It’s another New Year and so lots of people are making their New Year’s resolutions and letting everyone know the things they’re going to do to be a better version of themselves in 2023.
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One thing that I’ve noticed a lot over the last year, and which I would definitely like to see less of this year, is people promoting their work by declaring it is better than something else.
This usually goes along the lines of: “I’ve written a sci fi novel. But don’t judge it yet. It’s nothing like Star Wars. No, mine is good sci fi. And my poems. They’re nothing like the rubbish Simon Armitage writes. No my verses are awesome.”
So, there’s a couple reasons I don’t think this is at all the best way to promote your work.
Firstly, even if you agree and you think ewoks, Darth Vader, and the poet laureate are all total rubbish, what does this actually tell you about this person’s work? Nothing. All this tells you is that this person thinks they write better sci fi and poetry than “popular” work.
Secondly, the people promoting their work like this aren’t generally picking on multi-billion dollar franchises and successful poets with their own podcast about their writing shed. They’re usually picking on someone that’s enjoyed moderate success and being sanctimonious because they’ve had less and have gotten all defensive about it because it isn’t fair.
And it isn’t fair. There’s loads of great fiction that’s not being read because people are sticking with the classics, or great films that aren’t being made because long-standing directors are receiving awards for their autobiography, or great theatre that isn’t being watched because the same musical has been running for seventy years, or a great memoir that isn’t being picked up because it doesn’t have a member of the royal family on the cover; but the one thing that will definitely not make all of these creations be noticed by a new fan is them not being like something else.
People don’t like work because it’s not like something else. People don’t eat cupcakes because they’re not like an apple, they eat cupcakes because it is like cake. No one says to their mate “Oh, if you hate tea then you should drink this hot chocolate. It’s a hot drink too but it’s not like tea so you’ll love it.”
Fair enough, if you write romance and someone’s response is “Oh, I already read some Mills & Boon and they weren’t for me”, go ahead and say your work isn’t like those books, but don’t open with “I write crime but they’re nothing like Agatha Christie. What a load of old tripe she was.”
I remember being taught to pitch stories and we were told a good place to start is saying what something will remind people of. We were given the example: Black Mirror: The Twilight Zone for the digital age. Black Mirror: Speculative fiction that’s absolutely nothing like Back to the Future doesn’t quite have the same ring to it does it? No one is going to watch Black Mirror because they don’t like Back to the Future. Black Mirror is awesome and sensible people watch it, ergo all Black Mirror fans love Back to the Future…
So there’s my suggested resolution for 2023 for creatives in the writing community and beyond. Tell me why I should read/watch/enjoy your work by telling me what is great about your work. If it might remind me of something else people love, tell me what that is. But don’t sell me your creations by tearing into someone else’s. It’s not cool and, I don’t know about anybody else, but I’m certainly never going to sleep in an anthill because it isn’t like a beehive.
What He Said
Thank you again so much to everyone who came to see What He Said at the Theatre at the Casa. We raised an amazing £105 for Prostate Cancer UK. This edition of the show featured a preview of What She Said, the companion show exploring mental health from a female perspective. Submissions of scripts for What She Said are currently open so if you have anything suitable, please do send it for consideration or get in touch if you have any questions. This is currently an open call with no deadline.
Seventy years of books
I took a break from my seventy years of books blog over the festive season, but will now be continuing with the Palm-Wine Drinkard by Amos Tutuola. I’ve also been reading other stories from Nigeria and continuing to reflect on historical events from 1952.
Ghost Story Advent
During my festive break, I once again took part in Ghost Story Advent, this time reflecting on Charles Dickens’ The Ghost in the Bride’s Chamber. This story nicely reflected some of the elements in the Palm-Wine Drinkard, which is nice considering the two stories are so far apart in both location and time period.
Over on Sea Invisible, my newsletter about living with invisible disability, I’ve been reflecting on prioritising my writing career around bad health days.
From the Body
I have seen the final version of my essay in this forthcoming book, and it’s now with the publishers to do their magic. Very excited!
Meow. I had a lovely Christmas, and more importantly, a very lovely birthday. I received presents from the humans and Santa Paws, and also sent gifts to my new animal relatives, even the big, stinky dogs. In the meantime, I have also developed what is apparently a very annoying habit of drinking out of the tap instead of from my water bowl. I cannot at all see what the issue is as the water from the tap is much fresher and lovelier and my water bowl has a cat’s face in it, which is very disturbing when one is trying to quench one’s thirst. The bowl is however of course very useful for wetting the carpet. Purr.
What I’m reading
This Year’s for Me and You by Emily Bell
Things that have caught my eye
The COVID Chronicle was open at Williamson Art Gallery & Museum until 17 December. This fascinating project was set up by artist Wendy Bliss during the February 2021 lockdown and the completed chronicle is made up of 135 submissions from around the world, with the panels bring curated and stitched together into metre square blocks. The installation has been described as a Bayeux Tapestry for the 21st century, and records personal experience in words as well as pictures in an extraordinary and moving collection of work. There’s also an opportunity for the project to raise some money for MIND, a great charity doing important work around mental health. I was fascinated by the Bayeux Tapestry as a child and even had a recreation of it featuring bears so was very sad that I didn’t have time to make it over the water and see this.
The House Amongst the Willows – Hope Street Theatre A review of a psychological thriller set against the backdrop of happy family life I did for North West End. It was brilliant portrayal of the abuse and terror which can occur behind closed doors and the impact that secrets and lies can have on familial and romantic relationships. The company, 4AM Productions will return to the theatre in May with Murder at Cadberry Manor which looks like a very different show and it will be good to see another side of this talented group.
The Possibility of Colour – Online Stream Another review for North West End, this was my favourite show of 2022. I literally cried watching it, writing about it and then again thinking about it afterwards! I know there are hopes to take the show on the road nationally for another tour and I hope that it happens and as many people as possible get to see it, but in the meantime, keep your eyes on Sea Invisible where I’ll be reflecting more on the play and my own experiences of synaesthesia.
Paganism in Roman Britain A great lecture from the legendary Ronald Hutton which looked at the evidence of Pagan and Roman religions in Britain. Part of the series, Finding Britain’s Lost Gods, I’d recommend Professor Hutton’s lectures to anyone finding out more about the religions of our ancestors.
Jack and the Beanstalk – Hope Street Theatre My final North West End review of 2022 was of course a pantomime. Oh no it wasn’t! This was a great show featuring the awesome Billy Butler and was something the whole family could enjoy. The company will be appearing at the Brindley Theatre in March with Autism and Sea.
Dancing to Art Four short dances in response to artworks displayed at Tate Britain, this is joyful and subverts everything you might think you know about art galleries.
What does love mean to you? Some insightful conversations about the meaning of love alongside some great portraits that illustrate the points made.
Early medieval female burial site is ‘most significant ever discovered’ in UK A really interesting piece about an archaeological discovery which has turned what we thought we knew about early medieval British burial rituals on its head.
Doctor Who: Redacted A fun audio Doctor Who spin off which tells the story of three queer women who become the world’s only hope when people, and all memory of them, start disappearing and the only thing that connects them is a mysterious blue box…
Brooches! My partner bought me two lovely new (old) brooches when we in Southport recently. They’re both so pretty and the couple have an especially intriguing tale in their little world. I can tell.
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Thanks for the lovely mention, Donna. Delighted that The Possibility of Colour had such an impact on you.
Really looking forward to reading your thoughts on it in Sea Invisible. 😊
Interesting stuff, as ever, Donna. I must admit I haven't noticed many of those "my writing is better than XYZ" but if I did I would be really irritated. Having said that, I do sometimes wonder how some pieces get published. For instance, the next book group selection is "The Wall" by John Lanchester and a more atrocious novel I have not read. I won't go into any detail here but I may write something on my own Substack blog. I become peeved because I have read far better work by people who don't even have an agent or a publishing deal. As for the 'celeb' authors .... I've read a couple fairly recently that I would put in the category of "WTF?"
What I find irritating is the regular posts from people who ask "Led Zeppelin or AC/DC" or "Pride and Prejudice or The Da Vinci Code?" I just can't be arsed to participate in such banal nonsense.
And the thing is, if you're not careful, that's what social media drags you into. Trivia.
Glad you're getting 70 years of books going again. Keep on keeping on.