First reviews: Goddess

Authors don’t talk about this much, but it’s an excruciating thing to have a book come out. You know it’s too late to fix anything, all of a sudden other people are reading it when before it was something that existed only inside your head, and you have no idea what anybody will think of it. So you metaphorically hold your breath and cross your fingers and wish on stars or sacrifice goats or whatever it takes.

Then the first reviews come in.

“I wholeheartedly recommend this book as the most exquisitely rendered historical novel I have read in years.”

Historical Novel Society

“An engaging and skilfully told tale of a singular character.”

– Kerryn Goldsworthy in Sydney Morning Herald/The Age

In the case of historical fiction, and especially Goddess as a portrayal of La Maupin, there’s the issue of being true to what people know of her and feel about her – she’s someone with whom many people feel a strong connection. So this means a great deal to me: Jim Burrows, who knows more about Julie d’Aubigny than just about anyone,  has posted his incredibly gracious review of Goddess on Amazon:

Her version of La Maupin isn’t mine, either in terms of character or story, but it is totally valid to what is known of our dear Julie. And how boring it would be if they were the same! As it is Kelly and La Maupin surprised me and entertained me, even though I knew all the details before I picked up the book. I know them because Kelly researched heavily and remained steadfastly true to everything that is known. I was surprised, because La Maupin’s character, voice and motivations were both authentic and a different twist than I would give the tale. I was entertained because the imagination and the skill with which Kelly tells the tale is wonderful.

Thank you Jim, and I look forward to reading your take on Julie one day soon.

 

Reviewing reviews

Hark! What’s that?
It’s the sound of someone blowing her own trumpet.

Since everyone else ON EARTH is reflecting on highlights of 2011, I’m gonna jump right on that bandwagon.

It seems like a very short year. Feels like I lost track of a few months somehow, starting a new day job, building up to and then focusing on the release of Act of Faith, and then spending October in France obsessively hunting down historical details for the Tragedie project.

If 2011 has flown past in a blur, luckily I have several artifacts to remind me: blog posts and social media updates, manuscripts and photos, a very handsome book out in the world and apparently going gangbusters, plus a whole range of people’s reactions to it.

Here are a few recent reviews, important to me because they are from industry journals; from librarians or teachers or YA/children’s book specialists who are passionate about writing for young people:

‘In the world of contemporary young adult fiction, Act of Faith runs against stereotype… A fine book for the classroom, especially at a time when religious tolerance, and tolerance of religion, is at a depressing low… a work of scholarship as well as a work of fiction. A novel that begs for a sequel.’
Viewpoint 

‘This is a very exciting and thought-provoking book which may very well open up knowledge for today’s adolescent readers about what the world was like when such religious intolerance pursued everyone…’
Reading Time (Children’s Book Council of Australia)

‘A good read for lovers of books and historical adventure stories.’
Magpies journal

And I was deeply chuffed to be listed by Holly Harper amongst Readings’ best YA books for the year, in some dazzling company.

Thanks to Readings, and to booksellers everywhere – large and small.

And of course to everyone who has had faith enough to read my book.

May yours be a happy new year.

Happily ever after

On a recent school visit, the teachers asked me to talk a bit about book reviews. Good timing, because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the way the reviewing world has changed with so many peer-to-peer recommendation sites and a gazillion book blogs.
I love book blogs: this started out as one, in a way, many years ago. There are reviewers on blogs who are so perceptive about books, they astonish me; some who write beautifully; others who may do so one day, or who write perfectly good thoughtful pieces; others who write as fans – especially in genre – and unashamedly so.
Good on ’em all, I say.
Sites such as Good Reads, Library Thing and inside a dog* make it possible for all of us to share our thoughts on books we’ve read as, increasingly, do online library catalogues and book stores.
There are dangers, sure, and the occasional scandal, but the more the merrier.
Communities of book lovers, talking about books. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, nothing much, really.
But there is one thing I’ve noticed over and over again in discussions about books on Good Reads and facebook and various blogs: people really hate it when the book doesn’t turn out how they expect. It makes them furious.
They equate this with failure – the plot doesn’t unfold the way they imagined therefore the book sucks. And they will often take it out on the author, either through reviews, or more directly in a chat or forum, in a tone that can make your hair curl right up and slide off your head.
I’ve never been in that position myself but I hate to think what it does to an author.
Let’s take a famous example: the death of the beloved Dumbledore at the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

The world was shocked. The death of “a major character” had been foreshadowed by JK Rowling prior to the book’s release and it was even in all the media, but Dumbledore’s death led to an outcry. Readers believed he wasn’t really dead, and would reappear like Gandalf (of course he does, but he’s still dead). As was usual in the Potterverse, complex theories were developed to explain it, dead or alive, and the discussion continues to this day.
But Rowling as the author was always quite clear, and why wouldn’t she be? Apart from the fact that it’s her book world and she can do whatever she likes, there were myriad plot twists wrapped around the death and, most critical, Harry’s character development and quest (and Hermione’s too)  required it.
That’s not how many fans saw it: they saw it as a betrayal, as a failure of the logic they had established for themselves, as a mistake.
They have invested so much in the story – what a wonderful thing! But what else is going on there? We all love to have a theory about what will happen next. Part of the fun of online discussion of books, film and TV is that very element.
I reckon part of it, too, is the expectation that there will be happy endings. That there will be romance, and everyone will live happily ever after.
Sometimes that does happen. In life, and in art. But other things happen too – people disconnect from one another accidentally, or never connect; they argue about stupid things; they annoy you; they get scared when they should be brave; they falter and bicker and fall out of love and die. 
I remember well the shriek that went around the cinema when I was a kid watching Doctor Zhivago at the Anglesea Luxury Cinema and Lara DIDN’T TURN AROUND AND OMAR SHARIF WAS RUNNING AND THEN HE CLUTCHED HIS CHEST AND OH MY GOD AND SHE NEVER KNEW!
I nearly spat my Marella Jube into the hair of the person in front.

So if you feel betrayed by an author or a film-maker when that happens in your favourite book or series, don’t take it out on them or the work they’ve created.
What it means is that they have created a world so engaging that we, as readers, are lost in it. We are annoyed because the author wants us to be annoyed, upset because that person we loved is gone and we just don’t know what will happen next.
And that’s a good thing. Right?



*Disclosure: I work with inside a dog as part of my day job, but these comments are my own.