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Letter From A Reader

"I read your Charlie Fox series and hated it."

SUNDAY, JUNE 13, 2021

Last weekend, I received an email from a reader who said she had read my Charlie Fox series and hated it.

When I read that opening line, my heart did one of those strange little lurches in my chest.

After all, you accept, when you write fiction, that your work is not going to please or suit everybody who gives it a try. That aspect makes it a lot harder than writing non-fiction, which is where I first started out. Non-fiction is a retelling of someone else’s story and doing your best to make it as cohesive, dramatic, interesting, and accurate as possible.

But when what goes onto the page is entirely made up from your imagination, there are plenty of opportunities for people to find it lacking. And, with the anonymity of the internet, most of those who don’t like what you do will have no problem saying so!

Also, Charlie Fox is not—and never has been—a conventional heroine. (I rather like the term SHEro, actually.) If I had to sum her up in a sentence, I suppose I could say that she’s a prime example of ‘that which doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.’

Ex-British Army, ex-Special Forces trainee, thrown out of her career before it really began, she starts off the series teaching self-defence classes in a northern English city. She doesn’t go looking for trouble, but trouble has a habit of finding her anyway. And when the former SAS sergeant who trained her turns up again in her life, she’s set on a course into the world of close-protection. It’s a good use of Charlie Fox’s capacity for violence—an aspect of her character that I’ve been exploring throughout the series.

So, as I said, you’re not going to please all the people, all the time. Although, I have to say that just about all the people who take the trouble to get in touch with me, do so because they’ve enjoyed the series. And when this particular reader seemed to be taking a different approach, I did the proverbial girding of loins to read the rest:

‘I hated all thirteen of [the books] (and the short stories), I hated how they made me feel things, made me cry and ruminate for days and wake up in the middle of the night feeling heartbroken for Charlie Fox (and myself).

‘Hate how the story still lingers with me as I contemplate Charlie’s future, will she ever have someone she can fully trust? Will Sean ever come back into her life or is he gone forever? (Is that a good thing or a bad thing?)

‘And finally, I can’t stop thinking about what a happy ending (not that you do happy) would look like for Charlie that wouldn’t cheapen her experiences and take away from her being a strong, kick-arse woman.

‘You have ruined me for all other books that come after and I wish you the worse of life filled with accolades and awards, don’t you dare write anymore books on Charlie Fox, I don’t think my heart could take it. 

‘Thank you

‘P.S. in case my sarcasm didn’t translate well, I love your books and am desperate for more.’

Sometimes, something arrives, out of the blue, and changes the way you look at what you do, how you feel about it. I’ve always said that I take my work seriously, but myself not at all seriously. To receive something like this is, honestly, rather humbling.

It makes all that agonising—over a scene or chapter that just won’t come out quite as I envisaged it—all rather worthwhile.

It makes me feel incredibly privileged, to be able to do what I do, and gain satisfaction from it—never mind the small matter of also making a living by the written word. And when I learn that other people get enough enjoyment out of reading that made-up stuff from my imagination, so that they’re inspired to write such a letter to the author, well, that’s just the icing on the cake.

This week’s Word of the Week is chthonian, an adjective meaning of the underworld of the dead, its spirits or gods. From a Latinised version of the Greek khthonios, meaning of the earth, in or under the ground, from khthon, the surface of the earth.