I’ve had a couple of really lovely reviews for The White Rajah recently. The latest was last Friday. Here it is:

It’s amazing how much difference something like that makes. I saw it late in the day and I was quite choked up. Believe me: most writers who say they don’t read their reviews are liars. Reviews matter in practical terms (Amazon reviews sell books) but they can also be a source of joy to writers. Heaven knows we don’t do it for the money! A kind word makes so much difference.

There was one fly in this particular ointment. Someone recently commented that they thought The White Rajah was far and away better than the James Burke books (which he also enjoyed) and wondered why the John Williamson series was not more popular. (It’s a view I’ve heard before.)

I think I agree with him that the short answer is that this kind of writing is deeply unfashionable. In fact, The White Rajah was agented way back when and rejected by several leading publishers on the grounds that it was “too difficult”. That was probably partly a comment on the language (it’s a first person account by a Victorian writer) and partly the subject matter. In any case, they recommended I try something more commercial and James Burke was the result, which all goes to show that publishers understand the market better than many authors give them credit for.

The logic of the publishers was that once I had established myself with something more popular I could ease my readership onto the slightly more challenging John Williamson stories. It never worked. To my delight, sales of James Burke are healthy (even healthier since I took them back from the publisher and published them independently). I am so grateful to the people who read them and support me in writing new ones. But, however much I try, I can’t persuade more than a handful to try the substantially better reviewed John Williamson trilogy.

It’s frustrating but I suppose it is what it is. Serious novels take more effort. Although my wife is always telling me how wonderful War and Peace is, I have never read it. Even Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu (which is a really lovely book) has seen me bogged down a third of the way through for years now. People don’t have long evenings with nothing better to do than apply themselves to a serious novel. I must just remember to be grateful to everyone who buys the Burke books (and my fantasy efforts). But if any of you would like to get your teeth into something more serious, it would be lovely if you could give The White Rajah a try. (And if you don’t want to commit to that there is a short story about John Williamson and the White Rajah in the recently published short-story collection, Tales of Empire.)

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