The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley...
The above quote is from one of my favourite Robert Burns' poems, To A Mouse, in which he talks of how even the best of plans can go off course.
I had lots of plans for this summer: meeting friends and family, book bloggers and fellow writers; plus attending several events at the Edinburgh Festival, and the book festival in particular (which coincided with a picnic to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators - Happy Anniversary, SCWBI!). However, life intervened which left me strapped for time, even for writing, so I’ve had to put my plans on hold. Nevertheless, I hope I’ll manage along to at least one of the things I’ve been looking forward to because, I admit, I’ve been feeling a wee bit low about my plans going astray. Then something wonderful happened – or somethings. Let me explain.
I’m sure that I’m no different to other authors when I say that I love getting feedback on my book. The thing is, though, my novel Minty was published two years ago so my expectations of readers noticing it amongst all the amazing new books that are being published weekly have diminished with each month that passes. Of course, in this I’m no different to anyone else who’s had a novel published. To be honest, that can be difficult to comes to terms with but then again it’s just the way things are.
So imagine my surprise when I received an email from a lovely reader who told me how much he loved Minty and that - and I quote - “The ending was terrific and I was tearful. Thanks again for a much needed book about a subject that will touch us all.”
Wow! That really lifted my mood.
As did this: the very talented Claire Douglas, author of The Sisters and the newly released Local Girl Missing (check out Louise’s books – they’re awesome!) mentioned Minty in an interview with mumsnet. Yes, mumsnet – how cool is that? Here’s what she said:
I’ve now started reading a book called Minty by Christina Banach. My mum read it first and said she couldn’t stop thinking about it and that it made her cry. Books hardly ever move my mum to tears, so the fact she cried is an excellent endorsement! It’s about twins and I’m already gripped. I love stories about twins!
Thank you, Claire! As you might imagine, that put a smile on my face - big time. The smile morphed into a squeal of delight when this dropped through my post box the following day: a letter, a piece of snail mail that wasn't a bill or some company trying to sell me something. No, it was an actual letter, and not just any one at that - it was FAN MAIL from someone who had read and adored my book! Now that I hadn't planned for!
It always amazes me when someone takes the time and effort, not only to read my book but to tell me how much they enjoyed it; it's such an honour. It's also the stuff that my dreams were made of prior to being published, and continues to be still. When that feedback comes in the form of a letter or card it makes it special.
I often read on Twitter how much authors value their reviews, and that such feedback can be life's blood to a book; I am no exception to this school of thought. But reviews can be a double-edged sword, for not all are favourable. If you think about it this makes sense, after all reading is a subjective pastime - a book I may deem to be brilliantly exciting you might consider mundane. Fortunately, however, my own book Minty has had a number of wonderful reviews. Then, in this past week or so when life threw me another unexpected curved ball, Minty received a further flurry of beautiful five stars reviews online. To say that I'm extremely grateful for this would be a vast understatement and I hope you'll indulge me in sharing a few excerpts with you here, starting with this one:
Minty is a beautiful read. The twins' obsession with Roman culture is woven cleverly throughout the plot and although deeply moving, this is never a depressing novel. There are even moments of humour...At it's core (sic), this is a book about love, life, and letting go. The final scene is breathtaking.
Such wonderful words, aren't they? As are these:
This novel is beautifully written; sensitive but with a delicate touch of humour, and Christina’s characters draws (sic) us to the centre of the action on the very first page. I can’t wait to read more from Christina Banach, shortlisted for The Crystal Kite Award.
And another reviewer had this to say...
Minty ticks all the boxes of high quality fiction. It has a compelling plot with a superb cast of well-rounded characters who change and develop throughout the book as they work their way through the emotional challenges posed by events. It is written in a fluent, highly readable style that is immediately engaging and draws the reader right into the story and into Minty's personal turmoil. The ending is both profoundly satisfying and heartbreaking.
Christina Banach has produced a remarkable book. She has taken a difficult subject, possibly the most difficult subject of all, and tackled it head-on with confidence, honesty, compassion and even with humour. Young adult readers won't get the 1970s references but adults of a certain age will love them.
I used to be a librarian specialising in work with children and schools. Reading Minty made me wish I still was, so I could take it into secondary schools and give it the promotion it deserves. I'd even provide the boxes of tissues needed for reading the ending.
What writer wouldn't want to read such a critique about her/his work? Or this:
Gosh! This is SUCH an emotional read, right from the beginning. Large box of tissues definitely required. An excellent, incredibly poignant YA story peopled with likeable, realistic characters. The writer deals with the difficult issues of grief and loss brilliantly. Despite the tragic subject matter (and I did wonder at times if I'd be able to read it as it was so moving) the ending is just right - uplifting and hopeful.
The last quote said that Minty is an emotional read but receiving such amazing feedback on a book that you've laboured over is also an emotional experience - very much so - and one that brought tears to this writer's eyes.
I entitled the blog post SILVER LININGS because that's what the wonderfully generous reviews above brought to my life: a silver lining to the darker days of my summer. On reflection I could have called it IN PRAISE OF READERS. So to those lovely readers, and everyone else who has taken the time to read and review my book, I give you my heartfelt thanks. And to anyone who has ever taken time out of their busy lives to write a review for any author, I say thank you.
Oh, and as a postscript, since I first drafted this post I managed to attend at least one event over the Edinburgh Book Festival (another silver lining!): the wonderful Teen Titles Party organised by Edinburgh City Libraries. It was such a glorious evening (although the Scottish weather didn't comply!) as I met so many terrific young people and school staff, not to mention fellow authors. Many thanks to Coral Grant for inviting me.