~ Hazel Harps On

A Penguin At Heart

It’s an emotional thing being a writer. We have to get right inside the characters we create, and we feel every knock, dilemma and disappointment that we put them through. The pain is unavoidable; with no pain there is no story. This is true even for an uplifting read – and uplifting reads seem to be my speciality. My characters really have to fight for that happy ending (I hope I’m not giving too much away here!)

Not only are we writers daily plunged into the turmoil of our characters; we’re also loaded with issues about the quality of our writing and readers’ reactions to it. We look at other writers with envy, wish we could do what they do, maybe achieve the recognition they have achieved. We are devastated when a reader doesn’t like what we’ve written. In this day and age when everything is ‘rated’ it’s all too easy to dwell on negative reviews. No matter how well you write there will always be readers who have a different sense of humour, who prefer something darker or lighter or more twisty or more cosy or more straightforward or more complex or more obvious or more subtle…

Here’s the wisest advice I’ve seen about dealing with this: Don’t try to please everyone. It’s impossible. Instead you need to ‘find your tribe,’ find the specific readers who will understand, love and relate to your writing.

Do you know, I’m beginning to do just that! Only I’m not going to call it a ‘tribe’, I’m going to call it a ‘penguin colony’.

Penguins have (rightly) taken centre stage in many of my blogs recently. I’ve said how much we need to emulate them in terms of their bravery and endurance. But during this long, lonely, locked-down January I’ve seen that they also illustrate our need for friends, family and community. Penguins are sociable creatures. They live in huge colonies and wouldn’t survive as loners.

Like the penguins, I’m trying to adapt to changing conditions. Social media has its failings but, when it works well, it is a friendly sharing of views and interests, good company and a mutual support system. It is also one of the bridges where writers and readers can meet. I joined Twitter many years ago, but over the summer I took the plunge and joined Instagram too. This was exasperating at first, especially when I discovered you can only post through a phone and my phone was too old to be compatible! Posting any photo involves first emailing it to my husband and then borrowing his phone and downloading it again. But I’m glad I persisted. I've found a new community here and connected with more book lovers, writers, readers, musicians and penguin fans. I even discovered that Away With The Penguins was picked for a wonderful online Book Club, Beth’s Book Club for their January read (my interview is here)

Zoom is another new element in my life. I haven’t fully exploited it before and I now realise how much it can offer. I’ve missed live music terribly over the past year so I’ve recently joined an online choir. I’ve got some Zoom author events lined up too, so that I can talk to readers and answer their questions. I’m scared… but glad!

You never know where these things will take you. I replied to a reader’s comment on Instagram last week and received an impromptu invitation to join in a Zoom book club meeting which was about to happen. The group were all set to discuss Away With The Penguins (USA edition = How The Penguins Saved Veronica). So I gate-crashed their club and was amazed to find I was speaking to readers in Scotland, New York, Saudi Arabia and Dubai! It was a lovely if brief insight into their own varied lives as well as a revelation about what readers are getting from my book. I was touched by many of the wise comments made by members of the group about the underlying messages and themes.

I spend a lot of my life grappling with words, trying to make them express something of the human condition through stories. The knowledge that readers all over the world are with me in my thinking, in my caring for my characters… well, it’s priceless.

Although I'm meeting very few people physically at the moment, it’s made me realise I am still a penguin at heart - still part of a huge, lively and fascinating colony.

(Penguin pictures from Pixabay)

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