These Are A Few Of My Favourite Things: THE HILLS IS LONELY by Lillian Beckwith

I found a book in an opshop one day. That’s not unusual, of course. I’ve found many books in many opshops around Australia (and a few in America). It was in one of my book-binge shops, where I ended up with a whole plastic bag full of books at 10c each, paperback and hardback alike.

That book was THE HILLS IS LONELY by Lillian Beckwith. I picked it up sheerly because I liked the title, but the blurb on the back really sold it. The blurb read:

The Hills Is LonelyWhen Lillian Beckwith advertised for a secluded place in the country, she received a letter with the following unusual description of an isolated Hebridean croft: ‘Surely it’s that quiet even the sheeps themselves on the hills is lonely and as to the sea it’s that near as I use it myself everyday for the refusals…’

Her curiosity aroused, Beckwith took up the invitation. This is the comic and enchanting story of the strange rest-cure that followed and her efforts to adapt to a completely different way of life.

It sounded wonderful, and I’d been meaning to read more non-fiction anyway. THE HILLS IS LONELY seemed like a good place to start.

It was. I’m not sure exactly how much of it is from Lillian Beckwith’s actual experiences and how much of it is made up (she writes fiction also), but whatever the breakdown is, the whole of it is enchanting. She has such a way with words, and such a fine hand for characters that you can’t help feeling that you’re there, and that you never want to leave.

“I like the way you townfolk seem to be able to dance on your toes,” panted my partner admiringly.

“You’re dancing on them too,” I replied with a ghostly chuckle that was half irony and half agony.

“Me? Dancin’ on me toes?”

“No,” I retorted brutally, “on mine.”

“I thought I must be,” said Lachy simply, and with no trace of remorse; “I could tell by the way your face keeps changin’.”

Hebrides

photo from visitscotland.com

I’ve a link here for the Kindle Version of THE HILLS IS LONELY, though I really recommend getting the paperback. This is one of those books that you’ll want to feel in your hands and smell the scent of as you read it.

But whichever format you prefer to read, just read this one. I promise you, you’ll want to go on to the next, and then the next…

Adventures In Reviewing: To Review Or Not To Review….

If there’s anything a writer understands, it’s another writer’s search for reviews. We need them. We need them to propel sales, we need them to garner interest around the book blogosphere, and if we ever hope to enter the hallowed halls of Bookbub-advertised authors, they are indispensable.

That being so, when someone suggested that I join a non-reciprocal review group on Goodreads (non-reciprocal meaning that authors strictly don’t review authors who have reviewed them), I thought it was a great idea. I mean, it was foolproof! No-one could be accused of the kind of I-scratch-your-back-you-scratch-mine kind of review, and all the reviews would be fair and unbiased. And there would be, yanno, reviews.

So I joined a non-reciprocal review group, eager to see who I’d come into contact with, and ready to review the books of others. I knew there was a chance that people wouldn’t like my book and would rate it low (after all, that’s the chance we all take), but I was feeling good about the whole thing. I’d even been able to find a ‘clean’ round within the review group. No sex scenes to watch out for, and nothing I wouldn’t really like to read. I couldn’t go wrong!

Then I got my randomly-assigned read-to-review books, and had my first unpleasant moment. It hadn’t really occurred to me in the lead-up to signing up with the review group that I might end up with any really badly-written books. Unfortunately, I did. Oh boy, was it a doozy! No plot, dreadful writing, unbelievable and cardboard characters, and a level of political hackery that made the entire books seem like a fantasy manifesto of what politics should be like. That was reckoning without the grammatical errors, wrong and missing punctuation, and wrong homonyms. I read it through and took notes anyway, growing more and more anxious about having to review it. It wasn’t even up to a standard of three stars, and I hated to think that I was going to have to give another author less than three stars. Much to my joy, the next book was much better, and my third, although I was conflicted about it and found a little to criticise in it, was very well written.

My second unpleasant moment was when, having read three of the four assigned books in three days, the moderator of the group very sweetly and cleverly insinuated that both I and another member hadn’t really read the books. I was taken aback and more than a little sickened at the veiled accusation. Surely we were all readers as well as writers? In my mind, there is no lover of books who can’t read at least one book a day when in the mood. When I’m in the reading mood, I read anywhere from 1-3 books per day. I pointed out to the mod that two of the books had been very short, and tried to put the nastiness out of my mind. I already had the impression that this wasn’t the group for me, and that the unpleasantness of such a group made the possible profits not worthwhile. I was soon to be proved quite right.

In the end, I gave the dreadful book two stars (and thought it generous). Since it didn’t seem fair to give a fellow author’s book such a low rating without justifying it, I went into some detail with my review. After all, it had already been suggested that I hadn’t read the books, and I wanted to make sure that I couldn’t be accused of that again. Feeling sick and anxious about the whole thing, I uploaded the review to the required sites.

I woke up the next morning to find a message in my Goodread inbox. You can insert your choice of dum dum daaaaaah! music here. The author had seen my review, had taken exception to it, and was demanding that I start a dialogue with him about the thing he found most offensive about my review. It was also suggested, though not outright said, that I should be changing my review. To make a long, nasty story quite a bit shorter, I replied, indicating that I wouldn’t be changing my review, stating my reasons for giving the review I had given, and closing with a gentle reminder that it wasn’t professional to harass a reviewer for their review. The author sent back a shorter, nastier message, and contacted the moderator.

I then had the joy of receiving a message from the moderator that accused me of personally attacking the author in my review (amongst other things) and suggesting that I would be happier in another review group. By this time I was regretting that I’d ever taken the advice of joining a non-reciprocal review group. It was also at this point that I began to think that non-reciprocal reviews, earned in such a manner, weren’t exactly non-reciprocal. If every author going into this group was going into it with the attitude that they had to be kind and careful in their reviews, and expected the same in return regardless of the quality of the book, how was that different from reviewing the author who was reviewing you? They would feel constrained to review in a certain way, and with a certain amount of stars–thus making the review essentially reciprocal.
I had begun to feel exceedingly squicky about the whole thing: almost as if I’d bought and paid for reviews. And though a second message from the moderator indicated that they had spoken to the author about the inappropriateness of not contacting reviewers, I was still left with a nasty feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Fortunately, as with all things in life, every cloud has a silver lining and two lovely things have come out of the experience. I’ve met Loralee Evans, who was honest and truthful in her reviews, and who helped me out with invaluably sensible advice when I didn’t know what to do. (She’s also recently guest-posted for me: check it out!)
The other thing that made me exceedingly happy was meeting Dan Buri, whose book I was very conflicted about and rated 3 stars. He was a gentleman about it from start to finish, and never harassed or pressured me to change my review, though I know from experience that getting a lower-starred review isn’t at all pleasant. He was such a breath of fresh air after the nastiness with the other author.

Will I ever join another non-reciprocal review group? Heck no. It’s not my thing, and I hate the horrible feeling when I have to rate a book lower than I’d like to be rated myself. But the experience wasn’t all bad, and for those strong people who go into it with the determination of being truthful and accepting truth in return, it’s both useful and honourable.

In the end, as an author, it’s all up to you. To review, or not to review?

A Week Of Ups And Downs

WARNING!! THIS POST CONTAINS MULTIPLE GRATUITOUS LINKS.

Last week was a bit of a wild week. Wolfskin was on blog tour, I started a new WIP (Blackfoot), and Spindle started a month-long stint in Netgalley (not, it has to be said, with particularly glowing reviews). Then, toward the end of the week, Angst! and Drama! But more about that later.

Wolfskin got some really lovely reviews from C.J. Anaya, Jax of Bea’s Book Nook, Sage of Coffee & All Things Random, Maghon of Happy Tails & Tales, Mariela of Just Us Books, and Ashley of Book Nerd’s Paradise. I was given more than a few delightful comments upon the beautiful cover (thanks Joleene!) and overall Wolfskin‘s reception was very positive.WOLFSKIN - 2000

Meanwhile, over on Goodreads and Netgalley, I was discovering just how tough of a crowd Netgalley reviewers are. From them, I learned that a reviewer can love a book and its characters, and want to read the others in the series, and still rate the book at three stars. Whew! That’s when I knew I was in for it 😀 From them I also received my first one-star review! I’m not quite sure whether to be happy I’ve got it now and don’t need to be always dreading it, or whether to be shattered that it’s on my newest book, Spindle. Regardless, the not-so-wonderful reviews have somehow managed to rid me of (most of) my fear of the review process. Some people are just not going to like my book. Some people will rate low. It’s something I don’t need to be afraid of. And the reviews have my no means been all bad: the three-star reviews have been thoughtful and well-written, and there were four stars in there as well.

Back at Wolfskin‘s blog tour, I was being interviewed on not one, not two, but four blogs! Basically, if there is anything you want to know about me and my books (from favourite books to thoughts on fairytales to preference for chocolate or icecream) you can find it out on any of these lovely websites: A.F.E. Smith’s Reflections of Reality, Sandra Fairbrother’s Blog, Kimber Leigh Writes, and Jess Watkins’ A Book Addict’s Bookshelves.

I was also fortunate enough to have a guest post on Mythical Books (From Fantasy to Fairytales) and another on Bookwyrming Thoughts (Villains I’d like to know more about).

Over on Netgalley, Spindle was still jostling for position with Terry Pratchett’s World of Poo on page 11 of Most Requested in Science Fiction/Fantasy.

And then #Plot Twist I got An Email.

It said something like: “Hi. I thought you might like to know that someone is suggesting that you buy reviews” and included a link to an author’s Goodreads blog.

Well. Naturally, I followed the link. And found that the author of the blog had posted a letter they received after doing what I had done earlier- approaching some of Amazon’s Top 100 Reviewers for reviews. This letter purported to be from one of the same reviewers I had approached, and in the plainest of terms, it told the author that he would be glad to review his/her work- for a price. Namely 1 review for $XX, 2 for $XXX, etc. All apparently for his charity of choice.

Cue me feeling physically sick to my stomach. You see, the email I received from the same reviewer had said that he would be glad to review me. It was only after that, that he said he had a charity he would love donations for, and would I mind checking it out. He stated in no uncertain terms that it would not affect his review. I checked out the charity, found it to be for a good cause (library for kids) and trusting that Amazon wouldn’t allow dodgy business under their aegis, I donated (as I do to many other causes).

It was VERY different from the email this other author had received. And that’s when things became rather nasty. This other author then listed ALL THE AUTHORS who had been reviewed by the Top 100 reviewer (myself included) with the very broad suggestion that we had all paid for our reviews, and that the Top 100 reviewer had a reason to make sure we all succeeded.

Cue me throwing up in the bathroom.

One author, playing judge, jury, and executioner with my writing career. Thanks for that, mate. I appreciate it.

I don’t know whether this reviewer is taking money for reviews. I know I didn’t pay for any of my reviews. I left a message on the blog post, but by morning the whole thing had vanished from Goodreads. I still don’t know whether this reviewer was running a scam (it looks AWFULLY like it) but I do know that I was left feeling as though I’d been made a fool of. More, that I’d been tarred with a brush that I didn’t deserve, and that could kill my career before it even started.

I can’t even get the reviews removed, which means I’ll always be connected to it. Please, please guys- be careful what you say about your fellow authors. You don’t know that it’s true, and you don’t know the damage you can do.

It makes me appreciate all the wonderful authors out there that support and help one another (and me!) Toward the end of the week I had the lovely surprise of finding that the talented and much-celebrated A.F.E. Smith had been so kind as to mention my murder-mystery fairytale Masque in her list of Top 5 books containing Fantasy & Murder. A.F.E. has been on her own blog tour with her newly-released Fantasy Novel Darkhaven, and has been busily promoting other SFF authors in her blog tour like the delightful lady she is. Cheers, A.F.E!

A big thanks to all the others out there who have encouraged and shared and cheered, too. Thanks especially to: Kate Stradling, Ingrid Seymour, CJ Anaya, J. Ellen Ross, J.J. Sherwood, and Karataratacus. You guys have been fun and encouraging and so generous with your shares! I appreciate you all!

And thanks to everyone who shared this week of ups and downs with me (especially Sis and the Hubby, who put up with all the whining and pouting and upchuck). It’s been a somehow wonderful week. Also thanks for putting up with a 1000 word blog post 😀

Milestones

Milestones are a big part of a writer’s life. From the first short story or novel that we finish to the first book signing or reading we give, life seems to be measured in tiny increments of success. I still remember the first novel I ever completed. It’s almost entirely rubbish and needs to be extensively rewritten, of course, but at the time it was a massive achievement for a fourteen-year-old writer who had never completed a manuscript.

Then there’s the first successful short story I ever wrote. The first time someone was excited to read something else I’d written because they enjoyed the first Thing. The first full ms request from a publisher. The first personalised rejection from a publisher (well, actually gutting rather than good, but it was no form rejection).

My first paperback sale felt amazing. Yes, it was someone I knew, but it was the first. And the other day, my first reply from a book reviewer, who said that A Time-Traveller’s Best Friend sounded interesting, and that she’d added it to her list.

Today, my milestone is the 1000th visitor to my blog. 6 months, and 1000 visitors.

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Bloggers out there, you know what it’s like. Even if you’re a mastodon, you were once a pygmy like me, delighting in that 1000th visitor. It feels good, doesn’t it?

Milestones aren’t the be-all and end-all of a writer’s life, but they are a lovely reminder that life isn’t entirely always slog. Sometimes you actually get somewhere. And that keeps you slogging on until the next milestone.