Courage in your convictions

Friday, March 23, 2018
Thuy On interviewed by James Cayley

If you love reading, chances are you've thought about reviewing books, too. Ahead of her Writers on Wednesday workshop on Book Reviewing, James Cayley asked The Big Issue books editor, Thuy On, what it takes to make it as a professional reviewer.


How or can you switch off the reviewer’s mind-set and read for pleasure?

I usually have a book set aside that's not work-related that I read at leisure, for pleasure. 

Does being a professional reviewer mean you are very critical about your own work?

Yes - this is why I have not published a book! Though I have recently started writing poetry again after a long hiatus. It's refreshing to be able to be confessional and self-dramatise. For so long I have worked with other people's words; the poems are all my own and are cathartic to write. 

Everyone who has read a book has an opinion on it. What are the key points that make a professional reviewer’s work commercially viable?

As with all forms of successful writing, you have to be a good writer. It makes no jot of difference if you are writing a novel, a review, a screenplay etc. You have to use words judiciously.

In the social media age, where everyone is able to share their ratings and opinions, what are the major challenges facing a contemporary book critic?

To stick to your opinion and not be swayed by the chorus of others. You are being asked (and hopefully paid) for your own beliefs, not for what everyone thinks. Maintain courage in your own convictions. 

You say you have a well-stocked library. What is on the top of your “to read” pile? And what is still sitting on your “shelf-of-shame”? 

I have several books by lovely friends who have just released their latest works: ‘The Fortress’ by SA Jones and ‘Little Gods’ by Jenny Ackland. Both are high on the list. Too many shelves of shame to mention here.


About Thuy On

Thuy On is the books editor of The Big Issue. She is also a freelance critic, (arts) writer and editorial Jill-of-all-trades. She has written for a number of publications including The Australian, The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, Australian Book Review, Books + Publishing, Overland, Westerly, Meanjin and Australian Short Stories. Thuy mostly concentrates on book criticism and journalism but she has also reviewed theatre, film and comedy. 

About James Cayley

James Cayley lives, works and writes in Melbourne. He has worked variously in publishing, corporate recruitment and landscape gardening. He is studying the Masters in Creative Writing, Publishing and Editing at the University of Melbourne.