Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Mast mania

There's a petition going round my kids' primary school against a new mobile phone mast going up nearby. This is one of the new generation of masts that enables mobiles to send videos. It looks like they have the ability to fry brains far more effectively than the ordinary masts (which you can't morally object to if you use a mobile yourself).
Anyway, the point is you'd have to be mad not to agree with the protest and I signed the petition and spoke to the organisers. BUT - I can't help it. I'm irritated! These same kind of masts were put up on the roof of our council block ages ago. Without any consultation. Maybe it came up at a tenants' meeting but since only half a dozen people go to them (out of 96 flats in the 4 blocks) that hardly counts as consultation. The block is within the 'danger zone' of the school and is also opposite another primary school. As soon as I realised they were there, I started putting out feelers to see if I'd have any support in organising a protest. Parents at the other school that I spoke to were uninterested. As for the tenants in the block, the only time we've ever had a petition circulated it was AGAINST having recycling facilities on the estate. 'Cos they make a mess!' Nuff said ...
In the end, I had to let the matter drop and hope eating lots of fruit and veg would ward off the death rays!
Could my lack of success be anything to do with the fact that we're council tenants? But when the masts go up on a middle class street, there's a huge furore. Of course, I support the protest and hope it's successful. But I won't be getting heavily involved. How do I justify trying to protect other people's kids when I couldn't even protect my own?

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Rant No. 1

Giant Righteous Rant Re Reviewers or GRRRR!Let’s be clear. This is certainly not a rant against all reviewers. It’s not even a rant against people who give negative reviews. Everyone’s entitled to express their opinion. No – this is a rant against irresponsible reviewers, who bring their own agenda, don’t check their facts, score cheap points and generally abuse their power. Oh, OK. I admit. It’s actually against one particular reviewer, Elena Seymenliyska at the Guardian.

Here’s the review in question.

Trading Tatiana, by Debi Alper (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £10.99)
Orphaned at 18 (hippy mother under train; father unknown), Jo Cooper is a soft touch for a hard-luck case. She gets by, selling candles at Greenwich market and babysitting for her neighbours in a council high-rise on the Old Kent Road. On a day trip to Brighton, she meets Tatiana, a teenage Ukrainian on the run from a nasty bunch of mullet-haired, leather-jacketed compatriots, and gets embroiled in a story of people-trafficking, prostitution and extortion. Debi Alper's follow-up to Nirvana Bites revisits the south London milieu. While her characters never move beyond stereotype and her plot is as fresh as a car-boot sale, her clunky prose wins the prize for unintentional hilarity: "The brothers had split up and would trap her like an eyebrow hair in tweezers"; "Blythe clung to my hand like a Black and Decker Workmate." To top it all, Alper's blasé attitude to Russian betrays her as a writer who'd appropriate any old cause for effect.

Ouch! We all know that, by their very nature, reviews are subjective. No one has ever written a book that everyone either loves or hates and I defend the right of ES – or anyone else – to dislike my novels. So although I disagree with her literary criticisms I absolutely accept her right to express them (even when she misquotes the text!).

No, what I really object to is the final sentence - Alper's blasé attitude to Russian betrays her as a writer who'd appropriate any old cause for effect – which as far as I’m concerned moves away from literary criticism and into vitriolic personal attack – although I’ve never met the woman and she clearly has done no research into my background.

Is she upset by my attitude to the Russian language? The people? It’s unclear exactly what she has a problem with – apart from the fact that I’ve obviously hit a raw nerve somewhere along the line. Anyone who bothers to check could find out about my political commitment (see the biog on my website). While we’re at it, I should state that my father’s parents were from the Ukraine and my mother’s were from Russia and Bessarabia. But that really isn’t the point.

My objection is to her portraying me as someone who would ‘appropriate’ the suffering of women like Tatiana and Nadia for my own benefit. I was devastated that people who don’t know me would have no reason to reject her analysis. As a new author, with few other national reviews to provide balance, why should anyone disbelieve her version? A new author is such an easy target. I had no means of replying or defending myself. If I wrote to the letters page, all I would succeed in doing is drawing attention to her review. Many people, outraged on my behalf, tried to comfort me on the grounds that:
  • at least my book had provoked a strong response·
  • lots of people don’t read reviews anyway
  • those that do, often forget the content of the review and just remember the book title.
But it didn’t help. Say it loud – these people do have power – and as far as I’m concerned, she abused hers big time. Yes, I know my skin has to thicken. Once you stick your head above the parapet, you have to be prepared for people to chuck things at you. My book had obviously really got to her and in revenge, she attacked me at my most vulnerable spot – the fear that people might think I was exploiting the issues rather than deliberately using my role as a writer to draw attention to them. At least I’ve now had the opportunity to reply. For more balanced reviews, see Trading Tatiana - reviews on my website.

My very first post

Testing ... I'm in a blog panic. A blog fog. A blog nasty neuralgia of the virtuality zone. I'll be better soon ... maybe.
Watch this space ...