It’s always nice to be read, and it’s lovely to be appreciated, but I’m a realist. I’ve been around long enough to know that not everyone likes everything. You can please some of the people some of the time, and that ought to be good enough, enough of the time.
You can never second guess who is going to like what, or, for that matter, why.
I got lucky when I submitted “Naming Names” for the Mslexia prize. The judges, Jenni Murray, Sarah Waters and Clare Alexander, liked my novel well enough to confer on it the accolade of ‘runner-up’. I pleased them, and, in doing so, I also pleased myself... I pleased myself very much indeed.
The other runner up for the prize was Rebecca Alexander, and, over the past few months, it has been my very great pleasure to get to Know Reb a little bit. Finally, last Wednesday night, she and I met. I knew I was going to like her!
As a consequence of our meeting, we finally swapped novels.
I’m slightly ashamed to say that I haven’t yet managed to dip into Reb’s book, which I’m already convinced must be quite brilliant. There are two reason for this. The first is that Reb is a wonder; she’s smart and funny and just caustic enough to make me gasp slightly and then laugh... a lot! She’s also caring and lovely and clever. As I said, I like her. The second reason is that her book was accorded the same status as mine, and, just between you and me, my book is quite extraordinary, so it stands to reason that hers must be, too... right? After all, the wonderful women who liked my book, also liked hers, and I trust their good judgement.
Reb, wonder that she is, read “Naming Names” over the weekend, and sent me an e-mail to give me her thoughts.
I cannot tell you how relieved I was. This was one occasion when it actually mattered to me that a reader genuinely ‘got’ what I was trying to do with the writing. She got it, although not without some reservations, and she admired it, for the most part, and, in places, she was positively glowing about it.
It mattered that Reb liked my novel because I had come to like Reb.
There was, however, another reason why I wanted this woman to understand and appreciate what I had tried to do, in particular in this novel. I had, as it turned out, written in Reb’s field. She had the inside track on my character in a professional capacity. This really was a test, for me, a proper, old-fashioned, bona fide litmus test.
I am very happy to report that, on the whole, for better or worse, I passed.
I had no idea how many boxes I would end up ticking on my way to publication. I had no idea how many hoops I’d jump through, or how many of those would be, in one way or another, of my own manufacturer. I think, in the end, though, “Naming Names” will be a better book because of the journey, and, who knows, I may even end up being a better writer, too.