Life Lessons: Not everyone has the same taste in books

I’ve got lockjaw. Ok, slight exaggeration but several weeks of teeth clenching anxiety has left me with muscle spasm and a clicky TMJ. What’s the problem? Book reviews!

The Backstreets of Purgatory in 17 Degrees Magazine

First thing to say is that I’ve had some absolutely phenomenal reviews for The Backstreets of Purgatory. It started with a fabulous review from Zerofiltersaurus (‘unbelievable, incredible and all those other words that meant the same thing’), followed by a great blog tour where the words ‘audacious’ and ‘original’ were freely bandied about. And I’m still buzzing from the brilliant reception Backstreets received from Alistair Braidwood of Scots Whay Hae (‘She has written a Scottish novel of significance and I cannot recommend it enough’). Then the lovely folk at Undiscovered Scotland described the novel as excellent (‘the ideal book for someone looking for something just a little bit out of the ordinary’) and most recently it was chosen as one of 17 Degrees Magazine‘s Autumn Reads and described by the magazine’s books editor, Jill Adams, as ‘The One That I Can’t Stop Talking About’ (‘Fascinating and incredibly funny — this is a bold new voice is Scottish fiction’). To read that was thrilling beyond thrilling.

17 Degrees Magazine review of The Backstreets of Purgatory
Excerpt from 17 Degrees Magazine

Why the teeth clenching? Because for weeks now I’ve been writing emails to magazine and website editors asking if they would consider taking The Backstreets of Purgatory for review. Teeth clenching because I might not get any response. Teeth clenching because I might get a response and it might be no. Teeth clenching because I might get a response and it might be yes. All that teeth clenching and I haven’t even got to the bit where I continually refresh web pages to see if the review is live.

By the time I’d worked myself up into this frenzy of panic, I’d actually forgotten to worry about what the review might say. It wasn’t that I was so conceited as to think that everyone would love my book, but my stress had become simply about getting noticed in the first place. And if an editor agreed to take it, I was so overwhelmed with gratitude it didn’t occur to me to worry that they wouldn’t like it. My adrenalin-primed brain cells would probably have exploded if I’d given myself leave to take that on too. Plus, as I mentioned above, I was on a roll of absolute blinder reviews. So it was a bit of a shock to me at the weekend when Backstreets didn’t get the wholehearted endorsement of the reviewer from The Fountain. Understatement. Darn. (I sound casual. I was actually nearly sick.)

There are still several reviews in the pipeline. At this rate (and with this concern now at the forefront of my addled mind) I’ll have ground my teeth to paste before any of them are published.

Today however, I gave myself a good talking to (while massaging the muscle spasm out of my masseter muscle (try saying that with your finger in your mouth)). The main points of which were as follows (I’ve removed most of the offensive language):

  • Not everyone has the same taste in books.
  • There are loads of books that I love that my friends dislike.
  • There are loads of books that have had brilliant reviews that I didn’t take to.
  • The Backstreets of Purgatory has had some excellent reviews.
  • The Backstreets of Purgatory has had one not as excellent review.
  • It is The Backstreets of Purgatory that is being reviewed, not me. Emphasise. Not ME.
  • This is NOT a matter of life and death. It is a book review.
  • I have had messages, emails and letters from readers telling me how much the book meant to them, how beautifully written it is, how they couldn’t put it down, how it made them laugh and made them cry (and how it makes a great prop to keep their new baby’s Moses basket at a wee incline).
  • I have not heard from some people who bought the book, which might mean they hate it or think that it is crap but they are too polite to tell me (or perhaps that they just haven’t read it and maybe don’t intend to read it).
  • With the help of mentors and writing friends, I wrote, rewrote, rewrote and rewrote the novel.
  • With the help of Unbound’s editors, I edited and edited.
  • At the end of it all, I had the novel I had hoped to write.
  • At the end of it all, I had the type of novel I would choose to read.
  • The Backstreets of Purgatory might be the centre of my world at the moment, but it isn’t the centre of everyone else’s.
  • Get over yourself, H.
  • Not everyone has the same taste in books.

Here endeth today’s lesson.

There will be another one shortly about measures of success.

 

 

 

 

 

The Backstreets of Purgatory is launched into orbit

Standing room only at Waterstones on Byres Road

Ok, there is perhaps a slight exaggeration in the title of this piece but it pretty much describes how I’m feeling. It’s Monday and life should be back to normal but I’m still floating somewhere above Cloud 9.

On Thursday 19th July The Backstreets of Purgatory had its official launch party at Waterstones on Byres Road in Glasgow.

Book launch poster

What a fantastic night. Even with the chaos engendered by a wholly predictable technological failure. (Yes, I know, I shouldn’t have left it until midnight the night before to check that the computer and the projector were compatible, and yes, perhaps I should have checked earlier that there were in fact power leads for said projector.) The problems could have been overcome because I’d had the foresight to put the Caravaggio presentation on-line so that the audience could check their phones as I spoke. Only I was so emotional and in a flap that I forgot to mention it. The day was saved, however, by my glamorous assistant holding up A3 prints of the slides and waving them in the audience’s face.

 

To be honest, I’m not sure how many people were listening to me anyway because there was Irn Bru, cake and Tunnocks Teacakes to be had. I know the draw of Tunnocks Teacakes. And cake. I am in no way offended.

Cake
The best cake ever

It was standing room only by the time I got started. It was an absolute joy for me to have an audience full of family and friends, and to meet some of the people I’ve only ever met on-line or spoken to on the phone. I still can’t believe how far some people travelled to be there. I can’t tell you how touched I was. And I was thrilled that Carlo from the University Café came along. The interview I did with him was one of my first blog posts here.

After the presentation on Caravaggio, I intended to do a reading from chapter 13, Judith and Holofernes. In keeping with the nature of the proceeding thus far, I discovered that I’d left my copy of The Backstreets of Purgatory in my room. Fortunately, there was a stack of copies for sale. (I put back the one I borrowed when I’d finished. Hopefully without trace of my sweaty shaking hands. Sometimes I think it is harder to do a presentation to a room full of friends than a room full of strangers.)

Slide11
Judith and Holofernes by Caravaggio

A great Q&A followed the reading. Laura Rorato from the University of Hull (who, unlike me, is a real Caravaggio expert) had some exceptional questions although I didn’t answer a couple of them I didn’t want to give away the ending of the novel. We’re going to do a more in-depth interview when we have the chance.

Waterstones Book launch pic
A fantastic receptive audience

The overwhelming feeling for me, from Thursday night and from the whole experience of publishing with Unbound, is the warmth and generosity surrounding the book which comes from all the amazing people who supported it. It is brilliant to know that The Backstreets of Purgatory already has a substantial readership because of Unbound’s model.  I hope that now that it is on general release, it will find some new readers too.

 

Image credits

Photos by Alastair Cunningham and Alistair Braidwood

Judith and Holofernes by Caravaggio from Wikimedia

 

 

 

 

The Backstreets of Purgatory in the sunshine

The special limited editions of The Backstreets of Purgatory have already reached some readers and it has been such a thrill to hear from people who are enjoying the novel. I love seeing it out in the real world. Here’s a selection of the photos that I’ve been sent over the last day or two. Looking good in the sunshine.

 

A few limited editions are still available from Unbound. The official publication date for the hardback is July 12th 2018. It will be available on Amazon and elsewhere. I must admit, I can hardly wait to see it in an actual bookshop. Sounds facile to say it but honestly, it is a dream come true.

Date for your diaries (if you are nearby): Thursday, July 19th, 7.30 pm at Waterstones on Byres Road in Glasgow. BOOK LAUNCH!! RSVP in the comments or via the contact form. The more the merrier!!

(Look, lots of exclamation marks. That’s because I’m just a tiny bit excited).

Launch Invite Final small

Tears for the Mack

Four years ago, I watched in horror the news stories reporting the fire at Glasgow School of Art. A few days ago, history repeated itself with a vengeance. After years of painstaking restoration, the Mackintosh building was due to re-open soon. But after the devastating fire of June 17th what little remains of this magnificent building is under threat of collapse or demolition.

Already, there are discussions all over social media and traditional media about the future of the building. Disagreement about its future because of the structural risk the gutted shell poses and the potential costs involved if rebuilding were to be considered. Arguments about whether there are better ways to use the money that it would cost. People are angry that this has happened again and are naturally seeking to apportion blame for this terrible event.

Watching the pictures of the burning building and the neighbouring buildings, it seems to me a miracle that no one was hurt or killed. After the tragedy of Grenfell Tower, we can at least be thankful for that. But while it cannot compare to that terrible, terrible event, this second fire in the Mackintosh building is a devastating blow for Glasgow. Considered by many to be Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s masterpiece, the art nouveau building was a working art school, a landmark, a tourist attraction, part of the rich cultural heritage of Glasgow and a source of pride for the city. I know there will be many people with connections to the Mack who will be shedding tears for it.

The art school features in my novel, The Backstreets of Purgatory. I don’t want to make this post about the book but I do want to mention something that is bothering me, which may be trivial in the scheme of things but feels important to say nonetheless. The original version of the opening chapter was set in the Mackintosh building. After the fire in 2014, it took me a while to be able to rewrite it but, by the time I did, restoration was well under way and the future looked optimistic for the building. I had my main character make a throw away comment about the fire. He isn’t supposed to be the most sensitive of people but now his remarks seem even more crass and sad than I originally intended. Had I known, I would have written it differently.

But, of course, there was no way of knowing.

Art school window

At the moment, it is too early to predict what the future holds for the Mackintosh building. Who knows, perhaps we will hear the stonemasons and the carpenters working on it again. Perhaps the stunning iron work and the stained glass will be remade. Or perhaps, this time, the Mack will be gone for good. Either way, these are sad times for it.

 

Featured Image: The Mackintosh Building, Holly Hayes, flickr

Image: Classic Rennie Mackintosh, Ross G Strachan, flickr