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Wednesday, 19 November 2014

The Little Writer Who Cried "Troll" and other stories

Newsflash: Not All Negative Reviews Are The Work of Trolls

In the good old days, trolls lived under bridges, and were presumably illiterate, and ate people but were easily fooled by little gruff billy goats. Or, they had amazing hairstyles and jewels about their person, and were popular with children. Nowadays, they seem to lurk anonymously on internet forums and upset people.

Check out the Wiki definitions here and here

Sometimes, it's very obvious when someone is trolling you or an article or whatever. Sometimes they are just plain abusive, or just have a negative opinion they need for whatever reason to get off their chest, or a compulsive need to argue with someone for the sake of it. Threats and abusive language - that's all trolling, and that's not cool. They usually post short comments like, "You're all so stupid, I'm laughing at you all right now" and generally baiting people. Some people are unintentional trolls, of course, and they are sometimes just as bad.

However, in the world of beta-readers, readers and those who comment on your work, "trolling" can be more problematic. When a writer is new, before they have toughened their skin into a full-blown exo-skeleton, it's very easy to hide behind the concept of trolling and cry "troll" at every opportunity when someone says something about your work that you don't like.

They may not like it for actual reasons of their own but don't have the ability or the vocabulary to express themselves and say why they don't like it. Someone who gets a bad review and then says "I was trolled" needs a few more bad reviews, clearly, because they need to get used to people not liking their work. People who get a bad review, feel sorry for themselves, then shake it off and learn from it, are the ones who get better at what they do. 

But the trouble with trolling is, because it's a genuine problem, people use it as an excuse. They salve their egos with that soothing thought, they didn't like it, because they are a troll.

The truth is, you will always find someone who hates what you've written, someone who gets bored of it, someone who doesn't get it, someone who just doesn't care, and someone who likes it fine but not enough to continue beyond a certain point. You'll also find people who really like it, people who love it, and people who even fangrrrrrrl over it. The danger is to be so caught up in chasing the positive reactions that you can't handle the negative ones. And so, your fragile ego wrapped in the cotton wool and candyfloss of "OMG! You're SUCH a great writer!!" and "This is the best thing I've ever read", knowing they are genuine comments from genuine fans, cannot handle the "this sucks", or the "I thought this was pretty unimaginative", or the "what the fuck is this shit" when it comes along.

Now, I get why trolling is (rightly) discouraged. But there's a massive difference between writing a one-off comment like the above, and coming back again and again to write the same comment in different ways with increasing levels of nastiness and frustration. There's a big difference between thinking, this person won't leave me the hell alone, it's really creeping me out and upsetting me, and thinking, ouch, a single negative remark with no feedback! That really hurt my feelings! But it's ok, I'll be ok, I will get through this, because I can call TROLL! TROLL! TROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOLL!

No one says TROLL when someone says "good writing", or "I like this". It's just as vague and unhelpful as "this sucks" or "I didn't like this." The only difference, then, is the opinion conveyed in the vague few words.

People who have something negative to say are also entitled to their opinion, and they should be allowed to say it without having you retaliate or jump down their throats. They don't owe you anything. They don't have to automatically like your work just because they picked it up and thumbed through it, or downloaded it onto an app on their device. And if people who have something nice to say are allowed to say it in erudite, dumb, grammatically perfect, grammatically disastrous, or just good old vague ways, so too should people who didn't like it be allowed to express themselves in the same ways. Don't accept positive comments if you don't want to accept negative ones: they are two sides of the same coin. Or rather, they are the same side of the coin, because (to stretch this metaphor to breaking point) the other side of the coin is not writing for the public at all.

If I have a sweary negative comment that's a one-off, I ignore it, and if it's been flagged as "offensive" and therefore is in a queue to be reviewed by the powers-that-be, I'll un-flag it. I have, in fact, done just that. And why? Because they have the right to use the words "shit" and "crap" if they want to, if that's what they think. That's fine. I allow people to use the same sort of emphatic language in positive comments, so why shouldn't people who don't like it not be allowed to swear? "What the fuck is this shit, it sucks, " is NOT REALLY trolling. "Hey, bitch, what the fuck is this shit? You suck" IS trolling. The difference is that the first instance is a rhetorical question, and the gut reaction someone had to reading my work and just not liking it. The second is directed at me as a person, and uses personal, intrusive and abusive language. The first is directed at the writing, which is fine - the writing can't hear, or feel, or be upset. It's a product, and the question of whether it's good or bad is entirely subjective. Feeling upset on behalf of your writing does not make the negative comment any less valid, I'm afraid. The second version, however, is personal, attacking the person behind the writing, and that's the key difference. A person can feel, and be upset. And that's the intention behind the comment.

I have had to report this sort of abusive language, which is a totally different thing. I once had a really random string of comments that were sent to me privately by an individual who had found my author page and worked themselves up into a frenzy, accusing me of hacking their account at one point when their Facebook glitched (!! this wasn't even on my Facebook author page, it was a different, unrelated site) and calling me a "bitch" repeatedly and demanding to know what I had done and "who the fuck" I REALLY was. *X-Files theme plays* I managed to calm them down, and then reported the incident, as I was quite concerned about their mental health. They even thanked me for taking the time to sort out their technical problem in the end, which was a little bizarre. The whole thing had started with them observing that my work was disturbing and that since I had a PhD in "science" (I don't, it's in history) I should do something better with it than meddle with the occult (I think they thought my dark fantasy series was somehow real). I'm not sure that counts as a troll - I think they genuinely believed they were being helpful, and clearly had some problems.

Then I see writers throwing little hissy fits over bad reviews which make some valid points, but some points which are just clearly personal preference, and slamming the TROLL label on without taking anything on board, even if it's a genuine review. I've seen that happen - and sadly, it takes those writers a lot longer to hone their craft than it would do if they just accepted they are not freaking Tolstoy. And this, ladies and gents, is the trouble with crying troll.

Saturday, 15 November 2014


So, I'm writing. I've got several projects on the go at the moment: two main ones, and one I'm turning over and over in my head.

First, I have my ongoing WiP, THE CROWS. 

THE CROWS is about murder, identity, and the fleech's art of getting by. [Don't know what a fleech is? See Chapter 1]. It's about the paranormal, the wyrd, and the eldritch happening in a seaside town to a woman getting over a break-up, a redundancy, and losing her flat. It involves a crumbling renovation project, a mysterious local society, and relationships.

Then I have my new WiP, THE BOOK OF DEATH.

THE BOOK OF DEATH is the fourth in the Faustine Chronicles series, and I've blogged a lot about the difficulties of writing that as an ongoing family saga. BoD is set seven hundred years after the end of the third book, THE BOOK OF CHANCE. The whole saga has been following the Celtic Hero Cycle, from the conception of the hero (BOOK OF FATE), the childhood of the hero (BOOK OF TIME) and acts of the hero as a young man (BOOK OF CHANCE). The last one in the cycle should be the death of the hero, but that's not really how I see BoD ending. So perhaps there will be another. But I don't know about that!

Both are giving me problems, for different reasons.

THE CROWS - because I am experimenting with narrative, and ways to split the narration to generate suspense and at the same time create a sense of realism. I want to swap between three scenes in one chapter, and see how that works. I want to offset a mundane or "normal" activity - like a date at a restaurant - with two other pairs of characters, each involved in more sinister actions, building to an overlapping climax. Troublesome, n'est-ce pas?!

BOOK OF DEATH - because 700 years have passed, and, due to a temporal accident, no one can ever go back. Yury, the hero, is stuck in the Underworld and when he comes back, nothing is the same. His immortal family have developed, moved on, lived their lives without him, and he barely recognizes them, or the new world into which he re-emerges. It's psychologically challenging, and it's also a real test of my world-building skills. The problems involve the dynamics of the family, whom the readers are very familiar with, changing in realistic and drastic ways, and the world they knew in the previous three books being almost completely reconstructed. Just as Yury is thrust into a world that doesn't make sense to him, and a family he struggles to accept despite their willingness to accept him, so to is the reader, but before the reader and even before Yury, so am I. And I'm finding it just as bewildering. This one may take a while.

My next idea: Haunted Forests of the Mind

A few things have really struck me. They have no place in the WiPs I've already got going on, but there are elements swirling around which don't marry up with each other either. I've been fascinated by two "real-life" stories - Hoia Baciu forest in Romania, and the disturbing tale of Lerina Garcia. Are there sensible scientific explanations for these things? Personally I believe so, but I really don't care. I don't care, because the stories are fascinating.

Hoia Baciu forest near Cluj is allegedly haunted, contains portals to other worlds, has balls of unexplained light floating around in it that apparently transmit diseases "if they enter your aura", and is generally absolutely terrifying. It has been a prime location for paranormal investigative shows like Destination Truth, which made for some pretty compulsive viewing.

Here are some links, including the alien theories:

1. It Was Aliens, Dude!
2. Official Website for Hoia Baciu, the World's Most Haunted Forest
3. Wikipedia Never Lies
4. It's Number 1 in the Top 7 Most Haunted Forests...

The story of Lerina Garcia is also weird and disturbing. Basically, one morning she woke up and found everything was slightly different, and not how she remembered it from the previous night (or indeed the previous few years of her life). It sounds a bit like a psychological condition where you suddenly don't recognise your loved ones, or think they've been replaced with imposters: but in this case, it's her whole life.

A version of her story is here on Redux.


What if a woman wakes up to find herself in a different place, with little things not the way they should be? What if she has to adjust to a new life in the wrong dimension, her office in a different part of the same building, her friends not quite the same, and the sum of all the little differences adding up to a new identity - or madness? And what if, in all of the unexplained confusion of it all, she dreams of a forest... a forest that might take her back there, or might take her anywhere.

It's kind of a suicide metaphor, I guess: finding out what it would take for her to risk everything by finding and ultimately entering the forest. Or maybe not that bleak - maybe it's a metaphor for self-discovery and the bravery to pursue the path of who you really are. Or about embracing the unknown and risking change. I don't know what it's about yet.

I don't know how to write it yet.

If someone reads this post and writes it before me, I'd be very interested in seeing how it turns out.

In the meantime... au revoir! I shall be getting back to it. If you're interested in my work, come find me on wattpad - CelticRose account for the Faustine Chronicles, CelticMedusa account for The Crows - or on Facebook, or on Twitter.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

I Have Returned -!


Sorry to have been away for so long. In the meantime, I passed my Viva and now have a PhD in Medieval History: hence radio silence while I completed the thesis and prepared. 

I now have until January 7th to resubmit the thesis with all the corrections (minor) agreed upon in the Viva. 

In other news, I have finished the third book of my dark fantasy series which can be read for free at the moment in its rough, unedited state, so if you would like to beta-read it for me (or just enjoy it before I get on with butchering it later) then feel free to check out THE BOOK OF CHANCE.

In OTHER other news, a short story of mine is in a charity anthology being published by PSG Publishing.  The anthology is called CHAMBER OF MUSIC, and my story is "The Snake Charmer's Pipe". Anyone who has read BOOK OF TIME may recognize one of the characters... it's a stand-alone spin-off of the Faustine Chronicles, so I hope it meets the approval of Faustine Chronicle fans!

Watch this space for more!