Once, I begged my husband to elope with me rather than put me through the agony of a wedding.
He didn’t refuse, but reminded me very gently about all the people who wanted to be there to help us celebrate.
‘Just don’t make me be the centre of attention the whole day, okay?’ I asked him, to which he smiled.
‘I’ll try and outshine you. It will be hard, but I’ll try.’
I’m a classic introvert. I dislike being in large crowds, need time alone frequently, and am very happy with my own company. I dislike the idea of having people notice me, and prefer to blend in with my surroundings. I don’t wear make-up or paint my nails, I live in boots, jeans and jackets and if my hair wasn’t so strongly a natural blonde I would probably tone that down too. The thought of being a ‘bride’ and all that entailed absolutely terrified me, and my favourite part of my wedding day was after the ceremony, when our family and friends got up to sing a medley of Gilbert and Sullivan songs (I’m a huge G&S fan, and my husband- once a member of the Imperial College Operatic Society- had invited to our wedding musicians, singers and directors by the score) and my husband and I had a minute to ourselves. My husband took that moment to hug me. We didn’t talk, or laugh, or even kiss. It was just us in a quiet moment, and I felt like I could breathe for the first time that day.
So, having a book out now and reading reviews coming in from Amazon and Goodreads, is, for an introvert like me, absolutely nerve-wracking. I’m not hiding behind a pseudonym, because I love the story I’ve written, and I want to share it. But not hiding behind a pseudonym leaves me feeling open and vulnerable. It’s got to the point now where I won’t even look at the reviews, and my husband is the one to say ‘No, you should look at this one,’ or, ‘This person suggests that…’
Because my husband knows me, and he gets my personality. And he knows that my introvert status walks hand-in-hand with a crippling low self-confidence, and that I take criticism and rejection hard and to heart.
But he also knows me well enough to tell me that, eventually, I need to get over this when it comes to my work. And he’s right.
Because not everyone is going to like what I write, or my voice, or my style. Some people might read the book and not understand what I was trying to convey, or how I wanted my characters to appear. And I have to learn to be okay with that. Because writing, as with everything else in life, is subjective. I remember reading Laurie Graham’s ‘The Unfortunates’ and absolutely falling in love with it, so much so that I immediately gave a copy to a friend with similar reading tastes to me. And she absolutely hated it. Something in that work appealed to me, but wasn’t apparent to her.
So, I’ve decided to read the reviews of my work, and rather than reading them negatively, I’m going to take positives from them. One reviewer, the very kind Caitlyn Lynch, left me a review which was- for the most part- highly complimentary. But she also criticised my research, which had me weeping later that night.
Her criticism was mainly that I had shown ignorance of France by having my heroine at a Hotel de Ville, which is- in France- a town hall. And actually, I did know that, having planned for my heroine to be a party at the Hotel de Ville from the beginning (town halls were often used for social gatherings in the Georgian and Regency periods, even in post-revolutionary France). But I hadn’t meant that she was staying at a Hotel de Ville. Had I wanted my heroine to stay at a hotel, I would have mentioned that she was sleeping at the Hotel de la Poste. I know France well (in fact I will be in Paris next week- excited squeal!) and love that country and the people. So, with Caitlyn’s review, while my first impulse was to weep, I decided to take a positive from it. I decided that obviously it was my error as a writer not to have conveyed that knowledge correctly. I should have made it clearer that Sophy was at a party at the Hotel de Ville, but not actually staying there as you would at an everyday hotel. And next time, I’ll make sure I’ll do better.
I’m sure there will be moments in the future where I will want to cringe and weep at a bad review. But I’ll also remind myself to learn from the review and keep looking forwards to the next book.
Which hopefully I’ll be able to talk more about very soon…