Tuesday, 7 July 2009

In praise of writers

This weekend there was a conference in Bristol all about Diana Wynne Jones. Not like the fanfests that are Harry Potter or Terry Pratchett conventions but but a proper academic conference dedicated to the work of one writer, which is a rare honour - especially in the children's book world. Sadly, in the end Diana herself was not well enough to attend, which must have been a disappointment for her as well as all those delegates and speakers gathered together.

Still, it must have given her a warm glow and writers need this. They need constant praise from reviewers, fans, peers, academics and family members, because their work is necessarily solitary and without feedback. This is why they experience such pain when they get a bad, or even snide, review.

Recently my namesake Alice Hoffman reacted so badly to a less than positive review of her latest novel in the Boston Globe that she posted the reviewer's address and phone number on Twitter and encouraged her readers to write or ring to blast her with their displeasure. Hoffman has since apologised and deleted her Twitter account but the bad smell remains.

We all hate bad, lukewarm, innacurate or spoiler reviews - I had one in the Times once that began "This book made me feel sick"! - but there is only one possible response: dignified silence and a hope of boomerang karma.

The other side of the coin is that you don't know how to rate praise from someone until you know what else they like. I've lost count of the number of fan e-mails I've had that say "You are my second favourite writer after X" where X = someone like Christopher Paolini!

It might be over-fussy to care about the literary standards of those who praise us. But I'm afraid I do. And that includes reviewers. But I won't be tweeting about it.


Stroppy Author said...

Not over fussy at all, Mary! But remember that many children have limited access to books (or access to a limited supply of books). Although you might prefer it if the young reader said 'you are my favourite writer and my second favourite is Celia Rees', maybe the school library doesn't have any Celia Rees and only has you and Christopher Paolini and a bunch of Pokemon anime books!
May many sparkling reviews come your way with the publication of Troubadour!

undyingking said...

"This book made me feel sick"

If it went on "... with anticipation, excitement and delight", that might not be so bad.

Interesting that the picture of DWJ spookily echoes the Book Maven's own picture. Is that Standard Authorial Pose #5?


Book Maven said...

I noticed that! Maybe her adult child took it, as did mine (Jess). Maybe they bring out the pensive/coy in us?

Charlie Butler said...

Hi Mary - thought you might be interested in the conference write-ups: http://steepholm.livejournal.com/64554.html

Nikki Gamble said...

Thank you for another interesting post, Mary. The standrard of reviewing is something that concerns me greatly.

Write Away is holding a series of workshops for reviewers. The first is taking place in Oxford at the end of August. We will be focussing on reviewing fiction but we also have poetry, non-fiction, early years and picturebook events in the pipeline. OUP are supporting the first event in the series and Nicolette Jones is our guest speaker. We will keep striving to improve the standard of children's book reviewing and we are appreciative of our dedicated and thoughtful reviewers, who work to provide useful evaluation for those who work with children and teenagers.

Oh, and Marie-Louise Jensen's review of Troubadour has been uploaded to the website :-)

Nikki Gamble said...

Apologies - standard not standrard. I've lost my spectacles and I'm struggling!

Book Maven said...

Thanks for the comment and the nice review on Write Away!

And good for you with the reviewing day. Is it open to people like me? Or only your WA reviewers?

Lucy Coats said...

Getting proper children's book review space on a regular basis in the broadsheets and popular press is a battle which we've all been fighting for years with little success, so when a bad review comes it DOES hurt for all the reasons you list--and even more so because review space is so precious and hard to come by. I've been lucky so far with reviewers, by and large with one notable exception (and not counting Amazon). But I agree--it's definitely better to trust to dignified silence and boomerang karma (I love B.K. by the way, and hope I may steal it--so much less unwieldy than 'what goes around comes around'). I won't be tweeting either.

Book Maven said...

Feel free to circulate Boomerang Karma - I'm rather pleased with it myself!

And maybe we'll all be tweeting after our workshop on Thursday ...