Friday, 7 December 2012

The critics

The main problem with writing a book is not about finding the words, it’s the fact that you end up re-reading it yourself over and over again. After a while you stop seeing what is on the page, word blindness kicks in and you genuinely become unable to critically appraise what you have written. You have to get someone else to read it for you and that takes some courage. If the person says they like it, you start to suspect that they are just being kind, when they tell you what they don’t like, you wish you had never asked them in the first place.

An old friend had written a book and although it was never published, I was sure she would have some good advice on how to proceed. She was incredibly helpful and strongly advised me to get someone to read the first draft, she even offered to do it herself. This is a lady of legendary style and sophistication, who loves great literature, art and the opera. She would never in a million years pick up a book like mine, but insisted that she would read it with the necessary detachment. She absolutely hated it but was kind enough to explain, in writing, exactly why.  I used her e-mail as a checklist for writing the second draft.   

I also gave the first draft to a male friend, who was equally unlikely to buy the book but would definitely get what I was trying to do. He was the first to suggest that I should change the format from a novel to a series of short stories (even though the main story still just about qualifies as a novella). He helped me think about the pace and flow of the story and gave me the confidence to believe that there was enough good stuff in there to make it worthwhile going on.

I was beginning to believe that the book had some merit and started to ask people to give me feedback. This seemed like cheating until I finished a thriller by a well-known writer who proceeded to thank about 40 people who had been involved in writing his book. Another friend who used to be a literary agent was kind enough to read it and although she was not comfortable with the content gave me plenty of good ideas about structure and tone. I had thought that books were just written, now I believe that they evolve. Although Barbara Cartland clearly had a different view.

My favourite piece of criticism features on my web-site. I gave the book to an ex-colleague who inadvertently loaded it onto his wife’s IPad.  She decided that it was “unputdownable”, but told her husband that if he was planning any trips to Thailand (particularly with me), he should think again.

There is a separate blog entry that deals with my publisher so I won’t say too much here except to characterise his punchy but effective style. I had written what I thought was a terrific ending to one of the stories and his feedback would be in my inbox when I logged in. I couldn’t wait to see what he had written and take the plaudits for my ingenious last line. He wrote, “you probably think this is dramatic……  it isn’t”. For more on this check out “My publisher… the Wolfe”.

At the time of writing this blog, there are five or so published reviews on the web-sites of Amazon and other distributors. They are all pretty flattering and the star rating could easily go to a boy’s head. I suspect that my wife wrote one of them and a friend probably wrote another. He tried to counterbalance the effusive praise about the book by pointing out that it had a typo (since corrected). I am sure that if it sells more copies, I will get some poor reviews and I accept that. Few books can please everyone. I absolutely loved Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks, a good friend with whom I normally see eye-to-eye, thinks it sucks.  He is wrong of course.

When you log onto Amazon and see a really good review from someone with whom you have absolutely no connection, it’s as good as it gets.

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