Thank you

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.

Christopher Shevlin
 

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Lee Strayer (@leestrayer) - 21 July 2013

I think you speak to thousands of authors and other creatives who are brave enough to put their guts into their work and then still find enough fortitude left over to throw that work out there to be folded, spindled and mutilated by the masses on the off chance that we might find someone who likes it.

There seems to be a prevalent air of nastiness about the Internet oftentimes, which is why I came to the realization some time ago, as you suggest above, that I’m not saying anything bad about somebody else’s work. After all, just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean somebody else won’t, and I don’t want to be responsible for somebody quitting just so I can leave a cutting review of their work. For instance, I was apparently one of only 5 people in America, and the only one not currently institutionalized, who didn’t like ‘The Wire’ on HBO.

While I’m still not sure that is the right response, I think that this air of nastiness has forced a lot of people to not say ‘thank you’ as often as they should, for fear that it could leave an opening in the armor and let the nasty people know that we really *do* care. Instead, the nasty people force us to just not respond at all.

Screw them.

You keep doing what you’re doing. You have nothing to apologize for. The fact that you put yourself out there more than most in your position actually serves as inspiration for the rest of us to be more genuinely thankful for those people who support us, and ignore the kids in the back of the room shooting spit wads at those in the front that dare to stand up and try.

I don’t think most people would realize that you agreed to do my podcast just because I tweeted you! You had no idea what my podcast was going to sound like, because I didn’t know at that point. Yet you were very generous with your time in doing the interview, and have since been single-handedly responsible for my website being twice as popular in the UK as it has been in the US. And my family lives in the US (I think).

From that one interview, I now have other people who are willing to do the show as well. So kindness breeds kindness, apparently. As hard as it is to put our work out in public to begin with, it seems to be even more important to be genuinely thankful as well, especially if we can be brave enough to do it in public.

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