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Friday, 13 April 2012

If a tree falls in a forest . . . .

Philosophical questions. If a tree falls in a forest and nobody is around to hear, does it still make a sound?

And if a writer remains oblivious to all my advice and constructive criticism and carries on in her own inimitable style – is her story still shite?

I tutor someone – let’s call her Daria, who for months now, has submitted chapter after chapter of her novel. I read and make notes, offer suggestions and encouragement. Then I start to notice that despite effusive thanks for my comments, they are being roundly ignored and the next chapter is full of exactly the same problems, overwriting, long sentences that require oxygen to read out loud, plot anomalies, too much description and passive writing.
Daria continues to ignore my suggestions thanking me for my help after each chapter. In a last ditch attempt to get through to her, I write notes in CAPS explaining that if one of your characters breaks a leg she can’t be seen RUNNING in the next chapter. The readers will NOTICE. And since you have built the entire story around the broken leg you can’t go back and change it to a SPLINTER. This too is ignored so I give up and make bland polite remarks.
Then when the final chapter is done she sends me an email thanking me for my help and asking if I will write her a really good review as she is going to send the unrevised, unrewritten and frankly awful book to a publisher. She even suggests words I might like to use in my review. (I have a few in mind but not the ones she is considering.) I am staggered at her brass neck and say I wouldn't give you a good review if there was a gun to my head no.
I go to her website a few days later and find she has a FAQ which includes the question:
How can I find out more about Daria's books?
Go into your local bookshop and demand that they stock them!
No - it is not meant to be ironic.

After I scrape my chin off the floor I can’t help but feel faintly admiring. I would never have the cheek to ask for a rave review. Or even imagine that people have nothing better to do than go to obscure blogs, and feel an urge to march into Waterstones and shout: Hey you – overqualified bookseller! Why aren’t you stocking the books of that fantastically talented author called Daria! I'm not leaving until you do!
Where does my student get her dazzling sense of entitlement? Because if she could tie that to actual writing and rewriting ability she would be unstoppable. Think of all the celebrities out there who have no discernible talent whatsoever but are considered a valuable brand.
But wait! That phrase . . . .actual ability . . . actual ability . . . actual ability . . .
I blink slap myself round the cheek a couple of times and realise that answer to the second question is definitely YES.