Book groups and their scrutiny

I was compiling my kids’ school’s PTA newsletter this morning including an item on a local author and friend’s novel being the chosen work for this month’s parent book club.*

My first response was envy given that book clubs are such a great way of selling lots of copies of your book. Why wasn’t mine chosen, stalwart parent that I am? Then of course this was followed by relief, since the idea of people I see everyday in the playground discussing my book, possibly critically, fills me with horror. Not to mention, all the borderline pervy sex scenes that I am compelled to write.

This got me thinking about being a writer and the whole issue of your work being under scrutiny in a book club type setting. My books aren’t obvious book club candidates, I think, but other writers must have this all the time. My friend Ali Knight discovered that a woman she knew had discussed hers, Wink Murder, with a very positive response, but it didn’t stop her dying inside as she was being casually told of her status at a party. I have offered myself out to any book clubs that wish for an author to join them in conversation about The Pile, but as yet haven’t been taken up on this. I can see it’s a situation ripe for embarrassment and humiliation, although I suspect that most book group members would be far too polite and diplomatic to exploit fully this avenue.

Years ago, I remember reading Jenny Colgan recounting how her first novel was discussed by an office-based book group that she’d been a member of. I’ve managed to find it on the Guardian’s website (written in 2002):

‘When I finally wrote a book and left the office they reviewed my book in the book club. I was not invited. “How was it?” I asked my mole on the inside afterwards. “Bloody,” he said. “Utter carnage. Let us never ever speak of it.”’

I suspect I’m too fearful of such a reaction to ever actively encourage the myriad book group members I know to pick up any of mine. I’d love to hear from anyone who has discussed though (with the caveat that they must be utterly polite and sensitive to my delicate feelings).


*Ah the joy of the inner London primary school, where the nativity play is filmed by BAFTA awarding winning director and published writers do the PTA newsletter. But this is nothing in comparison to a recent art project at the school which was overseen by a dad, better known as a Chapman brother.

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