I posted a photograph on Facebook this week. It was a lovely picture of someone’ s bookcase on which sat three of my novels. A fan had sent it to me. A writer needs to know that his or her stories are being read and, importantly, enjoyed and I was delighted. Some writers swear by reviews on Amazon, yet I know many good books by accomplished writers whose stories rarely garner more than a few comments. I can honestly say, hand on heart, that the reviews I’ve written can be counted on the fingers of one hand. I either like, occasionally love or, don’t get on with a novel. I rarely hate one. If a story doesn’t gel, I tend to put it aside because there are far too many other great reads deserving of my time. I wouldn’t dream of writing a nasty review as a means to vent my proverbial spleen because I know precisely how much work that writer expended. It’s too cheap to take a pop at someone else’s work because you don’t like it. Which brings me to another point.
Most readers I talk to don’t bother to post reviews and it isn’t because they only read printed books. They also read on Kindle. It took me a long time to discover this. Up until that moment, I admit I’d become obsessed and dismayed by (mostly) a lack of reviews, yet royalty statements and PLR lending are a more accurate barometer of a novel’s success or otherwise. One of the nicest comments I ever received was when I was talking to an ardent Seymour fan. He told me that he had name-dropped me and was delighted when someone in his company responded with ‘Wow, I love her books.’ I could have kissed him!
In a dark moment, some years ago, when I was a lot less relaxed about writing than I am now, my husband and I went to see an up and coming comedian. His name was Michael McIntyre and he was playing in the NIA in Birmingham to a sell out crowd of thousands. To cheer me up, my better half pointed to the auditorium and said. ‘See all those people, that number have read your latest novel.’ If you could have bottled the warmth of my response you could have used it to melt the most hardened criminal. But let’s not get too carried away here.
As one wise friend told me, success, fame ‘all that stuff’ is ephemeral and she’s right. I used to get a buzz out of telling folk I’d just met that I was a writer. Most often, the response to this statement is delight, sometimes bewilderment, occasionally a ‘never heard of you’ followed by an interrogation along the lines of what are your book sales like and how much money do you make? My reaction to the latter is to smile, make some self-deprecating remark and silently think, ‘well, I’ve never heard of you either.’ Occasionally, you might run into these same folk a few years later and their opening gambit will be, ‘Hello. Still writing then?’ Once asked this question – I admit I was feeling a little scratchy – I replied. ‘Sure. You still butchering?’ In case you think I was in conversation with a serial killer, I was conversing with a local ‘purveyor of meats’. The moral of the tale: you gotta do what you gotta do. Let’s not get too hung up on it.
Once writer status (to some, quite wrongly, celebrity status) has been established, questions about genre arise. This has always been a tricky path for me to negotiate. It astounds me how many people expect me to either write romantic fiction or, if they have already discovered how many children I have, children’s stories. While nobody bats an eyelash at women who write crime, try explaining to the uninitiated that I tend to write thrillers with more than a hint of espionage, I’ve twice written under a male pseudonym and, by the way, my main protagonists are blokes handy with guns. The reactions vary from astonishment and disbelief to ‘good on you’ with no gear changes in between. To the astonished, disbelieving faction, there is only one response, ‘See the match last night?’