Skip to main content


This is the copy of a letter I wrote to the Independent on Sunday this week following a rather childish and ignorant review one of their critics wrote last week. Like I say, I don't mind negative reviews - however, what I do mind is a middle-aged, middle-class man implying that this urban voice of a young girl is not fit for literature. He also gets details about me wrong which again shows he ill-informed he is.

Dear IoS,

Upon the release of my debut novel, A Clockwork Apple, I was interviewed by a group of fifteen-year-olds who run Exposure, an excellent magazine in Haringey, London – the issues they raised as a result of reading said novel showed their engagement with it. This engagement meant that they brought up political issues such as a two-tier education system, a celebrity soaked society, problems of addiction and an extreme nanny state – in short, they were acutely aware of the issues raised. They also commented on the character’s rage and her need to have access and ownership of a vocabulary which has, historically, not been easily available to young working-class women. However, all of these issues and more seemed to pass right by Brandon Robshaw, who reviewed the novel for IoS on 13th April. In fact, I’m still trying to figure out how a national newspaper could have ever assigned this man to review in the first place because he seems ill acquainted with any key principles of literary criticism. He attempted to write his review by mimicking the style I had adopted in my novel but in doing so only showed himself to be the barroom buffoon intent on getting cheap guffaws. He went on to imply that I was a youngster who knew nothing about having found her own voice. It is hard not to take such unnecessarily personal reviews to heart. I am a highly educated woman in her mid-thirties who, after many years of hard work, has definitely found her voice – it is a voice laced with anger and attached to a love for the power of words, both borne from growing up in the very same area that serves as the setting for my novel; the same area that ‘Mr. Burgess’ also grew up in, Moss-Side. Sadly, it is a voice that is often heckled out of literature by the dim-witted observations of those who think they get to decree what that ‘voice’ should be, who should be entitled to use it and in what way, which rather makes a mockery out of the term ‘creative writing’. If this heckling didn’t exist to the extent it still is, then maybe there would be more diverse styles in British literature.
It is strange that Robshaw is, apparently, himself the author of many novels – yet until last week I had remained blissfully ignorant of his name – strange also because I like to keep up to date. It’s clear he does not.
In the meantime, I suggest Robshaw should go back to the basic tenets of literary criticism and learn to review in a way that does not give away his ignorance of anything but one particular type of voice (his own) – because he gave us only his own stale and flabby middle-aged opinion – and someone really should enlighten him that opinions and educated reviews are two very different beasts. Perhaps when he’s considered this, my review of his review, he can offer his services to, say, The Daily Mail. And yes, I know that by writing a novel and having it published means I hand it into the public domain. Let it not be said that I don’t welcome negative reviews, as long as the reviewer has done what they are supposed to – that is, read the work, engage with the story and have enough insight to pick up on any arising issues, and then give their verdict to the newspaper’s readers in a suitably professional manner. Just like those teenagers running their own magazine.

Popular posts from this blog

Who was Mary Burns?

On 7th January 1863 Mary Burns was found dead from a suspected heart attack. She was 43 years old. Since her death Mary has received barely any attention despite the fact that she spent over twenty years as the common-law wife of Friedrich Engels, one of the world’s most influential thinkers and the co-founder of Marxism.

Born in 1822, Mary was the oldest surviving child of textile dyer and factory operative, Michael Burns, and Mary Conroy, Irish immigrants from Tipperary. Mary’s parents had married at St. Patrick’s in an area known casually as Irish Town, one of few Catholic churches in Manchester at that time. The year of Mary’s birth and her infancy were significant in that Manchester was still dealing with the aftermath of the event that became known as the 1819 Peterloo Massacre, a peaceful protest of the working-classes on the site of St. Peter’s Fields in which several people were killed and hundreds injured. The Massacre occurred when magistrates, alarmed at the size of t…

Booker Shortlist announced

It's been a while... I know. Dog walking on the Downs, a bit of theatre, a bit of baking, a bit of writing etcetera etcetera. I also managed to read two complete books in the past month, which I was so pleased about. I had not read a whole book for about a year. The first was A Lie About My Father by Scottish poet/writer, John Burnside; a very well written memoir about father and son, but like all memoirs, some unreliability I felt. Poignant and tragic in equal measure. Then my husband returned from Cyprus (too hot for me this time of year, I can barely cope with England!) with Sebastian Faulks's Birdsong. He loved it. And then I read it and also loved it. I had originally picked it up several years ago but didn't get beyond Amiens, where the first section is set, but was really glad I did this time around. Another incredibly well written book in the style of a good Victorian! I felt a bit unsure about bits of Elizabeth, in the later section, but I have never learnt so muc…

Days Without End and Mosul's Avengers

So fed up am I of buying books that I don't finish, that I decided I would go to the local library for a copy of Sebastian Barry's latest novel, Days Without End, which has just been awarded the Costa Prize. Unfortunately, I could only borrow it on the proviso that it was return by 1 February. I returned it the day after, without having finished it. I was about three quarters through, and will now have to go out and buy it for the final quarter. I loved Barry's The Secret Scripture, and on every publication of a new work, his star rises. Days Without End follows two boys, one descended from native Americans, and the other having arrived on one of the notorious coffin ships from famine struck Sligo. The tale is brave, funny, touching, but most of all Barry has achieved the perfect pitch. It is quite remarkable.

Another remarkable work comes in the form of reportage in the New Yorker (February 6, 2017) The Avengers of Mosul, by Luke Mogelson 'A Reporter at Large'.