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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Whatever you do, don’t criticise my research!!!

Uh oh, the sad puppy is out again! For those who have not encountered the sad puppy on my blog before, this is the sign that something is wrong. Last time it was BBC Radio 4 trashing the historical romance genre. This time it's something more personal.

You don’t often find writers expressing their views publicly about the reviews they receive. Jilly Cooper was once brave enough to admit that poor reviews upset her and knocked her confidence but in the main we don’t make a bid for the sympathy vote. It’s generally accepted that if you put yourself and your writing out there, sometimes you’ll get good reviews, sometimes bad, but you have to be tough enough to take it. A cup of tea and a chocolate éclair (or a box of them) usually gets me through the worst of it. After all, if I use good reviews to promote my work I can hardly be hypocritical enough to criticise the poor ones. I know that my writing will never be to everyone’s taste. I'd even go so far as to admit that some of my books are better than others although I always try to write the best book I can. And reviewing is a tough job. I know because I’ve done it in the past. Writing an insightful and intelligent review is hard and kudos to those who do it. If an intelligent review is critical of my books then, to paraphrase Voltaire, I may not like what the reviewer has to say but I’ll defend to the death (well, pretty close anyway) their right to say it.

But recently I’ve noticed an exception to this rule in myself. It happens when someone criticises my historical research or my lack of historical depth. Then I become like a crazed madwoman with a red mist before my eyes and I can’t quite work out why this bothers me so much. Goodness knows, I occasionally make mistakes with historical detail and I put my hand up to it. I try very hard not to get caught out, I read and research widely, but it happens. I’ll never forget the letter I received from a reader about a mistake in one of my early books. It started well: “I enjoyed your book The Blanchland Secret very much…” and then there was a big BUT. What followed were two pages, with diagrams, on how my heroine had written and folded a letter incorrectly in the story. I wrote back thanking the reader and I’ve kept her letter to this day. I liked the fact that she had explained to me exactly what my mistake was and I loved the pictures. What I don’t like are throwaway lines about lack of historical research or lack of depth without any evidence to back them up.

My Brides of Fortune Regency historical trilogy is set in a fictitious village in Yorkshire at the beginning of the nineteenth century. It’s not set in London, it’s not set in Bath; in that sense it’s different. Perhaps it’s the fact that the village is imaginary that has led a couple of reviewers to think that fictitious means not anchored in historical fact. In fact the village of Fortune’s Folly is modelled on the spa town of Harrogate and I had a great deal of fun researching Harrogate in the early nineteenth century as background for the book. Then there are the medieval laws invoked in the story. These are all genuine and again I had fabulous fun checking out the childwite (payable when you had fathered an illegitimate child) and the amoeber (payable to the lord in lieu of him spending the wedding night with the bride.) I made Fortune’s Folly a religious settlement in medieval times in order to get around the repeal of all these laws in the seventeenth century. I could go on (and on) but I won’t because I don’t want to whine too much. For those who are interested, I'll be posting up some detail on the historical background to the trilogy on my website (oh, and some good reviews as well!)

Ok, I’ve stuck my head above the parapet. I’ll stick it back in a history book now!


Kate Hardy said...

Readers who bother to take the time to correct you (with justification, like the letter-folding one) are absolute gems.

But throwaway lines that aren't backed up (especially in your case as I know you're meticulous about your reserach) - they hurt.

I'm beginning to think I shouldn't read reviews at all as snarky ones upset me. Especially when I'm struggling with revisions and having a bit of self-doubt!

Jan Jones said...

Me, I can take anything except criticism.


Carol Townend said...

It does sting when you've worked at something and have checked all your facts. I try and notice the good reviews and ignore the bad ones. Some errors I make (I am sure, Nicola, you wouldn't have made this mistake;) ) just make me laugh. There is the time when I had a scene in a layloft in the elventh century and referred to 'bales' of hay. A farmer friend of mine pointed out that there were no hay balers then! Oops.) I should have put stooks. Or bundles. Or something. The main thing is that we do our best and write with integrity. Which you do.

Nicola Cornick said...

Thanks for all the moral support, guys! You are great and I really appreciate it!

Nicola Cornick said...

Oh and I see I have an absolute *stinker* of a review on AAR! I don't know why HQN ever send my books to them for review. They just never "get" them!