Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Review of Rockall

(Apologies for the text highlights. I can't seen to get rid of them)
There's a saying among writers and publishers: "The only bad review is no review." And there's a lot of truth in that. Anything that mentions your name generates sales and an uncomplimentary write-up can generate almost as many as an acclaim; the worst insult, by far, that a critic can possibly give you is to ignore you. My second novel and my finest fictional work to this day, Rockall, has had a review! Actually it had several reviews at its launch in 2004, for example Dean Powell of The Western Mail called it "an enjoyable romp". It contributed to many orders, especially in Wales. Since then I've uploaded the third edition of Rockall to Amazon Kindle, see: http://hpanwo.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/rockall-on-amazon-kindle.html. The third edition is only slightly different to the second edition and is adapted from the second which is available on Ben's Bookcase, see: http://hpanwo-bb.blogspot.co.uk/2009/02/rockall-chapter-1.html... You are feeling very sleepy. I will count to three and you will wake up and forget I told you that. You will then go out and buy a copy of the third edition on Amazon Kindle. One, two three... The second and third editions are considerably different to the first, which was published as a book under my own imprint The Aldyth Press. But since then I've had reviews posted on both by somebody who only gives his name as "Iain". His first review can be seen on the Amazon page and I reproduce it here:

It seems unfair to hand out criticism to an author when they've put their heart and soul into a 600 page novel, even more so if it's self-published. That's a lot of hard work. However, if the novel is being offered at 15 pounds a copy I think potential readers might want to know that Rockall the book has nothing to do with Rockall.

Ben's island comes complete with a stone age tribe and a herd of ponies, set in our modern period and in the very same location as the real Rockall. Many readers will no doubt feel a jarring sensation as the author conveniently shifts reality in order to fit his plot. This presents the obvious question as to why the island's exotic wildlife has remained undiscovered until recent times - don't expect an answer. In comparison, The Land That Time Forgot only works because no one can locate the fictional land where it's set. It wouldn't be much good if you put a family of dinosaurs living on say, Fair Isle.

Ben uses the town of Oban as a stepping stone to his fantasy island, describing its 'archaic' TV aerials. Imagine if a writer in Oban applied the same comment to the people of London. Far from being slow witted, Argyll embraced satellite TV very quickly, outlying areas often improving their TV picture. So from the archaic folk of Oban, we move onto an emotionalist reaction to St Kilda until we finally make it to a completely non-existent version of Rockall. It's as if Ben has taken the Satanic abuse myth of Orkney and pushed it to its ridiculous conclusion. Distant Orkney has gangs of dodgy Satanists hiding below children's beds while the very distant Rockall has romantic wee hairy folk running around with miniature ponies. Islands (much like the travelling community) seem to have an uncanny habit of attracting the twins of demonisation and romanticisation. By the time Ben is 'heating' a tent with a vehicle fan via the wind it's obvious which twin we're dealing with. He'd be lucky to power a 30 watt bulb.

In its present state I'd give Rockall 2 stars as I did enjoy some of his characters. I have to admit I skipped most of the last half of the book. I hope he's got round to editing the Kindle edition as the original one might have a couple of hundred typos. Even with a corrected version I think he should lower the price to a humble 77p and see how the reviews pan out from there. The last time I looked at the author's blog he was handing out 'medals of bravery' to skeptics in the scientific community and posting up news of his home made 'awards' on Wikipedia. This reminded me of his novel: perhaps his time might be better spent on tidying up his previous spelling in Rockall instead of vandalising a respected encyclopaedia with his childish pranks.

This is a somewhat lukewarm appraisal, but he at least gives me two stars; I've had much worse. I will make no response at all to his opinions about the story; as David Icke said: "What you think of me is none of my business!" However I do need to correct a few factual errors. Firstly the cover price of the book was only £11.99. I never chose to raise the price to £15. This is because the book was listed by Amazon as "hard to find", which is curious seeing as it was a brand new title and I was accepting internet and postal orders personally. I was sending copies off to customers on the same day I received them. Also it was not my intention to be insulting to the residents of Oban (Chapter 1) and I apologize to any who feel offended at my insinuation that they were so backward and barbaric that they would use TV aerials. This was a mental image I had based on several photoes I saw of remote Highland towns; although I know Oban is not really remote, this was the image that stuck in my head. The novel is slightly futuristic and I can't help but notice that parts of northern Scotland do lag behind the rest of us technologically. At the moment there's a story in the news about how many parts of the Highlands are not yet receiving broadband internet. This is not an insult at all; I don't regard cheap electronic gizmoes the epitome of civilization and urbane culture. The last part of the review I'm assuming refers to this: http://hpanwo-voice.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/no-mbas-on-wikipedia.html. This doesn't even have anything to do with Rockall so why does Iain bring it up? I don't know what he means by "childish pranks"; as you can see in the article he has posted another comment virtually accusing me of trolling! This is a slanderous comment! Firstly I have never altered Wikipedia in any way; I merely wrote a commentary on what somebody else put on Wikipedia. Unless "Iain" has any evidence that I was the one who wrote the alleged material on Wiki then I suggest he drops the subject. Secondly it's neither "childish" nor a "prank" to decorate people with such a great honour as the MBA, especially when they have worked so hard to earn it. It's a huge compliment and homage I'm paying those people.

Iain has also posted another comment on Ben's Bookcase, see: http://hpanwo-bb.blogspot.co.uk/2010/02/obscurati-chronicles-part-1.html:

Hi there;

I was about to review Rockall on Amazon but then I thought it might be fairer to send you some possible corrections here instead. 
That way you can delete my message rather than be haunted on Amazon with your typos for ever more. So here goes:

The paperback version has a remarkable number of typos. For example, Chapter 1:

Page 1 - the ship, 'Kenneth McApin', change to, McAlpin.
Page 7 - 'Stating the Rockall', change to, 'that'.
Page 24 - 'One we've set foot...' change to, 'Once'.
Page 31 - 'MCAlpin', change to, 'McAlpin.
Page 43 - 'More so that anyone...' change to, 'than'.

There could be over a hundred other typos in which dialogue ends with a full stop instead of a comma (I'll show you a typical example later). Page 1 itself is quite funny if you live in Oban: a military style ship is moored next to the ferries in busy summer time - (no room, please try the Lighthouse Pier or North Pier) and poor ancient Oban has rooftops bristling with 'archaic' TV masts - (try Bell's up Soroba Road for the best deal on a sat dish). Well, one great thing about Kindle is the correction link. 

As for the story, I really enjoyed the characters but that's not the Rockall we grew up with in Scotland. So I felt a bit cheated that I'm having to make believe in an island which just isn't there and supposing it was, the wee hairy folk and ponies would have been discovered by a naval helicopter long ago. Perhaps you could rewrite it with a similar island in a vague part of the Pacific? Trevor's abduction had me laughing out loud.

Good luck with the Obscurati Chronicles. The dialogue typos however are still there, for example:

"We've got to follow her." said Beryl. 

You might have a hundred of these little critters lurking about - you don't like editing much do you? I like to edit although it's not like I'm an expert on it. I hope you'll take my remarks in the spirit they were intended. I know the amount of effort that goes into writing and what a pain it is when someone turns up to have an easy go. I'm just trying to help.

Best of luck...


Well, I'm indebted to Iain because I never did employ an editor for the manuscript. Perhaps "Iain" has no experience in the literary field and is not aware of how much these people charge; well beyond the price range of a publishing outfit like mine. My wages of a Hospital Porter together with the meagre profits I made off my first novel, Evan's Land (Evan's Land is now available as a free audio book: http://hpanwo-tv.blogspot.co.uk/2010/11/evans-land-audio-book.html) I thank him for his labourious sifting of the entire novel to weed out all the typoes and spelling and punctuation mistakes etc, but I have to ask him why he did it? He really ought to go out and do this kind of thing professionally and get paid for it. I hope he doesn't expect any money from me! He also brings up another common criticism often levelled at authors: a lack of local knowledge of a setting; Iain obviously knows Oban well and has lived there or visited  the place often. As an author I made every effort to travel to the places my work was set in, including trips to Chepstow, Newport and Cardiff for Evan's Land. However Rockall was set in locations that were beyond my capabilities to travel to. Also local people will inevitably know more about an area than an outsider; big news! So this kind of criticism is rather smug and ungenerous. Not that I'm not capable of it myself! The way I used to rant on at the TV whenever I watched Inspector Morse: "How can he be driving down St Giles one minute and then emerge on Longwall Street! Muppets!"

At the end of this article, I have to say thanks to you, "Iain", whoever you are. And I'm sorry it's taken so long for me to respond to your comments. Thanks for reading my book and taking the time to say what you think about it. Your review and comments on Rockall are intelligent and eloquent; such a breath of fresh air in a world of "That's crap, mate" suffices for average standards in literary criticism. And thanks for the free publicity; much appreciated!

I'd also like to say thank you to a friend of mine L. Southgate. He has also read Rockall and has written his own review on its Amazon page. I'd never thought anybody would compare me to the great CS Lewis. I'm blushing!:

I really enjoyed this book which I read as an ebook. The story really pulls you into its world with its engaging and realistic characters and unique plot. A great sense of humour and a down-to-earth-ness also figures throughout the novel. Ben has a certain almost eerie quality to the atmosphere's he creates which actually reminds me of the science fiction work of C.S. Lewis's trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet being the first one). Every villain and hero is multi-faceted, as is the story-line itself which is never quite how you'd expect it to be as it gets ever more fantastic but always rooted in the ordinary. Images from this novel have stayed with me months later, which is quite a feat as I often read a number of books at the same time, unless, like Rockall the book really grabs me. Give this novel a try, it's thoroughly entertaining, very professional in style and a little mind-expanding too.

(Background article: http://hpanwo-voice.blogspot.co.uk/2008/06/critics.html