Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Wait Goes On

By my reckoning the wait for my infamous assessor's report will hit 5 weeks tomorrow (sometimes I work it out from postage date, other times from when they told me they had it in their hands - tomorrow will be 5 weeks since postage date).

I have to say, I'm finding this wait difficult and frustrating (or had I already let that slip?). I read an author's blog recently where she said the only way of dealing with these situations is to send the manuscript off and totally forget about it - put its very existence out of your mind, go about your life as though writing it was just a dream brought on by eating too much camembert. I would be really interested to know if she actually manages to achieve that - from what she said it would seem so. Perhaps I'm just not the sort of person who 'waits' very well.

My evenings at the moment consist of walking through the door, casting a furtive glance at the kitchen bench (no parcel there), giving the boys a kiss, giving Pip a kiss, walking to computer room, glancing into bedroom (no parcel there), scanning computer room (no parcel there). Then heading back to the kitchen and in my best casual 'I really couldn't care less' voice saying 'Any mail today?'. 'Yes.' replies Pip, and my heart leaps. 'There's a bill from Origin, I think it might be one of those red ones.'

Then I have to fight off that sinking feeling as I realise today is not the day. Again.

But there is good news. I'm over my temptation to do an early pitch to Random House, and the itch in my index finger (the one I use to hit 'send' on gmail) has subsided. It was a near thing there - I had an email sitting in my outbox with a fully formatted query letter, synopsis, text extract, even addressed - all I had to do was hit the key and it was there. But I've waited so long now and it must be very close, so I know I would be a total idiot to pitch now without reading the assessor's comments.

*sigh*, I should go to bed. Tomorrow could be the day - I'd hate to read the report with bleary eyes.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Nine Days In A (Not) Leaky Boat

Just got an email from the Maritime Museum to say I've been accepted on Endeavour for a voyage from Townsville to Cooktown! Yee-hah (me hearties)!

From end of August to early Sept, apparently the best time to be in far-north Queensland.

Now all I need are the strongest seasickness tablets known to man....

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Reality Check

I had a very kind email from a friend a few days ago giving me some much needed encouragement as I wait for my report to come back. It made me realise I've been dwelling a lot on the negative - an easy thing to do when you're waiting for something seemingly taking an eternity to arrive (four weeks, three days and ticking). As I typed a reply I realised that I've forgotten all the positive things friends said in their reviews of the book, and completely blown out of proportion some of the criticism I received. It's partly because I've never been in this situation before, and I'm still learning how to cope with the various emotions and thoughts you experience while waiting for someone to review a work you've poured so much time and effort into. It's also partly because at heart I'm an extreme worry-wart.

So - no more wallowing and negativity (he says, pumping his fist in the air). It's time to get things in perspective and stop worrying, and see how the cards fall.

Actually, I think even before my friend's email I had begun seeing things a bit more positively. Yesterday afternoon while the boys were napping I fired up my ancient laptop (it's so old I'm suprised it doesn't have a handle to wind) and took a look at my story folder. If you ever want an example of bad file-management this is it. There are folders within folders within folders, draft attempts, revisions, full printable versions, extracts etc etc - all very badly labelled. The very earliest is dated 30 Dec 2001, the night when I first sat down at the computer and started what would later become the Ghost of Ping-Ling. It took me about half an hour to find it amongst all the other stuff. In the process I also found a complete manuscript labelled 'Dillen Applebee and the Green Gem', from July 2003. So I printed it out and started reading.

Peter Jackson made an interesting comment on the 'making of' section of the LOR DVD's. He said one of his greatest wishes is to have his memory 'erased', so he can go and see his own movies as a detached observer, partly for enjoyment and partly so he can make changes he wouldn't otherwise be able to see. I think anyone who has spent a long time creating something can relate to this wish. Its too easy to get so close to a work that you can't see things that would otherwise be glaring. That's why you give it to others who have a distance from the work.

But alas, it's not possible to have your memory erased (at least I don't think it is - perhaps the CIA are onto it). The next best thing is time. The usual recommendations for an author are that you write a draft and leave it for a minimum of one month before reading it. That way when you do read you'll have built up a sense of distance that will better allow you to see your work objectively. I did this with Ghost, and it really does work. Apparently Jane Austen used to leave her books for a year before reading them and sending them to the publisher - that's a discipline I don't think I could ever have.

So, when it came to reading 'The Green Gem' draft I had a distance of about six years, which is considerable, and is probably about the closest you can come to having your memory of a book 'erased'. And I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. The book at that stage was very, very raw. Characters come and go and change personality as I tinker with them. Dillen does very little other than tag along as an observer to Hallegat, who is the main star of the action. Humour is sometimes grating and forced.

But despite this, I found it surprisingly well written and easy to read, even the bits that were obviously first-pass drafts. I had expected it to read like bad fan-fiction, but it was nothing like that at all.

It was the first three chapters of this draft that I sent to the Assessor in mid 2004. My memory of her feedback was vague, so I also dragged out and dusted off her comments. What she had to say was extremely helpful. She zeroed in on the main plot flaws very quickly, and gave excellent suggestions for how to remedy them. But she also left me with a sense that there was promise in what she had read, and I needed to keep working at it.

I did - although I wasn't expecting at the time it would take me six years before I sent her draft '2'. I'm very interested to see if she even remembers reading it the first time - it's almost unrecognisable apart from a few names.

Anyway, the long and the short of this slightly rambly post is that I found the whole exercise of reading the comments and the early draft positive and encouraging - and along with Bel's email it helped me to start looking at things with a bit more hope and a bit less gloomy imagination.

Let the waiting continue! (but hopefully not much longer...)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Poor Old Christopher

I should probably say 'young' Christopher, seeing as he's 22, and I can only dimly remember being that age. I am of course talking about Christopher Paolini, author of the Inheritance series (Eragon, Brisinger, SomethingelseIcan'trememberProbablyEndsInEr).

Now and again, when I feel that perhaps I'm not up to speed as an author (which is most days lately) I read negative reviews of fantasy books on Amazon. The reason is to see how many people can say outrageously horrible things about somebody's novel, condemning it (and usually its author) to each of the seven pits of hell - while at the same time an equal or greater number of people are praising it to the sky and saying they simply can't get enough of it. This paradox helps me believe that just maybe certain negative comments that have been made about my own work might simply be on the wrong side of the review line, and that an entire army of equally praise-filled readers could be just waiting to pounce upon it and wallpaper their bedrooms with every page. Just maybe.

So, with that purpose in mind, I was reading reviews of young Christopher's first two books. I have to say - I have never seen more hostile reviews for any book, neither on Amazon or anywhere else. It is as if Christopher in his efforts to entertain and lighten the lives of these readers has instead managed to offend them deeply and on a personal level, and each successive review attempts to outdo the previous in its vitriol, sarcasm and often good old fashioned nastiness.

Why is this, I ask myself? Is it because the work is truly atrocious and unoriginal? Or is it a bit more subtle, perhaps something to do with the fact that CP published the first novel at the ripe old age of 15? Is it something to do with the number of reviewers who just happen to mention they are attempting to publish books themselves, so far without success? Am I being perhaps a tad cynical?

The usual slant of the attacks is that the works are unoriginal, and appear to contain many similarities to greats like the Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. Other more obscure fantasy works are also trotted out, and attempts made to show how CP obviously read them and regurgitated them - even if it's unlikely he would even have heard of them.

So what's my take on it? Well, I should start by saying I haven't read any of CP's books yet, though they're on my list for a later date (when I get through the books that are currently sitting unread on my creaking shelf). But all the same, I feel a bit sorry for him. It feels nowadays as though brigades of people devour every new fantasy book coming out in the pure hope of finding parallels to other works, with LOR and Harry Potter being the prize finds. If a writer so much as sneezes and it comes out sounding a bit like 'Gandalf' everybody leaps up and down and gets excited and calls them a ripoff merchant.

I had a little bit of that when people were reading the Ghost of Ping-Ling, but thankfully not much. One friend did list all the main characters and creature types in the entire book along with what he thought their LOR equivalents were. Some of them were reasonable comparisons that I was aware of - but quite a few were totally left-field (I'm not sure how someone can compare undead wood-demons who cut your beating heart out and sacrifice it to a god with elves - to me the only comparison is they both live in a forest).

I think it's important for people to remember that fantasy is full of reincarnated concepts and myths that have been doing the rounds since before Homer. Even Tolkien made use of Beowulf and Norse mythology (he says knowledgably). The trick is to take these old ideas and repackage them in a new and interesting way. From the number of positive reviews of Christopher Paolini's books I would say he must have managed to pull this off.

To illustrate how difficult it is for fantasy authors to avoid the accusation of plagiarism, at the moment I'm reading something called 'The Book of Five Rings', as part of my research for the next book in my series (or the prequel, whichever I end up writing). The book was written in 1643 by a Japanese Samurai, and discusses (amongst other things) techniques for training people in weaponry. One of the things the author mentions is that in his school he always teaches students to use two-handed swords with one hand. The reason given is that if a person can master a heavy sword with a single hand, they will be much more effective when the time comes to wield it two handed. This makes sense. So as I was making the bed this morning my mind wandered about how I could incorporate this information into one of my Sendokai trainers who teaches Koto the sword. I thought what I would do is have him make her hold a broom in one hand, and the (two handed) sword in the other, so there is no way she can accidentally grab it with two hands. Then for some reason I thought of the movie The Karate Kid. I haven't seen it, and never will - but I have this horrible feeling there's something similar to my idea in the movie. It wouldn't surprise me - apparently the Book of Five Rings was popular in the 80's, so perhaps the movie makers read it and thought of a similar idea.

My dilemma is, if I put the broom thing in the book, I can guarantee somebody will come out of the woodwork and accuse me of ripping off the Karate Kid movie, even though I've taken my ideas from ancient source material. In the same way, anyone who attempted to work Norse mythology and Beowulf into a modern Fantasy would probably be accused of ripping off Lord of the Rings!

So I feel that the unbridled criticism of young Chris is unwarranted and unfair. All that matters is that he has written a book which has given a lot of people enjoyment and which has made people more excited about reading.

As for me - I'll always try and be original, but I won't break my neck over it, because true originality is impossible, and ultimately lies in the eye of the reader.

Application In, Me Hearties...

I did it. I spoke to Pip, filled in the application form for the voyage, put it in the envelope and even drove to the mailbox (past the delivery time) and posted it.

Now I have yet another important thing to wait on!

Endeavour Calls (or does it Bark?)

About two years ago, in the firm grip of some kind of early mid-life crisis, I sent an email to the maritime museum asking about future opportunities to spend time aboard HMB Endeavour. Pip and I had visited this outstanding replica when it docked here in Adelaide years ago, but I didn't go aboard (get this, because it cost all of FIFTEEN DOLLARS, and I didn't want to pay - and me without a drop of scots blood). I regretted it immediately. Afterwards I did some research and found out people can sign aboard for short stints, so I thought I would fire off an email and see what came of it.

Having sent the email and received some sort of blah acknowledgement, I totally forgot about it. Then this morning the postie delivered a letter from the museum telling me there are berths (see, I even know all the proper navy wordy stuff) aboard for trips up the east coast later in the year.

I'm going! I have to go! Tonight I'll speak to Pip but I'm sure she wont mind. To say I'm a Captain Cook nut is an understatement, and the chance of spending some time aboard the replica, following his course up the east coast is something I don't want to miss out on for anything.

So, Endeavour here I come! Watch this space!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

On The Nature Of Feedback....

Such a philosophical sounding title, perhaps reflective of my current philosophical mood.

I've been thinking today about the whole exercise of giving a manuscript to friends in the hope of getting helpful feedback. Probably this has been sparked by the second-last reader returning the manuscript this afternoon. I suspected this person didn't have particularly good things to say when her first words to me were "here is your book and some comments, I hope you won't hold it against me". Sure enough it was fairly negative - well, very negative actually, although there were a few 'nice' comments thrown in, just to encourage me ('don't give up', and 'this is a good start' are two that stick in my mind).

Yes, I feel fairly down about it, coming on top of several other negative reviews. But what I'm pondering is this: should I feel down about it? does this sort of feedback really mean the book is bad, or just that it is a good book that can be a whole lot better? And does that sentence I just typed even make sense? (It's late by the way, I probably shouldn't even be attempting to make sense at this hour...)

What I'm trying to say is this. I read somebody's webpage a while ago, where they were talking about the whole process they go through in writing a book. They weren't a published author, but obviously were trying to be. They wrote how they had given a final draft to a friend, and had the friend turn up on their doorstep the next day, all hot-and-bothered, gasping 'you need to publish this .... now'. But the confusing thing was that from what I could see, they never did get published. I can only assume that when they sent it through to the proper channels it was rejected, despite the glowing comment from their friend.

So maybe it's not such a good thing to have gushing feedback. Perhaps it can instill a false sense of confidence in an author, and make them rush to forward in a manuscript that perhaps in actuality is not ready. Certainly none of the friends who read mine gave me any delusions of grandeur, quite the opposite. Perhaps these sorts of kicks are the best thing to force a writer back to the drawing board, to push them that step further towards a better piece of work. Perhaps those who get such negative comments are the ones who eventually get published.

Then again, perhaps what I'm typing here is total excrement, and so is my manuscript. But I need to try and put a positive spin on it. It's either that or go back to learning new programming languages in my spare time. Thankyou no.

So I know I'll keep at it, keep plugging away and knocking on that door. I have a two-fold strategy for the next few weeks. The first is to keep waiting for the assessor's report. If she says enough positive things I'll make any suggested changes and pitch it, as well as sending it to three or four agents. I suspect that even if she says the book is a dog I'll still do those things, just for the sake of getting the experience. Then the Ghost of Ping-Ling will be off my hands, its fate beyond my control.

My second strategy is to start work on book 2, which is actually a prequel to Ghost, set about twenty years before. The book stands alone, and will be in a different style, so if things go nowhere with Ghost it will become my next project, and my aim will be to finish it before the end of the year and try again.

Then, if that fails, I'll try for a third.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

When is a Mile Not a Mile?

Last night I tried to draw some maps for the Ghost of Ping-Ling. A few of the early readers suggested it would be helpful, but so far I've put it at the dark depths of my too-hard basket. As soon as I started doing it I remembered why.

Unfortunately, when I wrote a lot of the story I failed to sit down and work out basics like how long it would a person running to get from A to B, or how long a person on horeseback would take to get from C to D. This means realistically speaking some of my characters could not be in the place they are at the time they are, unless some of them flew while others chained concrete balls to their legs (or hooves).

To solve this I need to redraw the map, but when I do that I introduce other timing issues at earlier or later points in the story. Should I just throw my hands up in the air and hope nobody notices this? Probably I should point out that none of the nine readers identified this as a problem - although two of them said they had a gut feel something was wrong with the timing. To which I replied something thoughtful along the lines of 'gut-feel gut-schmeel'.

But I think when it comes to this book I must be something of a perfectionist, I just can't let it slide. So I started redrawing the map, writing out timelines for where everybody is and when, researched how long a horse takes to travel at trot, canter, gallop and walk, and so forth. It's still not fixed, but it will be, whatever it takes...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Recent Fires

These last few days I've been thinking a lot about the disasters in Victoria, and reading the horrible stories of death and destruction. It seems people were generally doing the right thing in preparing their homes, making disaster plans etc, but the ferocity of the fire was too great for any such preparation to be effective. The day after it happened someone at work asked me whether our house is in a risk zone, and I said generally the hills around us are open and grassy so we should be OK. It's funny how sometimes you can look at something for years and not really see it. On the drive home I looked at those 'open, grassy' hills and realised they're mostly covered in dense scrub, and that the valley we live in is one mass of trees, broken only by the rooftops that now seem so tightly packed in. Suddenly it was very easy to picture a hot wind funnelled by those hills, driving a wave of fire northwards and devouring everything in its path, our house included.

So after that unpleasant realisation my wife and I decided if its a danger day she should just take the boys and go. It's just not worth the risk of staying to save a building that's insured anyway.

One of the few good things to come out of a horrible disaster like this is that it helps you remember what is truly important, and what is just the dross of life. It also reminds you as you hear countless stories of heroism and generosity that perhaps there is hope for the human-race after all.

Monday, February 9, 2009

When Silence Is Not So Golden

Tonight, just for a change (cough), I was thinking about my book. Someone I had asked to read it rang and passed a message on to me, something along the lines of 'I've read your book - I have some comments'. After that I lay on the couch and allowed myself to dip my toe (not wallow mind you) in a bit of self-pity. I found myself thinking how nice it would have been if the message had said something slightly different - say, along the lines of 'I read your book, it was really good - I have some comments', or 'I read your book, I really enjoyed it - I have some comments'. Normally I would take such an omission in my stride, and just assume the person wanted to convey a message quickly and without embelishment, but I fear I see a pattern forming here.

Since July I've been taking each draft to a small print shop that's spitting distance from my work: very handy, quite cheap and they do a first-class job. I would chat to the lady behind the counter, and over time she would recognise me and ask how the book was going and whether it had gone to a publisher yet, all with a sense of giddy excitement that I found quite heartening. The last time when I was getting copies made she asked if she could run off one for herself, so she could have a read. I was a bit taken aback, but said she was welcome to. When I picked up my copies she told me she had one for herself and would read it over the weekend. That was mid December. I have no idea whether she did read it, but I suppose I was expecting some form of comment, seeing as my email address was plastered all over the title-page. Perhaps she felt it wasn't appropriate to contact me without asking - perhaps she's waiting for me to pop into the shop again so she can tell me what she thought. Who knows?

But somehow in my fragile state of mind I can't help but see these silences as ominous, and portents of bad news. Every writer dreams of handing out a manuscript and receiving a breathless phone-call from someone (preferably a publisher) in the dead of night, tearfully telling them that their book was sheer perfection captured in ink. But even us dreamers know that doesn't often happen. I like to think of myself as realistic, and pragmatic, and also someone who has at least a vague understanding of humanity. So even though I might dream of the breathless phonecall, I don't expect it, and I don't see its absence as a bad sign. But when someone doesn't even say 'it was good' or 'I enjoyed it' in a context where it would be quite normal to do so, or when someone doesn't say anything at all, then the whole pragmatic/realistic thing gets harder to pull off.

Part of my problem is that I had prepared myself to deal with positive feedback, and I had prepared myself to deal with negative feedback - but I had no contingency for dealing with an absence of feedback. I think that's why I'm so desperate to hear from the assessor, because she's one person I know won't be silent. Then at least I'll know where I stand.

"The Assessor", hmmmm, sounds like a great name for a fantasy baddie.... might have to remember that one.

To Pitch Or Not To Pitch

Recently I've added Deborah Kalin to my list of favourite authors, after reading her newly released book Shadow-Queen. I saw a blurb about this book in the paper a few weeks ago and decided to buy it, and thought it was one of the best fantasies I've read in ages. I was interested to read her background, how she submitted her work to a thing called the 'Friday Pitch'. Apparently certain enlightened publishers have set up this system so that wannabe-authors can submit a sample of their work (but only on a friday – hence the name - clever people these publishers) and if the publishers like it they ask for more. That means the writers are requesting some form of informed feedback, and getting it (insert drumroll) within a week. Did you read that? Within a week. The very thought makes me go weak at the knees (yes, still waiting for my assessor report). On investigating further, however, I found that the website of this particular publisher specifies they're not after young-adult's or children's fiction, which I found a tad annoying. But last week, during a bored moment at work, I googled Random-House, publisher of the Ranger's Apprentice series by John Flannagan. I was surprised to see they have a similar system, which in this case includes works pitched at young-adults. You send off a one paragraph synopsis, a 250 word sample of the manuscript, and if they like what they see they ask you for more. It was extremely, extremely tempting. I even spent time this morning writing up the submission email, and it's sitting happily in my drafts folder, just a button push away from being sent.

The problem is, I would be insane to send it now. I've just spent $520 dollars getting a professional to assess the work, and I haven't even had the benefit of reading what she had to say. I am certain she will identify all kinds of problems that can be fixed, and that would be wasted if I've already sent it off to the powers that be. Apparently you can't send the same manuscript to a publisher twice, no matter what changes to it you've made. Bugger.

But at least now I know what to do with the manuscript once I actually do get the assessment back. And if I can only still my itchy email finger it's certain I'll be sending something far more professional and polished than what I would be sending today.

So, I need to patient, and I need to keep waiting. Things that don't come easily to me, it would seem.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Bury Me in Moleskine

They say if you can't shake your addictions, share them. That seems to be the maxim of a particular friend of mine who introduced me to his own unique vice – moleskine notebooks. When he first started telling me about these, and enthusiastically showing me photos on the internet, I smiled and nodded and looked for un-swallowed pills lying on his desk. But when he handed me one and I opened it, I was hooked, and things have never quite been the same.

So what is a moleskine notebook?. I'm hesitant to describe them, in case the magic dissipates like a blown up balloon that's been let go. But I'll give it my best shot. A moleskine notebook is a notebook (no surprises there) with a soft leather-like cover and pages that have an evocative sense of age about them. You hold one of these notebooks in your hand and they whisper to you. They tell you that they wait for you to write things of great genius and profundity on their beautiful soft pages. Perhaps that's why Picasso and Hemmingway used them.


Of course such perfection comes with a price. A $A30 price, to be exact. But once you use one you can never go back, whatever the cost.

And now I'm hooked. Oh, so wonderfully hooked.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The 'F' Word

There comes a time in every writer's life when they must put their precious creation into the hot little hands of others, in order to glean that most important and potentially painful commodity - 'feedback'. I'm not talking about a professional assessor, mind you, the type where you pay for a report (and did I tell you I'm still waiting for mine? 1 week and 6 days?), I'm talking about friends and acquantances who you consider will be able to make some helpful comments at various stages of the draft process.

When I was a kid I did this a few times. I can remember giving a science fiction story to a friend at age 13, and a castaway story to a friend at age 14. I seem to remember them both laughing. The guy with the science fiction story told me that in reality it's impossible for a person to propel themselves through space with an aerosol can, and the guy with the castaway story pointed out that coconuts on a tree are green, not brown. Kids can be very cruel, not to mention painfully honest.

Anyway over the last few months I've done it once more, giving copies of the Ghost of Ping-Ling to friends in the hope of getting some helpful comments. Perhaps my childhood experience has scarred me, because I found it incredible difficult and to be honest, downright terrifying. It gave me a sense of being caught naked in a public place, not only exposing my ideas and abilities (or lack of) but inviting people to make comment! Is this insane?

Now I have most copies back, and I've been able to catch up with the readers and work through their thoughts and their feedback. How did I find this experience? Well, for one thing my fears of a repeat of my childhood experience were ungrounded. One person did give me nothing but negative feedback, and was occasionally mocking, but thankfully he was in the minority (and off my Christmas card list). On the whole I have to say I was deeply flattered, not by any gushing praise, but by the careful and meticulous attention almost everyone put into reading my book and giving me feedback. These are all busy people, but they took it on board and gave it 100%, and I felt very moved by that. The other thing that struck me was the number of readers who appeared to get quite emotionally involved in the process. Many people gave me feedback with a deep sense of ownership of the work, showing a clear sense that they cared about it and wanted it to be better than it was. I wasn't expecting that, and it encouraged me tremendously.

So I suppose I should say something about the content of their feedback. Let's just say, nobody was ecstatically positive, and nobody was ecstatically negative. Generally people admired parts of the book and found others requiring work. Interestingly, there was hardly any consensus on this. In only one case did more than one person comment on the same thing. That made it a little difficult sometimes to pick out people's personal tastes from genuine problems with the book, but on the whole I was able to make some fairly important changes based on what people told me.

In the end, it was a positive, enjoyable and extremely worthwhile experience. I only hope the same people are keen to read again for me when the next draft (or book) comes along.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Your Life in Their Hands

What is the hardest part about writing a novel? Is it coming up with original settings, realistic characters, spellbinding plotlines and unexpected gasp inducing twists? Pah! I say. Pah again!

The hardest part of writing a novel is the waiting.

It's when you've finished the manuscript to the point where you can't do any more on your own. You've lost count of which draft you're up to and you've read it so many times you can (literally) quote it in your sleep. You're at the point where you can't even open a page and glance at a sentence without feeling a sense of dejavu induced nausea. Then - you send it off to a professional assessor, tucking a block of snow-white ink-smelling A4 paper into an envelope and handing it to a bored looking man behind the Australia Post counter. You walk out, blinking in the sunshine, dusting off your hands.

Then you wait.

My wait has lasted 1 week and 5 days, and counting. I'm told by the assessor that the average turnaround time for a manuscript is 6 weeks. 6 weeks???? I have a horrible suspicion that the assessor reads the manuscript and writes the review in half a day, then leaves it on the shelf for 5 weeks, 6 days and 4 hours before posting it off, just to make you feel you got your money's worth. Could people really be so cruel?

And of course when it does finally come and I hold that package in my hand I may not want to open it. Inside will be the comments - an objective, informed, educated reader has read my book and told me what she honestly thinks.

Now there's a scary thought to take my mind off the waiting.