In Fiddler On The Roof, Tevye says, in that growl that you hear through the soles of your feet, "I realise of course, it's no shame to be poor; but it's no great honour either." That's how all writers feel about bad reviews, I think. They don't always hurt, but they never get you dancing. They're something you live with.
Except - dun-dun-DUH - bad reviews from people who haven't read the book. They make even the mildest writers turn green and burst out of our shirts. Although never, on a family show, our trousers.
So imagine how it would feel if a fellow-writer published not just a review but a whole article and said of your beyond-successful children's/YA series:
"I've never read a word ... so I can't comment on whether the books were good, bad or indifferent. I did think it a shame that adults were reading them ... mainly because there's so many other books out there that are surely more stimulating for grown-up minds." [bold mine]
That's what the writer Lynn Shepherd said about JK Rowling's Harry Potter books in this Huff Post article at the weekend.
She then moved on to disparage Rowling's debut adult novel - "by all accounts ... no masterpiece" - and call the hype surrounding its release "drearily excessive". But why would you depend on all accounts if you've read it yourself? And if you haven't, how can you say the hype wasn't perfectly pitched? (And anyway, Melvyn, The Lord Bragg, aka The Arts in Britain called it "a wonderful book" in The Observer. That's an account.)
Finally, Shepherd gets down to brass tacks. She's a crimewriter and last year, Rowling published a crime novel. A good one. (I'm saying that because I read it, in case you're wondering). Yep, she published a crime novel and pulled off a masterstroke by doing it pseudonymously. She garnered high praise from respected writers like Val McDermid and Mark Billingham, sold 1500 hardback copies in the UK which is not too shabby, got 37 out of 38 five-star ratings on Amazon and . . . well, in short, proved that it's not all hype, just like it wasn't all hype when a children's book was being passed around the playground by its excited little fans in 1997, and won the Smarties award and earned out its modest advance.
The Cuckoo's Calling big reveal was such a delicious moment for anyone with an ounce of generosity in their spirit. Shepherd, though, isn't happy. Yet again, she doesn't seem to have read the book - calling it "apparently well-written" - but nevertheless blames it for "making it even more difficult than it already was for other books - just as well-written ... - to get a look in." [Again, bold mine].
To my reckoning this is at least four flavours of wrong. 1. It's crummy to be so sour to fellow writers. 2. You shouldn't opine on books you haven't read. 3. Bestsellers keep publishers in business and able to support non-bestsellers. 4. If someone reads a book and loves it, they read more books.
We writers are in competition with HBO, Netflix, X-box, Wii, multiplexes and scrapbooking, not with each other. It's hard to believe that Shepherd doesn't get that.
But even if we were pitted against the next writer along, Shepherd's solution is breathtaking. Her article's title is "If JK Rowling cares about writing, she should stop doing it" and it's not a clever play on words. Shepherd really does seem to be suggesting that Rowling has delighted us long enough and should let the other young ladies have time to exhibit.
It's not only, or even mainly, the arrogance that takes my breath away. It's the cynicism. Shepherd says: "Enjoy your vast fortune ... luxuriate in the love of your legions of fans" for all the world as though JK Rowling might be striving for more of either when she publishes a new book. For all the world as though Rowling isn't a born story-teller, helplessly toiling in what my friend Matthew Clemens calls the fiction mines, the same now as ever.
Shepherd really should read one of the books and then she'd see what's so clear to everyone else. JK Rowling is a writer and a writer writes.