Thursday, April 25, 2013

"Hours of verbage (sic) and boredom" (says a review I could have lived without seeing)

Reece on Monday said it was unimaginable that anyone didn't.  Hilary on Tuesday said it was a big fat lie that anyone didn't. Chris on Wednesday was worst of all - he made it seem like a good idea to give it a go.

Readers, until this week, I was that unimaginable big fat liar who'd never given it a go.

Hand on heart, I did not read my reviews.

Wait a minute, wait a minute, hang on.  Let me add a few caveats.  If my publicist emails me and the subject line is "nice/good/great/fab/amazing review from _____" I open the link.  I read, I download, I email to my dad to print and give to my mum for her scrapbook.  Thanks, Mum.  (She spent her working life in libraries and is a better archivist than I could ever be.)

Also, on the Saturday after the UK publication date of a new Dandy Gilver I will buy the Scottish broadsheets (if I'm there) and look through the book reviews.  It's a small country with a lot of newspapers so the strike rate is high and I'm not a big enough name for anyone to want to take me down.

And that - that last point - is why I don't look at reader reviews on Amazon etc.  All you have to do is write a book to make someone on Amazon want to take you down and leave you bleeding.  And while I enjoy a good one-star review of Pride & Prejudice as much as anyone (click here for a favourite) I don't see how any writer could want to read sneers, swipes and cynicism about their own stuff?  How could it not make you want to curl up in a ball and only uncurl to put a DVD of Pillow Talk in the machine and open the Pringles?

That was my position until earlier this week, as I say.  Since then I've had the highest of the high and the lowest of the low: a Goodreads review (click here) of the ARC of AS SHE LEFT IT that made me go and stare at myself in the mirror just to see what that big a genius looked like.  (Not really.)

And this (click by all means).  One of the two-star reviews of my first published novel, AFTER THE ARMISTICE BALL, is a doozy.  It's an anonymous review by someone who's never reviewed anything else (not even the banana slicer) and it's got everything: mistaken beliefs hotly defended, unfounded accusations, personal attacks - I'm crass and discourteous, don't you know? - and then there's the bit that really got me.

My "bad writing" is illustrated by writing that's nothing like mine. God, that's annoying! The reviewer gives "over-vivid, lengthy, painful and agonizingly contrived descriptive phrases" as a taster of my kind of prose as well as an evaluation of it. Tricksy. But if you can find a noun in AFTER THE ARMISTICE BALL pre-modified by four adjectives, one of which is pre-modified by an adverb, I will give you a thousand dollars.

So, all in all, I'd rather not read reviews.  Except Chris made a good point about saying thank you for kind ones, Hilary was a shining example of psychological health and Reece was convincing about using them as tools for improvement.  I'm going to wait and see what Sue Ann says tomorrow.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

To bump off or not to bump off.

Q: Having come up with a perfect murder, isn't it annoying not to use it get rid of some numpty?' (I translated, being unequipped to say what makes someone a jerk, and therefore un-entitled to murder them.)
A: No.

I don't think I've ever come up with a brilliant murder method.  In eight and a first draft mysteries my murders have been:
  1. baroque to the point of insanity (first novels: never knowingly underwritten)
  2. only available to murder one specific person in a small town (my home town) on one Friday every August (which isn't that handy really)
  3. [the concept album]
  4. preposterous (hey, why set a book in a circus and then just shoot someone?)
  5. even more preposterous (with less of an excuse, mind you)
  6. preposterous's mad uncle who lives in the attic (why did I start this?)
  7. possible. Woo-hoo! (But not these days with mobile phones and CCTV)
  8. preposterous (and disgusting - my darker period begins)
  9. ask me later
But even if I did come up with something . . . viable, if you'll forgive that unfortunate word in this context, I just don't see killing someone.  Anyone.  I mean, up to and including Osama Bin Laden.  (Don't freak - see below.)

In Kate Atkinson''s new one Life After Life (click), the only possible exception comes up.  If I could time-travel back to 1930s Germany I might well pre-emptively kill Hitler, to save 15,000,000 others.  I'd pre-emptively kill Osama Bin Laden too actually.  If I could time travel.  On the other hand, the one time I did write a time-travel caper it wasn't called Kill Hitler.  I called it Save Elvis.  Which tells you a lot about me.

But back to evil mass-murdering psycopaths and why I wouldn't punish them with death after the fact.  It's because in my personal philosophy, this life is all there is and being dead doesn't hurt enough.  If you don't have any supernatural beliefs then being dead is no worse than not being born yet.  I was absolutely fine for millenia before 1965, a state of pain-free non-existence I think is too good for evil people.  Of course, they'll get there in the end but I wouldn't help them.

If you believe in hell, I can see why killing Hitler and Bin Laden would be an excellent idea. But if you believe in redemption for all then executing a monster just fast-tracks him to the good bit - like taking away a toddler's meat and potatoes and letting her go straight to cake.  I've always wondered about that.  I've always wondered too, for the same reason, why devout believers think murdering a good person is bad.  If you're ushering them into a life of eternal paradise, then . . .

I think the most fit punishment is to make someone accept what they've done and accept the suffering they've caused.  Then they live with themselves.  That's my idea of vengeance.  If I try to get my moral ducks in a row, the next step is atonement and forgiveness.  All three together pretty much underpin the "crime" part of the African system of Ubuntu (click) which is what allowed the awesome era of truth and reconciliation in South Africa after the end of apartheid.  I remember being blown away by the Black South Africans' ability to forgive and move on, and the White South Africans' ability to face their own acts, lay them down and walk on, without debilitating guilt.  They really are useless at festering.

In a culture of vengeance-based or payment-based justice like ours the TRC could never have happened.  I remember a radio programme on the BBC years ago when a Northern Irish combatant (I can't remember what side he was from) was faced with a post-apartheid South African describing Ubuntu and was totally unable to comprehend it.  He got pretty close to saying that the Irish Troubles were too severe and South Africa had had it easy.  He stopped himself just in time, I'm glad to say, and I always wondered if they chatted off-air and what came of it. 

So, in conclusion, killing people is not for me.  And I wish Ubuntu was what South Africa exported, instead of diamonds.  It outshines them any day.