Thursday, 1 October 2009

The 7 Gifts that came to earth, by John Mellor

Seven precious gifts bestowed on the Earth but not revealed
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
A young boy is charged with finding them

"One of those unique and wonderful manuscripts that come one's way all too rarely"

"A most unusual and beautiful story that lingers in the mind long after one has read it"
~ ~ Senior Editor at a major UK Publisher

The singer emerged, and his music raged across the land, a wild, swirling cloud of chords laying waste like locusts to all that was soulless before it ..

I come not to bring peace, he said

This story may be freely read on-line. But if you buy the book it will please my wife and impress my friends. Maybe yours too if you gift it to them. And you can read it in bed

For any freethinking, enquiring mind over 12
—John Mellor


I'm not a big fan of spiritual or inspirational fiction: I find it predictable, cheesy and often quite cringe-making. So I'm not the best person to review this book, which is rooted firmly in those genres.

Despite my reservations, that hideous big "7" on the cover, and the truly horrible fonts in which this text has been set (authors: if you're considering using fancy fonts in yourself-published book, please read this first), I thought that this little book was charming.

That doesn't mean it's perfect: no book is. Some of the storytelling was a little too forced and predictable from me (but that might well be down to the book's genre which, as I've already explained, isn't my favourite); the language used was a little formal and old-fashioned, which distanced me from the story and so stopped me becoming emotionally involved with it; and there were, of course, punctuation problems with it (for example, a couple of instances where a full-stop had managed to slip outside a quote-mark which should have contained it, and a dash used where a hyphen was required). There were a few lapses in meaning, to: for example, on page 21 we are told,

The specially-made gown — designed by the greatest couturier in the kingdom, assembled by a hundred hand-picked seamstresses from the finest silk of faraway lands — was cheap.

While the dress might have looked cheap I doubt that it really was, and little lapses like that don't help when you're telling a story which has a deeper meaning at its core: if you can't get the top layer right, how can the reader trust the rest?

Overall, then, this is an easy read and it's brief, too, coming in at just 167 pages. It had has shades of Jonathan Livingston Seagull to its tone; I much preferred it to The Shack, which I found trite and unauthentic; and despite its flaws and those dreadful fonts, The 7 Gifts is readable and engaging.

Despite my reservations I enjoyed what I read of the book (I reached page 51), and will almost certainly read more. A good little book, and well worth considering if you're looking for some reading in this particular genre.

6 comments:

SleepyJohn said...

I was mortified to discover that I had missed some incorrect punctuation; and to think of the number of times I went carefully through the whole book looking for such things. I really should have read it backwards. That was inexcusable I have to confess, and is already corrected in the master copy.

The 'specially-made gown', however, for all its undoubted splendour, was 'cheap' in the eyes of the spoilt Princess. The context seems to me to make this quite clear, the reader having just been told that for her: "Nothing was good enough in the preparations for the Grand Ball". Even if it is not as clear as I think, I really don't feel it is sufficiently bad that the reader can no longer trust the book's "deeper meaning".

On the vexed question of fonts I have been braced for criticism. I am well aware of the pitfalls, and am a compulsive striver for simplicity, so I considered the matter long and hard before opting for what I did. My neighbour, who is a professional book illustrator, had an initial reaction similar to yours, but on reflection came to the conclusion that it worked: that it managed to combine the necessary clarity with a slightly mystical, fairy-tale feel. A number of other readers have said the same. So I stand by it.

The only complaint about the font I have had was from an old lady at a book club whose failing eyesight made it a bit hard to read. I do plan to one day produce an audio book, and perhaps a paper book with large, plain text, for those with poor eyes. I was, incidentally, pleasantly surprised that old folk at a book club should be so taken, as I am told they all were, by a book that apparently teeters on the brink of insanity (Inkweaver Review).

Anyway, I have read enough of your reviews to know that a compliment from you is a compliment, and I am pleased that you managed 51 pages of a genre that you dislike so much, and even professed a desire to read more. I hope you do, and I hope you find it worthwhile.

I would like to link to the review from my website if I may, selectively quoting the phrase "... this little book was charming", and leaving the "truly horrible fonts" for those who come to you.

Jane Smith said...

John, thanks for your generous response.

Let's deal with the specially-made gown first: I could understand what you meant, it was clear enough: but your meaning differed from what you'd written, and that got in the way of the rest of the meaning for me. I wish you'd slightly rephrased it from this:

"The specially-made gown — designed by the greatest couturier in the kingdom, assembled by a hundred hand-picked seamstresses from the finest silk of faraway lands — was cheap."

To this:

"The specially-made gown — designed by the greatest couturier in the kingdom, assembled by a hundred hand-picked seamstresses from the finest silk of faraway lands —looked cheap."

That way, your meaning is stated clearly, and it's more of a letdown because there's no confusion. The reader stays immersed in the story, instead of the flow of the words stopping while the reader works out what you meant.

Fonts: no matter what you say, I stand by my opinion that the ones you've used are horrible, and interfere significantly with the text. Read Maggie Dana's piece, which I linked to in my original review. Poor font-choice not only makes text difficult to read, it prejudices a reader against a text even if they like the words they're reading. There are many very elegant, readable fonts out there: why you chose the ones that you did perplexes me. I disliked them all, I'm afraid, but particularly the ones you used for the inserts: if you'd chosen more attractive, more readable fonts your whole book would have been improved. Incidentally, my vision is fine (so long as I wear my glasses) and I found a lot of it difficult to read: someone with a real visual disability is going to find your book completely impossible, just because of the fonts.

Having said all of that, I do think your book has a lot of potential. If I were you I'd consider redesigning it completely: get a new, more alluring cover design: several independent publishers offer design services, and produce wonderful jackets (and while you're at it, get rid of that big "7" on the front, and replace it with the word); get it typeset using fonts which preserve the mystical quirkiness that you desire but which don't compromise the clarity or readability of the text; and consider changing the format, too, so that you have a smaller, thicker book. Take a look at current editions of The Christmas Box, or the designs that you see from Roast Books: with the right design choices made, this book of yours could be a highly-covetable little edition, which could do very well for you indeed.

Jane Smith said...

PS: yes, I did like your book, yes, I have read more of it, and yes, of course you may quote this review on your site. Although I am a little troubled by your quoting me so very much out-of-context. Give me a little while and I'll edit my original piece a little bit to provide you with a quote you can use. Is that OK?

SleepyJohn said...

Jane,

The Editor who first read the book (and adored it) in London more years ago than I care to remember, made some quite major suggestions for the original ms (including total rewrites of two gifts from long, epic poems to prose), which after careful deliberation I implemented at considerable effort. The improvement was dramatic. So I am not frightened of constructive criticism. However, she also said: "This book must be handled with kid gloves lest the magic be lost".

I am acutely aware of what she meant, so I approach any proposal for change (whether from myself or others) with care and trepidation. Any creative work is part magic, part expertise, but while the former can sing without the latter, it is not so the other way round. I don't say this to aggrandise myself or my story, but simply to justify taking time to very carefully consider any change in what I am told is an unconventional book, that relies heavily on tone rather than style. "Don't polish it to death", I was frequently told as a young writer.

For now, I am most encouraged by your response to the story itself, as that would be the most difficult part to correct if it were deemed faulty. I am especially pleased that one who dislikes spiritual novels should enjoy it, as I have worked hard to avoid it feeling pious or precious; I want readers to open their minds, not close them. I am also encouraged that one who so intensely dislikes the cover and fonts should still wish to persevere with the story.

Poor presentation, while clearly important, is much easier to deal with than poor story, requiring only a decision to be made from a selection of choices. One of the attractions of self-publishing, especially as I do everything myself bar the printing, is that I could pretty much implement all your suggested changes in an evening, email the new files to my printer, and collect a proof copy after lunch the next day! I may even do that, for a comparison.

Anyway, thank you for your time and trouble, and your honest opinions. I value your criticisms no less than your compliments, but I hope you will allow me space to consider them properly, before deciding how I feel. I am a little slow on these things, as I bounce back and forth between "What?!!" and "Good point", until such time as the pendulum stops, somewhere within that critical rainbow. And much as I obviously like "... this little book was charming", I can understand your wish for a more balanced comment, and I appreciate you taking the trouble to write me one. Of course I can wait.


John

PS I have decided to part company with you on the question of the ball gown. It quite clearly was not cheap, and it equally clearly did not 'look cheap' either. However, to the spoilt Princess it didn't just 'look cheap', it 'was' cheap. To her, it was cheap and nasty and horrid, and quite simply, in all imaginable respects, not good enough for an Ice Princess: so, for her, it 'was cheap'. I do understand your viewpoint, and can see the grammatical reasoning for your advice, but I am going to stick with the 'feeling' that I think the original has.

On the other hand, you have put sufficient doubt in my mind about the book's design for it to be taken 'back to the drawing board' for a long, hard look. To borrow a phrase from yourself: "I may be some time".

Jane Smith said...

John, I think you're (almost) entirely right. A good editor is going to make your book much better; a clumsy, careless edit could kill it. It is always the way. And you're right to think carefully before going ahead with any changes: every writer should.

I am in no doubt at all that you could significantly improve the book (and therefore increase your sales) by redesiging it, both inside and out: if I were you I'd aim for a jeweled, rich presentation, so that the book looks like a very precious and desirable object. Perhaps a design which implies that it contains a secret, which could belong to the reader. See? Get your potential readers to want your book on a few different levels at once and suddenly your sales increase.

I'll still disagree with you about the dress, but as the professional editor that I am I'll defer to you, of course. It's your book: you decide. I hope you do well with it, and that you'll keep me informed of its progress. Thanks for sending it to me.

SleepyJohn said...

Jane,

Forgive me for seeming to vanish without so much as a 'see you later'. Something happened here that made it just impossible for me to put my mind to anything else for a few weeks. However, I am now back in writing mode and would like to just sign off here with thanks for your time and trouble, and perhaps even a small apology for being an adamant author, although doubtless as a professional editor you are used to such beings. Anyway, I did think it through very carefully.

The matter of the book's design has also been on hold, but it is swishing about in the back of my mind and will continue to do so until I can see a good way forward, when I shall do a mockup and see how it sits in the hand. I have looked at Roast Books and The Christmas Box, and read Maggie Dana's piece, and am currently staring at a cup of tea and feeling somewhat inadequate. I shall patiently wait till that feeling, hopefully, subsides a little before proceeding. Experience has shown me that suggestions from others very often send me on journeys that neither I nor they foresee, so I must patiently avoid the temptation to simply say yea or nay to them.

I would like to link to the review from my website, using this as a teaser:

Jane Smith of The Self-Publishing Review was critical of the book's design but, despite not being a fan of spiritual novels, thought the story "was charming". "I much preferred it to 'The Shack'," she said. Full review here.

Is that OK with you? I do appreciate you taking an interest in the book and will let you know if anything exciting comes about.

John