Now and then

Inspired by a recent comment about paywalls on my review links, I thought it would be a good idea to post an update on how I use my blog now, and how you can make best use of it too.

But first, the past. I started this blog in 2007 and for a time kept up what looks now like impossible – or get-a-life – levels of activity: posting a new review every other day, more or less. Of course that was before I had children… After a while it settled down to a regular pattern of two reviews a week.

In 2011, a few things happened. I started a new job, became a dad for the second time, and started writing reviews professionally from time to time. The first two of these started to affect my productivity on Asylum; the third didn’t really as I was only writing a few reviews a year professionally.

In recent years, my increasingly busy day-job and steadily busy dad-job meant my activity here swooped down, gradually and then suddenly, until I more or less stopped writing new reviews here. What you’ll probably see if you look back is a flurry of good intentions at the start of each year, and then regrets. (I’m sorry!)

This year, 2019, another change! I left my day job (dad job remains intact), and am now a full-time freelance book botherer. This means I write reviews, features and interviews for newspapers, magazines and websites for a living. And I’m thrilled to be able to do it!

When I started, I thought that all the time I now had to read and write meant I would be able to go back to posting more blog-only reviews. That hasn’t happened yet while I still find my feet in terms of how much professional writing I can do, and need to do – I’ve only been freelancing full-time for a few months – but I still hope it will.

If there are other things you’d like to see on this blog, leave a comment below, or tweet me @John_self.

Meanwhile, I continue to post links to my professional reviews here. When someone pays me to write for them, they control where and how it’s published. So some of my reviews and features are paywalled, but with most, you should still be able to read them in certain circumstances. I’ve put a guide below to the publications I’ve been writing for recently and how to read it. Note that these comments apply to readers in the UK only; different arrangements may apply to readers elsewhere

The Guardian / The Observer: All their content is free and never paywalled.

Penguin Books: I write features for the website. Again this is always free to view and never paywalled.

The Spectator / New Statesman: These current affairs / politics weeklies both operate a ‘freemium’ model, which means you can view a certain number of articles per month for free, and after that you have to pay. You might have to register to view your free allocation.

The Irish Times: Also operates a freemium model, but in addition, some articles are always subscriber-only. I’m not sure who decides which articles are paywalled and which aren’t, but some of my recent book reviews for the paper have been.

Financial Times: Has a paywall but I think you can view most articles for free in the day or two after they initially go up. (I’m not 100% sure on this, as my only review for them so far, Cynan Jones’s Stillicide, was easily visible to me the day it went up but wasn’t by the time I put it on my blog a few days later.) I usually tweet a link to articles when they first go up, so keep an eye on the kitchen sink of my Twitter feed and you might get there in time.

The Times / The Sunday Times: Both papers are fully paywalled but you should be able to register as a user and view two articles per week. I know some people have had problems with this but it works for me.

Twitter is always the best way to find out what I’ve posted where, and for paywalled reviews, I sometimes post an image of (part of) the review so people can read a bit of it – if I’ve been able to buy the paper myself on the day.

Thanks for continuing to read Asylum and let me have any suggestions or comments below!


  1. So impressed you’re making the freelance life work: not easy to do! Always impressed by your readings. Look forward to seeing more of your work wherever.
    As to the blog, have you thought about doing some fun/fluffy things, like descriptions of what’s on a particular shelf, etc? In my experience, people love that stuff. I love reading it!

  2. Well done for the transition to freelance John. If anyone deserves to make a living from writing about books it’s you.

    In terms of here, I can’t better the suggestion to have the occasional fluffy piece. They mix things up a bit and I also love reading it!

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