Writing Contests: A Cautionary Tale

Warren Adler published the following article, extracted below, on the Huffington Post Books page in June of last year.  Until I read it, I hadn’t realised there was such explosive growth of on-line writing contests.

Warren Adler is best known for The War of the Roses, his masterpiece fictionalization of a macabre divorce turned into the Golden Globe and BAFTA nominated dark comedy hit starring Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner and Danny DeVito. Adler’s international hit stage adaptation of the novel will premiere on Broadway in 2016. Adler has also optioned and sold film rights for a number of his works including Random Hearts, The Sunset Gang, The War of the Roses – The Children,Target Churchill, Residue, Mourning Glory, and Capitol Crimes.


Warren Adler

“When I started the Warren Adler Short Story Contest in 2006 I had rather lofty ideas about integrity and fidelity to the goal of resurrecting the popularity of the short story which was in decline. I appointed qualified people, meaning people who were either authors themselves or teachers of literature or creative writing with the taste and experience to judge the submissions honestly.

“It was a difficult chore at best and I wanted to guarantee that those who were the chosen winners were the very best of those who submitted their work. I offered cash prizes out of my own pocket. The first Prize Winner received $1000 and prizes were offered for our second and third choices. The submissions were free of charge.

“In addition to the cash prizes I promised that the prizewinning stories would be published as an e-book anthology on Amazon and offered for sale with royalties given to the authors of the stories. My hope, of course, was to give a boost not only to the short story format but also to the writing careers of the talented writers who participated. The book, as promised, is available on Amazon.

“The digital publishing revolution was in its infancy and I believe I was the first novelist to ever create such a contest on the Internet. As the cyber world grew so did the submissions. It became difficult and time consuming to read all of the offerings and finding enough quality judges to devote the time to honest assessment was becoming exceedingly burdensome to administer. The last thing I wanted to do was jeopardize the integrity of the contest.

“Eventually I had no choice but to begin charging a small submission fee designed to perhaps curb the number of submissions as well as to provide judges with a stipend that would make it worth their time. Above all, the goal was to maintain the integrity of the contest and further the original goals of the enterprise.

“After seven years of sponsoring the contest, I opted for a hiatus. It was a victim of its own success. To do it right required time, personnel and resources. I finally suspended the contest. I had no desire to create a startup and it was interfering with my own busy writing career.

“What I didn’t imagine was the tsunami of writing contests that it inspired. Worse, I never suspected that it would serve as a business model for entrepreneurs to get into the game just for profit.

“I am somewhat suspect of the value these contests hold for participants.

“Self-publishing requires self-promotion. It is an absolute necessity and comes with the territory, requiring time, effort and funding. The goal is “discoverability.” Most never achieve it, regardless of the quality of their work.

“The rise of self-published fiction authors has been spectacular. Unfortunately the glut has made it difficult for them to stand out from the crowd however excellent their writing is. Genre writers with promotional skills along with lots of money and time might find a niche, although the odds of making enough money to give up their day job is long.

“These writing contests, with their prestigious sounding names, offer the impression of quality promotion for the winners and, of course, bragging rights which can be dubious and of suspect value. One wonders who the judges are that are taking on such a massive amount of submissions. Few of these contest sponsors reveal their methods or the people who read this mass of material and make their judgments. It is often true of the most prestigious awards like the Pulitzer and the Nobel and I often wonder how some of the winners have reached the attention of the judges and who makes the screening decisions.

“By and large, internet-based contests tend to always charge a submission fee, which accounts for the sponsor’s profits as well as its proliferation. Considering that these contests are expanding they must be profitable for the sponsors and are inspiring others to create mirror image money-making opportunities using a similar business plan. Their targets are vulnerable, aspiring writers desperate for recognition and the realization of their dreams.

“Most of these contests are based upon dreams of literary glory, popularity, riches and movie adaptations on the part of authors. All truly believe that their work is deserving of recognition, popularity and prestige. Many probably fit that description. Indeed the sponsors know this and exploit it. It is the key to their monetary success.

“There is a great deal of literary talent out there who go unrecognized and do not attract the traditional publishers. Of course it works both ways. The traditional publishers sometimes gamble on first novels and often lose their bets in the sales arena. Such is the nature of the beast.

“This is not meant to be a blanket condemnation of writing contests. But since the Internet is a vast swamp of snake oil salesman hawking worthless schemes, products and ideas, consider this a cautionary tale.”

My experience of writing contests is very similar to the picture Mr Adler paints.  I have entered a number of contests with most of my books, and I have won some ‘awards’ – but no money.  Even winning first place in a genre did not merit a financial award.  So, I have a wall covered with award certificates.  Invariably, I had to pay an entry fee.  To me, this doesn’t seem unreasonable: there are administrative costs and (presumably) judges fees to be paid.  But, I have never learned how the judging would take place, let alone the identity of a single judge.  I attended one award ceremony in London, at which I expected a journalist or two to be present: there were none.  Attendees consisted of some of the authors who won awards and two low-ranking admin people representing the contest.

Having said this, I still try out new contests that appear to offer more value, particularly those that offer a critique of the work submitted.

Review: So Much for That

This novel attracted my attention as it is written by Lionel Schriver, the author of We Need to Talk About Kevin, which won the Orange Prize for fiction in 2005 and which has sold over one million copies in twenty-five languages. Lionel Schriver wrote seven novels before Kevin, which she called her ‘make or break’ creation after seven years of professional disappointment and ‘virtual obscurity’. Six of her seven novels were published; one failed to find a publisher. Since Kevin, Ms Schriver has written five novels, including So Much for That, which was published in 2010. She is an inspiration to all of us novelists who feel that our creations have not received the deserved recognition.


Lionel Schriver

So Much for That’s principal character, Shep Knacker, is an entrepreneurial handyman, who is both skilled and likeable. He is able to sell his New York City-based business for one million dollars, and his plan is to move his wife Glynis, his son Zach, and his daughter Amelia to Pemba Island off the coast of Tanzania to live her rest of their lives in low-cost, stress-free comfort. Glynis, though she has been involved in numerous searches around the world to find the perfect place for their ‘Afterlife’, has doubts. Just as she is being confronted with a decision to go or to stay, she is diagnosed with a virulent form of cancer. Escape to Pemba has to be postponed while Glynis undergoes months of treatment. The American healthcare system being what it is, Shep’s nest egg is gradually depleted by co-insurance payments and invoices for un-covered treatments. In order to keep the insurance he has, Shep must continue on the payroll of his prior company, under the unsympathetic supervision of the new owner. Glynis finds that the likely cause of her cancer is exposure to asbestos, with which she had contact in her metal-working hobby. She decides to sue the company which made the asbestos products. Just as Shep is on the verge of bankruptcy, Glynis wins her case and the money received covers an Afterlife in Pemba.

There are several other characters, including Shep’s friend, Jackson, who engages in diatribes against the Mooches (the freeloaders) and the systems that lets them take advantage of the Mugs. Jackson’s daughter, Flicka, who suffers from a horrible, terminal, childhood illness is a vehicle, along with Glynis, for debating the value of human life. There are doctors of doubtful honesty with their patients. And there are decisions about whether to be a Mooch or a Mug.

So Much for That is an entertaining story. It is human, sad, funny, heroic, and, and it is difficult to put down. I felt, at times, though, that the author was lecturing me about the dreadful state of healthcare in the US, and other assorted inequities in life. Several characters, including Flicka, and Shep’s sister, Beryl, are so polarised that one tends to lose what sympathy we should have for them. At the outset, I found it difficult to buy into Shep’s vision of the Afterlife; acceptance of his vision came when his troubles grew acute. Occasionally, I found the text somewhat oblique. For example: “It was disconcerting to be systematically punished for what might have engendered a modicum of gratitude.” Why not say: “He was annoyed to be punished for acts of kindness”? Sometimes, for me, the dialogue didn’t ring true, but perhaps I am being too picky.


I liked So Much for That. It makes some very important points about what is to be human: what’s good about our humanity and what’s not so good.

Review: A God in Ruins

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been out of the office: my PC has been neglected, but I’ve done some reading.

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson is without a doubt the best book I’ve read in a long time, and it’s easy to see why it won last year’s Costa Book Award.  In fact, the judges called it, “Utterly magnificent and in a class of its own.  A genius book.”

The author has some pretty heavy-weight credentials.  Kate Atkinson won the Whitbread (now Costa) Book of the Year in 1995 with her first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum.  Her four bestselling novels featuring former detective Jackson Brodie became the BBC television series.  Her last novel, Life After Life, was the winner of the 2013 Costa Novel Award.  She was appointed MBE in the 2011 Queen’s Birthday Honours.


Kate Atkinson

A God in Ruins is the story of Teddy Todd, a would-be poet, lover of the countryside, and heroic bomber pilot during World War II.  The story begins in 1925 and zig-zags back and forth in time until its conclusion in 2012.  As the number of his completed combat missions piles up, Teddy does not expect to see the ‘Afterwards’ in which he will become a husband and a father.  Throughout the story, he faces life as it is without complaints about lost opportunities, heartbreak, or feelings un-expressed.  He is surrounded by the characters of his own family and by some of the family who are neighbours.

The writing is captivating and tight; there is no excess baggage here even though the book runs to over 500 pages.  The characters are distinct, and the story line never lags.  What most impressed me about the novel was the authenticity of the descriptions of flying bombing missions in a Halifax, but then, at the end of the book is a three page bibliography of sources.  Ms Atkinson did a lot of research!  I understand why it too two years to write this novel.  There is an interesting device she used which turns fiction on its head.  Fascinating!  But I’m not going to give it away.  Sometimes I felt slightly put off by the broken chronology, but in reading the book over a period of days, I began to feel that it was building nicely to a conclusion.  This is a novel which fully engages both one’s emotions and one’s beliefs.

How do you know if you’re a good writer?

Last month, there was an article in the online Huffington Post by Brook Warner, with the subtitle: “3 Ways to Get Validation of Your Writing’.  I agree with most of what she says:

“Writing stands out to me as the craft that people most easily dismiss and judge.  Because of its accessibility – anyone can do it and everyone seems to be doing it – writing is to the arts what running is to sports.  There are elites and there are hobbyists.  Unlike music, art and film, there’s a low barrier to entry.  You don’t need an instrument other than your hand, a canvas other than a piece of paper; not do you need a team, a budget, or outsider talent to practice your craft.  Everyone thinks they can do it, and the truth is that a lot of people do it well.  One of the great difficulties publishing faces right now is that there are many, many good books worthy of being published, but rather than finding ways to celebrate hobbyists and emerging talent (which is what’s happening in film), the industry has instead turned its back and turned up its nose at the very people who make possible what they do for a living: aspiring authors.

“So how, given this climate where the odds for success are stacked against you, the industry itself has no vested interest in you until you prove yourself a talent, and everyone thinks they can write, how are you supposed to know whether what you’re writing is worthwhile?”

She mentions three places to start:

1. Get a professional opinion

“You have to pay for this, but it’s worthwhile to get your work assessed at some point in your writing process, sooner rather than later.  This is a high level opinion from someone who knows good writing.  People who read for a living are qualified to pick apart your work and tell you what’s working and not working. . . . Your family and friends are not good readers for your work.  While all readers are subjective, family and friends are the most subjective. . . .”

She mentions that her company She Writes Press offers an assessment of 25 pages of an author’s work.  But apparently, this is part of an expensive co-operative-publishing package.  I think it can be money well invested if one selects a real professional reviewer.

2. Submit your work to contests and at conferences

“Judges of literary of literary contests are selected because they are readers.  They love good books and good writing, and they have wisdom and expertise to impart.  Contests are valuable not just for the accolades you might get, but for the feedback. It’s a cheap way to see what a stranger thinks of your work. . . .”

In my experience, one doesn’t get good quality feedback from most contests.  There tends to be cursory and superficial, or non-existent feedback.  What I have found to be useful is the ‘batting average’ one gets from submitting a particular work to multiple contests.  I have entered Sable Shadow & The Presence in about ten contests.  It has won eight awards ranging from honourable mention (2) to runner up (2) to winner (4) of the fiction category.  I must be doing something right, and this is consistent with my own view that Sable Shadows is a serious, quality piece of work.

3. Submit your work to an agent or publisher

“Many writers I know are so eager to pitch agents and editors that they go out too early, before their books or proposals are fully cooked.  But if you’re suffering from a need to know whether there’s any merit to your project, I believe (though some may disagree with me) that it doesn’t hurt to send to  a handful of agents or editors (not both at the same time) to test the waters. . . .”

I have done this with all six of my published books, but I’m still using my original publisher.  The amount of feedback I have received has been is essentially zero.  It should be said, however, that there is a skill in approaching an agent, as I have learned from reading the 2015 Guide to  Literary Agents.  A considerable amount of effort is required to produce a winning proposal.

Ms Warner poses another question at the close of her blog: “How do I know if I’m done?”  Her point is that if you’re a serious writer, you’re never done.  You keep on learning and writing with greater skill.  I agree completely.

I think I would be inclined to add a fourth item: Read and Write Book Reviews.  I find that reading good quality, recommended books, exposes me to the diverse techniques and skills of other authors.  And when I require myself to write a review of the book, I force myself to identify what I admired about the writing and what I felt didn’t work.

Review: Remains of the Day

This ‘modern classic’ was first published in 1989, and won the Booker Prize that year. While I had heard of the novel, I had never read it; I was further motivated to read it as a Booker Prize winner and by the author being a Japanese writer I didn’t know.

Kazou Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki, Japan in 1954 and moved to the UK at the age of five. He has written six novels, all of which have won prizes or received major recognition. He currently lives in London with his wife and daughter.


Kazou Ishiguro

The novel is told in the first person by Stevens, who was the butler in Darlington Hall, which was the residence of Lord Darlington in the 1930’s. Darlington Hall was a grand place, with many servants, Stevens having overall responsibility. Lord Darlington was a man of considerable wealth and influence, both socially and politically. He died after the war, and Darlington Hall was sold to an American, Mr Faraday, who has downsized both the staff and the use of the Hall.

Much of the book is Stevens’ recollections of events that took place when his lordship was in residence, and we learn that Stevens is preoccupied with the extent to which he was (like his father) a top butler. Stevens comes to define a top butler as a true professional who carries great dignity to his profession. The descriptions of relationships (and dialogue) among staff and with the lord of the manor are brilliant: they convey clearly the culture of the English aristocracy in the 20’s and 30’s.

Mr Faraday plans to be in the States for an extended period, and he suggests to Stevens that he take the motorcar on a sightseeing trip. Stevens accepts his offer and coincidently decides to call on a Miss Kenton who was the one who supervised all the housemaids at Darlington Hall. Miss Kenton left the Hall years ago, and has married. Now, Stevens wonders whether he can persuade her to return to the Hall, as there are hints that her marriage is in difficulty. The working relationship between Stevens and Kenton was very formal, but one cannot help but wonder if there is an unacknowledged attraction between them.   In the last chapter, they meet again, and the message of the novel is revealed: Stevens muses: “After all, what can we ever gain forever looking back and blaming ourselves if our lives have not turned out quite as we might have wished?”

The novel moves at a very leisurely pace, with very little action. Major events are recounted by Stevens factually and without emotion. The characters, the setting and the story-telling all completely support that retrospective, self-doubting theme. In spite of Stevens’ wordiness, his character shines through in a way that he is able to maintain the reader’s attention.

If one is looking for tale with plenty of action and excitement, The Remains of the Day would not be a good choice. But if one would like to curl up with a superbly-written story, immersed in history, and long-forgotten characters, a story that succeeds admirably in making its point, then Remains is for you.

As a sort of aside, I would add that the criteria for winning the Booker Prize may have shifted over the last twenty-five years. It’s hard to imagine that a novel with little overt physical or emotional action could win, given the level of current competition.

Review: H is for Hawk

Having read Henry Marsh’s Do No Harm, which was shortlisted for the Costa Book of the Year Award, I have now read H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald which won the top prize.


H is for Hawk tells the experiences of Helen Macdonald, a writer, illustrator, historian and lecturer at Cambridge University in training a wild hawk. Macdonald had some advantages in this task: she was fascinated by falconry and hawks as a child, and she had experience of hunting with hawks, but she had never trained a wild hawk to hunt. There was a major disadvantage: her much-loved father, a renowned photographer, had just died suddenly when she acquired the hawk for £800 from a breeder in Northern Ireland. Much of the book deals with the intense commitment and frustrations which the falconer must endure over the lengthy process of winning the trust of a wild predatory animal so that it works together with the falconer in killing wild game. The goshawk in the book has personality: feral, proud and beautiful, unpredictable, iconic. One learns, incidentally, that Macdonald is a scholar, an intelligent and sensitive person, but the author also exposes her vulnerabilities: in particular, her crippling grief over the loss of her father. In parallel with the story of Macdonald’s goshawk, she tells the story of T H White, now deceased, a dedicated, but somewhat eccentric falconer and the author of The Goshawk. We learn of his mistakes and his anguish as he tries to train a goshawk. So this book operates at several levels: a present, objective account of the training of a wild hawk; there is a past, reported account of the training of a different hawk; there are psychological explorations of both the author and her role model, T H White. This may sound rather complex, and, in a way, it is, but Macdonald weaves it all together beautifully so that it is quite natural.

The writing, in style and language is exquisite. In particular, the descriptions of natural settings and the behaviour of the hawk are breath-taking. For example: “. . . she (the hawk) sees something through the trees, out there on the other side of the hedge. Her pupils grow wide. She snakes her neck and flattens her crown, and the tiny grey hair-feathers around her beak and eyes crinkle into a frown that I’ve learned means there’s something there.” And: “The fields are shorn, yellowed into stalky, rabbit-grazed sward spotted with foraging rooks.”

H is for Hawk is clearly a major labour of love. This love and its result: a durable classic about nature, surely merited the Costa Award.

As a child, I was very interested in falconry; I read everything I could lay my hands on the subject – even flirting with the idea of obtaining a hawk. For me, H is for Hawk has a special resonance, but I suspect that some potential readers may be put off by a book on falconry. For those potential readers, I would say, “This isn’t just a book about falconry. It’s a book about nature, the human condition, grief, joy, life and death.”

Review: Do No Harm

My wife recommended this book to me.  It was written by a neurosurgeon, Henry Marsh, to whom she was referred with back pain.  We both met him in his outpatient clinic, and he impressed us – partly because he said that no surgery would be required.  When Mr Marsh’s book was published and was shortlisted for a 2014 Costa Award, my wife naturally wanted to read it.


Henry Marsh

The book is subtitled “Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery”, and I found it to be a very engaging read.  The subject matter: brain surgery is quite mysterious, but Mr Marsh explains procedures so that the main points are quite understandable without being technically obscure.  His writing flows pleasantly, and sincerely; one never feels that he is the least bit condescending.  In fact, he lays bare the mistakes he has made in surgery, and reveals the anguish he has felt.  Successful, life-saving procedures are dealt with matter-of-factly.  With twenty-five chapters, each dealing with a different condition, one feels well-exposed to brain surgery.  Mr Marsh tells the reader of his development from nursing aide to med school, through the doctors’ hierarchy to consultant, and includes vignettes of the teaching of junior doctors.  The book is not from a doctor’s perspective only; he reveals the thinking and the feelings of patients, too.  The hospital setting is covered: nurses are caring but over-worked; managers are bureaucratic, unsympathetic and stubborn.  Stories from his voluntary practice in Ukraine are included, as well, and these provide a strong contrast to the state of the art and the clinical and management culture in the UK.

One can’t help but feel, as one reads the book: Why in the world would anyone want to be a neurosurgeon, given the complex opportunities for failure?  Mr Marsh doesn’t answer this question directly, but I think his view would be that the euphoria that one can feel from saving a life or advancing the technology more than offsets the anguish one feels from a mistake that leaves a patient paralysed.  Given, therefore, that a neurosurgeon has control over the life and death of his (or her) patients, Isn’t it tempting for a neurosurgeon to feel like a god?  Again, Mr Marsh does not answer directly.  He seems to say that any pretence at being a god is destroyed in the humility of the learning process.

Do No Harm was one of five books shortlisted in the biography category of a Costa Book Award in 2014.  The winning book was H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald about  her struggle to train a goshawk.  On the face of it, one would think that Marsh’s book would have a leg up: after all, a book about the ramifications of life-saving surgery sounds more important than the difficulty of training a very wild animal.  Perhaps a clue can be found in what the Costa judges said about H is for Hawk: “A unique and beautiful book with a searing emotional honesty, and descriptive language that is unparalleled in modern literature.”  I haven’t read H is for Hawk, but what I think the judges are saying is that Helen Macdonald’s writing is what won the prize for her.  Still, I would recommend putting Do No Harm at the top of your reading list.

Review: Sable Shadow and The Presence

Readers Favorite has awarded Sable Shadow and The Presence Five Stars:


Their review of the novel is as follows:

Author: William Peace

Genre: Fiction –

General   Appearance: Cover, Construction, Chapter Headings, Illustrations, Table of Contents 5

The appearance of a book makes a dramatic difference in the experience of the reader. Appearance includes everything from an enticing cover and intriguing table of contents, to interesting chapter headings and eye-catching illustrations. This book excelled in all of these areas.

Plot: Concept, Characters, Originality 5

The characters of a book should be well defined, and while they do not have to be likable, the reader does have to be able to form a connection with them. The theme should be consistent and the plot should be original or told from a unique perspective. All of these elements are exceptionally well done in this book.

Development: Description, Dialogue, Creativity, Organization, Length, Fluidity, Coherence 5

Besides the plot, the development of a book is the most critical. The dialogue should be realistic, the descriptions should be vivid, and the material should be concise and flow smoothly. The development of this book is very well done.

Formatting: Editing, Proofreading, Layout 4

Editing and proofreading is where most authors fail. An author should have more than one person proofread their book. The best plot will fail if the reader has to stumble through misspelled words, misused words, bad punctuation, and poor grammar. This book needs a bit of editing.

Marketability: Theme, Subject Matter, Size of Target Audience 5

Marketability refers to how well your book can be marketed and sold. The larger the target audience a book has, the greater the value it will have to publishers and retailers. Although this element is not indicative of the quality of a book, it is important to the success of a book. This book has a wide appeal and can be marketed to many types of readers.

Overall Opinion: Overall Starred Rating 5

This rating takes into account all previous elements and the reader’s overall opinion of the book. This is an excellent, very well written book.

Review: Reviewed by Mamta Madhavan for Readers’ Favorite
Sable Shadow & The Presence by William Peace is the the fictional autobiography of Henry Lawson who hears two voices from his childhood. These two voices represent good and evil and, like any of us, Henry also hears them while making decisions. The story takes us through Henry’s childhood to his college days, to his relationships, to his marriage and his business. Henry suffers a series of tragedies at the peak of his career which sees him attempting suicide. He recovers from that dark phase with the help of his wife and a psychiatrist. It is a story of triumph, tragedy, good, and evil.
The book has many interesting twists and turns in the plot. The author’s fascination for existentialism is revealed through Henry Lawson’s interest in the writings of Jean-Paul Sartre. That contributes a lot of wisdom in the discussions that occur in the story. The characters are well developed and they help in making the plot strong and powerful. There are some thought provoking details on good and evil which give readers an opportunity to think more about their individual beliefs and ideas. I found the representation of the good and the bad voices very practical and relatable. Readers can connect to that very easily.
The character of Henry Lawson has many shades which make him an interesting person. The author has captured well the triumph, tragedy, good, evil, sorrows, and happiness of human life that are palpable
good, evil, sorrows, and happiness of human life that are palpable while reading the book.

Recent Award

Sable Shadow and The Presence just received its sixth literary award: Reader’s Choice Awards 2014: Honourable Mention, Memoir/ Autobiography/Biography.  I am grateful for the recognition, but I’m not sure Sable Shadow and The Presence fits into the Memoir/Autobiography/Biography category.  As fiction, it isn’t an autobiography, and while my dictionary doesn’t say so, I think that, in common usage, the subject of a memoir or biography is a real person, living or dead.  Any way, thank you, Reader’s Choice.

Four of the awards were presented in Hollywood on the 22nd of March.  If Hollywood were a bit less than a 10 hour flight away, I might have gone to receive the awards.  I tried to call on family members in the vicinity of Hollywood to attend on my behalf, without success.  If someone had been able to attend for me, and if they wanted to know what to say in the way of an acceptance speech, I would have given them the gist of my acceptance at the London Book Festival (fifth award – runner-up – general fiction), which was:

When I started to write Sable Shadow and The Presence, I had in mind writing it in the first person (as a fictional autobiography) – something I had never done before.  I also wanted the story to be about a person, who, as a child, hears voices that he eventually attributes to representatives of God and the devil.  I wrote about four chapters and sent them to a friend of mine who is very well educated, a reader of quality literature and quite direct in his views on matters of interest.  He sent me an email a couple of weeks later in which he said: “Boring!”

I had to admit that I saw his point, and I, too, was struggling with the book.  I put it aside, and I wrote The Iranian Scorpion.  But, I still felt that, hidden in the basic idea, was a good book.  By the time The Iranian Scorpion was finished, I had some new ideas to add to the abandoned manuscript.  I wanted to say some things about existentialism, human identity, tragedy, religion and relationships.  So, I developed a new outline, re-wrote the first four chapters and finished the novel.  It was edited and published.  I decided to give the printer’s proof copy to my friend Peter, who had thought that my aborted attempt was ‘Boring!”‘.  About three days later, I got an email from him in which he said: “Congratulations Bill!  An outstanding achievement!  I couldn’t put it down, meals no meals, I swallowed the book in two days. Your prose has become self assured. you dominate it, rather  than being dominated by it.  The research, as ever is superb, and also completely open to being understood by the layman. . . . You have certainly managed to recreate  life as it is lived – even to the pertinent introduction of the meta-physical element – though a bit wobbly in spots, it stands solid, protected by Sartre. . . . I like it and feel close to it – I guess that’s one of the reasons why I think it such a  remarkable creation.  Your progressive development of style, skills and plot makes my mouth water for the goodies to come.Thank you from me, but really from all your readers.”

In London, I said I wanted to thank Peter for his two critiques, but, in particular, for the first critique.  And I thanked the London Book Festival for their selection.