Declan Hughes

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Reviewers, Dogs and Lampposts.

The third Ed Loy novel will be published on March 18th in the US, where it's called The Price of Blood, and on April 3rd in Ireland and the UK, where the title is The Dying Breed. In a past and parallel life I was and am a playwright, and I'm still finding the difference between theatre and publishing quite strange. For a start, in the theatre, there is an opening night, after which you generally have a fairly good idea of how the show is going to fare. The reviews come in quickly, and if they're negative, you're generally done for - if not in a Sardi's-empties-and-the-end-of- show-notice-is-posted-the-next-day way, then in a half-full at the weekend, parking available in the auditorium midweek, not with a bang but with a whimper way. You smile fiercely, blink back the tears, and find consolation in the friends who valiantly lie through their teeth, insisting it's the best thing you've ever done, or in the preferences of a handful of we-prefer-the- early-obscure-stuff types, who come back three times, in large part because there's no one else there.
Christopher Moltisanti in Hollywood mode in The Sopranos, having spotted Martin Scorsese from afar: "Hey Marty! Kundun! I liked it."                                                                                            
And in the theatre, chances are the reviews may be very negative indeed, because a) playwrights don't review each other's work, and b) it's harder to be nice about even a so-so play, largely because boredom in the theatre is more painful than boredom anywhere else. I can read a book I half enjoy, and am sort of bored with, and not resent it overmuch if on balance there's enough to keep me amused. In the theatre, that kind of evening has the GIN light flashing in my brain within fifteen minutes; by the final curtain, I want to have the director and the playwright killed. So I understand how theatre critics can err on the side of vitriol. I don't forgive them, mind - and there's another difference: the theatre is a strictly us-and-them game. Not only do playwrights not review each other, the theatre critic is, and often prides himself on being, Not Of The Theatre, choosing to adopt the persona of the man in the street, and if sometimes it feels like the man in the street he's channelling is someone whose girlfriend dumped him for you, that's just tough. (The other type of theatre critic - the intellectual who takes you to task for not writing the play she would have if only she wasn't too busy and important, or for failing in your duty to tasks you never set yourself - is way worse, of course, but at least most of her readers roll their eyes after the first pretentious paragraph and move elsewhere.) The only way to deal with bad reviews is not to take them personally - and that applies in spades to the occasional scorcher that actually is. We are the lampposts, they are the dogs.
And at least running up to the opening, you're busy in the theatre: rehearsals are progressing, you're hanging out with the actors, and seeing what the design team are bringing to the party. All your energies are devoted to the project in hand. You're living in the present tense, one of the great attractions of a life in the theatre. 
Publishing a book is not like that. For a start, if you're a genre writer and you've a book contract, chances are you're writing the next book when you publish. In some cases, you may have finished it. You're already moving on. Then there are the reviews. Unless you're a very big fish indeed, the reviews trickle in over a period of weeks, even months. Kingsley Amis once said of some writer he didn't like that the problem with tossing his book across the room after twenty pages is that he doesn't know you've done it. In the theatre, of course, you know instantly, for better or worse. With a book, unless, again, you're in the bestseller league and you can grade it by sales and chart appearances, there's a period almost of unreality - folk all over are reading your book and either heaving it from them in disgust, or bumping into furniture, so loath are they to put it down - and you don't know anything about it. At the risk of sounding a little Eeyorish, it can be quite a melancholy, anti-climactic experience. And you thank God you have a new book to scuttle back to work on, because when it comes down to it, the only thing that makes you feel better is the writing.
About six weeks or so before the book comes out in the US, there are pre-publication reviews in Publisher's Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist and Library Journal. The PW review for The Price of Blood was a starred one, a welcome change from PW's take on my first novel, The Wrong Kind of Blood, which said that while I wasn't bad at describing the Irish countryside (my books are set in the city), no great hope could be held out for the Ed Loy series.  Anyway, this time round, among other things, PW said: "Hughes's stellar third novel ... Loy uncovers a horrible series of secrets, leading to a violent and labyrinthine conclusion at a famous Irish horse-racing festival ... this intelligent, often brutal thriller will have readers' hearts racing from start to finish."        
Booklist said: "This dark mystery manges to be quintessentially, unsentimentally Irish - and as twisty and nasty as The Big Sleep and Chinatown ... atmospheric and tough, with a lot of excellently described drinking."                                                                                                                
The Booklist review was written by Keir Graff, who runs a rather splendid site called The Designated Drinker, full of excellently described stuff about, uh, drinking. He even finds room there for a quote from The Price of Blood.                                                                                               
Library Journal said "The third title in Hughes's acclaimed series of gritty Dublin thrillers featuring PI Ed Loy ... Hughes's abilities to craft a "Dublin noir" crime novel and to expand the character of Ed Loy combine to make this a welcome addition to an eminently readable new series. Highly recommended." 
Hard to feel Eeyorish about any of those. As for Kirkus, well, let's just say there'll be more beer at my birthday party with Kirkus not invited.

And then, review-wise, that's it for a while. The books have gone out to the press, and I've my head down working on City of the Dead, which is what the fourth Ed Loy novel is called for the moment.  Meanwhile I'm hoping over the next few weeks no one tosses The Dying Breed/The Price of Blood across the room after twenty pages and wants me to know about it.


Anonymous Shawn Fitz said...

Can't wait for Price Of Blood here in the States.Been a big fan since The Wrong Kind of Blood.Hopefully they'll publish more of your Loy books in the future.As far as Kirkus is concerned a nice chorus of "Pogue Mahone!!!" should suffice.Happy St. Patricks Day.
All The Best,

13 March 2008 23:05  
Blogger Sophie said...

Declan! So nice to see you online. Can't wait for the new book...your fan from california :)

14 March 2008 05:41  
Blogger Keith Rawson said...

Glad you finally decided to start a blog. The Ed Loy books have quickly become favorites of mine and can't for the new book to come out here in the states

14 March 2008 16:47  
Blogger Chris said...

I don't have your email, so I just wanted to post a quick note congratulating you on your Edgar nom. You'll have a great time.
Chris Mooney

13 March 2009 16:21  

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