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Tuesday 10 January 2012

A new Sport? Author Bashing

Forget the old cruel sports of throwing Christians to lions, cock fighting and bear baiting. The advent of the Internet, social media forums and sites such as Goodreads and Amazon etc have opened up a whole new field sport.
Author Bashing.
Mwah ha ha :-{
I came across this the other day: ‘It is disappointing that some authors can't handle constructive criticism and only want adoration.’
Actually, most mainstream published authors (at least, the Historical Fiction ones I know)  do not object to constructive criticism. We welcome constructive feedback from our readers because we like to know where we are getting things right – or wrong. Constructive criticism is helpful.
Note that particular word: constructive.

Yes, of course we want nice things said about our books. Wouldn’t you be hurt if you spent hours getting yourself ready for a special party, you walk in and the first person you meet sneers “You look a right tart. Couldn’t you find a hairbrush – and as for that repulsive dress….” I would wager you would turn right round and flee, tears streaming. Yet it is fine to say something similar to an author!
Not everyone has the same taste in reading – thank goodness, what a boring world it would be if we all liked the same stuff – and it is fair enough to say “I didn’t enjoy this book” – but give a constructive reason; why didn’t you like it? Don’t just trash the author. If the book is so bad it needs to be publically shredded and fed to the dustbin, then why did you read the wretched thing in the first place? I don’t have time to read dross (and yes, some books are dross!) If the narrative hasn’t grabbed me by chapter five, then I give up on it and move to the next book in my size of Everest To Be Read Pile. Nor do I waste time or energy in slagging off the author because I didn’t like the book – what is the point? I get more pleasure in praising something I enjoyed reading…. Ah but here we come back to what I stated above. It seems there are some people out there who like throwing dung at those of us who have managed to get into print. I wonder why? Jealousy, frustration at not being in print themselves? General ignorance and nastiness?

Review forums, snarky groups and pages on Facebook and the Twittersphere seem to attract these destructive comments like gulls to a rubbish tip. I think virtually every author has discovered that once a book is in print it becomes open season for vicious remarks.
And again I emphasise here – there is a big difference between saying you did not enjoy a book, and giving the reason why you did not enjoy it, and blatant, vindictive trashing.
In too many cases recently things seem to have evolved into a general marketplace where anything can be said at any time and in any tone – and authors are expected to take outright abuse because we have been published.
What, I ask, have we done to deserve this public placing in the stocks and being pelted by verbal rotten tomatoes?

Is the opinion “If an author can’t take criticism he/she shouldn’t write” really a general view – or the bleating of a mere few who enjoy being spiteful? And believe me, some of these “critics” can be extremely spiteful!
Do these people have any idea how much work goes into research, or what marketing expectations force authors to make certain decisions? Decisions that are often out of our hands because the publisher insists such and such is what they want in order to sell the book?
I have received a 1 star review for my book because the reviewer was angry that the title had been changed. I assure you I am as annoyed – but blame the publisher, not me; and did the book deserve a one star? After all Amazon accepts returns – send it back for heaven sake.

I have been “miffed” at receiving poor reviews when it comes to typos, incorrect punctuation etc – again because these have, on the whole, not been my fault but the publisher – and I can’t blame the small Indies here either, there are some awful typos in mainstream published books.
Fair enough to say “This book would have been a lot better if there had not been so many commas in the wrong place” – but is it really fair to completely trash the whole book because of a couple of obvious printing errors?
I received a scathing comment of one of my novels from a US reader who trashed my writing because I had dared (in his/her opinion) to make an ignorant error. “This author has no idea of her facts. Corn,” said this reviewer sarcastically, “grows in the US – so how could King Arthur have fed CORN to his horses circa 500 AD? Don’t touch this book, it is badly researched. I got as far as this nonsense and canned the book.“
I was furious because in this case the ignorance was entirely this arrogant reviewer’s.
Corn in the UK does not mean maize. It is an equine term for horses fed on oats and barley – race horses are “corn fed”, it is a legitimate, correct, term.  I responded to the reviewer and politely requested that the review be removed.
But according to one book reviewer, anyone who took exception to her review comments must be an author plant. What? Is this reviewer saying that no one can publically disagree with her opinion? Did I, in her pomposity have to swallow the incorrect example I have just given above then?

I found this at random:
“Complete Uninspiring twaddle........slow..........dull and full of lame clichés.
Anyone wanting a decent read should avoid like the plague.”
Why be so nasty? OK, in your opinion a book is not very good –  do you have to be so horrible about it?
To my mind, the above example is not a review it is blatant, vindictive, nastiness.

I have been in tears through some of the nasty things said about my books  - because the tone has been vicious, not because the reader didn’t like the book. And is it just me? Why be scathing with words like “this was too violent, the battle scenes were awful” when the novel is about the most famous battle in English history – 1066 the Battle of Hastings. Isn’t it obvious that there will be descriptive battle scenes? So if you don’t like battles don’t read a book about a battle!

 And what about the condescending dissing of historical fiction that is inaccurate?
First and foremost the key word here is FICTION. Historical Fiction is not non-fiction – any story of HF is just that – a made up STORY.
Yes, it is lovely to read a well written, well researched historical novel (I cite Sharon Penman and Elizabeth Chadwick)  But is it fair to rubbish a novel that is obviously meant as pure fiction, where in the author’s note clearly states “this is a work of fiction. None of it is true.”
I do agree, however, if the author is foolish enough to harp on about his or her various qualifications, how important historical accuracy is lah lah lah – and then makes obvious bloopers then he or she is fair game for attack.
Is it fair to trash an author because he or she decides to use easy to pronounce names instead of unfamiliar ones?
Not all readers are up to speed with say, Welsh or Latin or Old English personal names. For Forever Queen (titled A Hollow Crown in the UK)  I had several comments asking “Why use all those unpronounceable names? Were they necessary?”
Well yes, because they were the recorded names of real characters. Strictly speaking I should have used Ælfgifu for the main female character – but fortunately she was also known as Emma. But where I had to make up names I made up easy, familiar names. In my Arthurian Trilogy I had to use Gwenhwyfar because that is the Welsh version of Guinevere – and Llachue, Amr and Gwdre for her sons, again because they are the recorded names – but when I made up characters I settled for Madoc, Mabon, Elen…..
Take that wonderful novel The Clan of the Cave Bear. Shouldn’t we be trashing Jean Auel because she used names? Shouldn’t she have been accurate and used grunts?

So please, may I make a heartfelt plea for all authors? We write novels because we love writing. We write books to entertain you the reader – very, very, few of us write books to make money.

It takes us months – sometimes years – to get a novel written. Please, then, grant us the courtesy of reviewing our hard work properly, even if it is, in your opinion, a load of twaddle,  review it in a courteous, constructive manner.
After all, the only person you are showing up by being discourteous, ignorant, and rude is yourself – not the author.

A final thought - if you can't say anything nice, 
then maybe it is best to say nothing at all.

I wonder how many non-constructive comments I will receive for speaking my thoughts? Any rudeness will not be deleted.... but I can guarantee a scathing response....

A similar article on Trolls & how to handle rude comments is on:
Kristen Lamb's Blog

Friday 6 January 2012

5th/6th January 1066: Harold - the Chosen King

On January 5/6th of 1066 the King, Edward died - leaving the throne of England open to dispute. The rightful King was Edgar, son of Edward the Exile, grandson of Edmund Ironside, great grandson of Æthelred (the Unready). But Edgar was still a boy, probably only a young teenager. England knew there would be a dispute for the crown - primarily from Duke William of Normandy, and Harold Godwinsson, Earl of Wessex knew first hand of William's ruthless abilities. 
Only a capable, experienced man could be placed at the helm - so the Council chose Harold.

The Normans made an outcry, of course, citing that Edward had promised the throne to William (even if he had, such a private promise would have no legal status in England) and that Harold had pledged an oath, before God, to support William in his claim.

I find it unbelievable that a man such as Harold, in his position of power, would willing agree to put William on the throne of England, yet the taking of the oath is documented fact - it is depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry.
It is known that Harold went to Normandy, though the reason is not certain; more than likely he went to retrieve his brother Wulfnoth and nephew Hakon who had been held as hostage for many years - he did indeed come home with Hakon. (Wulfnoth was never to see his freedom). Harold went on campaign with William while in Normandy and was honoured for bravery - to my mind it seems logical that William would have tried various ways of securing Harold to his side, one of which was probably by offering a marriage of alliance.
So in my novel, Harold the King (the US title is I am the Chosen King) I follow this line of thought - and explain the scene where Harold is forced, against his will to make that oath.

Enjoy the two excerpts below:

Excerpt from 
Part Two  ~  Chapter 27 ~  Bayeux 1064

Agatha sat completely miserable, in a corner of her father’s great Hall, as far from the glare of watching eyes as she could. She would have preferred to remain in her bedchamber, but her mother had not allowed it. The exchange of heated words between them this morning had been almost as red-hot as the blaze of the Yule log in the central hearth fire. She did not want to marry, could her parents not see that? She had a calling, her desire was to serve God. That was her duty, not the giving of her body to a man in marriage. Not that she disliked Earl Harold, he was kind and he made her laugh, but then, so did William de Warenne and Ralph de Tosny…many other men. And to go to England? Oh, she could not, could not! It was a country of heretics and pagans, where men worshipped beneath oak trees and took oath in the name of the gods, like Odin and Thunor. Where the women were all whores and their husbands adulterers…how could her father contemplate sending her to live in such a dark pit of iniquity? 
As Bishop Odo’s raucous laugh boomed across the crowded Hall, Agatha shrank deeper into her holly-green woollen mantle, clasping her fingers tighter together in her anxiety. Her uncle had been there this morning. Confronted by uncle, mother and father together, what chance had she, a ten-year-old girl, of making her voice heard? If she was frightened of her father, she feared Uncle Odo’s chastisement more, for he brought the added wrath of God’s word to his reproof. Agatha knew she could withstand any punishment, any beating, but not the condemnation of God. Surprising even herself, she had shouted and clenched her fists, declaring that she would not, would not, become betrothed to Earl Harold – and her uncle had slapped her, right there in front of her mother and father. Slapped her so hard that the bruise would blacken her cheek for many days to come, in the name of God’s displeasure at her discourtesy and refusal to accept her place as a woman and wife. 
A tear dribbled down her cheek. Never before could she remember enduring such misery. 

“Why the tears little mistress? What ails you?” 
A man’s shadow fell tall and broad across her. Her downward gaze saw only his boots. Doe hide, dyed blue. Earl Harold’s boots. 
He sat beside her on the bench, near enough to exchange private talk, distant enough not to compromise her honour. “I think we are all disenchanted this day,” he said. “The rain and biting cold does sour our humour.” He tried a small jest: “They say when this rain eases, that it will turn cold enough to freeze the feathers off a gander’s backside.” 
No smile touched her mouth. Another tear dribbled; she brushed it aside. 
Harold decided to try the direct approach. “Your father tells me that you have been informed of our intended betrothal.” Still no response. He leant forward, cupped her chin with his hand and tilted her face upwards to look into his own.
“Am I, then, so terrible a prospect? I am not so bad to look upon and at least my breath does not smell like that of your father’s toothless old wolfhound. Nor do I scratch at fleas with my foot.” 
At last Agatha attempted a smile at his absurdity, then answered him with a choking stammer: “It is England I fear, not you.” 
Harold chuckled. “There is nothing especial to fear about England, sweet one. It is just as damned cold in winter as it is here in Normandy, just as wind-blustered by the northern breezes and flatulent men. Many of us in England are descended from the Viking race, as you are, and we all have as much passion for climbing the ladder of power, by whatever means, legal or murderous, as your father’s fellow countrymen. The one difference between Normandy and England, Lady Agatha, is that we live in houses built of timber, not stone, and we prefer talking about fighting rather than risk smearing blood over our long hair and our trailing moustaches.”