Each and every one of us is an armchair critic. We can’t help it. It’s part of human nature. We are all insanely competitive whether we like it or not. It’s the reason we feel a compulsion to grade strangers farts, to use names rather than descriptions and to lie constantly to people who demand that we tell the truth. The truth is that we need our own opinions to comfort us, yet from time to time we are willing to sacrifice them for some other perceived greater good. Which is why publishing something is a form of psychopathic masochism.
Perhaps I will start with a picture. Imagine a county long jump competition. A young boy takes his run up, speeds down the runaway and leaps with all his might. And lands considerably shorter than the rest of the competition. He is conscious of the fact and looks around towards his mother for confirmation. She smiles and says ‘well done’. And yet he knows it’s not. He knows that despite the fact he gave his best, it wasn’t anywhere close to good enough. Yet his mother’s lies are enough to cast doubt in his mind. This snapshot, this moment, could be the moment that ruins the rest of his life. It could be the exact second when he discovers that finishing last is acceptable. Or perhaps that his efforts are futile so it doesn’t matter if he tries. Or maybe he realises exactly then that he is shit. That he can’t win.
The reason I mentioned the previous image is to highlight that life is a constant stream of momentary perceptions. When I first published my book, I was amazed that I sold one copy. The idea that someone, somewhere was reading my book was a thing of beauty, a source of amazement. After sometime reviews began to appear in different places. To start I was terrified each time I found a new one. It was as if deep down I felt as if I was a fraud, and that eventually someone would notice that and I would receive a 1 star which would outline exactly why I am a shit writer. A year and a half later and that 1 star hasn’t appeared. I still struggle not to overanalyze every single review. I still find criticism where there is none, and I probably always will. And yet the reviews still roll in, in batches of 4 stars and 5 stars. From time to time, when I am feeling low, I read the reviews again. And I pinch myself, and can’t help but wonder whose book they are really talking about.
In the beginning I was sure it was just friends being friends. Only saying nice things because they were duty bound. Now I have read reviews from a considerable number of strangers and have been blown away by their kindness. I suspect it’s something like what a doting parent feels. This thing, that grew from within me, has now left me and made a number of people happy. I’ve come to realise that how I feel no longer matters. The most important thing is how people feel about Professor Henry Tomlinson. I no longer feel anxious or scared when I read people’s reviews. I only miss Henry Tomlinson.