Some Things That Make Me Want To Become A Hermit - by Simon Cheshire

A writer, yesterday
All jobs have their good points and bad points, and writing is no exception. You just have to learn to live with the frustrations. However, there are some things that, try as I might, I just can't muster the good grace or inner calm to let slide, but about which I can do n-o-t-h-i-n-g... For instance:

Brain Donor Book Reviews.
I don't mean internet trolls, exactly, I mean stuff that's just plain thoughtless and pointless. We all like, and need (even crave!) people to comment on our work, but not when they say "I loved this book" and then give it one star. 'Cos it's the star people notice. Or when they say how much they hated every word of every sentence, because you gave one of the characters a green jumper on page 139. Or when a middle aged person gets sniffy about a children's book being childish. It's! A! Children's! Book! The worst of it is that these things are indelible. Even if you, very nicely and very politely, post a comment next to a Brain Donor Review pointing out the oddities, all it achieves is a prolonging of the agony. Some years ago, a grown-up trashed a book for teens I wrote because, he said, he couldn't stand "YA fiction". I asked, very nicely and very politely, why he'd bothered reading (and reviewing) something he knew he wouldn't like. The reply was along the lines of "listen, dude, we have free speech in this country, you pinko liberal". That little exchange is still there, still being read, and inevitably still making people think "hmm, might skip that book, then"...
Buy THIS one!

Ye Olde Ancient Editions.
In 1999, my first three published books were collected together in a single chunky paperback entitled Jeremy Brown: Secret Agent. Eleven years later, with the book long out of print, I re-read those stories, went "eurgh, rubbish" and extensively revised them before I produced a new, self-published and much better edition entitled Jeremy Brown: Spy. Now then, guess which edition is always higher up the Amazon sales ranks ('cos it's 1p second hand, I suppose), and is the default edition at everything from Goodreads to Waterstones (despite endless pleading), and is the only edition which ever gets commented on at everything from Goodreads to Waterstones. Correct! The toe-curlingly awful one, the out of print one that wouldn't earn me another penny even if it topped the bestseller charts.
DON'T buy this!

Time Snatchers.
Why is it that, if you're a self-employed writer who works from home, everyone thinks you sit around all day popping Thornton's choccies in your gob and wondering whether you'll plump for Cash In The Attic or Jeremy Kyle today? Who the bleep do they think writes my books, the Prose Fairies? It's not that I mind driving me mam to the doctor's, or picking up stuff from Argos for my father-in-law, or doing the website for the pre-school where the Mrs works, it's the assumption that I've got time for these things. Loads of people work from home, why are us writers considered to be wandering lonely as a cloud all day!?!

The Mystery Megahits.
You know what I'm talking about. Jan Needle mentioned them the other day. The Thingummy Codes and Twonklights of this world, the stuff which seems to have been assembled from random letters by council jobsworths. I mean, they even had Fifty Shades Of Bleep on The One Show the other week! For crying out loud!!! Jealous? Of course I'm jealous. I've got 20-odd books out there and I can barely pay the gas bill. I think we should start Writers For Justice, dress up and swing from Big Ben in a campaign for better bestsellers. When good books do well, I'm delighted for their authors, I really am, but illiterate garbage just makes my blood boil! What's the MATTER with people??... A-hem. Think happy thoughts, happy thoughts, I'm in my safe place, aaaand relax... I've come across two or three articles online recently which address the megahits mystery, including a very good one by Danuta Kean. The current theory is something about these books tapping into the zeitgeist, but... well, loads of books do that, don't they? I've often thought to myself: "stop being a book snob - if you can't beat 'em, join 'em"! And I've tried. I've tried tapping out a zeitgeist-y blockbuster myself, more than once. I've even got one listed on Amazon at the moment (under a pseudonym!!), and its sales are pitiful. I just can't cut it, clearly.

I've heard it said, in these days of screaming online noise and relentless real-life gloom, that the only sensible option may be to cut yourself off from it all and just get on with the work. So there's this small cave near the top of a lonely mountain in the middle of a desert on a distant island that I've definitely got my eye on...

Simon Cheshire is a children's writer who'll be your
bestest friend ever if you buy his ebooks.
His website is at
And his blog about literary history is at


CallyPhillips said…
Simon. If I tell you I AM a hermit you'll know my response to your post!!!!
AND btw, You've Got To Read This Book is being reviewed in August on IEBR by Dennis and I think you'll find it passes muster. I agree with you - good books deaerve good reviews (and I don't mean 'I loved it' reviews, I mean reviews which actually ARE reviews of the work. I feel a 'what is a good review' blog coming on.

(Sorry Lee, I know that will drive you crazy - don't feel the need to put me back in my place - just skip my comments!)
Jan Needle said…
i'll have to start with an apology. simon, forgive me, but i'm just packing the thorntons before setting off to drift around a sun bleached langstone harbour in a 23-footer. worst case scenario? the choccies melt before i can eat em.
keep yer chin up, lad....
Lee said…
Yeah, zeitgeisty really only accounts for part of the success - similarly, Kean's tradition. As you point out, it's easy to find lots of books with these elemnts that never take off. And it seems that there are good number of books which publishers promote heavily, yet never move into the megaclass - not even the bestseller class. Usually I just shrug my shoulders and mutter 'luck', but that that doesn't explain much either. I've never completely bought into the tipping point explanation as a sufficient explanation. Maybe there is none.
Lee said…
Cally, what's there to drive me crazy? I couldn't agree more: good books deserve good reviews. Our only difference of opinion is that I believe bad books deserve good reviews too.

Lots more people seem to agree with you than me, but hey, that's why we try to protect minorities in a democracy.

I so identify with that 'writers sit at home all day doing nothing' thing. I had fondly imagined that when I got a little older, and my son (and my friends' kids) were all grown up, things would improve, but now I seem to have a lot of friends who have taken early retirement - or just plain retirement - and they all seem to think I've done the same. Er... no. There are times when I sympathise enormously with Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Now where did I leave that axe?
Kathleen Jones said…
I think the answer is mass hysteria myself, or the Lemming Syndrome.

Too hot for chocs here (Italy 35 degrees if you must know), but fortunately too far to go to do the mother-in-law's shopping!

Brilliant post Simon.
Mmmmm yes, the upside of this job is sitting at home all day popping choccies... not alwats Thorntons though, I have to admit.

It is difficult to get out of bed sometimes when you see the "success" (as in commercial success) of books like Fifty Shades... but I still think the answer is to write a book that everyone wants to read.

The way I see it, if my books are not piled at the front of every Waterstones and Smiths and selling millions of copies every day, then I've nobody to blame but myself. I give my muse a big thump on the head and try to write a better one next time. (He's looking a bit bruised after ten years of this...)
Pauline Fisk said…
The advice I was given when I started out and wanted to know what would get published was to 'write good books - they will always find a publisher and a market'. Ha ha. Those were innocent, halcyon days. I've learnt it's not like that [or, at least, no longer like that] but if I'm going to live with myself I've still got to do it. Trying to write good books is what I have to do if I want to live with myself. Of course 'good' can mean all sorts of things, but I guess it comes down to corny things like giving your whole heart and doing the best you can. It may not always end up with books on tables in Waterstones, but at least it means living with yourself [while you're quietlyl starving!].
Chris Longmuir said…
I do love a good rant, so this post went down well. Feeling better now you've got that off your chest Simon? maybe I'll wind myself up for a rant as well, it's good for the system.
julia jones said…
Oh those Prose Fairies! But how to lure them in? Why put out an overnight plateful of choccies of course.
Thanks Simon for a very funny and true piece.

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