Saturday, 24 July 2010

Bad To Me?

Nobody likes to read bad reviews of their books; if they tell you otherwise, they're lying. I've been fortunate so far with You Never Give Me Your Money, because there has only been one stinker - written by original Beatles biographer Hunter Davies, for the Mail On Sunday last autumn. If it was available online, I'd direct you to it - but it isn't, so suffice to say that Davies seemed to take issue not only with my book, but also with the very idea of writing a book about the break-up of the Beatles and beyond. (He also managed to bring my recently deceased father-in-law into his review, which I felt marked some sort of historic low-point in the saga of British tabloid journalism. The newspaper subsequently apologised for this remark.)

But criticism, no matter how hurtful at the time, can be highly instructive. It gives the writer the rare opportunity to be seen as others see you - great when they're informing you that you're a wonderful human being, not so much fun when they tell you some home truths. I recently read through the 13 reviews of Money on the US Amazon site, a couple of which pointed out minor errors in the book which I hadn't noticed before. (But yes, I did indeed manage, in two separate places, to describe Steve Holly as both Wings' guitarist and drummer. Clearly a multi-talented guy . . .)

Equally valuable for me was the chance to read other people's interpretations of which Beatle(s) I favoured in the narrative. My intention was to be as even-handed as possible, but during the course of writing the book, I felt saddest and sorriest for Paul McCartney - even while I was highlighting things that he might have done and said differently. One Amazon reviewer reckoned that I showed a definite bias towards George Harrison; another, in an unrestrained attack on the book, decided that I was nothing more than another author adopting the "brown nose" position towards John Lennon, without a good word to say for Paul. ("PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE don't buy this book!", his review ends.) And another felt that Ringo came out best, whereas I was concerned that, because he maintained the lowest profile for most of my narrative, Ringo tended only to appear in the story in negative terms. Nobody, however, thought that I showed any special sympathy for Paul - which just goes to prove that the book you're writing, and the book you THINK you're writing, can be two very different things. And also that all of us, from Hunter Davies to pseudonymous reviewers on Amazon, bring our own agendas to everything we read - and write.


  1. I'd be very curious to read Hunter Davies' take on the book, if only because his "definitive" work on the subject has been made slightly irrelevant in the 40+ years since more facts have come to light.

  2. If there's one thing that doesn't exist is real objectivity when you write about someone. I have always believed -and I still do- that's impossible. And I don't think that's a bad thing; you try to cover what you think about sb but somehow it shows up in the writing. And about the reviews, they're there for a reason: to reinforce what you already knew, to make you see new things, and to accept that what you do will be good for some people and bad for other. But I guess that you know all this and I'm just rambling.

    Anyway, the reason I'm signing here (I'm honest and I admit it) is because I have to write a profile article (I'm a Journalism student) and I want to do it about John Lennon. The article MUST include at least two interviews with people who have met the person or experts on the subject. Well, I was doing some research and your name came up a couple of times in several web pages. I saw your twitter account and you blog and I thought that maybe there was a way to contact you.
    I know that this is too much to ask but if you were willing to answer two questions about John that would be incredible, and it would make my article something special because I'm from Argentina and it would contain quotes of an important person.
    Here's my email in case you want to contact me ( and help me.

    Thanks in advance.
    Warm regards,