Criticism is an inevitable part of the job for a writer and is commonly available in two flavours.
a) Lemon – the expression of disapproval of someone or something on the basis of perceived faults or mistakes.
b) Orange – the analysis and judgement of the merits and faults of a literary or artistic work.
The difference between these two flavours lies largely in the degree of bitterness evident.
Some reviewers will try for an Orange and succeed only in supplying a Lemon. These reviewers lack skill and prefer to avoid thoughtful judgement by jumping straight to the disapproval. It’s a thing that they do.
Do not mind this.
Mind the Oranges.
If anyone who reviews your work can show balance of judgement, if they can show understanding of both fault and merit, if they can demonstrate a knowledge of literary form, function and phrasing, an interest in your genre, and a willingness to be open minded, then, you should listen to these people.
Let me be clear here, Oranges are not always right. Any review is opinion. But, if you have reason to believe that this is a person who knows their bananas, mind the Oranges.
And then your work will never be a complete fruit salad.
Me After You is a memoir about my first two years as a young widow. It charts life from the moment my husband collapsed and died as we made love one idle February evening, through chaos and despair to madness and euphoria, with a generous slug of red wine thrown in. It is a story of grief and rage and hope and the indomitable nature of the human spirit, but at its core, it is a story of true love. Why I was halfway through the second draft of a novel when my husband, Mark, died, aged just 37. Work on the novel ground to a halt overnight. I told my agent I was physically incapable of writing another word and that I would be in touch when, and if, I ever felt like returning to it. But it seemed unlikely to me that I would ever muster the will to write again. A year later I started a blog entitled Wife after Death – a roar-howl into the ether about the injustice of it all. I pounded my heart and soul into the keyboard, spilling my darkest and most desperate thoughts out into the void. I wrote because I simply didn’t know what else to do. And people began replying. Widows, widowers, women who’d lost children. But other’s too – those who wanted to show their support or simply to say ‘Hi’. I wrote almost every day for over a year, and the blog became a raw and intimately documented journal of grief. The blog went on to win an award, and I caught the attention of a national newspaper editor. My agent asked me if I felt up to writing a book based on the blog, about the first two years of my widowhood. I wrote my memoir, Me after You, in about three months, in between school pick-ups and in moments of sleeplessness. Writing it was time spent with Mark, and it helped me to try and make sense of the senseless nature of his death. What I learned. Me after You is my first full-length book to be published – prior to that it was short stories and articles. My publisher – Virgin Books – handled me and the book with skill and sensitivity, but I have learned that once your material is out there it becomes fair game. That is to say ownership of it almost ceases to be yours and anyone is able to comment on it. With memoir, especially one as emotionally charged as Me after You, this can be hard. Whilst most of the reviews have been positive (including a glowing cover quote from Andrew Marr) I have been criticised for being so candid. As a result at times I have questioned myself and the entire project, but I am fortunate in that I have a strong and supportive network around me. The best piece of advice I received was from my brother, who is also a writer and far more prolific than me: “In this business you need to develop a rhino hide,” he told me, “and never lose sight of what you set out to do, and what you have now achieved.” I am now working on my next book – a biography about an American sculptor. That, and my rhino hide. http://www.wifeafterdeath.com http://www.luciebrownlee.com Me after You is published by Virgin books priced £11.99