I went to the Chindi meeting in Chichester yesterday evening. It was lively, friendly and only marred for me by the fact that I haven’t got used to my new hearing aids and had to ask my questioners to shout at me and repeat the question! Oh woe! But they were interesting questions and it was a happy evening.
Not quite so happy as the previous Saturday had been. For on Saturday, I received a copy of a bum review for Hearts of Oak. It was written by a young woman, who describes herself on her blog as ‘an English student at university’ and says she is twenty and ‘constantly trying to find ways to put myself out there’ explaining that ‘It’s not the easiest venture, finding careers with an English degree. But I’ve always loved the idea of working for a publishing company, or even to work as a magazine editor.’ I rather imagine that panning another writer’s book is her idea of ‘putting herself out there’.
It was a revealing review because although she says she’s ‘often enjoyed novels which focus on some kind of disguise and adventure’ and then goes on to say the ‘historical setting was especially fun to read’ she then moves on to her reasons for giving the book a 3-star rating. ‘The characterisation’ she says, ‘was, overall, decent.’ But then goes on to tell us that there were moments when my heroine ‘frustrated’ her and in the next sentence put my hero in the same category ‘ridiculously frustrating most of the time’. Well, I thought reading it, she doesn’t like them. You can’t please all of the people, all of the time.
But then, bless her cotton socks, she thought she had better give me a lesson in how to write a character well. ‘The narrative,’ she said, ‘is very much a telling narrative rather than a showing narrative.’ And then went on to explain there ‘was a lot of ‘he did this’, then ‘did this’ rather than an exploration of how he is feeling’. This is the standard advice given to students following a creative writing course, ‘don’t tell, show.’ I wonder if that’s what she is studying at University.
Then having seen off the characters, she turned her attention to the settings. ‘As befitting a 3-star rating, the descriptions of the places could have been a lot better.’ At which point I thought, she hasn’t actually read the book, she’s skimmed through it or, even worse, read the synopsis instead. One of the things that my fans and readers enjoyed most about this book when it first came out was that I took them to so many different places, like the Caribbean, mid-Atlantic, the Mediterranean, Cape Trafalgar and described them all so vividly. Other people, other times.
I wrote back to thank her for her review, as I always do, and said it was kindly done as she didn’t like the book. I wonder whether she will notice or if she will skim read that too.
Not that it matters over much. She has given me information for a story that will comfort new writers who are given a bum review. I’ve had lots of reviews in my time, some of them glowing and some almost as bad as this one. We have to take the bad with the good.
Best of luck fellow writers. Keep your chins up.