The thing about reviews.

I’ll be honest with you. As a writer, I generally only share good reviews.

This is because I want everyone to love my books, and it hurts when someone doesn’t.

Also, I want to sell as many copies of my books as possible, and sharing the not-so-good reviews isn’t really going to help with that.

But I do realise that my books aren’t for everyone.

I write quite weird, twisted, dark, bleak books.

Or so I have been told – these are all words that have come up in reviews of my work. The d word is especially common.

Booklist said of one of my books (Summon Up The Blood), “Mesmerizing, repellent, bizarre, intelligent, dark, provocative… utterly fascinating…”

Now many people might be put off by that “repellent”. Perhaps they’re right to be. But I think it’s fair. And I do love that review. I’m very proud of it.

But it’s good for me, occasionally, to be reminded that not everyone likes weird, twisted, dark, bleak books. Which was why I was OK about receiving an email from a book blogger recently apologising for not reviewing The White Feather Killer yet. He said it was just too bleak for him. Some variation of the d word came into it too, I think. He needed to be in the right frame of mind to read it. And he wasn’t at the moment.

I felt very bad about this.

Not because here was someone who didn’t like my book. But because I’d written a book that seemed to be upsetting to another human being. That’s not why I do this.

It made me take a long hard look at myself.

Just because there is darkness in the world, do I need to focus on it? Isn’t writing bleak books just adding to the sum total of bleakness there is? Am I repellent too? Am I bizarre?

Wouldn’t it be better to write happy books full of sunshine and laughter? (For what it’s worth, I think there’s a lot of humour in my books. It’s just quite dark humour.)

The problem is, I’m not sure I can. Plus, I write crime fiction. Books where people get murdered. That’s going to come out quite dark. The whole idea of cozy crime doesn’t really make sense to me.

Perhaps I should stop writing books altogether.

Now this isn’t just one of those self-pitying moans writers indulge in to draw out the compliments. It’s something I genuinely think about. Often. Because, you know, writing books is fucking hard work, and it takes time, time that could be spent watching Netflix, or just being with the people you love. Just doing normal stuff, you know. I miss out on a lot of that.

If my books are going to upset people, then maybe I should stop.

There are other things I could say about this, but I won’t because they really will sound self-pitying. The bottom line is, nobody is forcing me to do this. And the financial inducement – well, let’s just say, it’s not going to bankrupt me if I kick it into touch.

For the time being, it seems that I can’t give it up.

For me, writing is somehow linked to my well-being. I won’t say it makes me happy. But I’m not so nice to be with when I’m not writing.

So I am carrying on. As it happens, I am consciously trying to write a book at the moment which, I think, will be somewhat “lighter” (if that means anything in the context of a book where people are murdered) than anything I’ve written before. 

Now this wasn’t in response to that book blogger’s email.

I was set on this course already.

My last but one Silas Quinn novel, The Red Hand of Fury, was one of my darkest. It has madness, the outbreak of war, multiple suicides, an extended sequence in an insane asylum ruled over by a sadistic bastard, and a twisted psychological experiment. One reviewer said: “I didn’t so much read this book as grind my teeth while experiencing it.” It was emotionally quite draining to write too.

Darkness upon darkness.

Then came my standalone dystopian novel, Psychotopia. It imagines a world where the number of psychopaths is set to outnumber the non-psychopaths. One reviewer called it a “terrifying glimpse into the heart of darkness”. Another said it was “dark, dangerous and deranged”. Someone else described it as “one of the most interesting and messed up things Ive read in a long time”. It was “suffocatingly taut”. It will “mess with your mind”. “R.N. Morris needs locking in a room with no access to the outside world and no internet” was someone else’s opinion.

You get the idea. Suffice it to say, the word dark came up a lot.

Believe it or not, writing that stuff takes a toll on you.

So, yeah, lighten up, I said to myself.

That’s why right now I’m trying to write a book that’s not so dark. Someone still gets murdered. But, you know, it’s someone the reader wants to get murdered. Someone they’d probably murder themselves if they were in the book.

That’s not so dark, is it?

And then today this happened.

Today I discovered this review of The White Feather Killer in the Historical Novel Review. I got quite emotional over it. Not just because it’s a good review. That final sentence just blew me away. But because it’s also good to be reminded that, as well as there being people who maybe don’t get on with your work, every now and then you find people who do.

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