Why I Aughtta …

I’ve just had a look on some of the links that Sarah’s put about me in her intro. And while I notice a link for ‘entirely too much fun to be around’ is conspicuous by its absence (thankfully), the one for The Mercy Seat makes interesting (to me, at least) reading. It’s the entry for Amazon.com.

Now, like most writers (for that read people) I do love to have the odd gander at Google to see what’s being said or posted about me. I did get a nasty shock one day when I was doing this and in looking for images of Martyn Waites came across a picture of a twelve year old boy from Stoke on Trent in his football kit. I was quite stunned – mainly because I’ve never had blonde hair or lived in Stoke on Trent. Needless to say it wasn’t me. So there’s another poor kid out there cursed to go through life saying things like ‘No, that’s Martyn with a Y,’ and ‘No, not White, Waites. With an S. And an E. No. Just give me the paper and I’ll write it myself.’

So anyway, Amazon.com. I check there occasionally just to see how my sales are doing. It’s a bit like the stock exchange – if they’re high I’m in a good mood and feel like someone People Want To Know, if they read like sub-Arctic temperatures I may as well not bother going out that day because the sky is about to fall in. So I had a look at my reviews.

Now, I usually stick to what James Lee Burke says about ignoring the applause and the catcalls equally because in the end none of it matters (or something like that) and my usual mantra for my writing career is a quote from Trevor Griffiths’ brilliant play Comedians – ‘We work through applause, not for it’. But I had a look anyway. And most of the reviews were good. Except one. Two stars. He hated it. So much so, that I began to suspect I owed him money or had slept with his wife. And apparently he’s an Amazon Top 500 reviewer. So I had a look at some of his other reviews. One that he had given five stars to was a collection of George W Bush’s speeches. I kid you not. Another glower was the latest whinge from Ann Coulter. And on and on. There was some deeply racist stuff about Muslims, five stars for anything right wing / fascist, no stars for anything liberal. And some computer textbooks. And military history.

Now fair enough. Opinions, as Dirty Harry once remarked, are like assholes – everybody’s got one and this guy’s entitled to his, (opinion that is, and asshole, I suppose) even if I think he’s completely wrong. But why bother to waste so many words of vitriol on something you didn’t like by a writer who doesn’t come anywhere near your world view? Especially when no one’s paying you to do it? And to write it in such boring, leaden prose. Personally, I don’t care whether he reads another book of mine or not – anyone who loves Dubya that much is clearly not my target audience, or indeed any intelligent writer’s target audience.

Now I have to hold my hand up here and say yes, on some occasions when I’ve been asked to review books I’ve been less than kind. I was reviewing for a magazine a few years ago and they gave me one of the most snobbish, racist, sexist books I’ve ever had the misfortune to read to do. Needless to say it was a bad review because of the writer’s attitude. (In fact the writer hated my review so much she got a coven of white witches to put a hex on me. Didn’t work – last I heard of her she’d fallen down stairs drunk on gin.) But that was different. That was a job. This guy was doing it for fun.

Now don’t get me wrong, sometimes I’ve had reviews that are so bad I love them. One was written by a reviewer in an absolutely incoherent rage. So angry he could barely string a sentence together. Now I liked that because I’d got a reaction out of him. In fact I would prefer that to someone who just said my stuff was OK and yawn while reading it.

Now I’m not cut up about this at all, because at the end of the day (to use a footballing cliche) I’m lucky enough to have a career as a professional writer and I’m very broadshouldered and this guy sits at his desk getting excited by Ann Coulter. I know who I’d rather be. It’s just a mindset I find a bit strange. Amazon’s turned us all into ‘professional’ critics of a very low grade variety. But that’s just my opinion. Please feel free to have a go at me about it. In fact, please feel free to criticise.