Here am I, in the esteemed company of such luminaries in my field as Larry Correia and John C Wright, as winners of the Wally Award, an honor I will treasure – because it isn’t every day I find myself lumped with authors that I try to learn from and imitate, and I hear some terribly tragic news.
There’s no doubt that being singled out by none other than Damien Walter of ‘The Grauniad’, a newspaper whose reputation for unbiased journalism is only rivaled by Pravda, legendary for its typos and grammos (hence Grauniad, rather than The Guardian), and with research and factual quality which is mentioned in the same breath as News of the World and Beano (although they cannot seriously compete with Beano in the opinion of most people of an IQ above ‘sheep, dim (Merino)’) and whose sf/fantasy correspondent’s effect on the sales and livelihoods of sf and fantasy authors has been equated with file 770. The last comparison I feel unfair, because despite Damien’s tiny readership, his attempts to harm my career and ability to make a living, he actually had some effect on my sales, with his hatred of my unread work improving sales for me. It is for this reason I find the news that the floundering ‘Grauniad’ (the Venezuela of mainstream print media, which is running out of other people’s money) seems to have dispensed with his services, so sad.
I mean, without Damien condemning our books – plainly unread, because he simply had no idea what they were about – how are people supposed to find and try the next ‘Wally’ winners? A surprising number of readers contacted me to say they had tried and enjoyed my book as a result, and that anyone condemned by Damien in the same article as Correia or Wright had to be worth trying.
Let’s not make this the last ever Wallys! I think we ought to get a Sad Puppy program together to petition The Guardian to beg him to come back. For the sake of the next generation, for other struggling writers. For the children! (Okay, not the children. The Guardian probably won’t be there. Most mainstream mass media are so distrusted (About 1/3 of people believe what they read there, and that only gets that high because about half of their political fellow-travellers do) and are thus losing so much advertising revenue they’re all exsanguinating.) Never has there been a reporter who better captured the ethos and quality and integrity of his mass media outlet. And without him there, there will be no more Wally awards.
To end this sarcasm with a serious note. Damian attempts to teach writing, and like a stopped clock… or possibly a day-by-day calendar stuck on Feburary 29… Someone pointed out that he actually said something semi-sensible for once.
Reading helps. If Margaret Atwood had read more sf (or any) she would not have made her eternally mocked ‘Squids in Space’ stupid statement. But aside from that, by reading with a learning eye, you as an author can work out how – or how not to do things. Even reading thing you DON’T enjoy can help you to understand their audiences and learn their techniques and skills. If you can’t divorce your emotions and personal prejudices enough to get their heads – how can you do it effectively for characters (unless they end up as endless echoes of you)? It might have helped Damien – who is not what anyone could call a successful widely-read fiction author – if he’d actually read those books, even mine.
I’ve learned a great deal from books I did not enjoy as a whole (or even in part.) I read catholically (And not just A Pius Man) but literally anything and everything. I’ve sat with Barbara Cartland, and Ann Leckie (I found more pleasure in the former, and not much in either) and tried to reverse engineer the process and methods of the writer. It’s actually easier in books you don’t enjoy, and get carried along with than the ones you do. The latter, the commercial successes – especially those that had nothing in the way of push (they are genuine ‘people’s taste) are vital.
But you can learn from anything.
So: what have you read that you didn’t like – but did give you something of value as a writer?