Lynne Hatwell: Meet the blogger

Lynne Hatwell: Meet the blogger

While traditional review pages are being increasingly squeezed, the literary blogging scene has exploded, with one "Devonshire-based book-aholic, sock-knitting quilter", Dovegreyreader, consistently picked out as the go-to site for book commentary.

Yet Lynne Hatwell, for it is she, insists: "I didn't set myself up as a literary critic or even a book reviewer, because I just wanted to be really subjective about what I was writing about. I wanted to think about whether my writing would be different if I was writing for other people to read, other than what I had always done, which is keep a book journal."

Dovegreyreader.co.uk launched in March 2006, and Hatwell's blog now attracts 1,000 viewers a day from 181 countries. When she started she was so thrilled to get 20 visitors in one day that she rang her father, who dismayingly said: "I've looked at your blog six times today. I was so proud I had to keep going back!" Now her readership is so loyal she says she has to update every day, otherwise she receives anxious emails.

Hatwell, who makes no money from the site, says that she only realised it was becoming successful when, after a while, she no longer had to buy books since publishers were sending them to her.

She starts "about three or four" books a week, with usually about six on the go at any one time. Since she began, she has written around 2,200 reviews and essays. She says she tells publishers not to send her books they think she might like. "I don't think I have a comfort zone in my reading any more because what the blog's made me do is explore all different avenues and read books I wouldn't normally have read."

Her credo is to be "transparent and honest" about the books she covers and she has been praised by Philip Hensher among others, for her "expert and disinterested" writing. She thinks this is because she has "no axe to grind. I don't want to make it look like I'm there to sell books because I'm not, you need to be very careful as a blogger that you're not used as a marketing tool." She cites this as another reason why she only writes about books she's enjoyed: "Why give publicity to a bad book? Why help a bad book sell?"

Whether blogs do help sell books is a moot point, but Hatwell says: "I think it's good for bookselling, [people] might be reading blogs where they might never have dreamt of reading reviews... I think critics perhaps feel threatened by it [book blogging], but I don't think they need to. I think the people who have always read paper reviews will still read them. And people who never did read them won't start."

"[As a blogger] you are helping people make informed decisions. So many of my friends say they walk into Waterstones and haven't got a clue. I think we make an assumption that everyone knows what they want to read, and they don't. So that's the three-for-two tables, isn't it? People just go in and are told what to read. I don't think it's a bad thing, but what I think is not a good thing is that publishers pay money to get books on those tables, so it's the publishers with money who can get those books into that space."

"When you sit down in Devon, you're not part of a literary scene. I'm the person on the street who says: 'Oh, have you read this?' but I live miles from streets. The only things that go past are tractors and cows. There's nobody I can press a book on, so I do it on the blog."