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

 

 

 

 

Why do we read fiction?

Fiction is a strange beast when you think about it. Made-up people in made-up worlds doing made-up things, and yet they have the power to make us laugh, cry, think, flinch, or just go to bed early to catch the next few chapters of their adventures. My own compulsion to read has puzzled me for a long time. I know I don’t feel right if I haven’t got a good book on the go. It doesn’t have to be fiction. I’m not exclusive (although, I admit, most of the time I am).

Why do we read fiction? Escapism, entertainment, sanctuary? If you are anything like me, you might feel there is something necessary about it, but perhaps like me also, you feel it instinctively though you’d be hard pushed to explain exactly what it is. Research on the psychology of reading fiction suggests that Continue reading “Why do we read fiction?”

The Sexy Test

‘Do you know what the lady is going to do, Harry?’

‘Yes, mummy. She’s going to do the test to see if I’m sexy.’

‘Almost, sweetie. It’s to see if you are dyslexic.’

True story. Oh how we giggled. But it isn’t a laughing matter for the kids and adults affected.

Even in this world of alternative technologies, the written word is still central to how the world functions (or how the world ends given the current battle of juvenile tweets between power-crazed despots). It has certainly Continue reading “The Sexy Test”

2017: A year of reading and writing

There is no more valuable a gift than a book that makes you laugh, cry or think 

It has been an interesting year of books. For (almost) the first time, I’ve read several novels by people I know. Either in person or virtually (although some of those virtual relationships are as strong as friendships in real life). I find it nerve-racking, those first few moment with the first few pages, sussing out whether it is going to be a book I’ll love or one that will do nothing for me. I feel a responsibility to enjoy the work of the people I like. Which doesn’t always happen. But when it does, it is wonderful.

Like Maria Donovan’s Chicken Soup Murders. Aside from the fabulous title, it was obvious from the opening that it was beautifully written. I read it immediately after Joanna Cannon’s fabulous The Trouble with Goats and Sheep and it compares very well. Or Chris McQueer’s Hings which had me laughing, cringing and spurting my tea out of my nose (often at the same time). Continue reading “2017: A year of reading and writing”