She always found some words of encouragement, was never in the cheap seats throwing rotten veg. I’d know if she genuinely loved it or not but, even if not, she’d leave me feeling good about myself in general and the piece of writing in particular. She gave me enough of a tailwind so that I could launch myself back into the project anew.
When we were writing Farewell Trip, we were, of course, each other’s first readers, but also felt we needed some first readers from amongst our friends. One of these hit the brief perfectly. Another three gave woolly encouragement, which was fine. And one woman wrote back “I can’t imagine why anyone would ever want to read something like this.” I like to think we took it like grown-ups, although it’s also true to say that Karin never spoke to her again.
For us, the role of the first reader was to reassure us that the work was not a pile of poo. That indeed it was brilliant and, with the odd tweak, was a racing certainty for the Booker. Once our loins had been girded by such friendly validation we would be strong enough to give the work to a ‘second reader’ – an editor probably – who would point out that, no, we were right all along, it really is a pile of poo.
Us non-league writers probably need a phalanx of kindly first readers, long before we can bear the savaging of a second reader. What mustn’t happen is for the readers to become mixed-up – in this instance that a first reader should act like a second reader. What we mustn’t have is a first reader coming on all Craig Revel Horwood when we what we need is some of Bruno Tonioli’s hot-loving.
Which brings me to my latest novel, or pile of poo, as we might as well have it. For I sent it out to a few old friends for first reader comments and the first, first reader has responded. The book is loosely - sort of - about bankers, and other voices, and set in London 2015. The first reader, let’s call him John, wrote to say that basically I
a) hadn’t got the bankers right
b) hadn’t got the other voices right
c) hadn’t got London right.
So, that’s alright then.
There’s a scene in Quadrophenia where Phil Daniels is at his lowest ebb, and has a road traffic accident where a postal van runs over his Lambretta. He sits in the road, effing and blinding in anger, cradles his bike in his arms, and whines “You’ve killed me scooter.”
If any of you ever get the chance to be a first reader, here’s what I’d say – watch out for the scooter.