“Everybody needs somebody to love”… That’s how the song goes. In fact, that particular suggestion is common to numerous melodies, in subtly different ways. Think about it. The image of being needed is central to virtually every love song in history. Yes, I know it’s still January, so this isn’t intended to be a Valentine. And the counterpoint of what I’ve just said (unfortunately) is that, when we don’t feel needed, valued or even respected, we can find ourselves in a very dark place indeed.

I speak from experience on both counts. Emotional encounters at each end of the scale have helped me to write better fiction. My critics might disagree, but I can certainly tell you how much any creative artist, writer or performer values positive feedback. “Feeling the love” is a huge boost to all of us, no matter what time of the year.

Let me qualify that.

One night many moons ago, while making my first naïve performance on stage, I was profoundly affected by hearing laughter from an audience, and then the warmth of their applause at the end of my “act”. It made me want to do more, and those occasions became addictive. I gave a performance, and received an appreciative reaction. A very simple demonstration of cause and effect.

Much more recently, something similar happened as a direct consequence of my first novel: I attended a local book club to talk about The Murder Tree, and afterwards a lady approached me in private. She told me a passage dealing with the loss of someone close had touched her emotionally, and reading how my character dealt with grief had helped her to see her own situation in a different light. That kind of feedback meant a lot to me.

I am normally a very private person, despite having a public image. The occasions when I post on this blog can be infrequent, partly because my writing also suffers from periods when I simply don’t feel up to stringing a sentence together. I have a history of depression (common with most creative people), and then there are times when life itself just gets in the way. But such an intruder can also hand out surprises: a lightbulb moment that sends me rushing back to the keyboard, or a pleasant encounter which effectively says “Yes, someone does love me, after all”.

Here’s an instance for you: Every January, the British Library writes to published authors with a statement on the number of loans affecting their books in libraries throughout the UK. (We actually get paid a small amount per loan.) The period covered is July to June the previous year, so my latest Public Lending Right figures ended in June 2022, detailing the loans affecting The Murder Tree and its sequel The Titanic Document, published 1st October 2013 and 28th March 2021 respectively. The statement I received last year therefore only included the first three months since launching my last novel. It was hugely disappointing – not a single loan! This year? Fifty-eight. Much, much better, indicating more than one book out per week. Overall, that amount is still dwarfed by The Murder Tree, which had its best year ever. The PLR report tells me that even if sales might be lower than I’d like, there are still plenty of people out there supporting their libraries, and who actually like my books enough to read them. Now I can feel the love!

Here’s the rub. Sitting in a theatre audience, it is easy to show your appreciation by putting your hands together. But when you read a book, how often do you tell the author you enjoyed their effort? Believe me when I say your honest appraisal is something every creative artist values.

As do I.

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