Jo’s world is about to change forever, and it’s about time
Her marriage is on auto-pilot, daughter hates her, job sucks and it’s not even Tuesday. As Jo’s life implodes, a freak event hurls her back to ‘90s Los Angeles where, in a parallel universe, she’s about to hit the big time as a rock star. Jo has to choose between her dreams and her family in an adventure that propels her from London to Hollywood then Glastonbury, the world’s greatest music festival. In her desperate quest, Jo encounters a disgraced guru, a movie star with a fetish for double-decker buses, and the biggest pop star in the world… who just happens to want to kill her.
Back to Reality is a funny, heartwarming story about last chances, perfect for fans of Rowan Coleman and Helen Fielding.
I’m really proud of this book. It’s very different to the usual science fiction/fantasy stuff I write, but it’s funny, fast-paced and has a big heart, so if you’re looking for a little bit of uplit to brighten your day, then grab a copy now!
Back to Reality, the novel I co-wrote with Mark Desvaux for the Bestseller Experiment podcast, has been having a good run with reviews since its publication in 2017. Folks have liked it a lot and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. To meet our rather ambitious self-imposed target of ten thousand copies sold by the end of the Glastonbury Festival (our book climaxes at Glastonbury) we’ve been dialling up the advertising and asking anyone who’s read the book to leave a review. That means I’ve been checking the Amazon customer reviews fairly regularly, and that’s when I noticed that we received our first ever one-star review for the book. At first, my heart sank a little, but then I clicked on the review and had a read and this is what I found…
For context, here’s the part of the book that the reviewer objected to. Our hero, Jo, has travelled back in time from contemporary England to ‘90s Hollywood. She finds herself on a late night chat show where she reveals that she’s a time traveller…
There are two things going on with this review. First is an inability to make a distinction between the protagonist and the authors.
This still manages to surprise some readers. To write crime thrillers, you don’t need to be a cop or a murderer, to write science fiction you don’t need to explore deep space, and you, dear writer, can write repulsive characters and not agree with their world view.
But this is what writers do: we put ourselves in the shoes of these characters and try to imagine would those people might be like — and very often it can be based on personal experience — and we try to convey that in words.
As an aside, I think this is why there is such a liberal bias in the entertainment industry. Creators will try and see both sides of the argument in a story, character or situation and present them in a compelling way. That sense of fairness is very much a characteristic of liberals, especially in contrast to the meritocratic views of the right.
The second aspect of the review is the disappointment in the reader that we’ve dragged the messy world of politics into their reading. This prompts the much bigger question: should writers get political? Sure, if you’re writing a political thriller it’s expected, but when you’re writing in an escapist genre like comedy, romance, science fiction or fantasy should the poor reader be inflicted with soap box politics? And is it worth it for the writer? Think back to The Dixie Chicks when they made disparaging comments about George W Bush and the effect that had on their sales. Isn’t it just safer to avoid any political content altogether?
Here’s the thing: all writing is political… if it’s any good.
Fiction isn’t like a family gathering where you avoid religion and politics. It should be a truthful reflection of what the creator believes, otherwise what is the point?
I’m not saying that our joke where Jo compares Trump to Hitler is some kind of profound insight into the human condition. Far from it. It’s simply the thing that stuck out for the reviewer. What that reviewer missed was the masses of other political content in the book. The themes of family, compassion, sexism, work, money and greed are threaded throughout the story, and if you don’t think those are political then you’ve not been paying attention to the world around you.
So, will we lose sales because we’ve upset some fans of Trump? Possibly. We’re hardly the Dixie Chicks, but to be honest if you’re a Trump supporter I don’t want your money. You’re going to need it when you realise you’re on the wrong side of history and need to pay for therapy.
In the meantime, I shall continue to write about the world through the eyes of characters that both attract and repulse me. It’s pretty much the only way I can make any sense of the chaos around me, especially that Trump fella…
PS. To be clear, there are my opinions and not those of The Bestseller Experiment or my co-presenter -author Mark Desvaux…
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I had good fun being interviewed by Lee Middleton on the Cover to Cover podcast this week. We talk Star Wars, the Bestseller Experiment, Back to Reality and my thwarted dream to become a firefighter. It’s a fab show for readers and writers alike. Click to listen… https://m.mixcloud.com/Studio5OnAir/cover-to-cover-episode-12/
There comes a time when a writer must release their book into the big, bad world for people to read, praise, critique and ponder (or tell you how they would have written a different ending*).
You’ve lived with this book for some time. At least a year, if not longer. You’ve come to love the characters, their surprising quirks, their voices, and how they overcame seemingly impossible odds to find themselves at the end of the story a better and more complete person. Much like yourself, because we all know the writers are the real heroes, right?
Of course, the book isn’t perfect. None of them are. And the temptation is to continue to tinker, but the seasoned writer knows that sooner or later, like Queen Elsa of the ice kingdom Arendelle, they just have to let it go.
I’ve heard some writers compare finishing a book to the passing of a loved one, but that’s probably a tad insensitive. I’ve certainly experienced mournful feelings as I realise that I won’t get to spend time with these characters, but it’s nothing like proper grief, it’s more like… the death of a minor pet. Maybe a goldfish. Yeah, you’re sad for a bit, but then you realise the garden centre has loads more finny friends in their tanks.
So the key is you have to be brave enough to bury your goldfish.
Yesterday, we finally launched our book Back to Reality (I may have mentioned it once or twice on social media), and it was an incredible day. Here’s what I wrote in my diary last night…
Monday 16th October
Publication day! I’m completely knackered, so here’s a quick summary…
My first solo Youtube Live starts well, but soon descends into confusion as it becomes apparent that there was some kind of problem with the link and a bunch of people were on the wrong Youtube page.
I’m stuck in a glass cubicle at work and I’m sweating, but the sales and reviews are coming in. The reviews are completely heartwarming.
We try and hook up with Mike Morris, but he’s in Dubai and we can’t connect so we have to drop his slot. Not great – nothing techie is working!
Second session with Desvaux is better and by now we’re number one in popular music on Amazon.com, nudging aside Phil Collins and Carly Simon!
I’m humming by now, so stroll up to the Next near St Paul’s and buy some fresh t-shirts. It’s a warm, close day and the sky is amber and the sun is a blood orange – side effects of hurricane Ophelia, currently battering Ireland and Northern Ireland.
I freshen-up and change shirts in the toilet at work. We were hoping to speak to Joanna Harris, but the publicist whisks her away. Boo!
What the what?? One day till publication?? In today’s episode Mr. D reads out our blurb (which had to be re-recorded at the last minute, as the blurb has gone through about 150 drafts this week) and I read an excerpt from the book in my best sexy-actor-voiceover-voice… It’s not that sexy. I have a weak ‘r’ which can wob the nawwative of its dwamatic tension.
There are just two days to go till we publish our novel Back to Reality and my home internet has decided to go on strike, which has made the last few days interesting to say of the least. They say if you want to discover what someone is really like, then see how they cope with a slow broadband connection. I’m the Incredible Sulk, apparently…
In today’s episode of the Bestseller Experiment podcast, we look back at some of our favourite moments of the podcast, and it becomes something of a confessional as we discuss the Aaronovitch bollocking and the fallout from the Bryan Cranston episode. And, yes, I compare our podcast to Desert Island Discs, what of it…?
In this episode the mania from the previous episodes has dampened and we’re starting to sound exhausted… by the way, do listen to the very end of each of these. Our editor Dave puts fun little stings at the end… CLICK HERE TO LISTEN NOW