All fan mail is good. This is an immutable, profound truth of the writer’s lonely existence. (I hate the phrase ‘fan mail’, to be honest, since to me it sounds like it rather diminishes that to which it refers, but it’s a bit less unwieldy than ‘feedback from appreciative readers’). Without the occasional encouraging missive direct from the audience – little textual thumbs-ups of comfort and encouragement – this whole writing lark would be a considerably harder slog than it already is.
Every kind word that comes my way from a satisfied reader is, I can say with 100% sincerity, received with the utmost gratitude. It is a rare and special good fortune to be able to put a story before complete strangers all over the world, and for it to mean something to at least some of them. Sales figures can only tell you how many copies of something are circulating in the great arteries of the book world; the only thing that can tell you what any one of those copies actually means to its reader is direct feedback from that reader, and that makes it a seriously precious piece of communication for your average doubting, insecure, despondent writer. So thank you to anyone who’s ever taken the time and trouble to tell me they enjoyed one of my books, however they’ve conveyed that information.
What made me think about this? Well, this did:
Someone went to a little more time and trouble than is exactly usual to tell me what they thought of Winterbirth: it’s a DIY postcard, mailed from the Philippines, sent via my agent. Put a smile on my face when it arrived, not just because it’s rather miserably cold and damp here at the moment, and that’s a nice little tropical image by way of comforting contrast, but also because … well, you know, someone sent me a fan postcard, from the Philippines. I just think that’s cool. Thank you, if it was you (the signature’s a not very informative little squiggle).
Always good to know that people liked something I’ve written, since there’s usually someone out there expressing the opposite opinion, and everyone needs balance in their life. For example: my similes are being mocked!
The target in question, for those wanting the short version, is a phrase in Winterbirth: ‘the thought felt like a tapeworm lodged in the gut of his mind’.
How dare they make fun of my wordage! I ask you, gentle reader, is that really such a terrible construction? Well … let’s be honest, it’s not having quite the intended effect. I’ll admit to having a sneaking affection for it as a simile, just because it is (approximately) conveying, in a mildly novel and striking way, what I meant it to convey in its particular context; but it’s possible to be striking in an undesirable sense, and there’s no denying there’s something (actually several somethings, I think) not quite right about it. A fun little idea, poorly executed by the writer, I fear. Will try to do better in future. In the meantime, I am rendered immune to the barbs of mockery by my armour of fan postcards from the Philippines. Hurray for international snail mail.