Friday, 29 July 2011

What Price Your Honour?

What value do you put on your word? On your honour? Is it even something you have ever thought about?
Without meaning to blow my own trumpet (ye gods, I have enough people putting their hand up for that without doing it myself) I put a fairly high value on my word. If I give it, I keep it. I’m not in the habit of making promises I can’t keep, or even a promise I don’t know I can keep.  My word reflects on my honour, and yes, my honour is pretty important.
I won’t go so far as to say my honour is my life. I would lie to a gunman to save my life. But that’s smart. That’s natural selection at work (based on the theory that stupidity is something we want to evolve out, and therefore intelligence should be a survival trait). But short of that, I do put value on being considered honest, loyal, trustworthy.
These days, though, the concepts of your word and your honour are almost archaic. Even in more prosaic terms of ‘keeping promises’, or being trustworthy, it doesn’t seem to be something our society values highly, or at least not one it promotes itself as valuing highly. We rarely talk about it, discuss, or say we value it, except in negative terms, usually when we’ve caught a politician with his pants down. I value faithfulness highly, but I find it hypocritical to crucify said hypothetical politician when the rest of the time society barely gives a passing nod to the concept of fidelity.
Making a promise and keeping it is such an important concept (or was, somewhere in the dark mists of time) that it is now backed up with the full force of the law – contract law. If you make a contract (a promise) and you break it, the law can be called upon to make you abide by that promise. It doesn’t always work, but we are only talking about the theory, not the practice. A large part of the fabric of our society depends upon the very idea that promises will be kept. Your electricity provider supplies electricity on the promise you will pay. You pay deposits on the promise that the goods will be delivered.
Why is it, then, that in our personal lives, so often the concept of keeping one’s word, and in the wider sense, of being honourable, or honest, is increasing seen as meaningless or valueless? I raise this point in the context of a practice that I have come across in the writing community recently. Those of you who are fellow writers may well have come across this practice as well.
The fake book review.
It most often seems to occur in indie publishing, although I expect there exist instances of it in traditional publishing. For those who don’t know, it is where a writer implores his friends and family to write glowing reviews on websites such as Amazon, whether those friends and family have read the book or not, and whether they believe the review is justified or not. Those friends and family who agree to write such reviews do so, I am sure, out of filial obligation or in the name of friendship. But, I’m afraid, all parties are guilty of dishonesty. Worse, this is dishonesty of the kind designed to con the innocent consumer out of his hard-earned dollar and deposit it into the pocket of undeserving writer. Or if not designed for that purpose (in some cases, it may solely be designed to stroke the ego of said writer) it certainly has this effect.
False reviews are not always easy to spot. Having so many 5 out of 5 reviews that it stretches belief can be a sign, particularly if they are mixed with a number of very poor reviews (1 out of 5 stars). Think about it – even authors like Stephen King do not get strings of perfect reviews. Other than that, there’s not much to go by. If the author has a website, check it out. Sometimes sample chapters are available for free, and you can read and compare to the reviews. Sometimes it is glaringly obvious the reviews are not justified.
A similar practice is where writers review each other’s work, and one of them tries to hold the other to ransom – ‘I wrote you a good review, now you must give me a good review’. Bad writer, bad writer. This is not a barter exchange. You get a review that befits your work, not the review you are giving the writer’s work. In some ways, this type of false review (if the ransomed writers bows to pressure instead of standing by their integrity) is more damaging, because the review has been given by someone who is assumed to be an authority on the subject matter.
Both of these practices completely undermine the system of giving reviews and trusting reviews. If false reviews abound, potential buyers don’t know what to believe – or buy.
As a consumer, what do you feel when you purchase something which does not live up to your expectations? Cheated? Ripped off? Lied to? I would.
As a writer (if you are one) how do you feel when you see this type of thing occurring? Angry? Ashamed maybe? Embarrassed that one of us is guilty of this type of behaviour? I do. It reflects on every last one of us when one of our number behaves in this fashion. 
Why do it? For monetary gain? For an inflated sense of self-importance? Your writing, if it is any good, will stand on its own merits. If it’s not any good, the reader is going to spot this, and no amount of good reviews will change their mind. If this is the case, then you should be learning from your errors and working to improve yourself. Lying about it, and worse, encouraging others to lie on your own behalf, is not going to make you a better writer. The only thing that will do that is hard work.
I’m afraid people who have so much conviction in the brilliance of their own writing that they not only encourage people to write false reviews, but shout down the honest yet bad reviews they receive, are never going to improve.
Improvement necessarily involves acceptance of a lack of perfection.
I’m always striving to write better. I try to help others to write better where I can, and I have been lucky enough so far to only receive heartfelt thanks for my efforts (but now I risk straying into a rant on the etiquette of giving and receiving critiques). I don’t want fake reviews – a fake review won’t help me improve. An honest review will, and if I improve enough, I’ll earn honest good reviews.
I’m not perfect. Are you?

Friday, 15 July 2011

Stranger Than Fiction

My first blog received the comment that my profile said a lot about what other people thought of me, and not a lot about me in my own words. So I thought that for my second blog, I'd tell you a bit about me.

Is this something that ‘somebody has to say’? I can assure you, just about anything that could have been said about me has already been said by someone. I might as well lob in and say something myself. The problem is', how would I even begin?

There are reasons for that. Firstly, I think it’s terribly immodest to talk about oneself. I don’t know where I got that attitude, but it has stuck with me. Possibly this is one of the ghosts of my childhood that has unwittingly haunted me through to adulthood. I was the quintessential nerd. Talking about my achievements was not going to improve my popularity at school. I had precious little of it to start with. 

The second reason is I do not often indulge in self-analysis. I am who I am, I like who I am, and I am comfortable with who I am. There is nothing about myself I feel driven to change, although of course I have naturally evolved with age and experience. I learned very early on that some people will like me for who I am, and others won’t, and that’s fine. My own self-acceptance means that I rarely have the need to stop and think about who I am or how to describe me. I am just me. I don’t consider myself to be especially remarkable. Because of this, it is the people who know me best who most often come up with interesting and accurate descriptions of my true self.

The third reason is you probably wouldn’t believe me if I told you. At first glance, that sounds like immodesty, in defiance of my rules, but it’s not. I said you wouldn’t believe it. I didn’t say that was because I am unbelievably fabulous! Like most people, I have my own flaws and foibles, and, like the rest of me, they tend to be on a scale that is larger than life.

Even if I did describe myself to you, how much do the words really paint a person? At best, it’s a line drawing, with blank areas waiting to be filled in. You can’t get a real concept of a person from them (think about it, it takes a whole novel for you to really get to know a character). The best way you can learn about me is from observation. As the advice to writers goes, ‘show don’t tell’.

Now, you really can get a sense of who I am from what others have said. You can read some in my profile, but here are a few others you might not have read, before I go on in my own words. I will stretch my distaste of immodesty far enough to say I would not have included this if I didn’t agree with it, so you can assume that the quotes of people who described me as an intolerant judgemental b***h have been omitted. What would they know?

·         My oldest and closest friends describe me as tactless (I think they mean honest, really...), stubborn, loyal, passionate, quirky, strong-willed, confident, trustworthy, determined, and ‘bent on world domination’ (Um... thanks Kylie. What can I say in rebuttal? The world would not like me as dictator!).

·         A friend hand-picked me a birthday card that read ‘She had not yet decided whether to use her power for good or evil’;

·         My boss said 'if I didn't know you I wouldn't believe you could exist';

·         After a first meeting, people who don’t know me describe me as ‘...interesting’ It would be nice to think they are speechless in the face of my brilliance, but it’s probably just shock.

And here’s some extra titbits I thought I might throw your way.

If I was a Dungeons & Dragons RPG character, my alignment would be Chaotic Good. If you don’t know what that means, ask Google.

My favourite quotes are:

·         'I have loved to the point of madness; that which is called madness, to me, is the only way to love.' - Anon

·         'Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind.' - Dr Seuss

·         You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.’’ - Ray Bradbury

This is the 'User Manual' created by my friends of 20+ years:

Rule 1: Ciara is always right.

Rule 2: If Ciara is wrong, refer to Rule 1.

Did I mention I'm a lawyer? There's a reason I chose that profession... Absolute conviction in your own infallibility goes a long way in law.

My favourite authors include Terry Goodkind, Fiona McIntosh, Diana Gabaldon, Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson and Brent Weeks.

I love Stargate (SG-1, SGA and SGU), Buffy, Angel, Firefly and Supernatural.

My favourite word is 'defenestrated'. Who would have thought there'd be a word for this? It means to be thrown out of a window. Often used in the context of killing someone, in which case, in the interests of maximum efficacy, the window should be high.

My favourite place to visit is Scotland. I was there in 2008 and I am dying to go back, which won't be until 2015 or 2016. I recently discovered there is a subgenre of romance called 'Scottish Historical'. Clearly I am not the only one who thinks it is a romantic, magical place.

I'm currently working full-time as a lawyer, writing and/or editing, participating in a writer's critique group, undertaking a number of writing workshops, marketing myself online, blogging and raising a daughter. Oh yes, I am an excellent time manager.

And for those people who really want me to describe myself, I have prepared the following, at great emotional cost to myself. I hope you’re happy!

I am an action-oriented perfectionist. I am a decision-maker and a leader. I am demanding, forceful, strong-willed, and determined. I thrive on competition and perform well under pressure. I am fiercely independent, and I work best when my boss just leaves me alone. I am intelligent. I am easily bored.

I am a planner and an organiser, but I am hopelessly untidy. I believe in rationality and logic. I have no tolerance for stupidity (really, none… don’t believe me, try me). I don’t like taking risks (this is almost a pre-requisite to being a lawyer). I am detached and analytical, but at the same time I can be extremely empathic and compassionate.

I am (I think) uncomplicated in my desires. My husband may disagree. I am direct, I mean what I say, and I say what I mean. I won’t play games or politics. This makes me tactless to an extreme. If you ask me to critique your work you will get the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I won’t be cruel or nasty, but I won’t lie to you. I will provide helpful examples. I promise not to do the critique in red pen. I can’t be held responsible for whatever colour Word chooses to use on marked up text.

I don’t like time-wasters, or being told what to do. I’m compulsively argumentative. I am assertive, aggressive and confrontational. I don’t like arguing with the people I love.

I am a cynic and an atheist, but I love fantasy and magic. I don’t believe in ghosts and the supernatural but I watch Supernatural. I read fantasy and watch science fiction.

I am a contradiction.

If I was a character in a book, would you believe in me?

Saturday, 2 July 2011

What's It All About?

When I first conceived this blog, I didn’t know what to write. That may seem strange to you – why write a blog, if you don’t know what to write? Isn’t that putting your cart before your horse, so to speak?
I am an aspiring author, and a blog is the ‘done’ or expected thing for a writer actively looking for an agent or publisher. As it turns out, I’m not writing this blog for that reason. I started thinking about writing this blog for that reason.
I was resistant to the idea of writing a blog as part of a self-marketing exercise. What would I say? I had nothing I wanted to share with the world, no words of wisdom, no particular area of expertise (beyond the one I get paid for, that is, and I am not inspired to blog about my day job), and no particular interests to blog about. Besides writing, of course, and I knew early on that I did not want to blog about writing.
It’s simply not in me to expect people to read my words purely for the superficial reason of marketing myself if what I had to say was not also worthwhile on its own merits, and I could not for the life of me think of anything that was.
My resistance started to melt when I began to get the feeling that I did have something I wanted to share with the world. I didn’t know what it was, but I could feel it there, like a forgotten word, balanced on the tip of the tongue, refusing to be drawn forth from the vault of memory. It tantalised me with its formless substance. It was there, but could not be named.
As it took shape, I had certainty that, yes, this was something I could say. Doubts lingered. There were many things I wanted to say, but they didn’t appear to be on any one topic. Having an incredibly limited experience of blogs, was it appropriate to blog when one’s topic could not really be described? I suspected the answer was yes, but then what would I call it?
Searching, for inspiration or reassurance, I turned to Google. What were other people blogging about? I came across this webpage – 100 Blog Topics I Hope YOU Write ( On the list was ‘Somebody Has To Say It.’
I leaned back in my chair, smiling. That was it. Someone who didn’t know me had somehow summed up in five words exactly what I wanted to blog about.
There are many things that could potentially fall into that category. As a general guide, I do not, at this time, intend to blog about the Big Three controversies (religion, politics, and sport, possibly not in that order). I am not here to shock, revolutionise, denigrate or insult. I get paid to argue in my day job, so I’m not here for that either. On a good day, I might hope to entertain.
No, this blog is for all those things I see that leave me shaking my head in disbelief, when I wonder what was that person thinking when they did that, and are you for real? The things that send me reaching for my phone to text a best friend to check that yes, it’s not just me that thinks that’s nuts, and I do have a passing relationship with normality.
So that it’s it. Somebody has to say it. And that somebody is me!
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