When I was doing more teaching at the university than I do now, I would give two pieces of advice to my students. Firstly, separate your essential you from your writing, a critique of your writing is not a criticism of you as a person. Secondly, just because it’s true, doesn’t make it a good story. As with any bestower of ‘good’ advice, I, of course, often forget my own.
Last week, I received another rejection from a publisher. This one was slightly kindlier, and, indeed, left the door open for further submission. They also sent me their reader’s general comments on my novel and her more particular comments on my first chapter. She made some helpful points, ones I can use to develop and improve my writing, so that’s a bonus. On the other hand, she brought up the contentious issue of the likeableness of one of my main characters, Hannah.
She said: ‘I wholly appreciate that not everyone is going to be positive sunshine, rainbows and unicorns, but when they’re always negative, it takes a real emotional toll on the reader that you have to be careful to temper.’
I find it hard to separate myself from Hannah, hers and my own experience of depression are very similar and, I can tell you, it wasn’t sunshine, rainbows and unicorns. However, just because it’s a true representation of one person’s experience (supplemented by my counselling training/knowledge) of depression, doesn’t make it a good story does it?
Then I think, am I trying to make this a comfortable read? Aren’t crime/mystery stories meant to be challenging? Melanie McGrath, in The Guardian Books Blog on June 30th 2014, said: ‘Crime fiction gives us permission to touch on our own indecorous feelings of rage, aggression and vengefulness, sentiments we’re encouraged to pack away somewhere… where they won’t offend.’
There is a psychological theory which says we most fear the ‘other’ which is closest to the parts of ourselves which we wish not to acknowledge. Hannah maybe a hard character to empathise with, but it that, at least partly, because she represents the part of us which is hard to empathise with?
So I am not to be traditionally published this time and I continue on my merry ‘indie’ way. The Art of Survival will be available on Amazon in paperback & on Kindle on the 21st of November, with pre-ordering on Kindle from the 11th of November. The Art of the Imperfect is available in both formats now: http://goo.gl/z7HFgz.
Being accepted by a traditional publisher still remains an aim for me, even though I know it has its own down-sides. I comfort myself with two thoughts. One, Virginia Woolf self-published; OK her husband bought a printing press and installed it in their basement, but if she were alive today she’d be uploading onto Createspace & Kindle.
Two, the words of Tristan McManus, a pro on Strictly Come Dancing – yes, really. He was asked for his thoughts on winning. He said (I paraphrase): it’s hard when you’re doing something you love and there can only be one winner, you have to focus on your own dancing and improving that as much as you can, as the ultimate accolade (of winning) may never be yours. There maybe more than one winner in the publishing world, but, even so, the winner’s paddock is not huge, and I may not get in. However, I can enjoy my writing and engaging with the readers who are there and for whom I am very grateful for.
The Art of Survival – launch date: 21st November 2015
The Art of Survival asks: What will fear push ordinary people to do? What happens when little girls get lost? DS Theo Akande is investigating the disappearance of eight year old Victoria Everidge. Her mother, Yvonne, is a desperate woman. What is she capable of? Eminent journalist and newspaperman, Stan Poole, dies leaving a filing cabinet full of secrets. As these leak out, his daughter, Hannah, begins to question her own girlhood. She is losing her way. Her best friend, Lawrence, newly an item with Theo, finds it hard to remain supportive. Instead Hannah clings to her work as a trainee counsellor and to her client Julia. Julia is apparently no little girl lost, but appearances can be deceptive. Then a body is found. The Art of… crime series by Kate Evans tackles issues of mental health and marginalisation. This isn’t gritty crime, this isn’t cosy crime, this isn’t police procedural. This is poetic storytelling which peels back the psychological layers to reveal the raw centre.
Lovely honest post, Kate, and I think I’m quite similar to you. Those two pieces of advice are really useful, but hard to swallow when they rebound on yourself. It’s always such a puzzle interpreting feedback, especially as, as you point out, a reader might take against your character because of qualities (or even feelings) that are too close to home. All we can do is keep on soldiering on!
Thanks Anne, I think a writer has to write with heart and soul to engage a reader, and, in doing that, becomes vulnerable.
One person might not be able to relate to Hannah and another person will adore her. It’s difficult to try to please publishers + agents + editors + an audience. I suppose that is what makes writing a “labor of love”. I knew my first book wouldn’t be for everyone and so I think that helped me. Even when I received criticism regarding my ending (and my style), I nodded and carried on. I mean, valid or not, it’s done and I could go back and rewrite it and rewrite it and do things differently, but then that becomes a never-ending nightmare and so sometimes you just gotta let it rest and be.
I agree, there has to be a moment when you have faith in your own writing and also when you have to stop. When I was writing my more academic non-fiction book I was panicking about not having enough references/doing enough research for the audience and a more experienced academic said, one book can’t do/say everything, it’s there to be part of the discussion and there’s always the next one….
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