On Recognition, Or Otherwise, And Why My Diamond Shoes Are Too Tight

Thursday, April 08, 2010, 1:33 AM

I did a live radio interview today with Wendy Austin on BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback programme. I've long since gotten over any nerves that I might have had in earlier radio appearances, so even when we couldn't get the microphones to come on in the remote studio (I was in Armagh, Ms Austin was in Belfast), I didn't panic. You can hear the results here, if you so wish.

Anyway, right up front, Wendy rattled off a list of quotes from the great reviews I've had on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as the best-of-2009 nods from both the New York and LA Times, as well as mentioning that THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST (a.k.a. THE TWELVE) has been optioned for a movie. Wendy asked how all this recognition felt, and at first I could only answer: "Not bad."

Then on further consideration, I made the point that recognition for one's writing is a wonderful thing. And it's not entirely because of vanity, though in all honesty, that must be a part of it. In reality, it's more about insecurity. I've made this point repeatedly in interviews, but it bears even more repeating: In my experience, writing seems like a completely ridiculous thing to waste one's time on. To sit for hour upon hour, staring [delete as appropriate] (a) at a blank screen (b) out the window (c) into space, deleting more words than you leave on the page, with no realistic prospect of anyone ever reading what you've done, is a completely daft thing to do. There are so many things one could do instead: clean the bathroom; take a walk; gather together bank statements and invoices for the accountant; play Grand Theft Auto 4. The list goes on. But instead, you sit there and grind it out, word after word.

Apart from the people I knew online in that clandestine way one knows people online, I didn't tell anyone except a very close friend that I was writing. I kept it secret, even from my closest family members. Why?

Because I was embarrassed.

If you come from the kind of working class background that I do, intellectual and creative expression don't come as second nature. And if, like me, you somehow get promoted from the working class educational stream to the lofty heights of a predominantly middle class grammar school by way of passing a few exams, you're taught to keep your mouth shut and be grateful for the chance to study algebra in such a rarefied environment.

I've told this story before on my blog, but here it is again: I spent my first two years of education at the little school on our housing estate that normally kept kids for three years. Because my reading was ahead of my classmates, I was moved a year early to the big school in town. On my first day there, at the age of six, the headmaster came around to see the new boy. He said he'd taught my dad years ago. He asked me if I was as stupid as my father was. This pretty much set the tone for the rest of my school life.

So, when the Observer or the Daily Mail, or indeed the NY or LA Times, heap praise upon my novel, it's not just the massaging of my ego that I enjoy (and of course, I do enjoy that a lot, I'm only human after all), but most of all it's the vindication. It's knowing that I haven't wasted years of my life chasing a dream that I could never hope to make real. It's realising that despite Mr Moffat dismissing me as just another dimwit from the estates, I can prove that old bastard wrong and achieve something truly worthwhile. Something I can be proud of.

And the recognition doesn't have to come from a famous newspaper or a well-known author. I get more emails from readers than I can ever hope to reply to, and they all make my day brighter. If someone tells me they couldn't put the book down, that it scared the bejesus out of them, then fantastic. If they tell me they learned something in the process, then even better.

The great reviews on Amazon mean a huge amount too, both in the UK and the US. But the shine can be dulled, if you let it, by a few people. I've had overwhelmingly positive feedback from Irish Americans who bought THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST for the obvious reasons. Many have told me they connected with the book in a very personal way, and that's wonderful. It would be easy to let a tiny minority of readers spoil that buzz when they express how much they dislike having their green-tinted glasses dislodged, but really, what's the point?

If, like one Amazon.com reviewer, one of your main criticisms of the book is based on where I went to school, and its sports curriculum, how can I take your views seriously? I didn't like my school either, or its sports, so what does that prove?

Or if, like a couple of Amazon.com critics, you start throwing words like "orange" around, then that says more about your prejudice and ignorance than it does about the book. As soon as your review is tainted by sectarianism, no matter how well-informed about the land of your forefathers you might think you are, I stop placing any value on your opinion.

And then there's the charmer who has so far placed six negative reviews, under three different screen names, across two editions of THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST/THE TWELVE, spread between the UK and US Amazon sites. The same wannabe critic also has grudges against my friend Tom Piccirilli, crime writer Laura Wilson, and, of all people, the velvet-voiced radio and television presenter Terry Wogan. On the spectrum of offensiveness, Terry Wogan is somewhere between vanilla ice cream and warm scones, so I really can't imagine what he's done to upset this particular critic.

A few days ago, I expressed a small amount of chagrin to my girlfriend about these minor blemishes on my otherwise shiny and bright critical landscape. As girlfriends are wont to do, she responded with some simple but truthful wisdom: Me complaining about such trivial annoyances is rather like that scene in FRIENDS where Chandler says, "Oh no! My wallet's too small for my fifties, and my diamond shoes are too tight!"

Yep, she nailed it.

Instructive, constructive, intelligent critique is a good thing. Affirmation from those who appreciate what you do is also great. Attacks from the ignorant and ill-informed are nothing more than a minor annoyance, like flies buzzing around the arse end of a cow.

So, with joy in my heart, here are a few other things that are currently floating my boat:

Tomorrow night, Thursday 8th of April, I will appear on the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson on CBS. I'll post a YouTube clip as soon as it's online so that, even if you're not domiciled in the USA, you can witness me blinking like a bunny in the headlights and mumbling incoherently on national television.

THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST is a finalist in the Mystery/Thriller category of the LA Times Book Prize! The winner will be announced at the LA Times Festival of Books, where I'll be appearing on a panel with fellow nominees, as well as signing at the Mystery Bookstore stand. Check my website over the next day or two for details.

THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST is also nominated for a Spinetingler award - you can vote here!

The audiobook of THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST has been awarded the Earphones accolade by Audiofile Magazine in a rave review that described it as "everything a listener could want from an audiobook."

And that's all for now. I'll try not to leave it so long next time.

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Blogger Jamie Eyberg said...

Thanks for the dvr reminder. I will set it now. Congratulations on your book and its continued success. Both my father and I look forward to your next project.

2:54 PM  
Blogger JournoMich said...

Congratulations on your success! I am planning to order your book soon, thanks to the great words on Detectives Without Borders. Remember (and I say this with the best of intentions), many authors are out there commenting on negative reviews, and this gets them even more negativity from bloggers and readers. Just accept them as part of the gig, and bask in the warmth of your positive PR!

Congrats, again.


3:41 PM  
Blogger jjdebenedictis said...

See, you need to buy the diamond shoes that have the pointy ends on the outside. That way, it doesn't hurt as much when they're too tight.

I speak from my experience with rhinestone shoes, of course, but I'm sure it's applicable.

Congratulations on your career's continued success. It gives me hope. :)

8:10 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Congratulations, Stuart. I wholeheartedly say you deserve it. There will always be naysayers, but... well. You know them ;)

10:31 PM  
Blogger Gary Corby said...

Congratulations Stuart, all the success has been hard earned and well deserved. I'll have to watch that interview as soon as it's on youtube!

11:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm in the process of looking for your Late Late Show interview on Youtube. Has it been posted yet?

10:26 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hi Stuart,
I watched your Late, Late Show interview with interest being an aspiring crime novelist myself.
God, that host was a handful wasn't he? It must have been tricky for you, but you handled it well and came across as a decent, humble chap with a good sense of humour.
Congrats on your success so far.

7:37 PM  
Anonymous Gerry Boyle said...

Loved GHOSTS OF BELFAST! It did make me wonder about my daughter in Dublin making shopping trips up there.

Your description of the choices— Write or play GT Auto. Write or go for a walk. Write or postpone until tomorrow—rang completely true. And after 10 crime novels, the choice is there. Accept the vindication and get right back in that chair. I look forward to your next.

8:39 PM  
Blogger Ello - Ellen Oh said...

I cannot believe I missed you on Craig Ferguson. I love that guy. I'm telling you my life has been too crazy lately. Please put up the link so I can see it. PLEASE!!!

BTW - I did tell you that Da Man went crazy for your book, right? He hasn't stopped raving about it, and he finished it 4 months ago. I consider that amazing praise from a man who is not a big reader. He is now anxiously waiting for your next book. If only he would like what I write as much as what you write. Men, sheesh. ;o)

7:55 PM  
Blogger Bernita said...

Reading about your headmaster makes me doubly glad for you.

12:33 PM  

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