Tag Archives: Reviews

The Segregation of Shock

“Ah, good taste! What a dreadful thing! Taste is the enemy of creativeness” – Pablo Picasso

I have written a fantasy/horror novel about war with vampires called The Vorbing. It is hard to deal with either of those subjects without dealing with bloodshed. Yet, I have discovered, to my great surprise, that there is discrimination by book reviewers against books with “gore” (which they find “tacky” and on the same level as porn) and “extreme violence” (which they find “offensive.” That’s strange as fiction isn’t about real pain or suffering so there’s nothing to be offended by. It’s all make believe). They had better not read The Bible then or anything by Shakespeare.

In Act III, Scene VII of Shakespeare’s King Lear, the elderly Earl of Gloucester has his eyes gouged out by the Duke of Cornwall with the words: “Out, vile jelly! Where is thy lustre now?” Pretty graphic stuff but it perfectly illustrates the upside down nature of Lear’s kingdom once he mistakenly divides it up between his three daughters.

The crucifixion of Jesus in The Bible also has scenes of graphic torture followed by the slow death of Christ that follows. Again, this is deliberate to make the reader or the listener in church live every wound with Christ as he dies for our sins (or so The Bible says, believe or don’t believe what you want, dear readers).

Where did this ludicrous squeamishness appear from suddenly? Why are books being prejudged for their content without being given a fair chance?

“Don’t judge a book by its cover,” the old adage goes. Equally, don’t judge a book by its content until you’ve read it. If you dare to write extreme scenes, you are essentially barred from getting not just a fair review but ANY review. This is wrong on all levels. It is holding back writers that want to try new things and push boundaries. You don’t get great art by playing it safe but that is the message being sent out loud and clear by these reviewers. Conform and be unimaginative is their coda.

It is a form of censorship and all that entails (I always get images of Nazi book-burning in my head when I think of censorship) My old acting teacher told me never to censor myself as that’s when all the good stuff happens. She was and is right. I never have censored myself and I never will. Nor will I allow others to censor me either. The glorious freedom of writing is a beautiful thing that must never be stifled.

I am not saying be outrageous or controversial for the sake of it. That is petulant attention-seeking. Some writers are acutely aware that there are two ways to get your message out there – advertising (which costs money) and publicity (which is free). Being cynically controversial is the cheapest and fastest way to sell anything. The media and chattering classes see to that. I am saying take risks because your characters and their world take you there or demand that you do. Even if these lily-livered reviewers want you to water down your work, I say don’t. Why? I’ll give Shakespeare the final word: “To thine own self be true.” Amen.

© Stewart Stafford, 2015. All rights reserved.

Advertisements

Simplicity And Being Neat – Let The Writer Beware

The other day, someone was going the long way around explaining a problem they had and I just said straight out what I thought. The person agreed with me and told me what I had said was “simple.” I disagreed and said it was not simplicity but precision and there is a difference.

I was reading a review of a Beatles album and the reviewer remarked on the child-like simplicity of John Lennon’s imagery.. Again, I disagreed. If writing songs was that simple, there would be millions of John Lennons walking the earth easily writing stuff as good as his repertoire and it ain’t so. It was not the simplicity of his imagery, it was the precision he had to be able to concoct such razor-sharp images within the confines of a three-minute pop song that differentiates him from others. His mindset was unique.

“Neat” is another way of saying “simple.” A review of John Carpenter’s Halloween praised the “straight-arrow neatness” of the plot. That’s another way of damning it with faint praise that it’s simple. However, just look at all the hundreds of lousy Halloween imitators that flooded the world’s screens after it’s success. They copied the characters, the settings, the camerawork, the music and none of those films are held in high regard today but Halloween still is. That’s because not everyone thinks like John Carpenter. His mindset was and is unique also.

The Oxford English Dictionary describes being creative as “the use of the imagination to create something.” Now should that “something”, creativity itself, be judged? I think not. The effectiveness of the idea should be all that matters not the idea itself taken out of context and misjudged. Writers, like all artists, are sensitive people and comments like “simple” and “neat” are not an accurate reflection of the creative process and should be used sparingly. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, perhaps simplicity and neatness are too.

© 2014, Stewart Stafford. All rights reserved.