Reader, I met my readers.

Almost the first question an agent or publisher asks is who are your readers? I can’t be the only writer who fails to conjure up a collective market-speak noun for the person who has just turned the last page of my novel with (I hope) a sigh of satisfaction.

The people who read, and give me feedback, are people who know me. They have read my books because they are kind friends or relatives, fellow-writers or new online friends. They are male and female, aged 16 to 90, and include a wide spectrum of interests and incomes. As a writer I could not survive without these people, but they are not the distinct target group the agent or publisher is looking for. What is more, I really didn’t know who else in the world, would want to read my novels… but I got lucky.

In December I wrote about the moment when dreams and real life coincided (Writer (almost) faints). I met a reader totally unknown to me who loved my second novel, Unseen Unsung, and so, apparently, did her book group.

Last night I was the surprise guest, invited by this reader, to a birthday meal for a member of her book group. So I met Tracy, Susanne, Janet, Sarah, Marie, Tracey and Judy (who couldn’t stay to the meal).  My presence was for the fun of it, I didn’t have to perform, or sell myself, I was able to eat, relax, and discover who my readers were as people.                   IMG_0938 IMG_0926                           Tracy                                                      birthday girl Suzanne (Goldie)IMG_0933  IMG_0939 - Version 2   Janet                                                        (left to right) Tracey, Marie and Sarah

So what, if anything, makes Tracy, Susanne, Janet, Sarah, Marie, Tracey and Judy a group. They were vibrant, funny, unsentimental, open and tolerant people. Their energies and concerns were first for their family members, then for each other, and after that any individual in their orbit who was in need. In doing all this they also looked after themselves and made their own fun. They worked, played and read widely. In every other sense each was a distinct personality. We were in Tracy’s house, her mother was upstairs, recovering from an operation, her father appeared from time to time as did a fifteen-year-old son, an undergraduate son and her husband (and there was a daughter elsewhere). Apart from her own spaniel (?), she was temporarily caring for a couple of pugs to help a friend.

The Chinese proverb runs – Women hold up half the sky. These women were certainly holding up more than they share share of the sky and I feel all the better, as a writer, for being their choice.

Readers react in Great Malvern

The pendulum has taken another couple of swings over the weekend. I arrived in Great Malvern (UK) on Saturday and discovered that the book group there were expecting to discuss with me my first book (A Small Rain, 2002, out of print) and not the 2008 Unseen Unsung, which I had prepared. I borrowed my hosts’ tattered copy of A Small Rain for a frantic revision before setting off for the meeting.

We were made very welcome in a member’s home, fortified with a drink and the fourteen of us spread out in her lovely sitting room. Under admirable chairmanship, each member talked about their reactions to A Small Rain and Unseen Unsung, which many had also read. I was able to give explanations and answer individual questions as we went along. After a break for sustaining and delicious nibbles, there was a more open-ended question and answer session about writing and publishing.

For me, to sit among a group of perceptive, enquiring people who have read my two published books and to talk about what works (and what doesn’t) was both a luxury and an immensely helpful experience. I was encouraged to find that they positively relished the complexity of the plots and the variety of subject matter and wanted more stories like this. Several also made a plea (as most book groups do) for a character list because, like many people, they read before sleeping and want to pick up again quickly.

The male protagonist of my first novel came in for some justified criticism for his saintly demeanour and his grating use of endearments. Lesson learnt! On the other hand the child coping with upheavals in his life met universal approval. It gave me great lift that a reader who had never taken to poetry found the selections I used wholly accessible. The writing in my second novel was seen as better paced – a page-turner. They warmed to the main character, a rather spoilt young man, as he lived through the events in the story. Even my dark portrayal of a mother had come off.

I realised with gratitude as I listened and talked, that these intelligent, curious, caring men and women are my readers. This has left me with a glow that will carry my writing forward, and with encouragement such as this, I will get Border Line published knowing that I will have (at least) fourteen readers.