.
I am looking to write more articles about reading and books as these seem to have had far more hits that the reviews and hauls have, so I am in the process of developing ideas and sketching out notes in preparation.
What type of non-fiction do you usually reach for?
Around 75% of my reading each year is non-fiction, the remainder compromising a smattering of contemporary fiction, science fiction and fantasy. My two favourite non-fiction genres are travel and natural history, closely followed by science, history, memoirs and biographies. I do read some books in the sports I follow (cycling, MotoGP, cricket and Formula 1) as well as books on real life spies, technology, maths (yes maths), some politics and economics and various miscellaneous subjects. Basically the weird stuff most people don’t bother with.
What is the most recent NF book you have read and what did you think of it?
Finished Of Orcas and Men: What Killer Whales Can Teach Us by David Neiwert last week. This is all things a good non-fiction book should be, it is well researched and well written with a solid narrative. He manages to deftly blend the myths behind these magnificent creatures, up to date science whilst telling of his personal encounters with them when kayaking. Well worth reading.
Have you got a favourite read that you come back to now and then?
I rarely re read books, having got a backlog that you would not believe. At some point I would like to read Robert Macfarlane’s and Kathleen Jamie’s books again as they are just quite wonderful.
What is it about NF that interests you about the genre?
For me it is an opportunity to learn something is a way that doesn’t feel educational. Non-fiction can be as good as fiction sometimes, especially when you have an author that can knows how to pace a book and ensure that the narrative flows.
Why should people read Non-Fiction as much as/more than Fiction, in your opinion?
People need to find what is right for them. I am of the mind that just reading one genre is not going to give you a healthy balance as fiction is good for the soul and non-fiction is good for the mind. I do have moments, in particular when I am reading a shortlist, where I read a lot of one genre, but after that, I then balance it with reading something utterly different. Non-fiction has an image of being slightly stuffy and dare I say it, educational. This can be true sometimes now, but I have read non-fiction books that are as fast paced and as exciting as thrillers, The Wave by Susan Casey or The Backpacker by John Harris are two that spring to mind.
If people are not sure about what they want to read I would suggest going and getting a few from the library. This has two effects, one that you are using a resource that is currently under threat from government cuts, secondly that if you don’t like what you have chosen, then just drop it back.
Alternatively have a look at one of the various non-fiction book prizes that exist. They don’t get as much publicity as the Booker or other literary ones, but they are equally important in my book. There is the Edward Stanford prize for travel, and they have expanded their remit so they do guide books, children’s, fiction with a sense of place and adventure travel. The Wellcome Prize and the Royal Society Prize concentrate on science books, The Baillie Gifford is general non-fiction and the Wainwright Prize is for UK nature, landscape and travel book.
If you could write a NF book, which subject would you likely choose?
You are not the first person to ask this, one publicity manager at a publisher did at the London Book Fair. Not sure I yet have the ability to write a book, though I do have one idea that I have contemplated and it might just work…
Is there a NF book you have had your eye on but haven’t had the chance to read yet?
Ha! Yes. Where do I start? I have a massive pile of review copies to read that I am so behind on, lots of which I am looking forward to reading, but one in particular is the new John Lewis-Stempel book, the Secret Life of the Owl. He is a twice winner of the Wainwright Prize and one of the best natural history writers around at the moment.
Who is your go to NF author?
Same answer as above! Where do I start?
One of my all time favourites is Robert Macfarlane. I will read almost anything he writes. Another author who is normally a poet, but writes equally beautifully crafted prose is Kathleen Jamie. Her books are just something else. For travel I would recommend Colin Thubron, a writer who can bring out the places he passes through like know other. As I mentioned above, John Lewis-Stempel is a fine natural history writer. There are many, many others who have shaped and refined my reading.
Which Non-Fiction title did you enjoy reviewing the most?
Climbing Days with Dan Richards was good fun. It was the first interview that I had ever done with an author for New Books magazine. Even though it was sent by email via the publicist I was still a touch nervous. It went reslly well, and he said that he had a lot of fun doing it. I have since met him (and got him to sign all his books) and he is a really nice guy with a warm sense of humour.
Which upcoming NF release are you most looking forward to?
Lots and lots! I already have 30 books for 2018 on a list I am compiling. But one in particular is Ground Work: Writings on People and Places by Tim Dee.
Thank you so much for your time, I really appreciate having other bloggers to chat with and recommend to my readers. Most importantly thanks for taking part in #NonFictionNovember
Thank you to Paul for those brilliant insights into why he chooses to read Non-Fiction. Paul’s blog is an inspiration to me as a blogger and a reviewer and I can’t get enough of his reviews. I really appreciate Paul agreeing to take part in this interview and to help me celebrate this very important genre! Please show your appreciation for Paul and his blog in the comments and visit his blog here 😀