SURVIVING THE REVIEW

Don’t let a malicious review destroy you. Readers and history might be on your side.

A first-time novelist is a very vulnerable critter. I know that while I was enormously excited back in 1995 when my first novel ‘City of Light’ was published, I was also nervous about any pending reviews. I doubt any author knows they can write, you hope you can, you hope your publisher and editor were right to support you, and then you hold your breath. The first review I got, from a fellow Perth crime-writer was about as lacerating as you could imagine and I reproduce the second page of it here for you to zoom in on. I think it’s fair to say the review went far beyond the scope of a normal book review’s focus on text to personally attack me as ‘cowardly’ and ‘unethical’ before this final gem “City of Light isn’t just a good mystery ruined, it’s a sad book because the only corruption revealed is in the writer himself”.

Not only did ‘City of Light’ go on to sell a lot of copies, it is still selling, twenty-seven years on, and perhaps more importantly in this case it was judged the best fiction work in the West Australian Premier’s Award for 1996. That was unheard of for a crime novel back then. Reviews have their place but they are simply opinions written by other people who bring a whole heap of their own preferences, backgrounds and prejudices to the table. Hopefully readers, listeners and viewers are strong enough to make up their own minds, but it can be devastating for an artist/writer/musician to cop a vicious review, and it may discourage them from pursuing something for which they have a great talent.

Having spent more than a few years in the music industry I was used to bad reviews. One that still rankles is the Rolling Stone review for my fourth album ‘This Is My Planet’ by Ed St John who went on run Warner Music – who ironically controlled my old Mushroom Records catalogue for a time. That album contains some of my very best, and most loved songs – A Million Miles From Home, Bicton versus Brooklyn, UK Euchred, Buried In My Own Backyard, Kookaburra Girl and Car Park, which St John fallaciously claimed ripped-off the riff of Summertime Blues. While I wrote Car Park to emulate Summertime Blues with its simplicity and energy and as a cornerstone of a raw old style rock-album, my guitarist Bob Searles deliberately worked up a riff that was not the same but made you think it might be. But in the context of a whole album would it have even mattered if it was the same? The reviewer completely missed the point, not just about that song but the whole album and its desire to return to the energy of the roots of rock and roll at the height of synths of drum machines. Unfortunately, for me at the time, struggling to get FM airplay from the likes of the “cool” stations like MMM, and battling severe asthma induced by cigarette smoke, it was yet another reason to give up full-time music. In the end, an artist needs champions in the media to expand their audience, not personal attacks.

Interestingly, despite the reviewer vilifying me for writing a book that focused on police corruption, subsequent judicial enquiries have called into question police integrity in relation to real events I used as touchstones to my fictional story. Police of the time have been implicated in murder and cover-ups. I also had a very senior politician later ask me privately, who had been my source, because the goings on I had written were apparently so close to the truth on some matters. Contrary to what the reviewer claimed, while I like many other writers may be inspired and emotionally charged by real events and real people that doesn’t mean I’m merely changing a name.

History has come down on my side in the case of City of Light. Ultimately that particular review perhaps said more about the insecurities of the reviewer than the text but artists and audience should never lose sight of the fact that is always the case. Even if an artist/writer gets a good review, and I am fortunate to have had far more of those than negatives, it is still best to judge for yourself.

1 Comment on SURVIVING THE REVIEW

  1. Ha! She ‘ writes more & more & says less & less ‘ . I’m wondering how Her novel ‘ murder in northbridge’ fared . Awaiting the Netflix mini series of ‘ after the flood ‘

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