Friday, 18 July 2014

Critics - A Short Essay By Author Sally Prue

A girl holding a cup with 'Critic' written on it
Photo by Lis Ferla


Noun. Late 16th century.
[Latin criticus from Greek kritikos, use as noun of adjective from krites judge.]

1 A person who pronounces judgement; especially a censurer. L16

2 A judge or writer on the qualities of literary or artistic works;
a professional reviewer of books, musical or dramatic performances, etc;
a person skilled in textual criticism. E17


Eddie has offered me this chance to let off steam on the subject of critics. I suspect he sees it as a matter of public safety, fearing otherwise an explosion of Krakatoa-like proportions which might wipe out the entire population of the Northern Hemisphere.

That is plainly ludicrous (I doubt if I could manage anything much more violent than Vesuvius) but I'm afraid I do have to plead guity to having got a little impatient with critics from time to time. That instance where three reviews in a row referred to a character who didn’t actually appear in the book was a case in point; as, now I come to think about it, was the review that said one of my books was set off the coast of Australia when it wasn’t set off the coast of anywhere; and then there was that time when someone said that one book, Goldkeeper (‘I think Sally Prue should give up writing…’) was a new version of Peter Pan when a book MORE TOTALLY UNLIKE PETER PAN IS HARDLY TO BE FOUND ON THE FACE OF THE EARTH (NO TRAVELLING TO ANOTHER WORLD! NO IMMORTAL BOY!! NO FAIRIES!!! AND NOT A SINGLE FLIPPING EXAMPLE OF FLYING!!!!)…

…but anyway. Me, angry?

Not a bit. Not today, anyway. Not when a group of beautiful, intelligent child critics, together with a panel of adult critics from The Historical Association, has just given a Young Quills Award for best historical novel to my book Song Hunter (‘a great read despite its deeply complex subject matter…I found myself very wrapped up in the story…and I finished it with a lump in my throat’).


I love’em.

Hmmm…perhaps that’s going a bit far. I love the Young Quills critics. Apart from having exquisite taste and minds ready to embrace an unfamiliar setting, they, being children (for whom the book was written) and historians (who know about life 40,000 years ago) are in their own ways experts, aren’t they?

For, as the glorious PG Wodehouse points out in his golf story collection The Heart of a Goof, ‘a writer…is certainly entitled to be judged by his peers…and I think I am justified in asking of editors that they instruct critics of this book to append their handicaps in brackets at the end of their remarks. By this means…the sting of such critiques as ‘We laughed heartily while reading these stories – once – at a misprint’ will be sensibly diminished by the figure (36)  at the bottom of the paragraph. While my elation will be all the greater should the words ‘A genuine masterpiece’ be followed by a simple (scr.)’.

So there we are.

A good critic knows what he’s talking about, has an open mind, and has read the book.

Ideally, (and surely I may dream, even though the world is such a sad imperfect place) a critic also shouldn’t be having an affair with, or be employed by, the artist or his publishers.

Or, come to think about it, their rivals, either.

PG Wodehouse in 1904

Do please leave your most critically-acclaimed comments in the box below.

Thank you for a wonderfully ranty post, Sally, and a huge Lexicolatrical congratulations on winning the Young Quills Award for Historical Fiction with your latest book Song Hunter. And yes I have read it, yes it is a worthy winner, no it's not set off the coast of Australia, and yes I enjoyed it very much, as did (from the various reviews I've read) those curmudgeonly critics. Ed 


  1. Congratulations Sally on winning Young Quills Award with your Song Hunter.
    After your first ranting - which is so frequent among writers (I have two writer friends and the same happens to them, from time to time. Not only from critics but - a new phenomenon? - some viciousness they face from online "critics") - this award must have made you feel even more grateful that your public did read the book you wrote, enjoyed it thoroughly and then went and recognized you with the deserved Award.
    The second part of your post does suggest something very Peter Panian ahahahah the reward - finally - for a job well done. And for not murdering anyone while waiting for the happy to take place.

    1. Thank you very much Teresa, that's very kind. Yes, I was hugely pleased to know that people had liked the book. And, also yes, now that we have online reviewing things can take a particularly nasty turn from time to time. You also get quite a lot of "I gave this book one star because it didn't have any hedgehogs in it, and I'm really only interested in books about hedgehogs" type reviews. I always watch out, too, for the five star reviews posted before publication. That's a sure sign that the reviewer knows the writer.
      Still, when you've spent a year thinking as hard as you possibly can about something and weaving it into a story, and then someone understands what you've been trying to say - well, that's just magic.

    2. I'm ambivalent toward critics.

      In some ways, I agree with Stephen Fry when he asked what type of life is that of a critic, someone that doesn't create art themselves but rather spends mortal years going ''M'eh" about the work of others (that's not a verbatim Fry quote, but it's my understanding of what he said once on Room 101).

      However, at the same time I do value the work of professional critics; spending €15 to see a film at the cinema, or spending 2, 3, 6 or however many hours reading a book is quite an investment of time and resources, so there are particular critics and publications whose opinions I respect, even if I don't ultimately agree with them.

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