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Sunday, June 29, 2008

 

Creepypasta

My boyfriend Gareth has introduced me to an entertaining internet game, by the name of 'creepypasta': making up realistic-sounding urban legends and horror stories. Apparently the name comes from 'copy paste' stories, which became 'copypasta', meaning stories that people pasted and forwarded to each other a lot, hence 'creepypasta'. Click on the link and you can see some examples.

So, who wants to play? Here are a few from me:

Kissing a Mirror

If there's someone you want to make your own, there's a simple spell you can do. Press your mouth against a mirror at sunset and whisper the name of your beloved; then draw back and look at the shape your lips have left in the steam of your breath. If they form a perfect circle, your beloved will kiss you before the month is out.

But be very careful when whispering the name. If your teeth touch the glass, it will bring the kiss - but it will come at night, in your dreams. The creature that appears will have the face of your beloved, but its kiss will suck our your heart.


The Concrete House

There's a building in Lewisham they call Concrete House. It's overgrown with ivy, the walls cracked and the struts all fallen in, but the local council preserves it because it's one of the first houses ever built entirely of that material in the country. If you look in the council records, you will see that it's marked 'undergoing renovation', and indeed, there are walls around it, with barbed wire along the top – but the funny thing is, night or day, nobody has ever seen builders working there.

The walls are too high to see easily over, but if you stand on tiptoe, you can see the uppermost window of the house. Whatever led to the last owners leaving, they must have left in a hurry, because they didn't take all their stuff; there's a cork board still on the upper wall, papers on it fluttering in the wind. That's all most people see.

Sometimes kids go there on Halloween, peep over the fence with their torches, and swear they've seen faces looking out of the window, but there's no way that could be. The house is a shell, and the floors fell in long ago.

They say that on windy autumn days, the ivy rattles with a sound like scratching nails. The board through that window has dozens of papers pinned to it, but the rain and time must do their work. Sometimes they come loose. If ever you go near the Concrete House and see a paper blowing in the wind, pass on by. Whatever you do, don't pick it up. You will not recover from what you read there.


The Suicide Shoes (worked out in collaboration with Gareth, credit where it's due)

In 2006 there was a wave of suicides among young men in Bristol, all of whom had jumped off buildings, screaming they could fly. None of them knew each other, and all they seemed to have in common was that, at the time of their deaths, every one of them was out jogging.

Finally, an observant police officer noticed that there was a strange symbol, like a cross with eyes, written with permanent ink and hidden under the insole of one of the victims' shoes. When they investigated further, they found the same mark, always in a different place but always somewhere you wouldn't normally see, in every pair of suicides' shoes.

Forensic scientists examined the shoes, and found that their fabric had been saturated in some unidentified drug that looked a bit like a hallucinogen. The victims had suffered no ill effect when trying the shoes on before buying them, but once they started running, the sweat from their feet made the shoes damp, and the drug soaked into their skin.

Interpol traced all these shoes back to a single batch, produced in a particularly harsh sweatshop in South America. When asked about them, all the workers could say was that 'Papa Bird' had visited the day they were made.

'Papa Bird' has never been identified, and no arrests have taken place.

Monday, June 23, 2008

 

Scary dreams, safe plots

A while ago, I described having woken up screaming after watching a horror movie that didn't scare me; well, last night, it happened again. Over the evening, I was watching a horror movie that shall remain nameless, as I'm about to say bad things about it: the storyline was confused, the source of the horror poorly worked out, and the action wandered around in an unclear sort of way. It wasn't that scary, either; a few tense moments, but most of them overplayed, and all in all, not that great.

Yet at about half past midnight, I sat up in bed, screaming so loud my throat still hurts this morning.

I'm evolving a theory about this. Genuinely frightening films scare me into wakefulness - I had to sleep with the radio on for two days after I first saw Hideo Nakata's Ring - but if they get into my dreams, they do so in a less dramatic way. I might twitch in my sleep, but I don't wake up shrieking. The ones that really get me going seem to be ones that, not to put too fine a point on it, don't entirely hold my attention or convince me with their plots.

Storylines are a structure, they require order and control. Watch Rosemary's Baby, and the chain of cause and effect is frightening precisely because it's so ruthless. Even The Shining, the story of characters trapped in a building of obscure and incomprehensible malice, has a precision to its structure. Exactly how the Overlook is next going to express its hostility is up for grabs, exactly what kind of horror we'll run into next is an open question, but the overall trend is clear: the hotel wants to destroy six-year-old Danny and consume his father Jack, and will use whatever attacks and manipulations will work best. Some of what the hotel throws has a random element - a naked woman in a bathtub, a bartender - but they all make a certain kind of sense: they're all things that will get Jack's attention and draw him into the hotel, and the random horrors we see at the end are after Jack's mind has broken and anything can come flooding in. The hotel undoubtedly has its own logic: we don't fully understand it, but there's no doubt that it's there, and that's part of the nightmare.

Most horror stories, in fact, take place in a world of rules. Different rules, harsh rules - you shouldn't get your face sucked off just for remarking a few times that you'd like to meet Count Magnus - but rules nonetheless, and even all-bets-are-off rules like in The Shining have a kind of precision to them. The implacability of such rules is often part of the horror: without realising it, by watching Sadako's tape or opening the Cenobites' box, the victim has effectively signed a contract. The fact that they didn't read it correctly and don't like what they find they've signed up to is beside the point: they signed, and the party of the second part is not about to release them from the agreement. It's not fair, but it's got a by-the-book narrative justice. The logic of horror stories is presided over by a hanging judge.

We emerge from such stories into our own world, where we know the rules. A good horror movie can convey its rules so convincingly, dovetail them so neatly with the rules we live in, that it gets into your thinking: you remain jumpy because, after all, the characters began living in the same rules that we do, and they only discovered new ones once the horror started closing in. Probably Michael Myers won't break into your house, but then, you never see him until it's too late. Probably there's no Freddy Kruger, but we do dream, don't we? Probably there's no Sadako, but I watched the film on tape and breathed a slight sigh of relief after a full week had passed and Sadako didn't come to get me. Good horror stories mess with your sense of the rules: they start with the reality everybody accepts, and then add on some nasty little fine print to make you worry that you might just have missed it. After all, the characters didn't realise what they were signing until it was too late either.

That's good horror stories. But in the end, you can reason with those. We know, deep down, that the odds are in our favour, and the narrative logic speaks to our conscious understanding. When we get into the subconscious, it's different. Watching a not-very-coherent horror movie, I tend to comment on it as it goes along (in my own mind if people want me to shut up, aloud if not): That doesn't make sense. Those two claims about the supernatural seem to contradict each other. The monster doesn't seem consistent in its motivations. Most of what I feel a sense of narrative frustration.

Then I go to sleep, and it would seem that my subconscious hasn't been listening to anything I said. The subsconscious, too, has its own sense of structure. Good storywriting involves the subconscious, but it comes out in grammatical sentences and shaped plots: our brains are wired to create order. This is why they don't suddenly decide that maybe today they'll give breathing a miss, just to see what happens. Predictability is what keeps us alive. We're orderly creatures, and the creative brain delights, not in chaos, but in creating new and surprising patterns. But throw an incoherent horror movie at the subconscious, or at least at mine, and it picks up a different message: Things are confusing. The rules don't make sense. You can't predict what's going to happen next. And, alarmed by this disordered state, my dreaming brain starts assuming that if a monster can turn up for no reason in a horror movie - not just for an unlikely reason, but no reason, backed up not even by story-logic - then perhaps it can turn up in my bed as well.

Hence, I suspect, the maniacally snarling face that loomed over me last night. I tend to hallucinate stuff hanging over my head when I'm half-asleep anyway, but it's usually grey glittery lights or vague shapes (once I saw a furry snake with a mouse's head, which was startling but not exactly scary). This time my brain, primed to anticipate unjustified spooks, put a scary face on it. The vague sense of menace had lingered from the film, and the garbled logic, that seemed so unconvincing when I was awake, suddenly seemed threatening in my sleep. I suspect, too, that this may be one reason why children are so prone to nightmares: the rules of the world are complicated and take a long time to learn, and until they've got the hang of them, kids have far fewer defenses against the suspicion that the world might suddenly lurch. Confusion is debilitating, and it would seem that if you confuse me enough, I regress to childhood dreams.

There's a joke in here somewhere - what makes a writer wake up screaming? Bad plots - but it's an interesting thought, anyway. Anyone else have this experience?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

 

Editing

Here I am at another stage in bringing a manuscript along: diving into the process of going through my charming editor's comments.

This is an interesting experience. My first reaction tends to be horrified: look at those comments! She's right! That doesn't quite work! It makes no sense! Why didn't I realise that? It is because I am a fool, a fool! Reviewers will eat me. Readers will scorn me. Oh dear...

After a while I settle down and tell myself that if I can write a book I can rewrite it, remind myself that the manuscript is not, in fact, written in stone and I can change whatever the heck I like, and it's fortunate to have an intelligent editor who spots my oversights before a reviewer can get to them, and then I settle down into thinking of explanations for the stuff that needs ironing out.

I may be a bit buried for a while, but that's what I'm doing, in case anyone wonders.

Oh, and it was my birthday yesterday: I am thirty-one, which I've always thought sounds younger than thirty. My thought for the year: Do it and be scared of it once; don't do it and be scared of it forever.

On which note, back to the scary world of spotting all the mistakes in my first draft. :-)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

 

Monkeys that swim!

It can be a tiring world sometimes, and in those situations, you need happy thoughts. This is mine:

Monkeys that swim.

What's yours?

Friday, June 13, 2008

 

A weekend Mikalogue


Mika: This Mika's mat. Is not movin.

Kit: Oh, there you are, sweetie. I wanted to ask you something.

Mika: Is Mika with the wants. Mika wants, Kit does. Will accept fish treat if you is wantin to give one of them.

Kit: No, sweetie, I've got a question.

Mika: Can Mika has one?

Kit: Yes, here it is: what's with the mat? Did you hear the rhyme, 'the cat sat on the mat'?

Mika: This Mika's mat. Is lyin down on it.

Kit: I see that, baby. But there's a poem about cats on mats. I'm wondering if you have an interest in literature after all.

Mika: Your questions is confusin. Give Mika fish treat or go away.

Kit: Sorry, sweetie, we're running out.

Mika: Would accept prawn cracker.

Kit: No, those are bad for you. I shouldn't have let you get into our take-away, really. But look, why are you on that mat? It's drafty under the door, the mat's all rough and dusty...

Mika: Mika has thick beautiful coat. Knows not of these draffs you speak of.

Kit: So what are you doing on the mat?

Mika: Is leanin on door. Is nice down here.

Kit: You're kind of a mystery to me, sometimes, honey.

Mika: Mika sensible. Is you the one with the confusles. You calls food take-away, but when Mika tries to take it away, you intervenes.

Kit: Does that mean you want some of our dinner?

Mika: No thank you. Is not hungry. Is happy down here.

Kit: I guess I should stop trying to figure you out and just admire your beauty.

Mika: Aha! You is comin on after all. You gets purr. Prr.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

 

testing

Blogger seems opposed to me posting today. Will this work?

 

The inexorable march of world domination continues

... Bareback has sold rights in Spain!

To these guys: Ediciones B, a great publisher who do a lot of crime and thriller novels, including authors like James Patterson, Anne Perry and Patricia Cornwell. Excellent news, in fact, and Viva Espana!

Monday, June 09, 2008

 

Banned books

Noodling around on the internet the other day, I discovered that one of my childhood favourite authors, Judy Blume, holds the status of one of the most banned authors in America. That's an odd kind of compliment, really, but it is a compliment if you've read her books: they raise issues that children really ought to think about, such as racism and sex, and deal with them intelligently. To take an example, Blubber is a book that covers bullying, but our narrator Jill is, in fact, one of the bullies. Not the ringleader, but an active lieutenant, who cheerfully believes the victim, Linda, 'deserves' her persecution - only to find herself under fire when she stands up to the class leader, and bullied by, among other people, her former victim. Jill's period of suffering is shorter than Linda's because she's more assertive and her tormentors eventually get bored, but there's no triumphant moral victory, just a broadening in the understanding of an unremarkable girl. Apparently the book is challenged for 'offensive language', by which I assume they mean an occasion when the class ringleader calls Jill's Chinese-American best friend a 'Chink'; now, Jill immediately yells 'Don't you dare call Tracy a Chink!', and we're clearly not supposed to approve of the word, but, looking back, I do think that was the first time I'd encountered the word as a child, so possibly censors are worried Blume might be teaching bad language. Frankly, that's a stupid idea: kids are going to encounter the bad words at some point, and for my part, encountering it first in a story where only the nastiest kid in school thinks it's okay to call someone that gave me a swift and thorough demonstration of why it was a word I didn't ever intend to say.

Similarly, Forever, the book that everyone passed around my class when I was about twelve - which is very likely how it was intended to be read - apparently remains a huge scandal, because it's frank about a sexual relationship between two seventeen-year-olds. Actually the book has a big invisible sign nailed to it that reads 'BE RESPONSIBLE!', because the plot details cover, as well as technical details about stuff like premature ejaculation and the non-inevitability of female orgasm, risk factors like STDs, unwanted pregnancy, infidelity and the effects of sexual pressure on, horror of horrors, boys as well as girls - one of the characters is an emotionally unstable and confused boy who, distressed at his girlfriend's continual attempts to coax him into a sexual normality he's not sure he's comfortable with, ends up making a suicide attempt. All in all, it's a guide to the pitfalls of sex as much as the pleasures - but, of course, it does present unmarried teenagers having sex as a perfectly normal event, and, well, you can imagine the consequences on an innocent mind.

Judy Blume deserves to be defended not just because censorship is a bad thing, but because she's an excellent writer. There's a reason why her books are so popular, and it's not just because she mentions masturbation. Her popularity made many adults in my day assume she was trashy, but kids are often more acute readers than adults, and Judy Blume is good. Her grasp of character is subtle and and acute, her ability to convey drama in small everyday details is striking, her insights are sharp, her dialogue is convincing and her views are humane. What she also is, as well as educational in the best sense, is a good start for kids who want to love literature. A tremendous proportion of children's fiction is fantasy fiction; magic and such is so common in them that you hardly notice it. But while many reading kids grow up to be fantasy readers, many more do not. Judy Blume, Jacqueline Wilson, Beverley Cleary, Anne Fine - all are, to a greater or less extent, 'issue' writers, but they're also mainstream books for kids. They're about everyday worries, and domestic frictions, and naturalistic crises, and social concerns - all the things that are the staple of mainstream adult books. Speaking from personal experience, I never had anything against books-with-magic when I was a kid, but Blume and Cleary meant a lot more to me than the more fantastical stories, and while I write fantastical stuff now, as a reader, my tastes still tend towards naturalistic drama. It's good to have access to books of that kind as a child: people's tastes begin quite early, and without writers like Blume and Cleary, I would have been missing out. These books are good for children artistically as well as socially; only one genre on the shelves is never good for anyone.

But the issue is wider than this. If you look at the list of the top 100 banned books in America, you'll notice something: an awful lot of them are really, really good. I'd actually call this list to the attention of anyone who has teenage kids or teaches English: it's got a lot of outstanding books on it. Mark Twain is on it. So is Toni Morrison. So is Margaret Atwood. So is Aldous Huxley. So is John Steinbeck. So is J.D. Salinger. So is Harper Lee. So is Maya Angelou. So is Isabelle Allende. So is William Golding. So is Kurt Vonnegut. These are authors that adults read and admire, never mind kids. There are a lot of teenage classics there too: S.E. Hinton, Lois Duncan, Lois Lowry, Paul Zindel. Anyone who makes it onto that list is in distinguished company; as a writer, it makes me wish more people were offended by my books, just so I could rub shoulders with so many people I admire. There are some horror stories there, plus a bunch of sex-ed books; my personal favourite juxtaposition is around the fifties:

52. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
53. Sleeping Beauty Trilogy by A.N. Roquelaure (Anne Rice)
54. Asking About Sex and Growing Up by Joanna Cole
55. Cujo by Stephen King
56. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
57. The Anarchist Cookbook by William Powell

Major literary/political classic; sado-masochistic porn; educational guide; mass-market horror; charming children's classic; bomb-makers' manual. And the children's classic gets more complaints than the bomb-making book. Amazing.

What strikes me about this is that a lot of the books complained about have very little morally wrong with them. James and the Giant Peach, for instance, the only objection I can imagine is that James's horrible abusive aunts get accidentally squashed by the peach and nobody is sorry - that is, obedience and respect for your elders are not considered necessary if those elders are mean to you. It takes a profoundly authoritarian way of thinking to consider that idea one that children should be kept from. But book-banning is always authoritarian; that's what so bad about it. The idea that people should not be free to consider the world for themselves and make up their own minds, that they can't be trusted with that responsibility, is a terribly dangerous one.

Even so, the moral lessons of the books are often such that it's hard to see what the objection is. Hinton suggests that violence is bad. Duncan suggests that irresponsible malice leads to tragedy. Lowry suggests that secure conformity backed up with brutality is not worth having. Zindel suggests that you shouldn't manipulate people for fun. These authors depict kids who are cannot rely on authority for everything, who are free to make bad decisions and often do so. They suffer for it, they regret it, but they were free to do it in the first place. It seems like the complainers feel the idea that it's possible to do such things completely trumps the idea that it's wrong to do them. By this logic, kidnapping your teacher (Duncan) or lying your way into an old man's affections (Zindel) shouldn't just be bad, it should be inconceivable. Even countenancing the idea that real people might ever do such things is too close to an endorsement.

I wonder if the idea of Biblical inerrancy has something to do with it. A fundamentalist Christian - and I'm fairly sure that a big proportion of the complaints come from that direction - is, after all, someone who has an intense belief in the power of the written word. The Bible is infallible, the ultimate guide to everything in this life and the next, and you disobey it at your peril. That's attributing a lot of power to a book. And from there, it's perhaps easier to attribute tremendous power to books in general. If the Bible is infallibly true, then perhaps every book is making an equal claim to truth: if J.K. Rowling depicts wizards, it must be because she wants people to believe there really are wizards, rather than because she's asking them to suspend disbelief.

But it's even more than that, I think: a truly authoritarian Christian seems to have difficulty with the idea that, unlike the Bible, most books aren't primarily didactic. If an author is writing a story, it must be a parable - and not just a parable that the reader can consider and reject if it doesn't ring true, but a parable the author demands that they accept.

This, I think, is why so many Christian knickers are in a twist about Rowling. I used to assume that they thought, rather naively, that she was advocating black magic, and if they grasped that she was actually writing an epic of good versus evil that happened to be ecumenical in its religion, they might calm down. But actually, I now think that's the whole point. Rowling's good-versus-evil struggle is more threatening to a fundamentalist than a simple depiction of Sin. She's positing a world in which a struggle between good and evil can take place without reference to Christianity - and that's a massive, profound challenge to the fundamentalist worldview. A fundamentalist believes that only Christians can be goodies and tackle evil; Rowling invents a world in which not-particularly-Christian goodies tackle evil. To a fundamentalist, she's demanding that you give up the idea that you have to be a Christian to be good. There's a tremendous spiritual greed in such objections - basically, if you're not Us then you're not entitled to any moral claims at all, and anybody who says otherwise is evil - but it does explain why a book that portrays anything an authoritarian Christian dislikes sympathetically is such a big deal. Identifying writing and preaching as identical, and utterly opposed to their children hearing the preaching of other faiths, fundamentalists have to kick off about every book that presents a convincing and sympathetic depiction of human behaviour.

Hence, the banned-books list is a particularly good guide to anyone looking for challenging and well-written material. Odds are, if it's convincing enough to get a complaint, it's probably good, and if it offends authoritarians, it's probably got something sensible to say. Obviously not every protested book is a classic; the Goosebumps series gets a lot of complaints as well, and those are competent but undemanding spook stories rather than great works of literature - but it's notable what a lot of good stuff raises a fuss, and I, for one, feel motivated to check out some of the titles on that list that I haven't read, because I bet they're good. If we're Thinking Of The Children, obviously there's no need to forsake common sense; Anne Rice's erotica and the Anarchist Cookbook should not be on the same shelf as Roald Dahl, and if a librarian refused to check them out to a six-year-old, I doubt anybody reasonable would object. But to insist that such books shouldn't be available at all is not just Thinking Of The Children: it's demanding that adults can't read them either; it's asking that your library, which is supposed to be a cross-section of available literature, joins you in pretending that they don't exist at all. And that's a fantasy you've no business getting didactic about.

Friday, June 06, 2008

 

The Mikalogues meet literature


Mika: Aha, see you has book! Mika fites book! Bites it!

Kit: Mika, stop that.

Mika: Paper products is for chewin.

Kit: Mika, I wish you'd stop trying to eat my books whenever you see me reading. Books are important, you know.

Mika: Why?

Kit: Well, sweetie, people care about books. I write books. People work very hard to put all those letters down on the page.

Mika: Wif pen?

Kit: Yes, that's right. You take a pen and make shapes that spell out words.

Mika: Chase pen! Catch it! This good game.

Kit: I know you like chasing pens. That's why I close the door of my study. You kept trying to catch my pen tip when I was writing.

Mika: Close door, Mika has nap. Can chew book?

Kit: Sweetie, do you have some kind of animus against literature? It's writing that keeps you in cat food, you know.

Mika: Animouse? Where? Fites it!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

 

My boyfriend hates my books

Here's something I discovered over a long and intriguing period of years: not everyone you're close to will necessarily get or like your writing. And this is not a bad thing.

My boyfriend and I have been together five and a half years; I was in the process of writing Bareback when we first met. We discussed careers, I mentioned I worked in publishing and also was writing a novel; he showed interest in it, which was a good sign (I'd been on a speed date a few months previously and had ended up ticking yes or no purely on the basis of whether my three-minute date recoiled or leaned forward when I described my novel, on the assumption that if he thought my pet project was peculiar, there were probably a lot of other things about me that he wouldn't enjoy either). We started dating as soon as we met, and, it became clear, at some point he was going to have to take a look at my writing; it was too big a part of my life for a serious boyfriend not to know something about.

His first reaction, he tells me, was relief. He'd picked up the as-yet-incomplete manuscript with deep trepidation: what if I don't like it? How do I tell her? If it's really awful and she can't tell, can I respect her mind? His main hope, in the interests of harmony, was that the writing would be at least above the standard where he'd have to choose between tactful lies and hurting my feelings, neither of them a balmy breeze on the tender petals of a blossoming romance. So, finding it was all right, he sighed with relief: he could honestly say it was okay. Then, after a while, he found himself reading the story like it was an actual story, rather than like a favour to his new girlfriend, which was about the best compliment you can pay someone: it seemed to him like a proper book.

But as the relationship progressed and I started writing a second book, and then a third, I began to notice something. His spirits appeared to sink if I asked him to read something I'd written. If he read something and I asked what he thought, he'd reply, 'Yeah, it's good,' and say nothing else, in the same careful tone a man answers the question 'Does this dress make me look fat?' And anyone who's heard that tone - or any woman, at least - hears only one thing in it: I have an opinion that you're not going to like, but I don't want you mad at me, so I'm going to be polite and keep it to myself.

This was discouraging. We edged around, I kept asking him if he meant it until he started to dread talking about my writing at all, and finally I insisted that he give me a straight answer in return for a promise that I wouldn't get upset if he told the truth. So he told me the truth: he didn't like reading my stuff. At all.

And at that point, I was the one who was relieved.

It wasn't that he thought it was bad, he explained. But his tastes are entirely different from mine, and run less to the melancholic. His actual phrase when talking about my books is this: 'They're very good, but when I read them, I'm sort of in a state of suffering.' Sad stuff keeps happening to the characters. So if I said to him, 'Hey, could you read something I've written?', his heart sank, not because he was worried it'd be rubbish and he'd have to lie, but because there was a strong likelihood something unhappy would be going on. 'It's like having something bad actually happen to you,' he said, which is possibly the strangest compliment I've ever received, as well as one of the greatest. 'Or happen to people that I know and like.'

Though this can be an inconvenience when I'm stuck and would like to bang around plot ideas with someone, I remain complimented. It means, at least, the characterisation and writing are convincing enough that it upsets him when bad stuff happens to my characters, which, I'll be the first to admit, does tend to happen. But in practice, we had to draw up a treaty, which enabled us both to get what we wanted: he would enthusiastically support the act of my writing, and I wouldn't make him read it. I tell him how many words I've written today, he applauds, and that's it. He still hasn't read my completed second novel, and has only the vaguest idea of what's happening in my third. And we've both cheered up.

There's a lesson in this, I think. If you've just poured your heart and soul into writing something, anything but the most fulsome praise can feel like an icy shower. Writers are insecure - it's a common joke that a writer can remember every word of the one negative sentence in a single review, completely forget the praise in the rest of it and the very existence of five entirely positive ones, and come away believing they've been panned. But in reality, you can't please all the people all the time.

Even people you're close to aren't necessarily your ideal readers. That feels counter-intuitive: writing is so personal that it's hard to credit that someone you're emotionally involved with might love you and hate your work. But it's true nonetheless. The idea of a soul-mate who loves your writing because it's the purest expression of you is simplistic: your writing is one expression of you, very possibly of the part of you that you keep out of your relationships for the sake of peace. After all, a writer in their fictional world is the ultimate autocrat, telling everybody what to do, say and think; you can't run a relationship that way. A romantic partner - or indeed, a parent, sibling or best friend - may be the best person for the part of you that doesn't write. Writing is a solitary business, and whatever you need from other people in everyday life, you can't take it with you into the writing. There are no pockets in a shroud, my grandfather used to say when he was spending money near the end of his life, and there's no love-seat at a desk.

So, if your friends, family or partners don't like your stuff, it's not necessarily time to give up hope. If they think your grammar is sloppy or your characters are two-dimensional, that's one thing, but if it's just not their thing, then it may not mean your writing's bad. You just don't happen to be related or married to your ideal readers; that doesn't mean such people don't exist.

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