My Nationwide Tour (of Sorts) and Reviews (Both Thoughtful and Arsey)

The last ten days have been super busy for me featuring, launches; the skeleton of an Irish giant; a wonderful boutique festival; trial by fire on Amazon reviews and a lovely session with the MA course at Manchester University.

I’m glad to be back though and this morning I woke up to a really great review by Cynthia Rogerson in the new issue of the always excellent Northwords Now. Here it is for your perusal:

“Reading this novel is a little like opening up a bag of donuts covered in chocolate, gorging yourself, then just as you’re scolding yourself, because nothing that’s so easy to eat can be good for you, you discover a secret ingredient list on the back. It turns out the donuts are chock-full of vitamins, fibre, life-enhancing minerals and proteins. So, this book is that rare thing – both delicious and good for you. A literary mainstream novel, with a young angst-ridden heroine, a monotone boyfriend, and the villainous mysterious older man who leads the heroine a merry dance.

Laura is instantly likeable because she manages to be miserable humorously. She hates her job, her boyfriend, her appearance, her home. She hates herself, and is at rock bottom of disillusionment. Who wouldn’t warm to her? But I couldn’t help also sympathising with her unambitious boyfriend, who prefers violent computer games and take away curries to conversation and cooking. It all seemed so real. The novel focuses on that phase of adulthood not often written about. The truth about being young and healthy and employed and not being homeless or alone? Sometimes it is still all crap.

This is Zöe Venditozzi’s first novel, which is not obvious from reading it. The style is rather like Laura Marney – unpretentious and confident, modern and edgy. The tone is blackly funny with a kind of yearning romantic thread. The rather convoluted plot is competently propelled by her deft dialogues and credible characters, and of course, the suspense of the unsolved mystery. I was swept along, forgot everything else I meant to do that day, and basically gobbled up the whole bag of donuts. I recommend this book to anyone who is not in the mood to work at reading, but still requires emotional substance. Deceptively light, the book still delivers real punches. I am looking forward to her second novel.”

It means so much to get a good review. Obviously because when you write a novel, it takes so much time and effort, but also because you’re really putting yourself out there when you write. I’ve had the weird experience of someone making a real meal of a review (of only the first 20 pages or so of the book!) on Amazon which has taken all my self control not to fire back at. It isn’t that you expect reviewers (whether consummate professional or rank amateur) to love your book, that would be weird and unrealistic, but I would hope that if someone’s going to take the time to review that they’d take the time to finish the actual book. A great deal has been written about sock-puppetry etc. on Amazon and we all know about trolls and their cloaks of anonymity on the Internet so I’m not going to go on about it here. However, it is weird that some people feel they have the right to stay anonymous whilst attacking someone in the public eye (even on a teeny-tiny scale like me). Personally, I wouldn’t “say” something online that I wouldn’t say to someone’s face, but then I can also tell the difference between a novel and non-fiction and I understand how artistic license works, so perhaps it’s apples and pears. Anyway, the ridiculously detailed and, frankly, arsey partial-review on Amazon has given me plenty of comedy material for two recent events and really just serves to make the reviewer look foolish. It certainly won’t make me question my style or alter my writing – if anything, the review shows me I’m doing the right thing. As a wise writer friend told me, “Put it this way: who likes you? Cool people. Who hates you? Assholes. The end.”

The Next Big Thing!

The lovely Pippa Goldschmidt (http://www.pippagoldschmidt.co.uk) invited me to take part in the Next Big Thing where writers answer some questions about their latest work and then pass the baton on to other writers. It was interesting to think of concise anwers to the questions and I’m delighted that Pippa invited me to get involved.

Here we go:

• What is the title of your book?

My debut novel is called Anywhere’s Better Than Here.

• Where did the idea come from for the book?

I started a short story about a woman called Laureline who had a black eye. The story seemed to be a part of something much bigger and I decided to write a novel with Laureline (who became Laurie) as the central character. She doesn’t have a black eye in the novel.

• What genre does your book fall under?

Hmmm… It’s easier to say what it isn’t: Chick lit, fantasy, sci-fi, romance! But, if forced I’d say literary fiction? Or high end commercial fiction? I hate labelling it. It’s a story about a woman and it’s blackly funny but also sad.

• What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

She’s in her mid twenties so I’d probably choose a slightly younger Samantha Morton or Kelly MacDonald.

• What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

Laurie lives with her computer game-obsessed boyfriend who she can barely be bothered to speak to and she works in a meaningless job in an office where she avoids her co-workers. When Laurie meets an older, secretive man things take an unexpected turn and Laurie realises she needs a plan, and fast.  (Sorry, that’s two sentences.)

• Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Published by Sandstone Press and I’m represented by the Jenny Brown Agency

• How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

About two years.

• What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood.

• Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I think I was inspired by music a great deal. Certainly where the atmosphere and, at times, sense of humour is concerned. I listened to things like Grizzly Bear and Bon Iver for atmosphere and The Smiths influenced the black humour. Other than that, I’m always inspired by great writing like Cormac McCarthy, Margaret Atwood, Denis Johnson, Barbara Gowdy, Lorrie Moore and loads of other people I am in awe of.

• What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

There are scenes about shoplifting, how to escape dinosaurs, transsexual piano teachers and some smooching.

Anywhere’s Better Than Here is published by Sandstone Press and is available from all good book shops.

The next five writers who I approached/picked on are:

Russel D McLean is a writer, reviewer and general miscreant. He is the author of the Scottish noir novels, The Good Son, The Lost Sister and Father Confessor.

Lesley McDowell is an author and critic living in Scotland. She reviews regularly for the Herald, the Scotsman and the Independent on Sunday. Her current book is Between the Sheets:The Literary Liaisons of Nine 20th Century Women Writers.

Matt Hill is a copywriter, proofreader and story maker-upper. His novel, The Folded Man, was shortlisted and final-isted for the Dundee International Book Prize 2012. It’ll be published by Sandstone Press in May 2013.

Anna Stewart writes plays and short stories. Her work has been published in various journals and she is currently working on a collection called Pleasureland.

J Robert Lennon is an American writer, teacher, critic, musician and blogger. He recently published his sixth novel, Familar.