I can’t put an exact date on it, but I do remember I woke up one morning and realized with horror that I was never going to win Wimbledon. To add to my misery, I also understood that I would never win the downhill slalom at the winter Olympics, (that might have something to do with the fact I have never learned to ski). Nor was I going to come top at the world chess championships, or a maths Olympiad, speed past the finish line in the Comrades Marathon or a whole lot of other stuff come to that.

And how old was I when I had this breathtaking revelation? Approximately age 25. I had not started training for any of these things the moment I left the womb. So, what was left? Well nothing earth shattering that was for sure. I was not destined to become famous and have the general public fawning over me and racing to the bookstall to read the articles on how I decorated my bathroom.

Most of us come to this conclusion at some time or another, often leading to mild depression as the years fly past. There is one exception of course, for everyone who attended school, we can pick up a pencil and write yes? Well, maybe.

I learned never to tell people outside the media circles what I did for a living. I’d pretend to have another job, something exciting and conversational like mortician beautician or abattoir cleaner. Why? Because at social occasions some aspiring writer would back me into a corner with the fatal words “I’ve always wanted to write a book. They say there is a book in all of us!” Then followed a long, often garbled description of the book they had in mind. Forget log lines, forget back cover blurb, this was the complete description page by page by page.

On one fatal occasion I invited one aspiring screen writer to come round so he could discuss his screenplay. I might be able to get him ‘in’ to the South African Broadcasting Corporation Drama Department.

Two hours later, after explaining the 3 lines of dialogue at the beginning and the next hour and a half of his play which  consisted of a chase scene in a deserted factory/warehouse, dodging pipes and leaping off walkways, I wished I had never encouraged him.

I was truly lost for words. When I eventually made some noncommittal noises, he suggested it could be adapted for radio.

Shame, he was a really nice guy, and I always like to help whenever I can, but this time … My only option was to be honest.

Which brings me back to honest reviews. If someone has hiked the long, hard, and often lonely road to publishing a book, then they are serious about what they are doing. But while I could stand with a racquet on Centre Court at Wimbledon facing Roger Federer I might have a pretty good idea I was not going to win the match. I’d be very lucky not to get knocked out after the first serve. And I mean this literally, I’d never get out of the way of the ball in time, I wouldn’t see it coming and I’d be nibbling the grass and getting chalk-line dust up my nose.

Very few of us, myself included, will not make the big time. We might sell a few books, we might get a few reviews, but we could strive for fame and fortune for decades and make ourselves thoroughly miserable every time we call up our sales figures.

Being realistic about our talents is all part of the game. That is one good reason for giving an honest review – or messaging the author, not to damn them but to help if we – as  a reader, not an author – have suggestions that will improve the book and assist in helping it up the sales ladder. But there is always Pandora’s box isn’t there? With hope left in the bottom when everything else escaped.

Those in the first English Civil War got very good at climbing ladders. You have to do that when you want to get into castles and some uncooperative peasant on the other side won’t open the doors to let you in.

ladders soldiers

The brilliant royalists fought very bravely, with their long, wavy hair flying out from under their helmets and wearing their gay, brightly-coloured frilly clothes and silk stockings, they went all out to win.


But the tide turned and because the Roundheads did not mind getting their boring clothes dirty and covered in mud, they were finally victorious. Which was a terrible shame and should never have been allowed to happen. (not that I am biased of course).


When Charles I was defeated he was brought before the Rump Parliament, so called because they had been sitting for a very, very, very long time and they now had sore behinds. The King was accused of plotting against himself, a form of very High Treason and so he was sentenced to death by having his head chopped off.

This was a total outrage. The day for execution drew near.  (to be continued). And I will explain the first and second civil war bit if I can find it by Friday.


  1. At a residential writers’ conference I asked the man next to me at breakfast what his book was about. He told me in great detail, and was still telling me when I had to excuse myself or I’d be late for the workshop I was attending. He’d obviously never heard of the elevator pitch!


  2. This is one side of being a writer they never warn you about Mary! When I’m working on a book I’m cagey about the story line, especially if I think it good. Why people want to tell you every last detail is quite beyond me.


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