I think one reason I don’t blog more is that I’m not sure how much I ought to reveal, especially about my emotions. I’m of that peculiarly British type who feels everything extremely sharply, but believes he shouldn’t: completely ineffective stoics, you might call us. Anyway, I hope it’s all right to admit that there have been a couple of times recently that people have made me cry by sending me gratuitously kind messages about my book. I can’t express how grateful I am for them.
Books are very personal things, whatever kind they are. Mine may not be, say, a sensitive evocation of a mother-daughter relationship set against the backdrop of India’s struggle for independence, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t emotionally important to me. For one thing, I would feel that I didn’t have permission to carry on writing fiction if I thought that no one liked this first book. Sales are some guide to how the book’s being received. But of course people buy the book before they’ve read it, so that’s far from being a perfect indication. And how do you interpret modest-but-better-than-expected sales anyway?
The only way I really find out what people think is when they contact me and tell me, or put up a review on Amazon. I’m still a bit amazed that people do this. Why would they put time into making a stranger feel better, for no possible personal reward? The unlikeliness of it is part of what makes it so moving. And then I’ve spent such a lot of time feeling that I’m being foolish, embarrassing and delusional in persisting with this book, it’s a huge relief to find that some people have received it exactly as I meant it.
Lots of people have diagnoses these days. Mine is recurrent depressive disorder, for which I stopped taking pills about a year ago. I’ve always turned to books for comfort, and when I’ve felt worst the right kind of funny book has often come along and helped me. There’s nothing I’d like more than to write that kind of book. And I’m starting to feel that, for some people at least, I’ve come somewhere close.
I know that there are plenty of people who don’t like the book. There are, for example, plenty of bad reviews on GoodReads, and I suppose they’re likely to be representative of the real spread of opinion, since so many people on GoodReads rate every book they read. On Amazon, I suspect that some people tend to withhold negative opinions because they could hurt someone’s livelihood. But this too seems touchingly kind. And as long as my book works for some people, I can now just about live with others not liking it.
I probably shouldn’t mention the kind people’s names, because of privacy and that sort of thing. I’ll make an exception for Avery Elizabeth Hurt though, partly because she has such a great name, and partly because she put up a review on her website, which also includes some really good articles, especially the one about the word “gifting”. Actually, maybe first names are all right. Thanks Keith, Jeanette and Bridget. And thanks for Geek Boy’s Amazon review in which he kindly but implausibly suggests that I may be the reincarnation of Douglas Adams. If only the maths* even remotely worked out.
(I wrote this a week or so ago and decided not to post it, but then I watched this TED talk and decided I would after all.)
* Or indeed physics.