Sunday, December 16, 2007

Book Reviews as Blood Sport

Somewhere on my desk (don't ask - it's been my goal all year to have a clear desk and tidy office) there is a quote that equates book reviewing to fox hunting and other blood sports. I was reminded of this by some reviews in this weekend's Weekend Australian Review. Glyn Parry used to be a YA writer, a writer who told it as he saw it, warts and all. And got roundly slammed for it by various reviewers and librarians, to the extent that at a Children's Book Council conference he kind of told them all to get stuffed.

So it was no surprise to me to see he'd written his first adult novel, Ocean Road. If you want to write realistic, hard-hitting stuff, you may well turn to adult fiction if the gatekeepers in YA have given you a hard time. However, Parry might well have listened to Garry Disher, who writes adult and children's/YA fiction, who once said that the world of children's/YA publishing was much kinder and supportive, and he preferred it.

In a review of Ocean Road, Richard King has seen fit to make comments such as "The problem with the book is the lack of an interesting voice at its core." This after quite a few nice comments. And "the narrator's internal life seems to be almost non-existent". Somehow, I can't imagine Parry, whose original YA voice got him into such trouble, writing an adult novel that has apparently been deemed dull. I'll have to go and have a look for myself.

In other sections of the Review, Graeme Blundell manages to spend nearly all of his meagre eight column inches rabbiting on about a series of male crime writers' new books, and gives Sue Grafton 16 words. Hello, GB, try having a look on the latest crime writers' display of books in any bookstore and it'll be at least 50/50 male/female. Wake up, lad. I read Val McDermid's latest while in HK (I love Tony Hill - how could you not when VM finally starts to give us some wonderful, intriguing backstory), Grafton's T for Trespass was good but not brilliant, while Tess Gerritsen never gets a mention. Shame!

But the Review did give us a piece on Kathryn Fox, Australia's latest answer (so they say) to Patricia Cornwell and Kathy Reichs. Fox talks about starting her first novel and taking herself off to writers' workshops (presumably to find out more about writing???) where she was "amazed at the outright amateurishness of many would-be novelists, their lack of appreciation of the industry's fundamental conventions." Sorry, Ms Fox, but I take issue with your scorn. Everyone has to start somewhere, just like you, and it's not as if the publishing industry puts out a guide for amateurs.

In fact, the course I teach in takes pride in educating new writers into how the industry works, how to be professional, how to rewrite, take editorial advice, workshop, edit, negotiate, etc. It's part of the learning curve. Expecting beginner writers to understand how it all works from Day One is like expecting aspiring professional tennis players to understand what it's like to play at Wimbledon. You have to learn as you go, work your way up to it, take on board every bit of help and guidance you can as you go along.

The writers that make me cringe are the ones who have been around for a long time and refuse to understand it's a business. They are pining to be discovered, and blame everyone else for the fact that they are not published and famous. Ms Fox may well have come across some of these in her own quest to write and be published. Get used to it! It happens in every industry, and most particularly in the arts. Don't disparage other people's dreams. Get on with your own.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wonderfully said!